What is a Forensic Sketch Artist?

A forensic artist, also commonly referred to as a sketch artist, is a graphic artist that renders free-hand or computerized drawings, enhancements, and reconstructions.

Forensic art is defined as an artistic technique used for identification, apprehension or conviction purposes.

Forensic artists work closely with law enforcement officers to identify criminal suspects and victims through facial composite sketches. They are also often called to the scene f a crime to create drawings, scale diagrams and models of crime scenes. Forensic artists may use their skills in a crime scene investigation to: o

  • Sketch composites of criminal suspects of unidentifiable persons
  • Recreate skeletal, decomposed, or mutilated images using 2-D and 3-D computer imagery
  • Sketch composites from decomposed or partially decomposed remains
  • Create age progression sketches of suspects and missing persons
  • Prepare diagrams, chart evidence boards and 3-D reconstructions of crime scenes for court hearings and other judicial proceedings
  • Prepare reports, exhibits and displays for court proceedings
  • Artistically enhance or alter surveillance photographs

The work of forensic artists, however, may go beyond artistic endeavors, as they are often required to conduct interviews with both witnesses and victims as to gain valuable information when creating sketches and computerized images of criminal suspects.

They also need to maintain accurate case records, ensure that their artwork is properly handled and stored, and they may need to testify in court at times.

Forensic Artist Disciplines

The International Association for Identification (IAI) identifies three, main disciplines of forensic art:

Composite Art

Composite art is a technique that is created by sketching an unknown individual using a number of individually described parts. Composite art produces a single, graphic image that is designed to be a likeness or similarity of the individual.

Image Modification/Age Progression

Image modification is alterations or enhancements of photographs or images used for updating, clarifying, and/or identifying an individual. Image modification or enhancement may include age progression and age regression.

Post-Mortem and Facial Reconstruction

Post-mortem and facial reconstruction is rebuilding the facial features of either decomposed or partially decomposed human remains. Post-mortem reconstruction usually involves the use of digital software that allows the forensic arts to create 3-D images; however, many forensic artists perform facial reconstruction using sketches or producing 3-D clay figures.

The forensic artist is considered a multi-skilled professional; therefore, many employers seek forensic artists with a solid framework in all three disciplines. Although many forensic artists may choose to specialize in a specific area, they generally must have a working knowledge of all areas to enjoy the most professional opportunities. Further, in addition to artistic skills, the IAI reports that forensic artists must have a solid understanding of:

  • Facial anatomy
  • Digital imagery
  • Human memory
  • Aging trends
  • Victim psychology

Education and Experience Requirements for Forensic Artists

Typical educational requirements required for forensic artist jobs include an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in graphic art or design from an accredited college or university. Students can best prepare for a career in forensic art by completing coursework specific to this field. There are also several programs that offer graphic art degrees and certificates in forensic art.

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Experience in the field of forensic art often holds a considerable amount of weight in this field, so the completion of an internship or apprenticeship is vital for gaining the valuable experience demanded by many employers.

Further, experience in the field allows forensic artists to compile a comprehensive portfolio that highlights their expertise and talent in the field of forensic art.

Professional Certification for Forensic Artists

Many forensic artists seek professional recognition in their field through certification. One of the most widely accepted professional certification programs in forensic art is through the International Association for Identification, which offers the Forensic Artist Certification.

This professional designation has three categories: composite imaging, facial reconstruction, and image enhancement/age progression. Candidates applying for the Forensic Artist Certification can focus their designation on one, two, or all three of these categories. However, it should be noted that, even though candidates may specialize their certification, they must have knowledge in all three areas of forensic art.

To qualify for this forensic art certification, candidates must:

  • Have at least 80 hours of IAI-approved forensic art training
  • Have at least 40 hours of related workshops, lectures, and short program training
  • Have at least 2 years of experience as a forensic arts
  • At least 30 forensic art examples that include age progressions, composites, and reconstructions
  • Have a portfolio that demonstrates their forensic art techniques (must include at least 10 forensic art images that were prepared for law enforcement investigation cases)

Further, candidates must supply the IAI with a letter from their employer that states the number of forensic art cases the candidate has prepared for the agency, the candidate’s rank or status within the agency, the date of appointment, and a summary of the candidate’s experience within the agency.

Once the IAI determines that minimum requirements have been met for certification, candidates must complete and pass a written exam and practical test. The written exam is a multiple-choice examination, while the practical test requires candidates to develop a number of forensic art drawings and/or images.

To qualify for re-certification every 5 years, individuals must complete a 40-hour IAI-approved training program and an additional 20 hours of related lectures, workshops, or short program training. Further, candidates must show the completion of at least 75 forensic images for investigative cases.

Salary Expectations for Forensic Artists

According to recent job postings, forensic artists can expect to earn a starting salary of between $31,720 and $65,234 a year depending on location, education and level of experience.

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