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Forensic Artist  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotForensic artistry dates back to the turn of the century when Scotland Yard experimented with the format and "wanted" posters plastered sheriffs' offices across America's Wild West. From the 1950s to '70s, a photo kit was more commonly used. It wasn't until the 1980s that forensic artistry became a bona fide profession.

dotMost forensic artists are police officers with an interest in art. Many start out with one or two composites that meet success and move on to a sketch artist's position within the department. Others are professionally trained artists who freelance.

dotThere's much more to being a forensic artist than picking up a pencil and drawing. Successful artists have to be sensitive listeners. Unless they're attempting to reconstruct the face of an unidentified body, forensic artists often deal with people who have been severely traumatized. They need to learn how to extract information gently. It requires empathy.

dotThere are four main components of forensic art:

  • Composite imagery, including hand-drawn sketches, vehicles and weapons
  • Image or photo modification, enhancing existing photos such as aging the faces of missing children or the faces of fugitives
  • Demonstrative evidence, which covers two- and three-dimensional sculptures used for court exhibits
  • Post-mortem identification and reconstructing features from intact and skeletal bodies

Most forensic artists work in the area of composite imagery, although some develop skills in other areas. Computers are increasingly being used as an additional graphic tool.

At a Glance

Use artistic skills to assist police investigations

  • Forensic artists have to be good listeners to deal with people who have been traumatized
  • Most are police officers with an interest in art
  • Computer skills are important