Do you want to become a forensic artist, but don’t know how in the world to go about it?

Here’s the best information you’re going to get on the reality of joining the field:

First and foremost, you must have artistic skill. Don’t believe any forensic art instructor’s sales pitch that claims, “anyone can be a forensic artist, even if you don’t know how to draw.” That’s simply not true, and it’s an insult to every hard-working forensic artist out there. You must first know how to draw the human face accurately and realistically before attempting this highly specialized field. Victims of crime deserve our best effort, and it’s not someone that has “learned to draw” a week ago.

Then, you must join law enforcement. The fact is, 99.9% of forensic artists are law enforcement employees, and most of them do this work as a collateral duty, in addition to their full-time job in the agency. Why don’t they do it full-time?

Because there are no jobs.

Ok, there are maybe 30 full-time forensic art positions in the United States. Thirty. If you want one of those coveted spots, you will literally be waiting for someone to retire or die to get it. Sometimes a new spot is created if an agency is overwhelmed with work, but that happens so infrequently it would be silly to pin your hopes on it.

The majority of the the composite drawings and facial approximations you see online and on TV have been done by “dual-duty” forensic artists, the ones who joined law enforcement first, and fought their way into doing forensic art from there. These artists (police officers, dispatchers, administrative techs, etc) work their regular job, then do the forensic art assignments as they are needed. There are only about 400 of them in the entire United States, too.

So, how do you go about being a forensic artist if you are employed by an agency? 

Research your area to see if there is a need for composite sketches (little crime = little need), work to improve your drawing skills, and then go talk to your boss. If she agrees that she will use you for composite sketches after training, then you’ve overcome your first hurdle. From then on, it’s up you to go out, get sketches, and show the value of the work to others in your agency. This is all done as part of your salaried job.

If you are interested in facial approximation, again, you will very likely need to be affiliated with a law enforcement agency. Skulls are considered evidence, and no agency is going to entrust such a vital, irreplaceable item with someone that has no concept of chain of evidence. You are also going to need training in anatomy and anthropology, and should have serious drawing and sculpting skills. Please remember, a facial approximation is very likely that person’s last hope to be identified. This is a serious subject, and is not a job for the hobbyist or someone that just thinks it would be “cool” to do.

If you think you have what it takes to be a forensic artist, read my post  “Ten Steps to Become a Forensic Artist.”