What Classes Do I Need to Be a Police Sketch Artist?

A solid background in art helps the police sketch artist learn to render facial anatomy.
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It's the stuff of the TV crime drama and the six o'clock news: Local police apprehend a crime suspect -- thanks in large part to a composite drawing created by a police sketch artist. For those who love art and want to introduce a bit of Sherlock Holmesian deductive reasoning to their work, becoming a police forensic artist may be the ticket into the fascinating world of crime solving.

1 What They Do

Police sketch artists coax a physical description from people who have witnessed or been victims of a crime and translate the description into its visual equivalent. They also help to visually reconstruct a person's face from bones that police find at crime scenes to help identify possible missing persons. Police sketch artists also work with medical examiners, detectives, coroners and on occasion, anthropologists to do their work.

2 Traditional Art Skills

According to forensic artist Lisa Bailey, getting a solid education in art remains a critical step for artists who'd like to work in the field. This holds especially true for the artist who'd like to work at the federal level. Classes in anatomy, figure drawing and painting and sculpture help artists develop the skills they'll need when working on composite sketches and facial reconstructions.

3 Psychology

Aside from possessing advanced art skills, the International Association for Identification advises aspiring forensic artists to take coursework in cognitive psychology and behavior sciences. Once a person has experienced trauma, his ability to recall details about an event may become impaired or may cause him to avoid the subject all together. In these situations, the sketch artist must employ sensitive interviewing skills as well as an understanding of the psychology of the victim. Otherwise, the artist can't obtain optimal results from a meeting with a witness to or a victim of a crime.

4 Software, Hardware and Communication Skills

Crimes have moved into the digital age, but for the police artist, this represents a bit of good news. While the ability to reconstruct a face using a pencil and sketchbook may remain the foundational tools of the sketch artist, those working the profession in the 21st century must also possess technical skills. Knowing how to use graphics software such as the Adobe CS Suites as well as video and still cameras enables the artist to work with police video evidence or help identify a victim from a photograph.

Additionally, the ability to speak more than one language will help the sketch artist who lives in a culturally diverse area. Artists who take classes to learn these skills have an advantage over those who don't.

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.