Forensic 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
Most 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.
There are only about a dozen full-time forensic artists in the United States.
The rest work in police departments and combine their forensic work with other
There'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.
There are four main components of forensic art:
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.
Use artistic skills to assist police investigations