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Sketch Artists

Career summary

Sketch artists draw pictures of people based on witnesses' descriptions.

Sketch artists are also called composite, forensic, or police artists. They try to draw detailed and accurate pictures of suspects for police to use in solving crimes.

Sketch artists meet with witnesses or victims to learn what they remember about suspects. They ask questions to help witnesses remember details. For example, they may ask about eye color, skin color, and the shape of the suspect's nose. They may show witnesses a book of drawings of facial features to help witnesses describe the features of the people they saw.

Based on the information they gather from witnesses, sketch artists draw initial sketches. They show them to witnesses to get feedback. They make changes to sketches until witnesses think the sketches look like the person they saw.

Sketch artists may also do reconstructive work. This process involves using skeletal remains and clay to create a three-dimensional (3-D) model of a face. Using their knowledge of the gender, age, and race of the remains, sketch artists mold facial features.

Sketch artists also use computers to create sketches and images. Sometimes they draw directly on the computer screen using a digital pencil.

Some artists create sketches of people at different ages. They work from photographs and create sketches of people as they might look when they are older. Police use these pictures when they need a picture of someone who has been hiding or missing for many years.

Sketch artists may document crime scenes. They use measurements gathered by forensic technicians to create rough sketches of crime scenes or objects that may be missing.

Related careers

This career is part of the Arts, Audio/Visual Technology, and Communications cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a sketch artist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

There are many ways to prepare for this occupation. Some sketch artists prepare through formal education and get a two- or four-year degree in fine art. Community colleges and universities offer these programs.

You can also prepare for this occupation by becoming a law enforcement officer. The education requirements for police recruits vary greatly. Some police agencies require only a high school diploma or equivalent. Others require one or two years of college. The FBI requires applicants to have a bachelor's degree. Check with the department or agency you are interested in to verify its requirements. A good way to prepare is to pursue a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice and take drawing classes.

All new officers must attend a law enforcement academy. Typical police academy programs are 12 to 14 weeks long. FBI agents receive 16 weeks of training.

Work experience

Look for opportunities to display your talent. Draw for your school paper or community paper. Create drawings for special events and enter contests.

On-the-job training

Many sketch artists complete specialized training program in forensic art. A few private schools offer these programs that last several weeks. The FBI also provides a training program. This is a three-week training program that covers two-dimensional and three-dimensional forensic art and facial reconstruction. You must wait three to five years to take this course once your name is on the waiting list.

Military training

Some branches of the military train people to be law enforcement and security specialists. This occupation may include sketch artists. Training lasts from five to 12 weeks, depending on your specialty. Additional training occurs on the job.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link).

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Sketch artists interview people to get descriptions of people they have seen. You must be able to work with people who have been through distressing experiences.

Other resources

Forensic Art (external link)
How Can I Become a Medical Illustrator? (external link)
Association of Medical Illustrators


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster