How to Become a Professional Sketch Artist in 5 Steps

Explore the the career requirements for a professional sketch artist. Learn about the educational requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Art degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Professional Sketch Artist?

Professional sketch artists use their artistic talent to create a two-dimensional visual representation of a person, place or object. They often work in law enforcement and their illustrations may be used to identify suspects who perpetrated a crime. They may also work independently and create sketches of individuals who have hired them. As of 2014, half of all craft and fine artists, which includes sketch artists, were self-employed.

Education Required High school diploma; vocational training is common
Key Skills Ability to draw accurately from memory and different perspectives; interpersonal skills; creativity; and physical dexterity
Certification Certification is optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)*
Average Salary (2015) $54,170 (for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is Sketch Art?

Sketch art, or sketching, is the practice of drawing realistic depictions of people, according to observations or descriptions. Your sketches are generally used by law enforcement agencies and news organizations to portray people of interest. Sketching uses different perspective and shading skills to create a reliable, two-dimensional representation of the subject.

Step 1: Research Sketch Artist Opportunities and Training

As a professional sketch artist, your skills may be used to identify suspects of crimes or to illustrate court room proceedings. For criminal suspect sketches, you'll work without the benefit of a live subject, and you may also interview crime victims or witnesses for descriptions. In a courtroom atmosphere, you'll get to see your subject but will often only get a quick glimpse and have to work accurately from memory. Although postsecondary schooling isn't required, you can take drawing courses to master your skills through a vocational school or training program.

Step 2: Take College-level Courses

You don't have to follow a fixed education path to become a sketch artist, but it's important to find strong art programs where you can take composite drawing classes to develop your skills. You may also pursue a degree, such as a Bachelor of Fine Arts, that focuses on life drawing and other art-related topics. Taking communication or psychology classes may also help you with your potential interviewing responsibilities as a sketch artist. Completing college coursework can also help you develop a professional portfolio that provides proof of your consistency and skill as a sketch artist.

Step 3: Find Sketching Workshops

By attending sketching workshops, you can further develop a strong portfolio to help with future freelance opportunities. Workshops that follow standards set by the International Association for Identification (IAI) address the skills and knowledge that can help with your success as a sketch artist. These workshops are typically taught by experienced sketch artists. Your study topics may include facial anatomy, drawing speed and accuracy, interviewing techniques, memory processes, shading styles, courtroom behavior and facial reconstruction.

Step 4: Find a Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2014 that job opportunities for fine artists, including sketch artists, would grow by 3% between then and 2024, with keen competition for employment opportunities. Persistent networking may pay off on your part, so you can contact all law enforcement agencies and news agencies when looking for work. Full-time positions are rare, and many of these organizations have freelance artist lists that they select from as needs arise, so putting your name out there on a regular basis can improve your job prospects. As of May 2015, the average salary of fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, was $54,170.

Step 5: Earn Certification

Earning forensic art certification may improve your chances of consistent employment. The IAI breaks certification as a sketch artist into three separate fields: composite imaging, facial reconstruction and age enhancement. At least 1-2 years of work experience is necessary, along with 80-120 hours of training accredited by the IAI before applying for certification. Once you've applied for certification, you must submit previous work in a portfolio, at least two recommendation letters and pass a written and practical exam (

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Painters may create two-dimensional visual representations of people, places or things using paint. Painters may hold a bachelor's degree, though the fundamental requirement for the career is exemplary artistic skill. Multimedia artists also use their artistic and computer skills to create images that can be used for films, commercials or video games. Most of these professionals hold a bachelor's degree. Photographers are also artists who use photographic equipment to create two-dimensional images of people, places or things. Not all photographers complete college training, though it's often a good way to enhance one's photographic skills.

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