Sketch Artist: Career Summary, Job Outlook, and Training Requirements

Research what it takes to become a sketch artist. Learn about training courses, job outlook in this field and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Sketch Artist?

Classified as fine artists, sketch artists work in a variety of settings, such as in police departments or courthouses, where they create criminal sketches and depict courtroom scenes. Sketch artists use traditional, physical tools, such as pencils or charcoal, to sketch out portraits for clients from verbal descriptions or by referencing scenes. It's helpful for these artists to maintain a portfolio of sketches that potential clients or employers may review to make hiring decisions.

The following table presents an overview for this career:

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent; Postsecondary training preferred
Education Field of Study Art, illustration or a related field
Key Responsibilities Create accurate representations of subjects
Certification Forensic artist certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators)*
Median Salary (2015) $46,460 (fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will My Career Summary Be as a Sketch Artist?

As a sketch artist, you'll create likenesses of people, usually drawing by hand and using a variety of art supplies. Your skills and services may be used by law enforcement agencies pursuing suspects or missing persons, people seeking recreational portraits or media outlets depicting courtroom scenes. Law enforcement and media employers will want you to construct accurate, realistic representations of your subjects. However, private patrons may want you to elaborate and exaggerate certain features for their personal amusement.

What Is My Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of positions for all craft and fine artists, is expected to increase only 2% over the 2014-2024 decade, while the more specific category of fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, is expected to increase by 3% (www.bls.gov). You can expect stiff competition for available jobs, and you'll likely be self-employed. Persistent networking with news companies, law enforcement offices or private patrons may help you grow your freelance opportunities. If you're considering becoming a criminal sketch artist, then learning facial reconstruction, composite drawing or age progression techniques may provide you with a wider range of job opportunities.

What Training Requirements Will I Need to Meet?

You won't have one set route for becoming a sketch artist, but formal education and training may help you gain the experience necessary to meet potential employers' standards. Many universities have accredited art programs that offer classes on realistic depictions and life drawings, such as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art degree program. You can also develop your skills by attending workshops taught by experienced sketch artists. These workshops may cover topics like front and profile views, shading techniques, facial structures, facial reconstruction and sketching speed.

If you feel drawn to a courtroom sketch artist career, you can make frequent courtroom visits and practice your craft. You might benefit from learning how to sketch quickly and accurately from memory, since you'll sometimes get only brief glimpses of courtroom participants during proceedings. You may seek voluntary certification as a forensic artist through the International Association for Identification.

As a criminal sketch artist, you'll work without the benefit of a live subject. You will interview witnesses and have them choose from a variety of facial features as you create a composite sketch. Gaining experience in communication and interviewing techniques can help you gather useful information, especially when dealing with difficult or distraught witnesses.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other careers related to sketch artists that fall under the category of fine artists include cartoonists, painters, medical and scientific artists, illustrators and tattoo artists. Outside of the the fine arts, multimedia artists and animators use computer art programs to create images for printed media, movies and TV. When it comes to capturing images in real time, as some sketch artists do, there are a few overlapping skills shared between sketch artists and photographers.

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