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Careers as a Forensic Artist

Forensic artists make those composite pictures of criminal suspects, dead or maimed victims and drawings, slides and videos that lawyers use to present their cases in court. If you are a regular ‘who-done-it’ buff, forensic art could be the career for you. It is an artistic technique used by law enforcement agencies to identify, track down and apprehend wanted criminals. Unlike the old Wild West and Bollywood films where the criminal’s hand-drawn portrait carrying a cash reward on his head, modern-day forensic artists are far more tech savvy. They use computerized image enhancement or morphology not merely as forensic tools but as evidence in court. There are numerous instances where forensic artists have been called upon to track criminals — the latest being the deadly Delhi bombings. But forensic art is no child’s play. It is not just about adding wrinkles or facial peculiarities. You have to work up an entire psychological profile to be able to accurately depict the way the criminal will look. As a forensic artist you need to be familiar with several disciplines including composite art, image modification, age progression, postmortem reconstruction and demonstrative evidence.

Composite art: This one is definitely up your alley. You already have the drawing skills of an artist. To that, add the sharp investigative mind of a police investigator and you can excel in this field. Referred to as the ‘Portrait Parle’ or speaking likeliness method of criminal identification, the artist reconstructs each facial feature of the criminal obtained from the victim’s memory. The real challenge lies in your ability to successfully gather, interpret and illustrate the information.

Image modification: Using computer altered photography you can use this technique to trace people who have gone missing or absconding for several years. The amazing part is that you can actually add years to the photograph or even use it for age regression to get a reliable approximation to what the fugitive may look like today.

Post-mortem reconstruction: Computergenerated images, manual sketching any clay reconstruction are used to render facial features of the human remains of an unidentified, decomposed body.

Demonstrative evidence: Recreating the crime scene using basic pencil sketch illustrations or high-tech multi-media presentations during legal proceedings is also the job of a forensic artist.

Forensic Artist Requirements: Qualifications vary widely. Though some law enforcement agencies require education in legal procedures, it is more common to seek someone with formal art training. Your skill in drawing should be focused on drawing from life and demonstrate the ability to create a three dimensional drawing from the descriptive words supplied to you. The ability to translate the spoken word into an image accurately requires an innate talent that cannot be taught. People skills are incredibly important. You will be interviewing victims during a time when they are in distress or may question uncooperative witnesses reluctant to provide details. You may also be working as part of a team. This position is not for someone with a difficult artistic temperament, but rather requires patience, empathy and teamwork.

Forensic Artist Training and Education: You may be trained in the use of sophisticated computer software programs that will aid in creating images and in building three dimensional composites from decomposed bodies. The best training is to draw from descriptions again and again and to study facial characteristics such as eye shape, hairline types, and the conformation of ears and mouths.

Career Opportunities: If you are a skilled artist and a good listener, this the forensic artist career may just end up in your permanent portfolio. For those who can reproduce images of the human face and body, and also draw locations from verbal descriptions, this is a career that can be a good fit for aspiring artists. The part-time contractual aspect of many of these jobs provides income while also giving the artist sufficient time to work on personal artistic goals.





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