Sketch Artist Career: What to Know!

Sketch Artist

The art of sketching requires the ability to expertly depict people, places, and things via the use of pencils, charcoal, and pastels. Sketch artists are valuable professionals found in a variety of fields. Employment opportunities exist in areas such as the entertainment, newspaper, and medical industries.

What Is Sketching?

Sketching is a type of drawing that is done completely freehand. It is often a technique used to create initial representations of final drawings or designs. In some cases, however, artists will create final pieces, just by sketching.

The majority of sketches are created with pencils and graphite sticks, with varying degrees of hardness. Harder graphite typically leaves lighter lines and marks, which don’t smudge well. Softer graphite, on the other hand, usually leaves darker lines, and it tends to smudge easily. This type of graphite is best for creating shading and depth in drawings. Colored pencils and charcoal, along with pastels, can also be used to create sketches. Some artists also choose to use ink pens or markers.

Sketch artists also typically use a variety of other tools as well. Quality drawing paper is essential for creating great sketches. Also, since mistakes are inevitable, the majority of sketch artists also invest in erasers as well. To prevent the final drawings from smudging, artists will also usually use special lacquer spray, which fixes the fine graphite particles in place.

Work Environment

A sketch artist is a professional that creates sketches and drawings for various purposes. Some artists of this sort might create portraits or other pictures for other people’s viewing pleasure. In some cases, a sketch artist might draw pictures modeled after live subjects and scenes. Drawings can also be created in other ways as well, however, such as by studying photographs or drawing a scene or person from memory.

Other artists, however, may use their talents to help law enforcement professionals create composite sketches of crime suspects from eyewitness descriptions. These artists, often referred to as forensic artists, will usually need to create very realistic and accurate portraits from nothing but a witness’s memory. A victim or witness will often try to describe a perpetrator to the best of his ability, and the artist will need to sketch these details to form a clear picture of a person. At times, the artist will ask the eyewitness to look at visual aids, like photographs or other graphics, in order to gain a clearer idea of what a suspect looks like. The resulting sketches are then used in wanted posters, newspapers, and on television in hopes that citizens might recognize the suspect and contact law enforcement officials.

In some areas, cameras are banned from courtrooms. A few sketch artists might also be able to build a successful career by sketching out courtroom scenes. These types of artists will usually sit in on an entire trial and sketch out the scenes that they witness. This can include images of lawyers, defendants, judges, juries, bailiffs, witnesses, and spectators. Courtroom sketch artists will typically need to draw very quickly since the action in a courtroom can happen fast. In some areas, courts may even ban artists from sketching during the actual trials. These artists must rely on their memories alone to recreate courtroom scenes.

Education Requirements

Becoming a sketch artist does not necessarily require any sort of formal education. Those that are serious about a sketch art career, however, will often find that a degree from an art school will help them hone their skills and develop their talent.

An associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees take two and four years to complete, respectively. Individuals interested in sketch art careers should consider getting degrees in fine arts, drawing, or illustration.

Individuals interested in working as a forensic sketch artist, however, may need additional education. For instance, they may benefit from taking courses in law enforcement or criminal justice. They may also be required to be certified by the International Association for Identification, which is the most prominent forensic organization worldwide.

Along with fine tuning their skills, sketch art students should also take their time in school to build their portfolios. An artist’s portfolio will usually contain several of his best sketches and drawings. Many times, it is the contents of an artist’s portfolio that will be the determining factor on whether he is hired to do a job or not.

Obviously, the most important skill that a sketch artist can have is the ability to draw very well. Sketch artists must be able to create realistic pictures and images with nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper. The majority of sketch artists will also be able to use several different mediums, including pencils, pens, and pastels. In some cases, artists may even use paints, like oil paint and watercolors.

Forensic artists should also have excellent communication skills, particularly listening skills. Along with courtroom artists, forensic artists will also need to have a high tolerance for hearing about the gruesome details of crimes. These types of sketch artists will often need to listen to the sordid details of violent crimes, including rape and murder, and these jobs are not for the faint of heart.

Salary and Job Outlook


All sketch artists fall under the broad category of fine artists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2017, salaried artists made an average salary of $49,160. The annual income of a freelance sketch artist may be more or less than this, however, depending on the artist's talent and skill.

Job Outlook

The majority of professional sketch artists work as freelancers. Some sketch artists may be commissioned to create unique drawings or people of places. Very talented artists may even have their artwork shown in galleries or museums. Aspiring courtroom sketch artists will usually need to create several sketches of courtroom trials that do not allow cameras. These sketches may then be purchased by newspapers, magazines, and possibly history museums. Forensic sketch artists may work as freelancers, or they may be salaried employees of law enforcement agencies, such as city police departments.

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