How to Become a Courtroom Sketch Artist in 5 Steps (With Skills)

Updated April 13, 2023

Becoming a courtroom sketch artist requires a unique knowledge of the legal system combined with artistic talent. This can be a rewarding career for creative people who can create detailed drawings to share with the media and courts for important record keeping. Learning more about how to become a courtroom sketch artist can help you determine whether this career path is right for you. In this article, we explain what a courtroom sketch artist is, explain how to become one, list skills you can develop for this role, and explain the typical work environment.

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What is a courtroom sketch artist?

Courtroom sketch artists are valuable experts for courts and the media to communicate with throughout a court proceeding. While any member of the public can sit in the gallery during a trial, The Supreme Court of Canada typically rules against allowing photographs or recordings, with very few exceptions. Courtroom sketch artists can gain access to the courtroom when cameras can't and use their skill set to create engaging illustrations that demonstrate the emotions and events throughout the trial.

They can then share their work with news media outlets to support their written reports of the proceedings. They also share them with lawyers or the courts to accompany official documentation and records. These sketch artists typically create very simple outlines so they can work quickly, and fill the images in later with colour and more detail. As sketch artists may attend trials for serious crimes, the ability to maintain composure, work objectively, and maintain confidentiality is beneficial. For example, jury members' identities are to remain anonymous before, during, and after proceedings.

Related: 12 Types of Illustrators and How You Can Become One

How to become a courtroom sketch artist

Here are the steps you can follow when learning how to become a courtroom sketch artist:

1. Complete high school

As there are no official academic requirements to pursue this career, you may qualify for roles with a high school diploma and excellent artistic skills. You may consider Advanced Placement (AP) art classes in high school to further your skills and highlight them on your resume. Joining art clubs or taking extracurricular art classes during your studies can also prepare you to become a sketch artist. Elective courses in law-related subjects offer early exposure to legal terms you can use to understand the events in the courtroom.

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2. Consider college or university

While not required, a college diploma or university degree can make you a more competitive job candidate. A Bachelor of Fine Arts or college diploma related to illustration, graphic design or visual arts can be valuable as these programs help you develop technical skills related to drawing and composition that you can apply to courtroom sketches. College courses typically offer more practical learning opportunities and take one to two years to complete, while university degrees are more academic and take an average of four years of full-time study.

Related: 25 Jobs with a Fine Arts Degree to Consider (With Salaries)

3. Seek training or entry-level opportunities

You can acquire legal knowledge through short courses or on-the-job training, which can help you learn legal terminology and follow the events in the courtroom more easily. Even with formal academic training, on-the-job training is often necessary as courtroom sketching requires a unique set of skills. You can gain this by seeking mentorship opportunities with more experienced sketch artists. Consider asking an established artist if you can shadow them in the courtroom and learn about their techniques.

Related: What Does an Illustrator Do? (With Steps to Become One)

4. Prepare a portfolio

One effective way to demonstrate your skill set and qualify for courtroom sketch artist roles is to build your portfolio. You can include any relevant projects that can show potential clients or employers what your work may look like. This can take time to collate, but is an essential part of a job application or pitch. You can prepare a hard copy collection of your work and consider scanning your sketches to create digital copies to include in a digital portfolio. This makes it easier to send to clients if you're searching for opportunities online.

Consider attending local trials and creating sketches as a professional exercise to improve your attention to detail, speed, and technique. You can then include a collection of these works with your job application, along with other samples. Some types of art to highlight in your portfolio include charcoal drawings, gesture drawings, and life drawings, particularly those that include human figures and facial features.

Related: How to Make a Portfolio (With Example)

5. Apply for roles

As a courtroom sketch artist, you have the option to work as a freelancer or work for a media agency in a more permanent capacity. News agencies and broadcasting companies often offer entry-level opportunities you can apply for to develop your skill set and gain valuable experience to advance your career. These organizations often employ a team of courtroom sketch artists so they can report on several trials happening locally or internationally. You can search for roles on job boards or contact media agencies directly and submit your portfolio to demonstrate your skill set.

After gaining some experience and building your reputation, you can work as an independent contractor or freelancer. In this capacity, you can be more selective about the trials you want to sketch and can sell your illustrations to media outlets and legal teams. Developing your professional network by fostering relationships with people who work for media outlets, legal offices, and art agencies can lead to more job opportunities.

Related: 21 Examples of Jobs in Illustration

Skills for courtroom sketch artists

Excellent drawing skills and the ability to work quickly while maintaining accuracy in your work are some skills required to succeed in this role. Here are some other skills you can develop to become a courtroom sketch artist:

  • Attention to detail: Conveying important details of the courtroom proceedings in your sketches can make them more informative for both the media and the courts. Using attention to detail, you can identify important moments more effectively and decide which to sketch to encapsulate the entire day of the trial.

  • Knowledge of artistic principles and tools: You can develop an understanding of different mediums that convey the colours, actions, and emotions of court proceedings. Artists often use pastels and charcoal because they allow for quick, expressive sketching.

  • Communication: This role involves working closely with members of the media, legal teams, and courtroom officials. Strong communication skills help you understand their needs and expectations, and to convey courtroom happenings through a visual medium of communication.

  • Legal knowledge: Gaining a foundational understanding of how courtroom proceedings work, including the role of various participants and the terminology lawyers and judges use, might improve your ability to follow the trial. This skill can also allow you to anticipate or predict important moments to sketch.

  • The ability to work quickly under pressure: Speed is a highly sought-after skill in this role, as courtrooms are fast-paced environments in which the scenes you're sketching can change quickly. It's also important to maintain focus during the proceedings to ensure accuracy in your drawings.

Related: Understanding Art Fundamentals (With 5 Art Professionals)

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Typical work environment

Courtroom sketch artists work in a fast-paced, and sometimes tense environment. You may spend several hours per day watching court proceedings and may attend complex or high-profile trials that last several weeks. This means the work hours can vary significantly in this role, and the volume of work may change. The role may also involve travel, whether to other provinces and territories or internationally, to cover important trials that gain media attention. As a freelancer, you can determine whether you want to work locally or pursue sketching opportunities in other regions.

While you may spend several hours in the courtroom drawing, you may also work in a studio or another location to add more detail to the basic sketches you created on-site. You may also visit law offices and media organizations to share your work and discuss upcoming trials. This career provides a dynamic work environment with opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and personal fulfillment and is suitable for people who enjoy being artistic and working under pressure.

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