pages Sketches from a Life of a Police Sketch Artist

by Etan Nechin

Published in Issue No. 218 ~ July, 2015

Sketch Artist


When he’s not outlining perps’ faces down at the precinct with his trusty 4H pencil, he draws flowers and koi at the park next to his house in bright watercolors.


Given it is a part time job, he supplements his income as a tutor at a life drawing class in the local senior center. Given that the senior center is Methodist, the models always keep their clothes on.


He has been out of a relationship for the past two years and dating is proving difficult for him. On a recent date, while chewing on a juicy piece of steak, his date, a woman eight years his elder, confessed that although she is not racist it doesn’t seem reasonable that she, white and female, should have to take her shoes off while going through security at the airport.

In that instant, the steak served him well as he just nodded and kept on working on the sinewy meat, avoiding further conversation on the matter.


He finds his colleagues personable. Although he is not one of them, he finds their sense of camaraderie reassuring. Now and again, one of them will stand behind him as he sketches and will compliment his work, “nice eyebrows”, or “you’re gonna make this scumbag look like Don Johnson.” That particular comment was made by the captain, who is fifteen years his elder.


He applied for the job after he read the description of a wanted ad in his alumni paper and found that he possessed the majority of the desirable qualifications:

“Degree field – requirements vary by employer. Fine art or a related degree is essential.

Experience – requirements vary but some experience in the art world is necessary.

Key skills – people skills, drawing skills; some requirements may vary.”

The captain, a reserved man with a moustache reminiscent of that of general Von Hindenburg (he only noticed it because of a documentary he watched a week prior), sat stoically at his desk, examining the portraits in the portfolio. After a firm handshake and an affirmative nod, the artist became a sketch artist.


Most people, while describing a perp, will lean towards hyperbole and embellishment, “His eyes were black as night” or “No, bigger, bigger. He had a nose so big, he looked like a pelican.”

After a while on the job, the sketch artist learned to extract essential information while reassuring the witness that their description is accurate and germane to the case, “Eyes like Cher, but a younger Cher. Not Sonny and Cher young, but young enough. got it.”


He thought of making an exhibition of his works, but he couldn’t get a release from three of the perps he wanted to feature in his show. One was upstate doing five years for armed robbery. The second was killed in a lover’s quarrel, and the third was now a chaplain in a hospital two towns over and said that that face is no longer his — it belongs to the Lord, and the Lord doesn’t sign releases.


He’s getting really good at watercolors and spends pratically all of his afternoons in the park next to his house. He has become friendly with a yoga teacher who conducts her lessons in the big lawn next to the pond.


Lately he has been thinking about his future. Are there promotions for police sketch artists? Could he create a sketch class and promote it with a line like, “Taught by a working police sketch artist.”

Would that draw in a crowd? Could he teach it at the senior center?


Last week he sketched three descriptions of perps: two of them had your average run-of-the-mill face but the third, which was also the final sketch of the week, had a glass eye, a scar on his right cheek and a long braided pony tale.

While the witness was describing the perp, he thought that surely he’ll get caught, sketch or not. All that’s needed is to put a description on the APB: “male, medium size, face like a arch-villain.”

He chuckled to himself. The witness looked at him perplexed, thinking that he was laughing at her heavy lisp.


On a suggestion from the yoga teacher, now his girlfriend, he printed out business cards. They read,

“Professional Artist and Tutor.

Drawing, Painting and Sketches. Private and Group lessons.”

He chose to omit his other title in case someone would think he only taught how to sketch faces but they were interested in painting water lilies or Bassett Hounds.


For the captain’s upcoming retirement party, the policemen asked if he could do a portrait of the captain. He obliged and when one of them asked, “Don’t you need a photo?” He answered, “No, I have a good sense of his face, and if I forget, I still have that WWI documentary recorded on my DVR.”

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Etan Nechin is an Israeli born author and artist currently based in Brooklyn, NY. He has contributed to such publication as Gravel Magazine, MonkeyBicycle, Entropy, Apocrypha and Abstractions The Huffington Post, Mouth London and several other publications in Hebrew. Recently his co-written text, "Utter: The Violent Necessity for the Embodied Presence of Hope", was published as part of the Slovenian pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennial.