When a crime is committed, Kelly Lawson takes matters into her own hands.

Kelly Lawson is a forensic sketch artist at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. And while the job may look fun, it’s far from easy. Lawson has her victims recall memories from some of the most traumatizing moments of their lives.

“The relationship and the bond and the service that I get to do for the victim is more important to me than anything else I do in this job,” Lawson said.

Some of Kelly Lawson’s sketches hanging in her office. (Photo/Brittany Paris)

Family Ties

Lawson wasn’t always drawn to crime, but forensic crime sketching is in her DNA. Lawson’s mother, Marla, was the first forensic sketch artist in the state of Georgia.

A sketch of Marla Lawson created by her daughter, Kelly. (Photo/Brittany Paris)

After seeing how draining the job was on her mother, Lawson started to help out. She trained under her mother’s guidance and soon was able to call forensic crime sketching her own passion.

I fell in love with the work … I fell in love with that feeling: I did something worthwhile today. I made someone’s life a little bit better,” Lawson said.

Lawson is on call for sketching 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and she admits the job is far from easy.

“This job is impossibly difficult! You have to draw, you have to draw, draw, draw,” Lawson said.

Kelly Lawson creating a forensic sketch.

The Process

Lawson has a book full of photos of hundreds of old mugshots, celebrity faces and random faces from the internet. She tells victims to describe the suspect by pointing to similar features from the book.

One of the pages of photos Kelly Lawson uses to help identify suspects.

You’ve got to be able to capture a person’s emotion, a person’s quick glance, you have to be able to capture somebody’s personality. In a 20-minute drawing on charcoal,” Lawson said.

Crimes Solved in Athens

Lawson has helped solve many cases in Athens despite living in Atlanta. Most recently, Lawson drew the sketch that helped identify Zarren Garner, the man responsible for shooting a UGA student during an armed robbery on April 22.

A sketch of 20-year-old Zarren Garner made by Kelly Lawson. (Photo Courtesy/Athens-Clarke County Police)

Other Forensic Creations

Lawson doesn’t just create criminal facial composites, she also makes skull reconstructions to help identify victims.

“I paint it and then put a wig on it, and they release that to the media in hopes of identifying who that person would have been while they were alive,” Lawson said.

Some of Lawson’s facial reconstructions.

When a victim’s words alone can’t bring justice, a sketch can speak a thousand words. The power of her pencil helps these sketches come to life.

Brittany Paris is a senior at the University of Georgia pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism, a minor in communication studies and a certificate from the New Media Institute.


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