Veteran Bellevue police sketch artist retiring

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- After 31 years as a cop, a Bellevue Police detective will soon retire from the force to focus on a new career as an artist.

Detective Greg Bean started sketching for the department about 15 years ago. His drawings have helped police capture dozens of crooks, he said.

Bean has been in Bellevue for about 21 years. He started his law enforcement career in Springville, Utah, then moved to Washington so he could go back to school. He went to the University of Washington, where he studied Russian language and history.

He went to work for the Bellevue Police Department in 1993.

Bean said he swore after high school that he'd never draw again. That changed in the late 1990s when a Bellevue Police lieutenant came to him with an order.

"He told me, 'Greg, you're going to art school.' And I said 'you're nuts. I mean, you're full of nuts. I don't draw at all,'" said Bean.

Bean said at that time, he didn't know how to conduct an interview to turn an suspect description into a face on a page.

The short art class helped Bean learn how to sketch and conduct interviews. On the first day of class, Bean said something his instructor said stuck with him.

"She said, 'Art is not about drawing. It's about seeing.' And that really caught my imagination," Bean said.

Bean swore from then on that he would draw something every week. He's done just that.

Ever since, he's sketched hundreds of suspects that have helped lead to dozens of arrests. And he discovered the joy of portraits and oil paintings along the way. He's always had his sketch book by his side, he said.

"I would carry sketch books with me everywhere I went," Bean said. "I sketched standing in line, I sketched at my kids' baseball game. You know, if he wasn't in the field or up at bat. That's how I got addicted."

Most of his suspect sketches over the past several years have been done digitally.

Bean said he still loves police work but admits he's ready for a new challenge.

"I know it sounds odd, but there's an incredibly deeply spiritual kind of element to drawing that I never expected," Bean said.

Next month, he'll start working on a degree in illustration at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Even though he's retiring from the Bellevue Police Department, Bean said he still plans to draw sketches for police departments across the country.