Experimental and Foundation Studies

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  • Based on the philosophy that all first-year undergraduate students at RISD benefit from a shared understanding of RISD’s approach to studio learning, freshmen follow the same studio curricula — known as Experimental and Foundation Studies. Each of the three programs of study meets one full day per week, with students expected to work on an ongoing series of challenging assignments outside of class time. Faculty work closely with students, offering ongoing guidance and feedback. Group critiques provide important opportunities for students to get comfortable with presenting their own work and providing helpful input to each other.

  • Core EFS Studios


    In this weekly full-day studio, students learn to meld ideas and observational skills while gaining fluency in using drawing as a means of conceptual visualization. Intensive work with the human figure, landscape, still life and thematic content allows for the exploration of form as it pertains to visual representation and the organization of surface through line, shape, light, texture and space. In strengthening drawing abilities, students learn to see differently and be better prepared to enter a chosen major as a sophomore.


    In this intensive studio, both traditional and digital media are used to explore the two-dimensional plane—including formal issues of pattern, rhythm, figure-ground, the effect of line, relative size, light and shade, texture and color. Logic, intuition and emotion all play vital roles as students learn to frame questions, solve problems and realize satisfying projects from concept to completion.

    Spatial Dynamics

    In the 3D studio, freshmen focus on objects in time and space, and on form as it occurs in nature, architecture and sculpture. Working with hand tools and basic materials such as paper, wood, clay, plaster and found objects, students explore the relationships between mass, volume and plane, and learn to think deductively and intuitively.

  • Faculty members emphasize the development of rigorous critical inquiry and motivate students to learn independently. Projects are designed to encourage exploration, questioning and risk taking. At the end of each project, critiques are held so that students can discuss their intentions and processes, and reflect on the capacity of the work to embody ideas and emotions.

  • Mariah Robinson | first-year student

    “I always knew I wanted to be an artist. So it’s a privilege to be able to explore my creative interests at such a culturally progressive school. During Wintersession I took a Creature Creation course and made amazing foam puppets and this spring we’ve been studying the dazzle camouflage collection at the RISD library for a project to manipulate perception through color and shape. I can already tell that I’ll keep finding new interests that are just waiting to be discovered at RISD.” 

  • Shawn Greenlee | associate professor + programs head

    “Critical inquiry — challenging untested assumptions — is at the core of what we teach in Experimental and Foundation Studies, which is also an ongoing necessity in the majors and in professional life. As they’re starting out, I tell my students that at RISD they can expect to immerse themselves in making and thinking and living their work. This is really the RISD experience. The culture of RISD is studio-intensive but it’s also a dream come true for most students.”

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  • Unlike RISD’s 16 discipline-specific undergraduate studio majors, Experimental and Foundation Studies compares and combines disciplines. It offers a multidisciplinary approach to learning fundamental concepts in studio production while emphasizing process, experimentation and critical thinking and making skills.

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