an Illustration student at a drawing table surrounded by work

As a creative discipline Illustration at RISD is broadly defined — by purpose, not media. While illustrators employ the same tools used in painting, photography, film, graphic design and other disciplines, they make imagery with the intent of conveying specific meaning and messages.

Degree programs

Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

In the Illustration BFA program you gain a broad-based sense of what’s possible within the field and enjoy opportunities to master traditional and advanced skills for creating effective, communicative work.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

The MFA in Illustration encourages you to reflect on the illustrator‘s role as an influential social actor and readies you to turn your practice to the benefit of society and transformation of the field.

In the studio

Whether painting at the easel, drawing on a computer screen or making 3D characters, Illustration majors learn to master the skills and techniques needed for effective visual storytelling.

Featured stories

Visual Narratives that Inspire Change

Students in a fall studio highlighting humans’ impact on the natural world get encouraging critique from returning alum and wildlife artist Walton Ford.

Record Number of RISD Fulbrights

Seven artists and designers will advance cross-cultural dialogue across Europe and Asia during the 2022–23 academic year.  

Forbes Recognizes Trailblazers

Four recent RISD graduates are included in the latest Forbes 30 Under 30 compilation.

Student work

a closeup of multicolored flower petals pressed onto a framed surface

In mastering the ability to draw and paint powerful, meaningful images, students graduate ready to write and illustrate books, create surface designs for products, work in web or game design, become an animator or character designer and communicate concepts through one of many other creative paths open to Illustration majors.

Alumni at work

Shepard Fairey BFA 92 | artist/activist

For more than 20 years, Shepard Fairey has critiqued and shaped popular culture through guerrilla art campaigns of global proportions. Now, he’s a graphic designer, entrepreneur and fine artist with museum shows throughout the US and abroad. Best known for his ubiquitous 2008 Hope poster of Barack Obama, Fairey’s image of the president is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and led to a commission for the cover of TIME magazine. For the last decade, he has also been working in the commercial realm through his LA-based creative agency Studio Number One.

Sonny Liew BFA 01 | comics artist

Since creating his first comic strip in 1995, Malaysia-born Singaporean Sonny Liew has built a successful career illustrating creator-owned comics as well as monthly titles for Marvel, DC and several other comics publishers. With recent work including critically acclaimed DC series Doctor Fate and Eternity Girl, he is best known as the author of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye , an ambitious, deconstructive graphic novel about the history of modern Singapore. “I’m trying to make history more inclusive,” he said of the book that won three Eisner Awards in 2017, including one for Best Writer/Artist.

Julia Rothman BFA 02 | author/illustrator

Working out of her studio in Brooklyn, NY, Julia Rothman combines disparate interests into a career of her own making. She freelances as an illustrator and pattern designer, creating products, designs and branding for clients ranging from Anthropologie to Crate & Barrel, The New York Times, Urban Outfitters and Victoria's Secret. In addition, Rothman runs the design studio Also with two RISD friends, and based on her lifelong love of books, writes a book blog and has published a growing number of books of her own, including Drawn InThe Exquisite Book, Farm AnatomyHello NY and Nature Anatomy.

brushstroke-covered surfaces stacked atop one another