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 program

4-year undergraduate program

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.

Patrick Hulse | senior

“In Illustration we’re not stuck to a flat piece of paper. Our department focuses on how you’re going to tell a story—how you connect with people—not which medium to use. And it’s great to be surrounded by such a phenomenal community of people. I feel safe to express myself creatively but also challenged to push my own comfort zone.”

Susan Doyle | department head

"In our department we're concerned with the poetry of ideas and images, meaning we try to encourage the most poetic, eloquent and appropriate solutions to visual communications problems. Since the tools and media illustrators use are constantly evolving, our objective is to offer a broad-based curriculum aimed at coaxing from our students really dynamic and evocative message-making."

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

Julia Rothman BFA 02 | author/designer/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 In, The Exquisite Book, Farm Anatomy, Hello NY and Nature Anatomy.

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.

Brian Selznick BFA 88 | author/illustrator

A storytelling innovator, Brian Selznick is an award-winning children’s author with an unmistakable visual style. In books like Wonderstruck and The Marvels, the Brooklyn-based illustrator combines prose with hundreds of pages of wordless pencil drawings that are reminiscent of silent cinema. Selznick is perhaps best known for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was honored with a Caldecott Medal and adapted for the screen in Martin Scorcese’s Oscar-winning film Hugo.


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