Academics Illustration

Bachelor’s program

BFA | 4-year program

Through a broad and diverse range of course offerings, Illustration majors engage in a largely self-directed exploration of media as they gain a solid understanding of contemporary themes and concepts. Faculty insist upon keen observation and strong conceptual thinking combined with the mastery of manual skills and techniques needed to convey ideas in a compelling manner.

Learning outcomes

Graduates are prepared to:

  • display in their work the maturation of both artistic voice and original thought as evidenced in the confluence of formal, conceptual and technical concerns.
  • articulate knowledge of art historical precedents and their significance to creating contemporary images.
  • demonstrate an ability to strengthen meaning by connecting with broader subjective concerns in the viewer's imagination through metaphor, pointed ambiguity and cultural references.
  • develop insight and criticality in the interpretation and evaluation of visual communication of a broad range of works, with an eye toward civic responsibility and an investment in the important cultural dialogue that is unique to illustration.
  • demonstrate this artistic consciousness through their own intelligent and sensitive use of symbolism, representations and vernacular in crafting images.

Inspiring community

As RISD's largest major, Illustration is home to approximately 300 undergraduates with a diverse range of skills and interests. This, combined with a large and eclectic group of full- and part-time faculty mentors, leads to dynamic discussions in studios and other workspaces, along with a fruitful cross-pollination of ideas among students at all levels of study. Each year a full roster of visiting artists and art directors provide outside perspective on various aspects of the profession. Distinguished professionals from around the country also offer valuable feedback through annual portfolio reviews.

Learning environment

From painting with pure egg-yolk tempera to creating 3D imagery for computer gaming, students in Illustration work across the full spectrum of media. They also hone conceptual and image-making skills through electives focused on virtually every professional application imaginable. Faculty with experience in specific fields offer courses on book and web design, editorial illustration, comics, caricature, picture books, graphic novels and much more.

For in-depth information about current studios and more, take a look at the Illustration department course catalogue.

Undergraduate student work

Curriculum

In the first year of the program, sophomores focus on developing both creative intelligence and technical facility. Courses in illustrative problem solving help nurture original thinking and conceptual clarity, while classes in drawing and painting strengthen basic image-making skills. Juniors choose among a broad range of electives in both traditional and digital media, along with image formulation for specific professional applications. Professional internships and independent study projects are also encouraged.

Foundation year

Fall
Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory and History of Art and Design I: Global Modernisms
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory and History of Art and Design II: Premodern Worlds

Sophomore

Fall
Visual Thinking
Drawing I: Visualizing Space
Painting I: Color Perception and Expression
History of Illustration or Liberal Arts elective
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio or Liberal Arts elective
Spring
Visual Strategies
Drawing II: the Articulate Figure
Painting II: Observation and Imagination
History of Illustration or Liberal Arts elective

Junior

Fall
Illustration electives
Computer Literacy requirement
Non-major elective
Liberal Arts electives
Wintersession
Liberal Arts elective
Spring
Illustration electives
Illustration Concepts
Liberal Arts elective

Senior

Fall
Illustration electives
Non-major elective
Liberal Arts elective
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Senior Portfolio
Illustration electives
Liberal Arts elective

Degree project

During the final year, seniors work to define a distinctive artistic voice while honing their portfolio and professional presentation skills. They also complete a final body of work and mount a public exhibition in the Illustration Gallery.

Application requirements

  1. First-year applicants

    You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a nonrefundable application fee of $60 to use this service, plus a nonrefundable $10 fee to submit a required online portfolio via SlideRoom. Learn more about the first-year application here.

    Transfer applicants

    Submit your RISD application form, and all other credentials, through the RISD Applicant Portal. The application fee is $60, plus a nonrefundable $10 fee to submit a required online portfolio via SlideRoom. Learn more about the transfer application here.

  2. First-year applicants

    Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

    Transcripts can be submitted by school officials through Parchment, eTranscript, email or mail. 

    Transfer applicants

    Applicants must provide official transcripts covering at least the last three full years of academic work completed. This should include all college transcripts and, if applicable, your secondary school transcript. If you attend a school where the language of instruction is not English, your academic credentials must be translated into English by an approved translator.

    Transcripts can be submitted by school officials through Parchment, eTranscript, email or mail. 

  3. Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    RISD is offering all applicants (domestic and international) the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students may opt into this process by selecting the test-optional option under the "Testing" portion within the RISD section of the Common Application. For students who choose to submit test scores, RISD will superscore your results, looking at your highest outcome across multiple test dates.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    Transfer credits

    Some Advanced Placement (AP), A-Level classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) credits can be used toward RISD liberal arts requirements. First-year students can transfer a maximum of nine credits from AP courses with a score of 4 or 5, A-Level classes with an earned grade of C or higher or Higher Level IB scores of 5, 6, or 7. RISD will not accept AP or IB credit from art or studio classes. View RISD's full transfer credit policy.

    English language proficiency tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since English proficiency is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants are required to meet a minimum score of at least 93 on the TOEFL, a 6.5 on the IELTS, or 115 on Duolingo.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must email the Admissions Office at admissions@risd.edu to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible for a waiver.

  4. Portfolio Submission

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. Once you've started your application to RISD in the Common Application, you will be directed to SlideRoom, a separate online platform, where you will upload your portfolio.

    What to include

    Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination, a photograph, or video). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.

    While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio uploads/slides. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

    Documentation

    Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed submission limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can be submitted across multiple slide submissions, combined into one composite including no more than 3 images or in a single video upload. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.

    Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive or zipped files are discouraged.

    You may be interested in attending or watching the recording of one of our Portfolio Tips webinars for more advice on how to approach your RISD application portfolio. 

    The RISD Assignment is no longer part of the application

    After extensive research and discussion, it has become evident that requiring the RISD Assignment functions as a barrier for applicants and is in direct conflict with RISD’s Social Equity and Inclusion action plan. To provide more access and equity in our admissions process, we have made the decision to remove the RISD Assignment as an application requirement beginning with the 2022/23 application cycle. We will continue to prioritize the portfolio when evaluating the visual component of an applicant’s candidacy.

  5. First-year applicants

    If you are applying as a first-year, RISD requires the Common Application Personal Essay (up to 650 words). You will find the writing prompts in the Writing section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in your essay.

    Transfer applicants

    Submit a written statement, up to 650 words, using the prompt indicated below. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    • Provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve by joining us at RISD.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a dynamic position in the samples you submit.

  6. Letters of recommendation can be very helpful to your application. One letter is required, although as many as three may be submitted. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential as a student.

    First-year applicants

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to admissions@risd.edu.

    Transfer applicants

    Please have your recommendation writers submit their letters directly to admissions@risd.edu. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below).