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

    Don’t let the admission application fee prevent you from applying! If the fee presents a hardship for you or your family, we’ll waive it for you. You can request a waiver two ways: 1. Navigate to the "Fee Waiver" portion on the Common App and check off the answer which most fits your family circumstances and you'll be able to submit your application without entering your credit card information. 2: If your situation does not match any of the waiver criteria on the Common App fee waiver section, email admissions@risd.edu and we’ll process the waiver manually. To receive a SlideRoom fee waiver, please email admissions@risd.edu.

  2. 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.

  3. Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    Beginning with students applying for entrance in 2021, RISD is offering all applicants the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students may opt into this process by selecting this option 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 A-Level classes and IB credits can be used toward RISD liberal arts requirements. First-year students can transfer a maximum of nine credits from A-Level classes with an earned grade of C or higher or Higher Level IB grades of 5, 6, or 7. RISD will not accept 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 proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on their chosen test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS.

    Duolingo is changing its scoring system beginning with tests completed on July 15, 2019 and beyond. If you took this test prior to the change, we require a minimum result of 63. Applicants who completed the Duolingo test on or after July 15, 2019 must achieve a minimum score of 115, which is the equivalent of 63 in their prior scoring system.

    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 contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

  4. Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application, where you will begin the application process.

    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 or a photograph). 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 selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

    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 file limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can either be submitted as an individual image or video upload, or you can upload a composite including up to three images. 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 not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

  5. Below is a list of paired concepts. Choose one pair and make work where the ideas are in conversation* with each other. 

    • Ephemeral / tangible 
    • Complexity / contradiction
    • Chaos / order

    Submission 1: one preparatory study

    We recommend that you make a series of experiments and studies as you work towards a final piece. This could be a sketch, storyboard, 3d model study, short video or animation, exercise, etc. The study does not need to be complicated. Show the development in your thinking. 

    While you may make text-based preparatory works, only include one visual study in your SlideRoom entry.  Please do not include inspiration images. 

    Submission 2: one final work 

    You can then choose to translate these ideas through your choice of material, concept, or process of making. 

    Your work can be made out of any visual materials: two-dimensional, three-dimensional, four-dimensional.

    Tips: The Assignment is an opportunity for you to show us how you think and make. Your reviewers want to see how you grapple with abstract ideas and express them in your art and design work. Have fun with this Assignment. Make work that is authentically interesting to you.

    *When we say ‘in conversation,’ we are referencing the exchange of ideas that grows from the words in the pair. Like any good conversations, there is a push and pull. There are potential challenges, tension, and harmony. Consider asking yourself questions like:

    • Where do you observe these concepts in your life and in the world?
    • How are these words different? Where do they overlap? 
    • How can you express these ideas visually?

    Think deeply about the words you choose. There are many directions this ‘conversation’ can go. 

    For more info, check out our info session about the new Assignment. 

  6. Submit your college essay, up to 650 words. You will find the writing prompts in the Personal Essay 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 the essay you submit.

  7. 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.

    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.