Bachelor’s Program

In the four-year Illustration BFA program you take on a largely self-directed exploration of media, gaining a solid understanding of contemporary themes and concepts. Faculty encourage keen observation, strong conceptual thinking, and the mastery of manual skills and techniques you need to convey ideas in a compelling manner.


In the first year, sophomores focus on developing both creative intelligence and technical facility. Courses in illustrative problem solving nurture original thinking and conceptual clarity, while classes in drawing and painting strengthen basic image-making skills.

Juniors choose among a range of electives in both traditional and digital media, along with image formulation for specific professional applications. The program also encourages you to take on professional internships and independent study projects.

View the curriculum

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 the Illustration MFA program (established in 2022) and a large and eclectic faculty, leads to dynamic discussions in studios and other workspaces and a fruitful cross-pollination of ideas.

Each year visiting artists and art directors provide their 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.

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.