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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.

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

Junior

Fall
Illustration electives
Computer Literacy requirement
Non-major elective
Liberal Arts elective
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. Common Application

    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; eligible students may apply for a fee waiver.

  2. Academic transcripts

    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. Tests

    SAT or ACT

    All applicants are required to submit the results of the SAT or the ACT (American College Testing program). RISD will superscore your results. Subject tests are not required.

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

    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, a 6.5 on IELTS or a 63 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 contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

  4. Portfolio

    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. The Assignment

    In addition to submitting your portfolio, all applicants must respond to the following assignment (your response to which will be uploaded in a specific section of SlideRoom dedicated to the assignment):

    Begin by observing a phenomenon or choosing an object in the natural world. Create a visual reaction to this object or phenomenon. You may use any medium and work at any scale. Document this work and upload it as your first response.

    Then, make a transformation to or modification of your first response. We encourage you to impose no limits to the potential nature or scale of the alteration to your first solution. Document this altered work and upload it as your second response.

  6. Writing sample

    Submit one example of your writing, up to 650 words. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    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 samples you submit.

  7. Letter(s) of recommendation

    Although not required, these letters can be very helpful to your application. One letter is suggested, 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.