|1||ArtCenter College of Design||Pasadena|
|2||Otis College of Art and Design||Los Angeles|
|3||California College of the Arts||San Francisco|
|4||California State University - Long Beach||Long Beach|
|5||California State University - Northridge||Northridge|
|6||Laguna College of Art and Design||Laguna Beach|
|7||San Jose State University||San Jose|
|8||California State University - Fullerton||Fullerton|
|9||Academy of Art University||San Francisco|
|10||California State University - Fresno||Fresno|
Our 2019 ranking of the top illustration school programs in California. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.
Founded in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design serves approximately 2,100 students enrolled in 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs in Industrial Design, Visual, and Applied Arts Disciplines. The school, which also offers a joint MS/MBA program with the Drucker-Ito School of Management, has two campuses in Pasadena and satellite studios in Los Angeles (at the Peterson Automotive Museum), and Berlin. Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration. An Interdisciplinary MFA is also available.
Students in the program choose from five main areas of specialization including Illustration Design, Illustration/Fine Art, Entertainment Arts, Motion Design and Surface Design. A Designmatters Minor is also available. The curriculum moves from foundations skills such as figure drawing, painting and perspective and to the students chosen specialization or minor. Per the school, “the curriculum encompasses a wide range of core studies and collaborations with other disciplines that equips students with strong practical skills, as well as substantial business knowledge.”
Sample courses for the program include Advanced Portraiture, Designing Social Enterprise, Digital Illustration, Experimental Collection Strategies for Surface Design, Illustrative Storytelling, Op Ed Illustration, 3D Motion Graphics, Sequential Design and Visual Development. Graduates of the program have been hired at ArtCenter industry partners such as Apple, Blizzard, DreamWorks, Google, Mattel, Walt Disney and many others.
Notable Illustration alumni include Rockstar Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park; Mark “Crash” McCreery Creature Designer/Concept Designer for Batman Returns, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Drew Struzan, Movie Poster Illustrator for Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, the Muppets, Star Wars and others; and Phil Hettema, Experiential Designer for The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man, Jurassic Park: The Ride, and Hello Kitty Park.
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis. The school serves approximately 1,100 full-time students enrolled in 11 BFA degree programs ranging from Digital Media (Animation, Game and Entertainment Design, and Motion Design) to Toy Design. The school also offers MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing, and a variety of minors and certificate programs.
Specific programs for aspiring illustrators are offered through the Communication Arts Department. Offerings include a BFA and a Minor in Illustration. Program highlights include visiting artists, conventions, field trips, and student exhibitions. Students can expect to take foundation courses such as Connections Through Color and Design, Drawing and Building Form, Introduction to Visual Culture, and Ways of Knowing. Sample Illustration courses include Alternative Materials and Procedures for Illustrators, Entrepreneur 101, Illustration Communication Studio, Printmaking, and Typography for Illustrators.
Otis College of Art and Design lists the following selected employers Conde Nast Publications, Disney Consumer Products, Hallmark, Interscope Records, Los Angeles Magazine, Mattel, Ogilvy Worldwide, Sony Music, Twentieth Century Fox, WB Network, and Young & Rubicam.
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) serves more than 1,500 undergraduates and 450+ graduate students enrolled 22 undergraduate and 12 graduate degree programs, plus four minors. The school offers a BFA in Illustration and MFA programs in Fine Arts, Comics, and more. A BFA in an Individualized major is also available.
Per the school, the BFA in Illustration is taught by “Award-Winning Illustrators” and “digital innovators using the latest technology.” The curriculum is interdisciplinary, which allows students to explore courses outside the program such as Animation, Creative Writing, Fine-Art Painting, Graphic Design, and Printmaking. The program also provides the opportunity for students to develop as entrepreneurs through courses such as Professional Practice, Thesis, and Portfolio.
Other sample courses include Illustration Studios 1-3, Illustration Tools: Digital Illustration, Illustration Tools: Painting for Illustrators, Literary & Performing Arts Studies, Media History: History of Illustration, 2D, 3D & 4D, and Visual Studies.
Graduates of the Illustration program at California College of the Arts are prepared to seek positions at magazines, for the entertainment industry, and for websites, books, comics, products, packaging, posters, and more.
California State University Long Beach (CSULB) was established in 1949. One of the 23 campuses of the California State University System, CSULB serves 37,500 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across eight colleges. The College of the Arts, School of Art, offers several programs for aspiring illustrators. Options include a BFA with an Illustration Track, an individualized MA or MFA, and a Certificate in Biomedical Art.
Students in the BFA program can take courses from both the Illustration and Animation Tracks and work together in the school’s digital lab, in addition to learning traditional skills. Sample courses for the program include Advanced Illustration, Advanced Life painting, Costumed Figure Drawing, Experimental Animation, Special Studies in Illustration, Storyboarding for Film and Television, and Visual Development. Workshops and presentations are also part of the program as well as courses taught by resident illustration faculty comprised of experienced professional artists currently working in the fields of illustration and animation.
As customized programs, the MA and MFA “are dependent on the student’s preparation, interests and talents,” says the school. “This program centers on each student developing a strong personal and independent creative vision.” Students in the program “will create a focused body of work in the form of an exhibition as the culminating experience of the degree.”
The interdisciplinary Certificate in Biomedical Art is sponsored by the Art and Biological Sciences Departments. The program is available to students who are presently enrolled in a degree program in the Biological Sciences or in Art at CSULB.
Graduates of the Illustration Programs at CSULB are prepared a professional position as an artist or designer, and for teaching studio art within a selected specialization.
Founded in 1958, California State University Northridge (CSUN) serves more than 40,000 students enrolled in more than 140 programs. The school consists of nine colleges, including the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, which houses the Department of Art. Several illustration programs are available through the Department and include BA, MA and MFA degrees in Visual Arts with a Concentration Illustration.
Per the school, in the Illustration Concentration, students will study illustration “as both an art form and as a profession. Topics cover “portfolio and website development, goal setting, researching employment opportunities, self-promotion and business and trade practices.” Projects focus on a variety of technical skills in digital media and fine art, self-expression, conceptual problem-solving abilities, composition and design, and the development of a personal artistic vision. Other program highlights include interaction with visiting artists, internship and study abroad opportunities, and the opportunity to exhibit illustrations at various showcases.
All Curb College Department of Art students have the opportunity to participate in industry and studio events, organized studio tours, and ongoing collaborative educational partnering with DreamWorks studios and Seoul Institute of the Arts. Students also participate in industry events and internships with Nickelodeon, Disney, Film Roman, Warner Bros., and others.
Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) serves more than 600 students and it offers twelve undergraduate majors and four graduate degrees. Options for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Graphic Design + Digital Media with an Illustration Emphasis, a BFA in Illustration in Entertainment Design, and an Illustration Minor, which consists of 15 credit hours in courses such as Computer Imaging, Graphic Illustration and Illustrative Painting.
The BFA in Graphic Design + Digital Media with an Illustration Emphasis (GD+DM) prepares students for careers in illustration, motion graphics, 3D, package design, user experience and interfaces, advertising, social media, photography and video, and virtual reality. Classes are project-based and include titles such as Communication Design, Design Drawing, Digital Videography, Fundamentals of Illustration, Rendering, and User Interface Design. Students in the program will have the opportunity to complete a professional portfolio and complete real-world projects with industry partners such as Obsidian Entertainment, OC Art Studios, and Xist Publishing.
Students in the Illustration in Entertainment Design BFA program will learn how to combine art and technology to create live shows, museum exhibitions, themed events, themed restaurants and parks, TV and film productions, and more. Per the school, the curriculum provides “real-life, hands-on instruction with concept design, model and prop-making, and 3-D digital tools.” Sample courses for the program include Artistic Environment Design for Entertainment, Art of Costume, Fundamentals of Maya, Pictorial Design for Illustration, and Visual Storytelling for Entertainment.
Graduates of the Entertainment Design program work at a variety of major companies and studios including Blizzard Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Microsoft Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, Warner Bros., and many others.
Founded in 1857, San Jose State University (SJSU) serves more than 32,000 students enrolled in 145 areas of study, with an additional 108 concentrations, across eight colleges. The College of Humanities and the Arts, Department of Design offers a BFA in Animation/Illustration. Graduates of this program have worked on films from A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo to Monsters, Inc. and Shrek.
Graduates have also been hired at more than 135 animation studios, game design companies, film studios, and academic institutions. Just a few include 20th Century Fox, Animation Mentor, Blue Sky Studios, Blizzard Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Cogswell Institute, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Lucasfilm Animation, NBCUniversal Studios, Nickelodeon, Pixar, Sony/Columbia, The Art Institute of Las Vegas, Disney Animation, and Zynga.
The Department of Design also offers an MFA in Digital Media Art. The program is offered at the CADRE Institute, which “reflects the innovative atmosphere in Silicon Valley.” Academic programs emphasize artistic experimentation within a context of historical, cultural, and theoretical study. The program is intended for students with interest in contemporary research. CADRE's diverse community of faculty and graduate students produce artworks involving visualization, simulation, hypertextuality, information, mapping, telepresence, networks, and interactive systems.
Technical facilities include a wide range of computing resources. Students work across the boundaries of computer visualization, animation, digital video, multimedia, electronic sculpture, sound and virtual reality. CADRE supports its own networking environment and offers excellent opportunities to produce internet-based artworks.
Founded in 1957, California State University Fullerton (CSUF) serves approximately 39,340 students enrolled in 110 degree programs across eight colleges. The College of Arts is home to the Department of Visual Arts, which offers three programs for aspiring illustrators. Options include BFA, MA, and MFA programs in Art with a Concentration in Illustration.
The BFA program is designed for students interested in developing skills in a focused area and preparing for graduate study. The Illustration Concentration requires preparation courses such as 3D Computer Animation, Lettering and Typography, and Life Drawing. Major courses include Cartooning and Caricature, Digital Narrative Illustration, Elements of Sequential Art, Special Studies in Illustration, and Visual Development and Background Painting. All students will have the opportunity to complete an internship.
Per the school, the MA program “provides a balance of study and practice for those who wish a career in the visual arts, or who want to prepare for further graduate work in the field.” The program consists of nine units of required studio courses, as well as at least 12 units in Illustration. Students may also take an additional three to six units in Illustration or other electives. All students will complete a project to exhibit in one of the Department of Arts graduate galleries.
The MFA is a “rigorous” studio program that requires 60 units to graduate. Students in the program must take 24 units in the Studio Area of the Illustration Concentration, at least 12 units of electives, and independent study. A studio project is also part of the program.
Graduates of the Illustration programs at CSUF have found employment at major entertainment and publishing companies, such as the Cartoon Network, DreamWorks SKG, Lucas Films Ltd. and Walt Disney Company.
Established in 1929, Academy of Art University serves more than 7,200 students enrolled in dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs. Degrees are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and many programs are available entirely online. The School of Illustration offers five programs for aspiring illustrators. Options include AA, BFA, MA and MFA degrees in Illustration. A Certificate in Illustration is also available. These degree programs are available entirely online, and some courses for the certificate program are offered online.
The AA in Illustration focuses developing skills in the areas of anatomy, figure drawing, rendering, and traditional media including charcoal and paint. The Digital Media component for the program focuses on imagery using both vector and bitmap tools. The BFA program consists of eight semesters of coursework covering the areas such as drawing, composition and color, presentation skills, professional development, tools and techniques, and visual problem solving.
Sample courses for the program include Advanced Perspective for Illustration, Analysis of Form, Blogging: Content Creation & Promotion, Editorial Illustration for Apps and Publication, Film & Games, Digital Media 2: Illustrative Imaging, Elements of Digital Painting, Illustration for Consumer Products & Licensing, Interactive and Vector Art, Interactive Illustration, Portfolio Preparation and Self Promotion, Social Media Strategies, and Web Design. Students in the program will also complete an internship, collaborative projects, and a study abroad experience.
The MA and MFA programs prepare students for intermediate to advanced positions in a range of industries. They are also prepared for success as entrepreneurs or freelancers. Sample courses include Head Drawing for Illustrators, Perspective for Characters & Environment, Professional Practices for Illustrators, Skill Enhancement: Advanced Digital Painting, Skill Enhancement: Interactive & Vector Art, and The Rendered Figure. Graduate students will attend a Graduate Seminar in Europe, complete a thesis, and participate in a study abroad experience.
Students in all programs benefit from guest speakers, workshops, and events that the school says help students “create an insider network” that connects them with industry professionals. They have the opportunity to work with WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS, which has been a partner to Academy of Art University for more than half a decade, and to collaborate with “artists, designers, and innovators outside of the classroom.” Internship opportunities are also available.
Graduates of the program are prepared to pursue a career as a children’s book illustrator, comic book artist, concept artist, editorial or advertising illustrator, graphic novelist, interactive illustrator, storyboard artist, and many others. Graduates have been hired by Chronicle Books, Marvel, Random House, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Wired, and many other companies.
California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) was founded as Fresno State Normal School in 1911. One of the 23 campuses of the California State University system, Fresno State serves more than 24,400 students enrolled in hundreds of programs, including 45 master’s degrees, through eight colleges and schools. The College of Arts and Humanities houses the Department of Art and Design, which offers BFA in Graphic Design with an Emphasis in Illustration.
Per the school, the curriculum “explores the many aspects of graphic design including the physical, cognitive, social, and cultural human factors. It will also explore theories, principles, and practice in relation to typography, illustration, computer graphics, web design, motion graphics, history of graphic design, and creative, critical visual thinking skills that are applicable to professional practice and to meet entrance requirements to graduate school.”
Sample courses for the program include Advanced Illustration, Advanced Digital Illustration, Drawing, GD Computer Imaging, Illustration Techniques, Interaction of Color, Internet Design, Professional Practices in Graphic Design, Typography, Visual Communications, and Visualization and Illustration.
All students will have the opportunity to complete an internship and participate in the study abroad program. A final project is also part of the curriculum and graduates will leave the program with a portfolio to shop around to potential employers.