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What are the top private illustration schools for 2020?
|Ranking||College||State||% of Schools Considered|
|1||Rhode Island School of Design||Rhode Island||2%|
|2||Ringling College of Art and Design||Florida||3%|
|3||School of Visual Arts||New York||4%|
|4||ArtCenter College of Design||California||5%|
|5||Pratt Institute||New York||7%|
|6||Maryland Institute College of Art||Maryland||8%|
|7||California College of the Arts||California||9%|
|8||Savannah College of Art and Design||Georgia||10%|
|9||The New School’s Parsons School of Design||New York||15%|
|10||Minneapolis College of Art & Design||Minnesota||15%|
|11||Otis College of Art and Design||California||15%|
|12||Washington University in St. Louis||Missouri||15%|
|13||Columbus College of Art and Design||Ohio||20%|
|14||Laguna College of Art and Design||California||20%|
|15||Syracuse University||New York||20%|
|16||The University of the Arts||Pennsylvania||20%|
|17||Pacific Northwest College of Art||Oregon||25%|
|18||Kansas City Art Institute||Missouri||25%|
|19||Cleveland Institute of Art||Ohio||25%|
|20||Brigham Young University||Utah||25%|
|21||College for Creative Studies||Michigan||30%|
|22||Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design||Wisconsin||30%|
|23||University of Hartford||Connecticut||30%|
|24||Academy of Art University||California||30%|
Our 2020 list of the Top 25 Private Illustration Schools in the US. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
1. Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island (Top 2% of schools considered)
Founded in 1877, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is one of the first art and design schools in the U.S. Serving approximately 2,500 students from across the U.S. and 57 other countries, the school has 19 studio majors and leading to bachelor’s or master’s degrees in the Fine Arts, Architecture, Design or Art Education. The school’s most popular programs are Illustration, Painting, Graphic Design, Film/Animation/Video (FAV), Illustration, and Industrial Design.
Offered through the Illustration Department, the BFA in Illustration is RISD’s largest major. The program has approximately 300 undergraduate students “with a diverse range of skills and interests,” says the school. Program highlights include a full roster of visiting artists and art directors, professionals from across the country who offer feedback through annual portfolio reviews, and access to computer resources, printmaking studios, software such as AfterEffects, InDesign and Maya, and the ISB Gallery, which hosts a mix of student or curriculum related exhibitions throughout the academic year.
Sample courses for the program include Advanced Painting, Animalia, Cinematic Storytelling, Digital 3D for Illustrators, Dragon Concept & Character Development, In 3-d Mixed Media, Fantasy Painting: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of, Style & Substance, Merging Worlds, The Magic of Books, Virtual Reality for Palliative Care, Visible Cities, and Word, Images and Ideas. Students will take workshops such as Maya Basics, Pigments & Emulsions, and Zbrush Sculpting and Illustration as well.
Another option for aspiring illustrators interested in combining science and art is offered through the Continuing Education (CE) Division. The Certificate in Natural Science Illustration allows students to “explore various media and techniques including pencil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache and oil to discover their individual style; and composition and color strategies enable students to fully interpret, capture and portray subjects including birds, animals, botanicals, etc. in natural environments.”
The Certificate Program “utilizes RISD’s unique facilities including the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab as well as site/field visits to the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History, Zoo and Greenhouse.” Students in the program will “progress towards creating portfolio-ready pieces of natural science subjects for the purpose of professional presentation and potential publication.” Course highlights include Applied Color, Digital Design Techniques, Adobe Photoshop, Drawing from Nature, The Artful Bird: Ornithological Illustration, and The Artful Insect: Entomological Illustration. Students will complete several “weekend technique intensives,” as well as Final Studio: Natural Science Illustration.
Graduates of the art and design programs at RISD work as entrepreneurs or creative professionals at studios such as Pixar, DreamWorks, and Harmonix, or for networks like Fox, HBO, and PBS. Famous RISD graduates include Seth Macfarlane, creator of Family Guy, Daniel Sousa, animator and director of the Oscar-nominated film Feral, and Lance Wilder, animator for The Simpsons.
2. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida (Top 3% of schools considered)
Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) was established in 1931 by circus baron, art collector, and real estate developer John Ringling. A member of the only global association to serve art and design education research (Cumulus), RCAD opened with just 75 students and 111 course offerings. Today, the school serves more than 1,600 students enrolled in 13 BA and BFA degree programs and nine minors. Illustration, Computer Animation, Film, Game Art, Graphic Design, and Virtual Reality Development are just a few options.
RCAD programs offer a rigorous curriculum, which combines studio and liberal arts, with client projects, substantive internships, and national competitions. Offered through the Illustration Department, the Illustration BFA covers the fundamentals of color theory, composition, anatomy, and digital and traditional media. The school says that “working in 2D and 3D, Illustration students are introduced to and familiarized with professional industry techniques through exercises, demonstrations, guest speakers, critiques, collaborative projects, internships, recruiter workshops, and interactions with real clients in the area.” Sample courses for the program include Computer Illustration, Design and Topography, Figure Drawing, Film and Narrative, Illustration Media, and 3D Design for CA & IL.
Other program highlights include the opportunity to enter a semester-long exchange program or a four-five week summer program at Studio Arts Center International (SACI), located in Florence, Italy, internship opportunities at major companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Blue Sky Studios, Disney, Hasbro, and Pixar, and participation in The Annual Illustration show, Illest of the Ill—a department juried exhibition curated and coordinated entirely by students.
Students in the program also have access to two Cintiq labs solely for Illustration, access to three 24-hour Cintiq labs, painting and drawing studios, and a laptop for every student, fully equipped with the latest Adobe Creative Suite software.
Ringling College students have won more wards in the 40-year history of the Society of Illustrators than any other college, and comprise the highest number of accepted entries into the Society’s annual Student Scholarship Competition. Graduates leave the program with a “comprehensive, cohesive portfolio” that showcases their work and they will be prepared for illustration positions in a range of industries.
Graduates have been hired by American Greetings, Apple, Blue Sky Studios, Cartoon Network, Disney, EA Games, GM, Google, Hallmark, Marvel Comics/Lucasfilm, Riot Games, United Airlines, Walt Disney, Zynga, and many others.
3. School of Visual Arts, New York, New York (Top 4% of schools considered)
Founded in 1947 as “Cartoonists and Illustrators School,” School of Visual Arts (SVA) serves more than 3,700 students enrolled in over 30 programs in areas ranging from fine arts and graphic design to filmmaking and illustration. The programs at SVA lead to the BFA, MFA, MA, MAT or MPS degree. Offerings for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration and an MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay. A BFA in Cartooning is also available.
SVA has the largest illustration faculty of any school in America. In addition to employing 69 faculty members, the SVA Illustration Department serves 473 students enrolled in more than 75 courses.
The BFA curriculum consists of 72 credits in studio, 30 credits in humanities and sciences, 15 credits in art history, and three credits in elective courses. Sample courses for the program include Collage Illustration, Designing Tattoos and Other Emblems, Etching and Monoprint as Illustration, Laboratory for Moving Pictures: Adventures in Limited Animation, Novelty Books for Young Children, and Pop-Up: 3D Paper Engineering.
While still students at School of Visual Arts, students have landed assignments for The New Yorker, The New York Press, Mad Magazine, and The Village Voice. Students are also frequent winners of the highest awards at the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, and many other industry-based student competitions.
Established in 1984, the MFA in Illustration as Visual Essay is a competitive program that accepts just 20 students per year. Students in the program can expect to complete requirements in Computer Illustration, Creative Writing, Drawing, Painting, Storytelling, and Visual Essay. Students will also complete a number of workshops as well as an Illustration Business Book Camp.
Other highlights for the two-year program include close interaction between faculty and students, a personal workspace with 24-hour access, seven days a week, the opportunity to audit classes in film, animation, fine arts and humanities, and regularly scheduled guest speakers from the New York professional arts community. Opportunities for access to working artists, gallery shows, museum exhibitions and internships are also available.
Graduates of SVA’s Illustration Department have gone on to work on films such as Sleepy Hollow and for designers such as Prada and Van’s.
4. ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California (Top 5% of schools considered)
Founded in 1930, ArtCenter College of Design serves approximately 2,250 students representing more than 40 countries. The school offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degree programs in a variety of Industrial Design, Visual, and Applied Arts Disciplines. A joint MS/MBA program with the Drucker-Ito School of Management is also available. The school, which has a campus in Berlin, two campuses in Pasadena, and satellite studios in Los Angeles at the Peterson Automotive Museum, offers a BFA in Illustration and an Interdisciplinary MFA.
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. “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,” says the school.
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.
5. Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York (Top 7% of schools considered)
Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute serves more than 4,800 students enrolled in over 25 undergraduate degree programs and concentrations and more than 26 graduate degree programs in the Schools of Art, Design, Architecture, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Information. Programs for aspiring illustrators are offered through the School of Art and the School of Design. Founded in 2014, the School of Design offers “up to four of Pratt’s oldest and most esteemed disciplines,” says the school. This includes Communications Design, Fashion Design, Industrial Design, and Interior Design.
Options for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Communications Design with an Illustration Emphasis in the School of Design and AOS and AAS degrees in Illustration, and an AAS in Graphic/Illustration in the School of Art. The school says students who select the BFA with an illustration Emphasis “take a series of upper-level studio courses that explore topics particularly relevant to image-based communication such as advanced storytelling, socio-political commentary and authorship. Courses throughout the major encourage experimentation with multiple technologies, platforms and techniques.”
A variety of unique electives “provide opportunities to explore a wide spectrum of contemporary illustration practice including graphic novels, animation and 3D modeling, independent publishing, editorial illustration, children’s books, concept art and illustrated typography.”
The AOS in Illustration is a career-oriented track, which prepares students for careers in the art and design professions. The AAS in Illustration is transfer-oriented track, which positions graduates to transfer directly into the junior year of the Pratt BFA Programs in Fine Arts or Communication Design. The AAS in Graphic Design/Illustration follows an art and design curriculum that includes a liberal arts component that prepares students to transfer to Pratt’s BFA in Communications Design or the Fine Arts Department.
Upon completion of the program, BFA graduates are prepared to seek positions in a variety of industries or they may enroll in Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Arts, which offers an MFA.
Pratt Institute alumni have landed positions at major studios such as Blue Sky, Digital Domain, Cartoon Network Studios, DreamWorks Studios, Industrial Light & Magic, Rhythm and Hues, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Curious Pictures, Gameloft, Sony Imageworks, and many others.
6. Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland (Top 8% of schools considered)
Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest independent, continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the U.S. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and open studies students from 49 states and 52 countries. Around 80 programs leading to the BFA, MA, MFA, and MPS degrees are available in the areas of fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies. Post-baccalaureate certificate programs are also offered.
Undergraduate programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration with Concentrations in Studio, Illustration + Humanistic Studies, Book Arts, and Sequential Art. Interdisciplinary options for specialized study include Studio Concentrations in Book Arts, Animation, Graphic Design, and Printmaking. In addition to first-year and liberal arts requirements, undergraduates will complete 54 credit hours in illustration. Sample courses include Illustration I & II, Life Drawing, Studio Drawing, and Professional Development.
“Seniors are mentored in two semesters of portfolio building work in Senior Illustration I and II to prepare a solid body of work in order to become professional illustrators,” says the School. “Professional Development for Illustrators includes portfolio preparation, business practice, intellectual property, and copyright issues.”
Graduate programs include an MA in Illustration and an MFA in Illustration Practice. The MA is a one-year program for students interested in a career in illustration or in refining their existing illustration practice. The degree culminates in independent work in the form of a capstone portfolio project, exhibition, and review panel. The MFA is a two-year program that attracts “experienced illustrators, advanced students from related disciplines, including writing, design, animation, film, digital media, etc., and students with a cultivated passion for illustration in all its forms.”
Students in the program will develop an independent, second-year thesis project using a medium appropriate to their personal direction and emerging illustration markets, including an exhibition and accompanying case study book.
Graduates of MICA illustration programs have gone on to land positions such as Brand Illustrator for Uber, Author and Illustrator of "Nimona," Book Illustrator, Illustrator and Comic Artist for Random House, and many others. Graduates have also continued their education in graduate programs or have successful careers as freelance illustrators.
7. California College of the Arts, San Francisco and Oakland, California (Top 9% of schools considered)
Founded in 1907, California College of the Arts (CCA) serves around 1,900 students enrolled more than 30 degree programs. 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.
The BFA in Illustration is taught by “Award-Winning Illustrators” and “digital innovators using the latest technology,” says the school. 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.
8. Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia (Top 10% of schools considered)
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978. With campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste, France, the school serves more than 14,000 students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Offering more art degree programs and specializations than any other art and design university, SCAD has plenty of opportunities to study at domestic and international locations.
Offered through the School of Communication Arts, four degree options are available for aspiring illustrators along with four minors and related programs. Degree options include a BA in Visual Communication with a Concentration in Illustration (Atlanta, Savannah), a BFA in Illustration (Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah), an MA in Illustration (Atlanta, Savannah, eLearning), and an MFA in Illustration (Atlanta, Savannah, eLearning). Minors include Animated illustration and Publication Design, Scientific Illustration, Illustration for Entertainment, and Illustration for Surface Design. Related degrees include a BFA in Sequential Art (Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah)
The Animated Illustration and Publication Design Minor is offered at the Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Savannah campuses. All other minors are offered at the Savannah campus only. Minor programs are 25 hours and include courses such as Digital Illustration, Illustrative Anatomy and Perspective, Imaginative Illustration: Character Refinement, and Type and Image for Illustrators.
Students in SCAD’s Illustration degree programs will learn to create “fine-art drawings, bringing ideas, characters and personalities to life using both traditional and digital techniques,” says the school. Students will work in a “professional environment through a program structured like a working studio,” and they will “develop a personal style and technique, learning to express their own unique vision while forming a well-rounded perspective on design.”
Students in all programs have the opportunity to study outside of their main discipline by taking courses in Advertising, Graphic Design, Motion Media, Printmaking, and Sequential Art. Sample major curriculum courses for the programs include Directed Projects in Illustration, Contextual Character Design, lllustrating Beyond the Page: The Narrative Experience, Illustration Business Strategies and Entrepreneurship, Illustration Markets, Illustration for Publications, and Materials and Techniques.
The BFA in Illustration has four concentration options including Animated Illustration and Publication Design, Concept Design for Animation and Games, Illustration for Games, and Illustration for Surface Design. Each concentration requires four courses, and students have the opportunity to choose from 10 elective hours to enhance their focus.
9. The New School’s Parsons School of Design, New York, New York (Top 15% of schools considered)
The New School was founded in 1896 by American Impressionist William Merritt Chase. Back then, the school was known as The Chase School, and later as New York School of Fine and Applied Art. Today, known as The New School's Parsons School of Design, this art and design college serves nearly 6,000 students enrolled in 130 degree and diploma programs across five schools. The School of Design offers a BFA in Illustration and Minors in Immersive Storytelling and Comics and Graphic Nature.
The BFA in Illustration program prepares students to work in a range of areas including animation, editorial and advertising illustrations, graphic novels, hand lettering, picture books, surface and display design, and toy designs. Sample courses for the program include studio courses such as Drawing/Imaging, Space/Materiality, and Time, and others such as Intro to Visual Culture: Recitation, Language and Letterform, and Objects as History.
Program highlights include projects and internships with Parsons partners including Nickelodeon, Toon Books, The New York Times, Moleskine, Barnes & Noble, and Brooklyn Industries, access to events such as Comic Arts Brooklyn, MoCCA Fest, and other professional gatherings, and the opportunity to connect with New York–based professional organizations such as American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators.
These organizations “bring acclaimed art directors, illustrators, and publishing professionals to New York City and the Parsons campus,” says the school.
10. Minneapolis College of Art & Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Top 15% of schools considered)
Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) was established in 1886. The school, which shares a block with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, serves more than 800 students from 45 states and 15 countries. Of these, 50% are enrolled in Design, 38% in Media Arts, 10% in Fine Arts, and the remaining 2% in MCAD's new Arts Entrepreneurship Department. More than 20 programs are available across several departments. Program options for aspiring illustrators include BFAs in Illustration or Comic Art.
The BFA in Illustration begins with foundation classes to help develop technical skills and work ethic and progresses to courses that build both conceptual and technical illustration skills. Sample courses for the program include Children’s Book, Digital Illustration, Editorial Illustration, Foundation 2D and 3D, and Illustration and Products.
In years three and four of the program, students will gain real-world experience through a required internship and they will have the opportunity to study abroad or elsewhere in the U.S., and participate in the Emerging Talent Showcase and share their work with potential employers. Students will also “develop and complete a semester-long project to culminate in the Commencement Exhibition,” says the school. The exhibition showcases the work of MCAD graduates.
Comic Art students will experiment with conventional and experimental aspects of comic storytelling, gain foundational skills in a variety of creative media, explore traditional and digital comic formats, and acquire the skills and knowledge for a professional career in comics. Students in this program will also benefit from internship and study abroad opportunities.
11. Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, California (Top 15% of schools considered)
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis. Home to approximately 1,100 full-time students, OTIS offers 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.
12. Washington University in St. Louis (Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts), St. Louis, Missouri (Top 15% of schools considered)
Founded in 1853, Washington University in St. Louis serves more than 14,500 students enrolled in more than 300 academic programs in a number of colleges and schools. The College of Art houses the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, which offers a BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration, and an MFA in Illustration + Visual Culture. A Minor in Design is also available.
The minor “allows students to mix and match courses in areas such as illustration, communication design, and the illustrated book studio to suit interests and schedules, says the school.” The collaborative BFA in Communication Design with an Emphasis in Illustration combines graphic design, illustration, and interaction design. This means, students in the program can choose to focus on illustrating stories, creating comics, and designing printed posters and books, as well as study the history of printed images, comics, and advertising, make pictures for games and motion graphics, and more.
During the last year of the program, “students will pursue a capstone project that culminates in an illustrated book, zine, screen-based presentation, graphic novel/mini-comic, or digital experience,” says the school. The final project is displayed in a public exhibition and reviewed by external design professionals.
The MFA in Illustration + Visual Culture (MFA-IVC) is a two-year program that combines studio practice in illustration with curatorial training in visual and material culture. The two-year program consists of courses such as Comics and Cartooning: A Survey, lllustration Studio: Artist, Author, Audience, Illustration Studio: Drawing & Voice, Literatures of Drawing, Readings in Visual and Material Culture, and The Illustrated Periodical. Students in the program will also complete an internship.
Graduates of the MFA program are prepared to work as author-artists of graphic novels and picture books, professors of illustration, critical writers on popular culture, and curatorial staff in museums, libraries, and auction houses. This program launches in Fall 2019.
13. Columbus College of Art and Design, Columbus, Ohio (Top 20% of schools considered)
Established in 1879, Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD) is one of the oldest private art and design colleges in the United States. The school is home to more than 1,300 students enrolled in 12 bachelor’s degree and two master’s degree programs covering a broad range of subjects. Programs for aspiring illustrators include a BFA in Illustration with Concentrations in Illustration/Entertainment Design/Drawing, Illustration/Entertainment Design/Modeling, and Illustration/Illustrative Design.
An Illustration Minor is available as well as an MFA program. Project proposals for the MFA can be based in Illustration, Painting, Drawing, Animation, Interactive Design and many other areas. Columbus College of Art and Design has also launched a BFA in Comics and Narrative Practice. The curriculum for this program includes nearly a dozen illustration courses.
All students may participate in CCAD’s International Exchange Program, which highlights study at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China, Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile, Xi’an Fine Arts Academy, Xi’an, China, and Northumbria, Newcastle, England. Students may also study at CCAD-approved programs at Studio Art Centers, Florence, Italy, and University of Arts London, London.
CCAD BFA graduates have landed positions at American Greetings, Cartoon Network, CBS News, DC Comics, Disney Consumer Products, DreamWorks, Hallmark, Hasbro, Marvel Comics, Ogilvy & Mather, Pixar, Sony Pictures, The Wall Street Journal, and many others.
14. Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, California (Top 20% of schools considered)
Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) serves 670 students enrolled in seven graduate and undergraduate degree programs. 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. The curriculum provides “real-life, hands-on instruction with concept design, model and prop-making, and 3-D digital tools,” says the school. Course highlights 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 Illustration programs at LCAD work at a variety of major companies and studios including Blizzard Entertainment, Google, DreamWorks Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Fox Television, Microsoft Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, Warner Bros., and many others.
15. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York (Top 20% of schools considered)
Syracuse University (SU) was founded in 1870. The school, which serves 22,850 students from across the U.S. and 126 countries, offers more than 200 majors, 100 minors, and 200 advanced degree programs across 12 colleges and schools and a graduate school. The School of Art offers BFA and MFA degrees in Illustration.
The BFA in Illustration combines storytelling, drawing, painting, design, and research. Four focuses help students explore specific professional areas. Focuses include Visual Development, Editorial, Sequential, and Licensing. Other program highlights include engagement with nationally and internationally known visiting artists each year, courses taught by practicing illustrators and artists whose work is published and exhibited nationally and internationally, global study opportunities at the SU campus in Florence, Italy or other countries, workshops and lectures, and visits to New York and Los Angeles.
All BFA students will have the opportunity to develop a portfolio that will be shown to art directors and illustrators for feedback.
Alumni from the illustration program have gone on to work in areas such as illustration for children's books, comics, graphic novels, newspaper, greeting cards, licensing, advertising, magazine, book and online publishing, as well as visual development in animated films, television, and the gaming industry.
The three-year MFA program offers online coursework in addition to classes at its two New York City locations (the Fisher Center and Lubin House) as well as in Syracuse, Los Angeles, and Florence, Italy. Students will complete hours of major studio courses, 12 studio elective credits, 12 art history and related academic credits, and six free elective credits. The program ends with a graduate seminar worth three credits and a final presentation, also worth three credits.
Program highlights include the option to participate in the Ginsburg-Klaus Art in Los Angeles Week (also known as “Art in LA”), the Turner Semester pilot residency program, which allows students to experience the arts of the West Coast, and to live and work in San Pedro (the Los Angeles Harbor area) during the spring semester, and the opportunity to interact with visiting and resident artists and scholars. An optional internship is also part of the program.
16. The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Top 20% of schools considered)
Founded in 1876, The University of the Arts (UArts) is the nation’s only comprehensive arts university. The school serves 1,900 students enrolled in 46 undergraduate and graduate programs, and more than 30 minors, through the College of Art, Media & Design, College of Performing Arts, Division of Liberal Art, and the Division of Continuing Studies (Graduate Programs).
The College of Art, Media & Design houses the School of Design, which offers a BFA in Illustration and a Minor in Figurative Illustration. An MFA in Studio Art is also available. The BFA program allows students to declare a concentration. Options include Animation Movement, Animation Visual Development, Game Art, Graphic Design Communication, Graphic Design Typography, Photography, Painting, and Printmaking.
The BFA program blends creative visual problem solving, digital experiences, drawing, figure modeling, illustration, painting, picture making, digital experiences, as well as specialized graphic design courses, self-discovery through mentor-student relationship, and history of pictorial image making. Sample courses include Communication Design, Figure Anatomy, Illustration I-IV, Image/Time, Materials, Responsive Drawing, and Words, Images & Idea.
The Minor in Figurative Illustration requires 15 credit hours including Figure Anatomy, Illustration I and II, Responsive Drawing, and Figure Communication or Figure Painting.
The MFA in Studio Art is a low-residency, year-round program that consists of an immersive eight-week on-campus summer semester, independent study (fall and spring), and mentoring. The 60 credit hour curriculum includes Graduate Drawing, Major Studio, Contemporary Topics in Art and Design, Culture Study, Independent Studio, Studio Topics, Graduate Seminar, Professional Practices, Thesis Preparation, and Thesis Writing Project. MFA Thesis Exhibition is also part of the program.
Graduates of the Illustration Program at UArts have gone on to create illustrations for The New Yorker, New York Times, Rolling Stone, ESPN, Random House, Ralph Lauren, Fortune and others.
17. Pacific Northwest College of Art, Portland, Oregon (Top 25% of schools considered)
Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) was founded in 1909. This fine arts and design college offers eleven BFA degrees, seven graduate degrees including MFA and MA degrees, a Minor, a Post-Baccalaureate, and a variety of Community Education programs for adults and youth. Nearly 650 students from 42 states and 10 countries are enrolled in 29 majors, minors, and graduate degree programs. Animated Arts, Graphic Design, Intermedia, and Illustration are just a few options.
The Illustration Program is one of the top undergraduate options at PNCA. A BFA is available as well as a Community Education Certificate. PNCA also offers an MFA program. The school says the BFA in Illustration “combines development of technical skill in traditional studio media and new and emerging technologies with conceptual inquiry to empower (students) to create visual messages capable of engaging clients and changing culture.” Sample courses include Visual Elements 2-D, Time Arts, Exploring Visual Culture, 3D Design, Visual Elements: Digital Tools, Word & Image, Drawing for Illustration, Visual Techniques, Painting for Illustration, Cultural Marketplace, Advanced Illustration Studio, and Design Arts Thesis Development.
Other program highlights include mentorship programs, professional practices instruction, portfolio preparation, and internship opportunities. Internships for seniors and recent graduates have taken place at companies such as Dark Horse Comics, Microsoft, Nike, Nintendo, and Wieden+Kennedy.
PNCA students also have the opportunity to show their work at an annual end-of-year showcase hosted by the Illustration Department at a downtown gallery.
18. Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri (Top 25% of schools considered)
Established in 1885, Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) has a 130+ year history that includes notable name such as Walt Disney, who took classes there as a child, multimedia artist Robert Rauschenberg, who studied fashion design, writer Robert Morris, and performance artist and fabric sculptor Nick Cave, to name a few. Besides a long list of notable alumni and students, KCAI offers 13 studio majors in Art, Design, and Media to a population of nearly 700 students.
The Department of Illustration houses the school’s BFA in Illustration program. Students in the program “work with traditional and digital media to develop the conceptual, technical and aesthetic skills necessary for success in the diverse range of practices in this evolving field,” says the school. “Courses such as Drawing and Design Systems, Exploring the Narrative and Visual/Sequential Storytelling are geared toward enabling students to simultaneously express themselves as artists while learning how to communicate substantive visual messages.” Courses are taught by department faculty who are practicing professionals in the areas of publishing, editorial, advertising and institutional.
Other program highlights include collaborative assignments, a required internship in a professional work setting, access to studio and classroom technology that prepares students for diverse areas of professional practice, and the opportunity to work in digital and analog environments “designed to facilitate creativity and interdisciplinary approaches to image making.”
Recent graduates are employed at MTV, Nickelodeon, Hallmark, American Greetings, Nike and many others. Their work has been featured in many publications such as The New York Times, Women’s Day, Wired, and numerous children’s books. Some have won awards in publications such as Print, Communication Arts, American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators.
19. Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio (Top 25% of schools considered)
Founded in 1882, Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) serves 645 students from 32 states and nine countries around the world. The school, which offers 15 majors in the fine arts, design, craft, and interactive media, offers BFA degrees in Illustration and Life Sciences Illustration.
The BFA in Illustration provides the opportunity to experiment with a variety of traditional materials and techniques, including acrylics, collage, inks, pencils, and oils, "while mastering contemporary digital processes using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator," says the school. Students in the program will learn to create polished illustrations for all current and emerging markets including advertising, entertainment, gaming, licensing, publishing, and social expression.
Other program highlights include interaction with visiting artists, the opportunity to share the final portfolio with employers, illustrators, and designers who are invited each year to CIA, and a rigorous mandatory Business + Professional Practices curriculum that all CIA students complete. This means, in addition to core courses and small-group seminars, students take a professional writing course and travel out into the field to see artists and designers at work in art studios, advertising agencies, and more.
Graduates of the program “will be prepared to enter the industry as a staff artists, freelance illustrators or creative entrepreneurs.”
The Life Sciences Illustration program is one of only a few BFA degrees of its kind in the United States. The program “combines applied art, science, and technology to create visual education materials on scientific and medical topics.” The curriculum “incorporates leading-edge digital media techniques, interactivity, and animation.” Students in the program learn how to “blend artistic talent with knowledge of natural science, a biomedical intellect, and strong visual communication skills.”
Course highlights include Computer Imaging and Animation, Editorial Illustration and Instructional Design and Multimedia.
Students and graduates of the program benefit from CIA’s professional partnerships with Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Students have opportunities to learn through experience by working on real-world projects with these partners—all before graduation.
Graduates have gone on to land positions such as Art Director, Biomedical Illustrator, Illustrator, 3D Animation Artist/Designer, and many others.
20. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (Top 25% of colleges considered)
Brigham Young University (BYU) was founded in 1875 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Serving approximately 33,511 students from all 50 states and 105 countries, BYU offers 187 undergraduate majors, 110 undergraduate minors, 88 master's programs and 32 doctoral programs in more than a dozen colleges and schools.
The College of Fine Arts and Communications serves nearly 5,700 students enrolled in programs in the Department of Art, the School of Communications, the Department of Dance, the Department of Design, the School of Music, and the Department of Theater and Media Arts. Students in the College “undertake research projects, pursue internships, and participate in study abroad programs across the globe,” says the school.
The Illustration BFA in the Department of Design is a limited enrollment program of 40 students. Students in the program “will learn skills that prepare them to excel in the competitive and evolving illustration market,” says the school. “Courses prepare students in how to manage personal business and marketing work as an illustrator.” Highlights include Environment Design, Painting-Mixed Media, Gesture Drawing for Animation, Advanced Storyboarding, Character Design for Illustration, Sketchbook, Narrative Illustration, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, Professional Practices for Illustrators, Marketing Management, Introduction to Photography and Digital Workflow, Typography, and Bookbinding.
Students will complete several Senior Illustration Studios, the BFA Capstone Project, and an internship. Study abroad experiences are also part of the program as well as job placement services. “Nationally and internationally acclaimed artists” are also invited to campus each month to present to students.
Graduates of the program “work in diverse genres and publishing markets,” including ebooks, graphic novels, editorial, advertising design, young adult fiction, genre fiction, and corporate and institutional publications. Graduates work as concept designers creating characters, environments, vehicles, and other digital artwork for entertainment productions. Other opportunities involve licensed products, toys and collectibles, online exhibitions, and private commissions. Positions may be in-house with production companies, in design studios, or on a freelance or project basis.
21. College for Creative Studies, Detroit, Michigan (Top 30% of colleges considered)
Founded in 1906 as the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) serves nearly 1,500 students enrolled in more than a dozen degree programs in 14 academic departments. Programs for aspiring illustrators are offered through the Illustration Department and include a BFA and a Minor in Illustration. Graduates of the BFA program may enroll in the school’s MFA programs in Color and Materials Design, Interaction Design, Integrated Design or Transportation Design.
The school says the BFA curriculum “emphasizes the fundamentals of image making, visual language and visual storytelling and teaches how to translate various traditional media into digital illustration.” Course highlights include Anatomical Figure Illustration, Digital Fundamentals, Figure Illustration, Illustration Techniques, 3D Techniques, 2D techniques, and Visual Narration. Students in the minor will choose five courses (15 credits) from the BFA curriculum.
Other BFA program highlights include access to a large network of key industry players via alumni, sponsored projects and a faculty of freelance illustrators, creative directors, art directors and concept and storyboard artists. Students also have the opportunity to complete an internship. Previous internships include Anthropologie, Cartoon Network, Diane von Furstenberg, Disney Consumer, Fisher Price, Insomniac Games, Mattel, Spark, WJBK Fox 2 News, and others.
Students will graduate from the BFA program with experience in traditional methods of illustration, newer digital trends, and with “the understanding of how traditional media translates into the digital illustration workflow process” known as “tradigital.”
22. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Top 30% of colleges considered)
Founded in 1974, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is Wisconsin’s only four-year, private college of visual art and design. The school, which serves close to 900 students, offers five degree programs and nearly 20 minors. Among the degree programs is a BFA In Illustration that prepares students to work in areas from publishing to web design and as freelancers or entrepreneurs. A 15-credit Illustration Minor is also available.
Program highlights include internship and semester-long study abroad opportunities, the opportunity to build a professional portfolio, and networking opportunities through MIAD’s Illustration Seminar, “where a series of workshops are presented by practicing professionals, including MIAD Illustration alumni, representing a cross-section of the field,” says the school.
Course highlights for the program include Computer Studio, Digital 2D, Figure Drawing for Illustration, Illustration Media, Professional Practice for Illustrators, Systems of Drawing, Typography, and Visual Language.
Students in the BFA in Illustration program may complement the degree with studio minor such as Art Management, Book Arts or Digital Media Production. Popular liberal studies minors include Advertising, Copywriting, and Writing.
23. University of Hartford, Hartford, Connecticut (Top 30% of colleges considered)
University of Hartford (UHart) traces its roots back to 1877, when one of the three founding schools, the Hartford Art School, opened. It was initially called the Hartford School for Decorative Arts. Today, University of Hartford (chartered in 1957) offers 100 degree programs in the arts, humanities, business, engineering and technology, education, and health professions. The school serves close to 6,800 students from 48 states and 48 countries around the world.
UHart has two program options for aspiring illustrators: a BFA and MFA in Illustration. Offered through Hartford Art School (HAS), which serves around 310 students, the BFA curriculum is designed to introduce students to the techniques and processes used by illustrators. After the foundation year, the program guides students through a series of independent studios and illustration intensives focused on editorial, advertising, and book work, using both digital and traditional methods.
The program covers the three primary markets for illustrators: advertising illustration, book illustration, and editorial illustration. Course highlights include Digital Illustration, Drawing for Illustration, Illustration I-III (Oil, Acrylic, and Watercolor), Advertising, Editorial, and Book.
Sophomore and Junior Reviews are part of the program and students will complete a portfolio and a senior project. In the portfolio preparation course, students learn to prepare their work for professional presentation. “Considerable emphasis is placed on the development of personal style and direction throughout the program,” says the school.
The MFA In Illustration is a low-residency program designed for working adults. Also offered through HAS, the MFA combines “intensive, on-campus sessions” in the summer with travel during spring and fall. Fall and spring semesters take place off-campus in places such as Dallas, San Francisco, Pasadena, New York City and other destinations.
Other program highlights include guest speakers, museum visits, and studio visits to places such as Communication Arts Magazine, Electronic Arts Entertainment, Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation Studios, Lucasfilm, Nickelodeon Studios, and the Society of Illustrators.
24. Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California (Top 30% of colleges considered)
Academy of Art University was established in 1929. The school serves more than 7,200 students from 112 countries 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.