Illustration BFA Degree
Discover and develop your distinct visual voice in the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration at University of the Arts. You’ll be trained in technique, image-making, concept development and self-promotion.
Receive A Diversified and Highly Collaborative Education
We celebrate the range of career paths for illustrators, from children’s books to concept art, to comics to packaging and beyond. Our curriculum encourages you to explore new technologies and markets so you can develop a meaningful and professional portfolio. Housed in the School of Design, the Illustration program encourages experimentation and collaboration with students in other majors, including those in Animation, Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Interaction Design and Product Design. Our small class sizes and shared studio spaces create a supportive environment that allows you to inspire, and be inspired by, one another.
Become A Master of Digital and Traditional Methods
Students in the Illustration program are trained in industry-standard digital software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and After Effects to digitally paint, design layouts and add motion to illustration. You'll create work in our Cintiq Lab and Makerspace and explore Virtual and Augmented Reality in our Center for Immersive Media. You’ll also receive training in anatomy, integrating typography, experimenting with traditional and digital painting methods and developing narratives that give you a well-rounded experience across media.
We're the Best in the State
UArts consistently ranks among the top schools for Illustration in Pennsylvania, the East Coast and the U.S. by Animation Career Review.
The William H. Ely exhibition is the Illustration program’s annual thesis show that has been at the university since 1941. The awards are endowed by its namesake and are given outstanding sets of student thesis work in this juried competition.
Seventeen works from 12 UArts Illustration students and recent alumni have been chosen this year for the prestigious Society of Illustrators Annual Student Scholarship Exhibit.
In a competition which can kickstart a career, students have submitted their most sophisticated, well-crafted and original work to be tested. Works were chosen from over 8,700 entries submitted in early February by college-level students who represented 74 schools nationwide. A jury of professional peers, including illustrators and art directors, selected the most outstanding works created throughout the year. Pieces were accepted based on the quality of technique, concept and skill of medium used.
From the society’s endowment, contributions from private and corporate donors, and proceeds from an annual auction of member-donated artworks, scholarship awards were granted to about 25 students whose work was deemed the best of the best.
The UArtists selected to exhibit were Julia Barnes BFA ’19, Julia Bianchi ’20, Julia Davis ’20, Logan DeCarme ’20, Oliver Jenkins BFA ’19, Mae Krasniewicz BFA ’19, Sophie Lane ’20, Abigail McManus ’20, Jennifer Mundy BFA ’19, Joseph Rogers ’20, Tilda Rose Sladek BFA ’19 and Melita Tirado BFA ’19. One of Krasniewicz’s pieces, “The Barnes Foundation,” was awarded the $1,000 Carol and Murray Tinkelman Scholarship Award.
Each spring, the Student Scholarship Exhibit is traditionally held in the galleries of the Society of Illustrators in New York. In response to the COVID-19 situation, this year’s exhibition will be featured entirely online. More details regarding the online exhibition are forthcoming.
Explore Illustration at UArts.
Steve Martin has done everything from standup to starring in comedy film classics and even banjo-playing, but it turns out he can only draw stick figures. According to The New York Times, when Martin told a friend about an idea for a collection of cartoons, his friend knew the perfect collaborator—Harry Bliss BFA ‘90 (Illustration). Bliss is a cartoonist and illustrator whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Time and other publications. He has illustrated more than 20 New Yorker covers, numerous children’s books, including the Bug Diaries series, and his syndicated cartoon panels have appeared in publications internationally. The UArts alum collaborated with actor and comedian Steve Martin on his latest endeavor, A Wealth of Pigeons: A Cartoon Collection.
The surreal subject matter of A Wealth of Pigeons seems to reflect the essence of the world right now, while giving readers some much-needed, lighthearted humor. For example, one irreverent cartoon features two people on a cliff facing an adjacent cliff with one occupant, separated by water, and the caption reads, “Too crowded. Let’s go.” In another cartoon, parents debate whether to “encourage or discourage” their toddler, who is depicted juggling and riding a unicycle. The scenes speak to the current social climate, with people forced to find new forms of entertainment and new definitions of “too crowded.” Ironically, there are no pigeons featured in this collection. Martin and Bliss explained in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning that the pigeon comic idea was scrapped and instead became the book title.
The entire creative process happened during the pandemic, which meant Bliss and Martin’s collaboration took place over email. On CBS Sunday Morning, the two talked about their cartoon collection and discussed their creative—and socially distanced—approach. Martin said he would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a caption idea and send it to Bliss, who would reply with an accompanying illustration. They went back and forth until each cartoon was complete, and within a few months, they had compiled over a hundred cartoons to feature in A Wealth of Pigeons.
In their conversation with CBS, Martin described cartooning as comedy’s “last frontier,” citing the precision and unique comedic skill needed to execute the medium. Since there is no live audience, there is no immediate gratification from a cartoon, something Martin isn’t very used to as a comedian. Martin went on to say that this is his first comedy that didn’t depend on the audience. The collaborators enjoyed working together so much that they have hinted at a forthcoming narrative project.
The School of Design at UArts redefines what it means to educate a 21st century designer, providing creative, cross-disciplinary and business practices in the curriculum. Its key innovation is a celebration of the reality that the boundaries between all sorts of contemporary design practices are more permeable than ever before, and that a modern designer needs a greatly expanded skill set at their disposal.
The School of Design 1st Year Core is a unique and critical first year experience for all undergraduate design majors. These collaborative courses will expose you to multiple modes of practice and technologies while providing a solid grounding in design thinking, drawing as thinking, communication, audience and meaning, design technology, and collaboration and team building. You'll complete projects that encourage experimentation and develop your unique artistic voice across a range of social, cultural, political, technological and historical topics. This year of focused studies will prepare you to enter your discipline successfully. During your first year in the School of Design, you’ll also take course modules in the university’s Makerspace and Center for Immersive Media.
Illustration senior Sean Ellmore has been pretty busy in quarantine. Not only is he finishing his BFA in Illustration, he’s also been collaborating with pop star Miley Cyrus on her new Instagram Live show Bright Minded, where Cyrus connects with special guests on “how to stay lit in dark times.” Ellmore spoke with UArts about the collaboration.
UArts: Can you describe the work you’ve been creating for Bright Minded?
Ellmore: For the past few weeks, I’ve been painting portraits of the guests on Miley’s show. These portraits served as promotional material for Miley and the celebrities that were on the show, but they also were animated for promotional videos. I also created many small paintings that were then used in animations. For example, I made three paintings of Miley’s arm and hand so it could be animated to look like she was reaching out and grabbing her Bright Minded mug! Miley also hired me to do some merchandise for the show. I was fortunate enough to be able to design four shirts with her, but I’m not sure when they’ll be released.
UArts: How did the collaboration come about?
Ellmore: The collaboration came about in a really strange way, honestly. I’ve been a huge fan of Miley’s for most of my life. I’ve seen every episode of Hannah Montana, and I've seen her live a bunch of times.
I started making art of her in 2012 and still paint her from time to time. Last year, she mentioned me in her story, so I’ve been able to DM her anything I’m working on, and she eventually saw my messages. When she started Bright Minded, she made a post on her story saying she needs artists, designers and animators, so naturally I replied and sent her some portraits I’ve made of her that I animated. She finally replied to me and then followed me and sent me reference pictures, and we brainstormed a bunch of ideas.
UArts: What is it about her and/or her work that appeals to you?
Ellmore: She's insanely free-spirited. She does whatever she wants and doesn’t care if anyone is giving her dirty looks. It sounds cliché, but I saw her on the 2013 VMAs and told myself that if Miley could do that on national television, I shouldn’t be scared to do anything at all. She’s definitely inspired me to just be who I want to be with no boundaries.
UArts: Your work focuses heavily on the role of the “icon.” How do you think the role of icons has shifted during this pandemic?
Ellmore: I think that during this pandemic, the role of icons has totally shifted. When this quarantine first started, so many celebrities were posting about how bored and “depressed” they were about being stuck inside of their $10 million homes. People were calling them out left and right, and I think they deserved it. But I think this pandemic [is] also very positive for a lot of celebrities because they [are] able to create something to work on or use their platform for good. I think this era in the world really makes people look at these “icons” so much more as a distraction, so it’s really amazing to see [how] so many people [are] using their audiences to raise awareness or money for certain causes. I still think Jersey Shore is my best form of escape during all of this, though.
UArts: Bright Minded is a show about celebrating light in dark places. How have you been searching for and finding light these days?
Ellmore: I think my top two ways of staying lit in these dark times are staying creative/busy and full-blown distraction. I’ve been rewatching all of my favorite reality TV shows (Jersey Shore) and they’ve been inspiring me to make more art. I’ve also been deep-diving into Tik Tok—not just watching it though—I’ve been painting and making art videos a lot more since I’ve been stuck inside.
UArts: How has your education supported you as a working artist?
Ellmore: I’ve met so many amazing artists since coming to this school, so it’s amazing that I have a group of people who can critique me whenever I need. I am also super-thankful for my professors, who I can reach out to. Their experience in the field has been a big help to me during all of this!
UArts: I know it’s difficult to think about the future at the moment, but do you have any exciting projects coming up or plans for after graduation?
Ellmore: Actually, yes! I’ve had an ongoing collaboration with MTV [that is still going on], in which I paint celebrities, either for their birthday or their album releases. It’s been amazing, and it’s keeping me busy. I’ve also had a few cool people reach out about upcoming projects that I’m super-excited to work on when the time comes!
Bright Minded airs weekdays at 11:30 a.m. PST on Instagram Live. Tune in to see more of Ellmore’s work, or follow him on Instagram @seansartaccount.
UArts Illustrators are the imaginers of society. They develop their unique visual voice through hands-on training in technique, image making, concept development, marketing and business. This booklet shows some of the incredible work created by the graduating class in 2020.
Students graduating from the Illustration program will
Demonstrate knowledge of figure study and picture making, along with traditional and digital technical skill development, leading to successful image making as it relates to the ever-changing illustration industry.
Discover and develop point of view. This includes acquiring critical drawing and thinking skills and developing intellectual curiosity leading to successful problem solving and meaningful visual communication.
Understand the unique aesthetic of the illustrator as a designer and develop knowledge and skills leading to successful design outcomes.
Discover the languages, concepts, and practices of contemporary illustration across connected disciplines and have options to further explore those areas in depth.
Acquire and demonstrate knowledge of the history of illustration.
The Illustration curriculum is a blend of
art and design history,
creative visual problem-solving,
self-discovery through targeted projects, and
specialized graphic design courses.
Courses early on in your college career are geared to developing fundamental skills as a foundation for your career as an illustrator, while later courses focus on professional application. Academic concentrations are made available through additional coursework in fields such as animation movement, game art and graphic design communication. Our curriculum offers its majors a selection of unique elective options to explore related to their field and study interests.
Total Credits: 120
Duration: 4 years, full time
Major Requirements: 61.5–63 credits
Students who major in Illustration will complete 61.5–63 credits; students who declare a concentration within the Illustration major will complete 64.5–66 credits.
Critical Studies: 30 credits
General electives: 15–16.5 credits
Discipline history: 12 credits
Fall: 16.5 credits
Design Process, Theory & Communication (3c)
Drawing as Seeing (3c)
Digital Design Lab (3c)
Thinking Through Science (3c)
Writing I Placement (3c)
Free elective (1.5c)
Spring: 16.5 credits
Drawing as Thinking (3c)
Design Studio (3c)
Figure Painting (1.5c)
Introduction to Printmaking (1.5c)
Writing II Placement (3c)
Art History Survey I (3c)
General elective (1.5c)
Fall: 15 credits
Design for Persuasive Visual Communication (3c)
Illustration with Traditional Media (3c)
Anatomy & the Human Figure (3c)
Art History Survey II (3c)
Critical Studies (3c)
Spring: 15 credits
Illustration with Digital Media (3c)
Object & World Building (3c)
History of Illustration (3c)
ODR selection (3c)*
Critical Studies (3c)
Fall: 15 credits
Conceptual Problem Solving & Narrative Development (3c)
Figurative Interpretation & Personal Voice (3c)
Design History (3c)
Business & Preparation for Design Practice (3c)
Free elective (3c)
Spring: 15 credits
Illustration Markets & Promotion (3c)
New Media Illustration (3c)
Critical Studies (3c)
Critical Studies (3c)
Fall: 13.5 credits
Professional Practice Option or Design Internship (1.5–3c)
Illustration Thesis Studio I (3c)
ODR* selection (3c)
Critical Studies (3c)
Free elective (1.5–3c)
Spring: 13.5 credits
Illustration Thesis II (3c)
Illustration Portfolio Builder selection (3c)
Critical Studies (3c)
Critical Studies (3c)
Free elective (1.5c)
Explore the Full Curriculum
Richard C. von Hess Illustration Gallery
The von Hess Gallery features three exhibitions per year by nationally recognized, award-winning illustrators who visit UArts to speak about their process, technique and the contemporary marketplace. The gallery’s unique mission is to educate our students and community about the profession of illustration and offer an opportunity to closely examine works by leading illustrators.
NC Wyeth Studio at the Brandywine River Museum
In May 2019, six rising seniors in the UArts Illustration program were granted exclusive access to the NC Wyeth Studio, in order to spend a week making art in the space of a great master.
NC Wyeth was one of the greatest illustrators in the U.S. and originally had his studio built with the profits from his classic, Treasure Island. The studio overlooks the house where Wyeth raised his family, including his son Andrew Wyeth, who is also a revered visual artist. The studio and house are now a part of the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Our students were given free rein to spend days in the studio creating work inspired by Wyeth’s space and legacy.
Liftoff! is the spring exhibition for the School of Design. It showcases student work from Graphic Design, Illustration, Product Design, and Museum Exhibition Planning and Design.
Our program boasts a faculty of successful industry professionals, including Harvey Award–nominated cartoonist and illustrator Christine Larsen, whose client list includes Boom! Studios, Image Comics, Saatchi & Saatchi and Simon Pulse. Our top-notch instruction has positioned our graduates as industry leaders.
BFA '93 (Illustration)
Alumni & Careers
Our program boasts a number of talented alumni working in the field.
Loveis Wise BFA ’18, was commissioned to illustrate the cover of The New Yorker magazine. Wise was recognized with the UArts’ President’s Award, and commissioned work for Vice, Cartoon Network, Buzzfeed, Penguin/Random House and Planned Parenthood.
Regina Flath BFA ’09, was awarded first place in the New York Book Show for her design and art direction on L.J. Smith’s Night World. Flath’s art has appeared on several books on the New York Times bestsellers list, and she was invited to speak at New York Comic Con in 2017.
Alumni recognized by American Illustration 37:
Shannon Ryan BFA ’18; William Beveridge BFA ’14; Meredith Jensen BFA '14; Heather Vaughan BFA ’13; Jim Tierney BFA ’10; Dan Hughes BFA ’09; Jonathan Bartlett BFA ’0; Megan Berkheiser BFA ’95
Internships & Careers
With faculty guidance for career preparation, students can intern at professional venues ranging from individual artist studios to large branding firms, including Anthropologie (Urban Outfitters), Cartoon Network, and Sterling Publishing (Barnes & Noble).
UArts’ Illustration program also positions students for professional success through portfolio development opportunities, career prep from faculty and guest speakers, and internships.
Publishing is the biggest area for UArts alumni, as many of our most successful students go to New York City and end up working for publishing companies or media outlets, making children’s books or freelancing.
Our students and alumni have worked for
20th Century Fox · American Museum of Natural History · Blizzard Entertainment · Cartoon Network · Disney · DreamWorks · ESPN · Facebook · Fisher Price · Hallmark · Harper-Collins · Hasbro · Houghton Mifflin Harcourt · Knopf · Little Brown · Major League Baseball · Martha Stewart · Marvel Comics · Mattel · MTV · NASA · National Geographic · Newsweek · Nickelodeon · NPR · Oprah · PBS · Penguin Group Publishing · Random House · Reader’s Digest · Scholastic · Simon & Schuster · The New York Times · The New Yorker · The Wall Street Journal · Time Magazine · US Postal Service · Warner Brothers · Wizards of the Coast
Scholarships & Aid
UArts recognizes the extraordinary talent of our students through a range of merit-based scholarships. All applicants are automatically considered for such scholarships—no special application is necessary.
Nearly 80 percent of UArts’ undergraduate students enrolled on a full-time basis are eligible for some type of need-based aid. Additionally, some scholarship opportunities take need-based criteria into account. All students who are U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens and are enrolled in a degree program are encouraged to apply by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are a variety of scholarships and financial aid available to incoming students. In addition to general scholarships, there are several scholarships available to students pursuing their BFA in Illustration.
Society of Illustrators Zankel Scholarship
Each year, the Society of Illustrators invites directors of the nation’s illustration programs to recommend their top juniors for consideration for the Zankel Scholarship. The process requires a portfolio submission, an essay and an in-person interview. UArts Illustration students have consistently won or been finalists for the past several years.
Zankel Scholarship winners & finalists from UArts
Alex Smith ’20 (finalist)
Julia Barnes ’19 (finalist)
Shannon Ryan ’18 (winner)
Lizzie O’Donnell ’17 (winner)
James Firnhaber ’16 (finalist)
Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition
The Society of Illustrators has held the Student Scholarship Competition every year since 1981. Professors of Illustration programs nationwide nominate their students for consideration. Scholarship awards are granted to about 25 students whose work is deemed the best of the best.
In 2020, UArts had 12 students and alumni accepted into the show. Mae Krasniewicz BFA '19 was awarded the $1,000 Carol and Murray Tinkelman Scholarship Award.
How to Apply
The following materials are required for your application.
UArts offers recommended priority deadlines; students who apply and submit all required materials by the priority deadline will receive first consideration for scholarship aid from UArts. Applications received after the priority deadline will be reviewed on a rolling, space-available basis.
International students requiring an F-1 visa for study in the U.S. might be subject to earlier deadlines to provide time for completion of the visa process. Contact Admissions for guidance if you are an international student who wishes to apply after the priority deadline.
Spring 2023 priority deadline: Oct. 15, 2022
Fall 2023 priority deadline: Feb. 15, 2023
We cannot accept spring 2023 applications after Jan. 9, 2023, and cannot accept fall 2023 applications after Aug. 11, 2023.
The following materials are required for your application.
Start or resume your application.
The application includes two required short-answer questions: What excites you about UArts? What inspires you?
If you qualify for a fee waiver from NACAC, CollegeBoard, UArts or another source, indicate that on your application. If the cost of the application fee is a barrier, contact Admissions to request a fee waiver code.
Official transcripts must be sent directly from your school by mail, email or a secure electronic document-delivery service.
International transcript requirements
If you’ve attended high school outside the U.S., read the additional guidelines for international transcripts.
Transfer student transcript requirements
High school transcripts may be waived for transfer applicants who have completed a minimum of 24 credits of college-level coursework, including a minimum of 18 academic, non-studio credits.
Official college transcript(s)
Official transcripts must be sent directly from all the colleges you have attended by mail, email or a secure electronic document-delivery service.
If you’ve attended college outside the U.S., you are required to have an official course-by-course evaluation of your college coursework sent to UArts. Additional guidelines for international transcripts are available.
A portfolio is required for all Art, Design, Film and Writing programs. Your portfolio may be uploaded during the application process or via your applicant status portal after submission. You must confirm when your submission is complete via the linked electronic form before your portfolio can be reviewed for admission. View a full list of portfolio requirements by program.
Letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors are optional and may be submitted by the recommender via email to email@example.com or by your high school through a secure electronic document-delivery service.
About the School of Design
University of the Arts’ School of Design redefines what it means to educate a 21st century designer. We celebrate the reality that the boundaries between all sorts of contemporary design practices are more open than ever before and that a modern designer needs a greatly expanded skill set at their disposal. With this new reality in mind, the School of Design initiates innovation and empowers you to pursue your passions, build core values, broaden your design exposure and become a design leader of the future.
The School of Design strongly believes in collaboration, self-expression and professional preparation through its undergraduate programs in Graphic Design and Illustration, with Product Design and Interaction Design launching in 2023. The School of Design consists of programs that work together, providing depth in your discipline while expanding your understanding of design. This academic model best prepares you to respond flexibly to change and future career opportunities.
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