Illustration | Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Illustration: Degree Information

MCAD emphasizes a collaborative process and working with students from all majors. For this Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, you will take courses in several different areas, including a core focus, adding up to 120 total credits required for graduation.

Core Required Courses - These are the core courses that every Illustration student takes.

Foundation Studies - These classes help you build a solid art background to become a well rounded student.  

Studio Electives - Throughout your studies you can choose from several studio electives that will give you hands on time.  

Humanities and Sciences Electives - These classes round out your experience at MCAD, deepen your creative practice, and fulfill non-studio requirements for a degree.  

Learning Outcomes

  • Apply a strong design practice from research boards, thumbnail sketches, and refined sketches to final art.
  • Use diverse materials and media and identify their unique possibilities.
  • Interpret storytelling as well as the ability to formulate themes and concepts into pattern and surface design.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of professional ethics and practices.
  • Generate an original and individual voice presented in a portfolio, website, and gallery space.
  • Create illustrations for a variety of audiences: surface design, editorial, advertising, book, corporate, and gallery exhibition.
  • Solve creative problems for print and digital formats.

Core Required Courses

36 credits

ILL 2000 Introduction to Illustration
3 credits

This course examines the effectiveness and power of illustration through everyday images found in book and magazine illustration, web, and surface design. From the sketch process to the development of finished images, students are exposed to a variety of working methods. Demonstrations of Photoshop, large-scale scanning, acrylic, gouache, pen and ink, watercolor, and collage enable students to experiment with new media. Assignments may include creating spot images for the web, decorative surface design, educational posters, classic storytelling, and personal and explorative work.

Prerequisites: Prerequisites: Foundation: 2D, Foundation: Drawing 1, Foundation: Media 1, Foundation: Drawing 2 (Foundation: Drawing 2 may be taken concurrently)

ILL 3010 Tools of the Trade
3 credits

This course offers hands-on experience for students exploring a wide variety of media through real-world illustration projects. Students learn trade tips and expand their portfolios as they pursue acrylic painting, gouache, pen and ink, watercolor, and pastel projects. Instructional demonstrations are provided on a variety of painting and drawing techniques on papers and other surfaces.

Prerequisites: Introduction to Illustration

ILL 3020 Concepts and Metaphors
3 credits

The strength of many contemporary illustrations lies in a dynamic concept of metaphor. Through word lists, thumbnail sketches, and research, students expand their ideas to improve their illustration. Students examine art by both historical and contemporary practitioners and create individual images as well as series projects with editorial, advertising, and corporate audiences in mind. Color and media guidelines and techniques are covered via demonstrations. This course encourages further development of skills in both digital and traditional media as well as concepts, research, techniques, craft, and professional presentation.

Prerequisites: Introduction to Illustration

ILL 3030 Digital Illustration
3 credits

Through projects, discussions, and lectures, students acquire a thorough understanding of all aspects of digital illustration. Demonstrations of Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign are provided. In addition, students learn about the latest tools and file preparation standards for production, including file formats, color palettes, and image resolution. Assignments have an emphasis on technical achievement and presentation.

Prerequisites: Introduction to Illustration

ILL 3080 Illustration Topics
3 credits

Building on their initial exposure to illustration in Concepts and Metaphors, Illustration Topics students engage in a thorough examination of illustration principles with a variety of audiences, clients, and formats. Projects may include creating surface designs for an eco-friendly high school binder, an animated GIF web banner for a service or retail shop, informational maps, and a large banner print.

Prerequisites: Intro to Illustration, Concepts and Metaphors

GRLA 7021 Professional Practices
3 credits

This course addresses skills and knowledge useful for succeeding post-graduation. Students will further develop their communication skills in both written and oral forms. Via individual studio visits with the instructor early in the semester, this course becomes highly tailored to reflect the areas of foci of the enrolled students that builds upon their prior professional understanding gained through undergraduate study and/or previous professional experience. Topics can include goal setting and planning, informational interviews, job/internship searching/ applications, writing for professional opportunities and applications, the documenting and marketing of work, tax issues, and studio/business startup concerns. By the end of this course the students will be expected to produce a portfolio of documents or artifacts related to their professional goals.

ILL 5010 Advanced Illustration Seminar
3 credits

Advanced Illustration Seminar prepares students to become more independent and to develop a process of critical thinking and in-depth research in their practice. Through critical readings, individual and group discussions, and writings, students acquire a better understanding of illustration and the responsibilities of illustrators. Assignments include the creation of a comprehensive series of illustrations based on themes of contemporary culture and a self-directed project.

Prerequisites: successful Junior Review

Foundation Studies

19 credits

FDN 1112 Foundation: 3D
3 credits

This course is an introduction to understanding of visual creation for the development of knowledge, imagination, and perception. Students are introduced to basic three-dimensional concepts as well as materials and technical production processes. Classroom activities include shop demonstrations of tools and techniques, information, lectures, and discussions appropriate to promote the balanced fusion of practice and theory.

FDN 1111 Foundation: 2D
3 credits

Foundation: 2D is an introduction to creative thinking that develops students’ skills in research, observation, interpretation, and self-expression. An emphasis is placed on exploring new ways to read and see the world, as well as new ways to report on it. Students learn basic two-dimensional principles through the use of various media, tools, materials, and processes. As a result, students develop a visual and verbal language for analyzing, organizing, shaping, and communicating two-dimensional form and meaning.

FDN 1211 Foundation: Drawing 1
3 credits

Foundation: Drawing 1 is an introductory drawing course designed to prepare students for study in all majors of the college. Students develop basic drawing skills, including the ability to perceive and express visual relationships, organize a two-dimensional composition, and depict and manipulate form, space, and light. Students work from direct observation of still life, interior space, and landscape.

FDN 1212 Foundation: Drawing 2
3 credits

Foundation: Drawing 2 is an observationally based drawing course designed to reinforce and develop the basic drawing skills established in Foundation: Drawing 1. Students work with a variety of subjects, including a substantial amount of drawing from the figure. In addition to working from direct observation, students explore drawing as a tool for invention, conceptualization, and idea development. The course also affords students an opportunity to investigate drawing materials in more breadth and depth than in Foundation: Drawing 1.

Prerequisites: Foundation: Drawing 1

FDN 1311 Foundation: Media 1
3 credits

Students are introduced to digital resources at MCAD while exploring digital media. Areas covered include the Service Bureau, Gray Studio, and Media Center, along with other digital resources. Students use a variety of software and hardware to learn the basics of working with recorded media, including video, sound, and photography, as well as developing critical language for discussing media and media artists.

FDN 1411 Ideation and Process
3 credits

Everything we make has its beginning as an idea, which takes form as an artist/designer makes a series of decisions to guide its creative evolution. This course is designed to help students explore the development of new ideas and their own process of making. Students also create visual tools to track their creative process from idea through construction and then to post production analysis. The course consists of discussions, critiques, exercises, and visual logs.

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing

FDN 1412 Sophomore Seminar: Contemporary Practice
1 credits

Practice is more than working methods: it’s the context, marketing, and creative space that maintain creative work. Contemporary Practice introduces students to the foundations, variety, and tools of a professional practice. Students upgrade websites and documentation, enter contests, and create professional presentations of their work. Classes consist of lectures, student presentations, and guest speakers from a wide range of disciplines.

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing

Studio Electives

26 credits

varying BFA Studio Electives
9 credits

Choose 3 BFA studio courses to take as electives.

Humanities and Sciences

39 credits

EN 1500 Writing and Inquiry
3 credits

Key to the creative and critical growth of the engaged, successful artist is participation in a culture of writing and inquiry. Students in this course focus on the kinds of writing they will encounter and produce in their coursework at MCAD and as creative professionals. Regular writing workshops allow students to concentrate on experiential and practical approaches to writing. Students explore a variety of texts and objects through class assignments, and then develop clear compelling essays employing a variety of rhetorical and narrative strategies.

HS 5010 Liberal Arts Advanced Seminar
3 credits

The Liberal Arts Advanced Seminar enables students to pursue their own research and writing goals within a seminar setting. Projects are student-originated and consist of both a written piece and a public presentation. Class sessions are discussion-based and interactive. Group learning is emphasized.Outcomes:Efficiently and accurately identify arguments used by liberal arts scholars in their work.Effectively apply and interpret liberal arts theory and methods in classroom discussions.Develop an original research project and plan guided by liberal arts theory and methods.Draft, revise, edit, and proofread long-form analytical narratives.Give a professional presentation focusing on a project‚ showing originality of thought, research scope, and final written work.

Prerequisites: Junior standing

HS XXXX Humanities and Sciences Electives
9 credits


varying Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning
3 credits

Scientific and Quantitative Reasoning classes increase students’ appreciation for the power of scientific and quantitative approaches to knowing the world.

varying Histories, Places, Philosophies
6 credits

6 credits of histories, places, philosophies electives

varying Creative or Professional Writing
3 credits

Creative or professional writing elective

AH 1701 Introduction to Art and Design History 1
3 credits

The objective of this course is to familiarize students with the major stylistic, thematic, cultural, and historical transformations in art history from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century. This course helps students develop critical tools for the interpretation and understanding of the meaning and function of art objects, architecture, and design artifacts within their original historical contexts. Class sessions consist primarily of lecture with some discussion. Students take in-class examinations and complete short essay assignments.

AH 1702 Introduction to Art and Design History 2
3 credits

This course introduces students to issues in modern art, popular culture, and contemporary art and design. Topics may include the expanding audience for art, the transformation of the art market, the impact of new technologies, the changing status of the artist, and the role of art in society. This course is taught as a seminar with some lecture.

Prerequisites: Introduction to Art and Design History 1 or faculty permission

varying Art History Electives
6 credits

Take 6 credits of art history courses

Total Credit Hours