Illustration Graduate Programs with Career Info

Generally, students interested in studying illustration at the graduate level can choose between a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA), with the additional option of a certificate program in science illustration.

Essential Information

Graduate programs in illustration are typically designed for experienced illustrators who would like to further their expertise. These programs usually take 1-3 years to complete, and some degree programs are offered online. Applicants normally need a bachelor's degree and an artistic portfolio, and they may need to provide GRE scores and recommendations. Graduate certificate programs require an artistic portfolio and a bachelor's degree in a field related to science, and may also need an internship. A visual or traditional thesis is typically required for graduation in the master's programs, and an internship may be required at the end of a science illustration graduate certificate program. Some graduate programs can be found online.

Master's Degrees in Illustration

Most programs can be completed in two to three years and can lead to an MA or an MFA in illustration. The coursework in many programs teaches students about the changing landscape in the field due to the convergence of technology and art, providing them with new skills and viewpoints for advancing their craft. Classical techniques are also built upon, in addition to portfolio development. With the training received, graduates of the program are qualified to work in a variety of illustration-related fields. The coursework in an illustration master's degree program is typically designed to expand on students' foundation in the field. The hands-on approach also allows students to grow their portfolio of work and help their unique talents blossom. Common course topics include:

  • Drawing for illustrators
  • Computer illustration
  • Illustration techniques
  • Narrative illustration
  • Visual thesis seminar
  • Thesis project

Graduate Certificates in Science Illustration

A graduate certificate program in science illustration teaches students how to combine their artistic talents and science background in order to deliver scientific concepts to a broad audience. Applicants to the program are usually artists who use nature and science for inspiration in their artistic expressions or scientists with a background in a field related to visual communications. Through various projects, such as creating field guides and cataloging species, students develop keen observational skills. The certificate can typically be earned in just over a year. Students build their portfolio of work through the program's coursework and complete training in computer-based, color and black-and-white techniques. Common course topics often include:

  • Natural science illustration
  • Field sketching
  • Natural science sketching in color
  • Applied techniques in natural science illustration
  • Applied color techniques in science illustration

Popular Careers

Graduate programs prepare students for entry-level positions in a variety of illustration fields, such as comic book illustration, cartoon illustration and technical illustration. Popular career choices include:

  • Children's book artist
  • Advertising illustrator
  • Illustration editor
  • Greeting card artist
  • Graphic novel artist

Employment Outlook and Salary

According to, scientific illustrators made an annual median salary of $43,536 as of August 2016. Job outlook information for scientific illustrators wasn't available. However, employment of fine artists, which includes illustrators in general, was expected to grow 7% - between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The amount of skilled illustrators exceeds the number of available jobs in this field. Employment with print publications is expected to decline as other forms of media, such as Internet-based publications, become more common. On the other hand, the rise in such forms of media is expected to create new opportunities for illustrators. Additionally, as media companies are using designs with more detailed imagery, demand for illustrators who work with computers is predicted to increase.

Aspiring illustrators can seek out Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts programs at the graduate level. These programs can lead to careers in the creative arts as well as editing and advertising, though competition in the field is high.

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