Thoughts on RISD's Natural Science Illustration prog.?

Hello, I'm considering enrolling in Rhode Island's School of Design's natural science illustration program and was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on the program.(

I have little art experience (basically half-way through Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain). RISD's program seems geared to newbies like me, they assume no art experience and start with fundamental drawing classes. Other programs, like U of Washington's and California State's, seem geared to those with much more experience.

Thank you for your thoughts!

If you are not experienced in drawing, it is wise to consider programs that contain drawing courses that are designed to be helpful to those with little experience. The kind of drawing needed in scientific illustration goes beyond that described in the Edwards book so courses that can help you develop those abilities are essential for you.

The Savannah College of art and Design has developed a program that has a planned start up date of Fall, 2012.  The undergraduate program will have the kind of drawing courses that will be very helpful to students with little experience.  An MA and MFA are also planned.  These programs would also contain informative drawing courses but would expect a level of drawing profeciency from the students.  If a student is serious about scientific illustration at the graduate level yet is lacking in drawing experience (such as a scientist who would like to broaden their work to include illustration) there are three courses that can be taken to bring the student up to speed and prepared for success in their graduate course of study in scientific illustration at SCAD.

Because SCAD offers numerous programs in digital media, animation, film, and related areas, students will be able to become cutting edge ilustrators, prepared for the current illustration market.


If you have any questions please write to me at [email protected].


Kristie Bruzenak


You could try out a 4 week summer class at California State University, Monterey Bay. These classes are open to all levels of experience -- giving newbies a substantial head start, and even near-professionals a place to share ideas and refine techniques. This year Science Illustration Program instructor Amadeo Bachar teaches marine science illustration and digital science illustration. Classes begin this tuesday. Keep summer classes in mind as you ramp up your skills to apply to a science illustration program.

Ann C

That's a great idea, Ann. There are individual courses all over the country offered by professionals that can help students ramp up for entering a program. You might look up workshops offered by professional organizations as well as colleges.

Another move I would suggest is to request portfolio reviews from professors in the colleges you might like to attend. That would help you get some insight into what you should focus on as you develop your skills and your portfolio for application.

In addition, it's important to determine whether a degree is important to you. Some programs offer certificates which meet the goals of some individuals. Other programs offer college degrees which better meet the goals of others.

SCAD's program is designed to offer a BFA, MA and MFA in scientific illustration. Be certain to check the course resources posted on the GNSI site. Find the one that matches your needs. A good fit is important and will help you reach your goals more effectively.

Kristie Bruzenak


I graduated from the RISD/CE program in Natural Science Illustration back in 1986, (then called Scientific and Technical Illustration) and taught in the program from 1994-2007. It's a looser curriculum than Monteray Bay, in that you can take one class a semester or ten, and that enrollment in the program is not limited by student number or an application. You must have an approved portfolio review to graduate, but not to enroll.

The classes are all good, as are the facilities. Excellent computer labs, historic nature lab, up-to-date microscopes and plentiful art stores. If you know the area, it's a haven for artists. You also have Brown University next door and potential access to dissections; marine laboratories at Brown or URI, etc. I suggest you make a meeting with Amy Bartlett Wright, who is the advisor on the program and teaches some of the classes. She'll give you straight up, no-nonsense advice.

RISD/CE also offers excellent basic drawing classes. If you want to hone your drawing skills with figure drawing, take a class with Robin Wiseman and sit in on the many open studios around Providence. GNSI member David Delay offers an open studio in Pawtucket.

With the RISD/CE program, you can also start out with just a class or two before commiting to the program. Within the program, there is also flexibility to concentrate on digital or traditional techniques (both are highly recommended).

Feel free to contact me with any questions or specifics. I miss teaching and living there.

Gretchen Halpert

[email protected]

Many thanks all for your helpful comments. RISD|CE sounds like the best move, they offer evening classes and are well-tailored to someone changing careers. SCAD sounds like an excellent follow-up to RISD once I'm freelancing and have a more flexible schedule.


Again thank you for the advice!