Illustration BA (Hons)

Full-time undergraduate (3 years, 4 years with foundation year)





Discover your visual language at Cambridge School of Art by studying this full-time, practice-based Illustration degree course. Choose to take part in our annual overseas drawing trip, get support to find work placements and work experience, and take part in live briefs set by local industry. Develop your own unique creative style on your way to a career as a professional illustrator.

Full description


We work with employers to make sure you graduate with the knowledge, skills and abilities they need. They help us review what we teach and how we teach it – and they offer hands-on, practical opportunities to learn through work-based projects, internships or placements.

Find out more about our placements and work experience, or the faculty's employability support.

Our past students have found success in many different creative industries, often as a direct result of making contacts at our end-of-course Degree Show or the New Designers exhibition in London. Past employers and commissioners have included Sky TV, Oxford University Press, Katana (creative media design agency), Eljo's Haberdashery, Moonpig Greetings Cards, The Mill (post-production company), Wilkinson (for work on a luggage range), Hallmark cards, Tigerprint and Tesco.

Across all three years of the degree, you'll have opportunities to enter competitions, participate in live industry briefs and take up relevant internships and voluntary work, all of which will give you a valuable grounding in what it takes to be a professional illustrator.

Some of our recent graduates include: Bethan Woollvin, successful children’s books creator and winner of the Macmillan Prize 2014; Catherine Rowe, who runs her own design business with clients including Paperchase and Liberty of London; and Aleesha Nandhra, whose clients include the Barbican Centre, Film4 and BuzzFeed News, and who recently took part in the ‘Creating Heroines’ project in Nepal.

You might decide to stay in academia after you graduate, perhaps specialising your talents on our MA Children’s Book Illustration. If so, you might be interested to know we offer an alumni scholarship that could save you 20% of your fees.

Modules & assessment

Level 3 (foundation year)

  • Foundation in Art and Design
    This module will provide students with the necessary skills to begin studying at level 4 in art, design and related courses. Students will be introduced to the core skills necessary to succeed in higher education, including researching and referencing appropriately, demonstrating appropriate ICT skills, and communicating effectively verbally and in writing. Students will be introduced to practical art and design skills including developing skills of visual storytelling, image-making both in traditional and digital media, visual language and communication, formulating an independent creative response to a broad range of subject matter. Students will also be introduced to the fundamentals of design from a creative perspective, and to some of the key ideas/movements dominating art, design and culture, during the past few centuries. Students will work extensively in groups and collaboratively, with students from art and design, architecture and engineering pathways. The module is made up of the following eight constituent elements: Interactive Learning Skills and Communication (ILSC); Information Communication Technology (ICT); Composition and Style; Creative Workshops 1; Approach to Design; Critical and Contextual Studies; Creative Workshops 2; Specialist Project.

Year one, core modules

  • Digital and Moving Illustration
    This module will introduce you to a range of methods of image generation and manipulation in the context of the wider field of illustration. You will be encouraged to experiment with the deconstruction of the photographic image, arrangement and manipulation of found material and production of imagery through various combinations of traditional and contemporary media. The module aims to break down barriers and preconceptions about what constitutes creative 'ownership' of an image. Project briefs will invite you to respond with experimental approaches to image manipulation, both static and moving, while workshops on digital and photographic processes will support studio teaching that focuses on both technical and conceptual aspects of image manipulation. You may explore the possibilities of photography in illustration, the areas where photography and drawing collide or overlap. In Trimester one, you will explore the static, still image that may be commissioned for page or screen, and in Trimester 2, you will build on this experience and consider how your work can be developed in the form of moving illustration, currently an expanding marketplace. The potential liberation of image making from the static printed page offers new possibilities and challenges for the creative image maker. This module will show you the potential for digital, moving illustration and imagery, to prepare you for the rapidly evolving and changing professional environment. Digital means of production need to work hand-in-hand with idea generation, so while you will be introduced to industry-standard software, the "concept" and its communication will be at the core of the briefs you are set. You will work with industry standard software during this module, enhancing your employability.
  • Drawing for Illustration
    The skills of observation, analysis and critical awareness are vital for any creative individual, and particularly so for Illustration students. This module will encourage you to develop and refine these skills through the process of drawing. You will be looking at line, tone, form and colour in the studio, on location and in structured taught life drawing sessions. We believe that drawing, whether observational, imaginative or experimental underpins everything that we do as illustrators, and this module encourages you to engage with the process of drawing in both formal and experimental approaches to the drawn image. You will experiment with materials, techniques and approaches to “drawing” as a broad concept and how these can be applied to illustrative contexts. During the module you will critically and actively examine the work of current and past practitioners, from the analogue to the digital, and how drawing is used as an important method of visual research, provision of roughs for clients and possible final artwork for clients. You will consider the role of the drawn image in relation to visual communication in its broadest terms and develop an increased confidence in the handling of the human form, architectural and spatial elements, primary and secondary sources of visual research, and how to combine them in convincing ways. This module, once successfully passed, will give you the confidence and knowledge to apply your drawing skills to other modules on the course. This is a dynamic, structured, knowledge and skills based module that forms the basis of and informs much of the other work you will do on the course.
  • Illustration Practice
    In previous modules you will have explored analogue and digital ways of producing images. You will now get the opportunity to apply these skills to illustrative contexts and briefs, in a way that reflects the structure of “real life” briefs whilst allowing you to experiment broadly. This module will introduce you to, and ask you to examine, approaches, media and processes specific to illustrative image making. From a basis in observational drawing, you will begin to explore imaginative drawing, sequential and interpretative drawing through a range of set briefs. Processes of graphic reproduction will be introduced, including printmaking and letterpress. You will consider the interplay of text and image and explore elements of the narrative imagery and sequence, both in terms of the illustration as a designed form and the broader design contexts in which illustrations are used. You will examine these issues with reference to the ongoing development of your own visual language through studio and location-based project work that emphasises a balance between personal creative language and applied practice. You will also be introduced to the academic study of illustration. Through a series of practical 'workshop' style sessions you will examine the work of a selection of significant and influential illustrators, animators, games designers and other artists, both contemporary and historical, in order to gain an appreciation and knowledge of the historical, cultural and intellectual context within which they were working. You will be taught through weekly seminars, which will give you the opportunity to discuss the works, as well as the events and ideas underpinning them, and how they relate to your own studio practice and set briefs. As well as this subject-specific content, you will undertake a series of workshops and exercises that introduce the skills of library research, critical analysis of visual imagery, essay writing and academic referencing, providing a foundation for your studies later in the course, and givign you important transferrable skills in terms of your future employability. This module contains a written component, and also includes submission of a PDP (Personal Development Plan) component.
  • Print, Process and Page
    This module runs over two trimesters and will introduce you to the printmaking facilities in Cambridge School of Art. As well as learning new technical skills and processes, you will learn how to use equipment and technical equipment in a safe manner. This means that for future projects and modules, you will be able to work independently and securely in the printmaking area during open access sessions. This module deals with the relationship between print processes and the specialist area of illustration. You will explore the application of graphic processes and media both through your own creative practice and through exposure to contemporary and historical examples. Seminars on reprographic processes and possibilities will be augmented by studio projects and demonstrations, with a particular emphasis on the historical and contemporary relationships between print as a method of mass reproduction, and printmaking as a contemporary medium for illustration. The module will be delivered in the illustration studio and print workshops and you are encouraged to make use of open access time in the print workshops. A basic introduction to hand bookbinding is included.

Year two, core modules

  • The Illustrated World
    An ability to observe and comment on the world around us is a key skill for the professional illustrator, and this module will encourage you to develop keen observational and conceptual skills. This broad, experimental module runs across two trimesters and starts with an intensive one-week drawing trip. Previous locations have included Porto, Seville and Lisbon, but if you, for whatever reason, cannot join the international trip, you will undertake exactly the same observational exercises in Cambridge or other UK destinations. The week is highly structured and completing the set exercises will ensure you have the relevant visual information to complete the subsequent briefs. You are encouraged to build upon your experience of visual information gathering by applying personal research methods to visual communication project briefs. In the series of set studio briefs you will apply the visual research that you have collected during the week to illustrative contexts, making connections between primary and secondary research and considering the relationship between type and image. You will undertake a project over the winter vacation that currently takes the form of a competition and curated exhibition. This is considered part of your employability and professional practice development and exposes you to concepts of “client brief” and audience communication. In Trimester 2 we will build on the conceptual and visual problem solving aspects of illustration, with the emphasis on ideas, where they come from, how we can generate them under pressure. You will be encouraged to generate a wide range of ideas in response to set briefs. You will then need to demonstrate that you can select your strongest idea and develop it into fully resolved final artwork. Through group project briefs, seminars and presentations, you will look at the way complex concepts can be articulated visually, in the context of, for example, editorial illustration and design, and illustration and design for advertising, covering concepts such as the visual metaphor and 'closure' in visual sequence. The briefing for the summer placement will take place in Trimester 2 of this module, and you will think ahead to L6 research projects. This module includes personal development planning via a PDP Progress File.
  • Sequence and Narrative
    This module runs over two trimesters and will focus on developing your skills in working sequentially and with narrative, considering composition and visual pacing as ways of visual storytelling. In the first trimester it will encourage you to explore printmaking materials and processes as a creative means of developing visual narrative or sequential imagery. You will be expected to treat printmaking processes experimentally rather than reproductively. You will develop a suite of images that explores sequential composition, the use of a coherent visual language, the relationship between printed text and image, the physical qualities of the materials used and the means by which the viewer interacts with the finished work. The briefs will cover a range of conceptual challenges including narrative/sequential contexts, visual interpretation for editorial design, type/ image relationships. You will apply the technical and conceptual skills attained in Trimester 1 in a more formal, industry-focused manner, paying particular attention to the world of publishing. In trimester 2, you will be introduced to 'The Book' as an object; a personal visual statement; and a fundamental vehicle for illustration. You will undertake a major practical project in trimester 2 to create your own 'book', which may be anything from an experimental 'artist's book' or graphic novel to a traditional children's picture book. This section of the module will include bookbinding workshops and demonstrations. You will be encouraged to explore a range of graphic media and processes, both traditional and digital, with particular emphasis on reprographic processes - printmaking, screen based and digital printing. Your self-initiated book project will prepare you for next year’s Launchpad module in terms of structuring your time effectively, developing and executing your own brief and increasing awareness of the demands of the professional illustration world. You will also gain insights into how publishers will expect book proposals to be submitted, which forms part of your professional practice and employability development. Where relevant, you will be encouraged to submit your finished or proposed book to national or international competitions such as the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition. There is a contextual, written element to this module, which will be delivered through a series of seminars and workshops. Materials covered have been selected to enhance your understanding of your own studio practice, through examination of current and historic practitioners within the areas of illustration, book design, printmaking and typography.

Year three, core modules

  • Launchpad
    This module will prepare you for professional practice and employment, through a combination of set briefs, self-initiated projects, participation in national competitions, and the development of your professional writing skills. Building on the practical, conceptual, and technical skills you have identified in previous modules on the course, and in conjunction with staff and peers, you will identify and develop your own unique individual “visual voice” within the broader context of contemporary illustration practice. You will be encouraged to solve challenging illustrative problems using an enhanced awareness of contemporary illustration practice within a modern visual culture. Briefs may include individually commissioned work, live set briefs, and national competitions, as appropriate to individual students. You will also attend a series of professional practice talks and speakers, which may include current practitioners, alumni, illustration agents, art directors who commission illustration, and the Association of Illustrators Masterclass. This important strand will give you a clear understanding of how the “business” side of the illustration industry works and how you can capitalise on the skills you have gained on the course. At the end of the module you will be able to demonstrate that you can organise and present a professional physical portfolio; that you have a fully functional, publically accessible website; and that you can engage with social media, as appropriate, as a professional creative. The written project will develop and demonstrate the ‘design writing’ skills you need for your self-promotion and professional practice as a designer, informing your employability through the development of a professional profile and online presence, and enhancing your profile through professional writing to the editorial standards of high-quality design and communication journals and websites. A summer placement may be taken in partial fulfilment of this component of the module. This module includes personal development planning via a PDP Progress File.


Modules are subject to change and availability.

You’ll demonstrate your progress through a combination of practical and written work.

As well as verbal feedback in taught sessions and tutorials, you’ll be given thorough personal written feedback that highlights your successes while indicating areas of improvement for future submissions.

Where you'll study

Your department and faculty

At Cambridge School of Art, we combine the traditions of our past with the possibilities afforded by the latest technologies.

Using our expertise and connections in Cambridge and beyond, we nurture creativity through experimentation and risk-taking to empower the makers and creators of the future.

Our academics excel at both practice and theory, making a real impact in their chosen fields, whether they are curating exhibitions, designing book covers or photographing communities in Africa. They are also regularly published in catalogues, books, journals and conference papers, their research classed as being of ‘international standing’, with some elements ‘world-leading’, in the most recent Research Excellence Framework.

Where can I study?

Lord Ashcroft Building on our Cambridge campus

Our campus is close to the centre of Cambridge, often described as the perfect student city.

Explore our Cambridge campus

Study trips

At the start of the second year, you’ll have the chance to take part in a one week, highly intensive location/reportage drawing trip. Recent trips have included Porto, Seville and Lisbon, and we currently have two sponsors who subsidise the cost to our students.

Fees & funding

Course fees

UK students starting 2021/22 (per year)


International students starting 2021/22 (per year)


Additional costs

Estimated cost of materials across three years £250. 

Optional field trip £250-280.

Optional participation in London show - New Designers Approx. £260 depending on the number of students taking part.

How do I pay my fees?

Tuition fee loan

UK students (and EU students starting a course before 1 August 2021) can take out a tuition fee loan, which you won’t need to start repaying until after your graduate. Or there's the option to pay your fees upfront.

Loans and fee payments

International students

You can pay your tuition fees upfront, in full or in two instalments. We will also ask you for a deposit of £4,000 or a sponsorship letter. Details will be in your offer letter.

Paying your fees


We offer a fantastic range of ARU scholarships, which provide extra financial support while you’re at university. Some of these cover all or part of your tuition fees.

Explore ARU scholarships

Funding for UK & EU students

Most new undergraduate students can apply for government funding to support their studies and university life. This includes EU students starting a course before 1 August 2021.

Government funding includes Tuition Fee Loans and Maintenance Loans. There are additional grants available for specific groups of students, such as those with disabilities or dependants.

We also offer a range of ARU scholarships, which can provide extra financial support while you’re at university.

Funding for international students

We offer a number of scholarships, as well as an early payment discount. Explore your options:

Entry requirements

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Portfolio review

It is essential that you send us a digital portfolio for review.

For full information on how to prepare and submit your portfolio please visit our Cambridge School of Art portfolios page.

Important additional notes

Whether you're studying entirely online or through a blend of on-campus and online learning from September 2020, you'll need a computer and reliable internet access to successfully engage with your course. A small number of our courses require additional technical specifications or specialist materials. Before starting the course, we recommend that you check our technical requirements for online learning. Our website also has general information for new students about starting university in 2020-21.

Our published entry requirements are a guide only and our decision will be based on your overall suitability for the course as well as whether you meet the minimum entry requirements. Other equivalent qualifications may be accepted for entry to this course, please email for further information.

We don't accept AS level qualifications on their own for entry to our undergraduate degree courses. However for some degree courses a small number of tariff points from AS levels are accepted as long as they're combined with tariff points from A levels or other equivalent level 3 qualifications in other subjects.

International students

We welcome applications from international and EU students, and accept a range of international qualifications.

Whether you're studying entirely online or through a blend of face-to-face and online learning from September 2020, you'll need a computer and reliable internet access to successfully engage with your course. Before starting the course, we recommend that you check our technical requirements for online learning.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you'll need to make sure you meet our English language requirements for undergraduate courses.

Improving your English language skills

If you don't meet our English language requirements, we offer a range of courses which could help you achieve the level required for entry onto a degree course.

We also provide our own English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT) in the UK and overseas. To find out if we are planning to hold an ELPT in your country, contact our country managers.

Chat to a student on this course

Do you want to know more about this course, or student life at ARU more generally? Send a message to our Student Ambassador - they'll be happy to answer any questions you have.

Apply now

UK and EU students

Apply for 2021

UCAScode: W225

Apply through UCAS

International students

Applicants from outside the UK and EU, apply to ARU

Apply direct

Get more information

UK & EU applicants

01245 68 68 68

Enquire online

International applicants

+44 1245 68 68 68

Enquire online