Student draws illustrations on tablet next to laptop with designs on it
Undergraduate | In-Person

Illustration, BFA

Illustration is your superpower to inform and delight the world with visual storytelling. If you’re seeking a supportive environment that promotes personal growth through a stimulating liberal arts education—this is the place. 

Why Major in Illustration? 

Student design of a poster for Tin Pan SouthWatkins College of Art’s B.F.A. in Illustration program will expand your knowledge of art and the world while developing your creative hand and  feeding your curious mind. The studio-based curriculum with its entrepreneurial focus provides the ideal path for emerging illustrators…you. 

Our students and graduates consistently win national illustration awards and secure competitive internships and employment with creative firms and illustration agencies.

What can you expect?

Students will graduate with a competitive, entry-level portfolio demonstrating their understanding of the illustration industry and its business practices. Your portfolio will demonstrate your ability to express emotion, narrative and commentary through your art and your skills in crafting successful illustrations for diverse audiences and markets. 

Our program puts you in the heart of Nashville, a thriving environment for creatives.

What You'll Learn

  • Advertising Illustration
  • Art Licensing & Surface Design
  • Book Illustration & Sequential Art
  • Character Design & Development
  • Editorial Illustration
  • Children's Illustration Design
  • Graphic Design and Typography

Career Possibilities

  • Animator
  • Art or Creative Director
  • Book Designer
  • Brand Identity Designer
  • Character Designer
  • Children's Book Illustrator
  • Comic Book Artist
  • Illustrator with national agent
  • Illustrator at Design/Illustration Firms
  • Published Graphic Novelist

Program Details

The illustration major leads to a bachelor of fine arts. It requires 128 hours of coursework.

  • BELL Core requirements: 38 hours
  • Major requirements: 82 hours
  • Art and Design Electives: 12 hours
  • General electives: 6 hours

See All Program Requirements

Courses You'll Take

  • ART 1040, Figure Drawing

The course practice will consist primarily of observing and drawing the human figure in a wide range of poses, lighting conditions and time frames, and learning to use a variety of media and techniques. Special emphasis will be on placing a figure within a composition and using correct anatomical proportions. Additional out-of-class drawings with figurative elements will be assigned in order to further develop perceptual sensitivities. Students completing the course should be able to draw the human figure using conté crayon, charcoal and graphite as well as understand several historical approaches used to make successful figure drawings.

  • ART 1400, Digital Imaging

This introductory course in digital imaging will introduce students to the basic Macintosh hardware and operating system. In addition, the course is a survey of basic animation, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Project may incorporate a variety of mediums including print and motion media.

  • ART 2110, Intro to Illustration

The course provides an introduction to the illustration process and its role as an art form that reflects, advances and serves contemporary culture. Assignments parallel professional practices.

  • ART 2120, Illustration II: Pictorial Problems

The course challenges students to develop theme-based visual solutions to communication problems targeting specific audiences and markets. Consistency in personal viewpoint and technique are important, but experimentation is encouraged as an opportunity for discovery. Assignments parallel professional practices.

  • ART 2410, Intro to Design Principles

Design is the use of visual forms (words and images) that are used to convey information to diverse audiences. This course is the first in a sequence of Design Communications courses. Students will explore the use of basic design principles, design elements, introductory theory and brainstorming techniques to solve basic communication problems without the use of a computer. Emphasis will be on observation, analysis, design process, terminology, creative thinking, problem-solving, execution and craftsmanship. Several projects may be considered as portfolio pieces.

  • ART 2025, Digital as Designed Object

This course will assist students in their ability to translate ideas and concepts into digitally produced physical objects. Students will explore digital fabrication and its role in the production of goods and consider its impact on the commodification of the art object. Through a series of technical demonstrations, students will make connections between computer-aided design, digital fabrication technologies and the physical world. Students will complete a series of projects in 3D modeling, 3D printing, CNC milling, and laser cutting.

  • ART 2430, Typography: Layout

A studio course covering the history, terminology and use of typography in the design communications industry. Students will use traditional and computer based typographic tools to complete exercises and problems. Projects and exercises will range from the examination of the interaction of individual letterforms to organization of text in publication layouts. Students will practice a variety of typographic philosophies.

  • ART 2431, Typography: Form

A studio course covering the history, terminology and use of typography in the design communications industry. Students will use traditional and computer based typographic tools to complete exercises and problems. Projects and exercises will range from the examination and creation of individual symbol glyphs to their use in complex communications. Emphasis will be placed on the development of a professional level typeface specimen.

  • ART 2432, Typography: Kinetic

Students explore design and typographic concepts in motion media. Students build sequential design and motion within a time-based media environment as they explore storytelling and continuity. A combination of photography, graphic images, type, sound and video is used to create sequences and animated shorts.

  • ART 2800, World Art - Pre-Modern

This course offers an introductory overview of visual art, material objects and architecture representing cultures from around the world beginning in the era of Prehistory to ca. 1300. Visual analysis of forms, techniques, styles, subjects and symbolism is grounded in an understanding of related historical contexts and societal beliefs.

  • ART 2810, World Art - Early & Modern

This course explores visual art and architecture across many cultures and geographies from the early modern period to the present day. Visual analysis of forms, techniques, styles, subjects and symbolism frame global narratives and cross-cultural connections within a chronological overview.

  • ART 3110, Illustration III: Visual Narratives

The course will explore sequential imagery, character development and design, storyboards and concept drawings essential in the production of picture books, graphic novels, publishing, animation and more. The class will include guest illustration professionals and possible research trips. Assignments parallel professional practices.

  • ART 3130, Illustration Special Topics

Students will learn from visiting professionals illustrators, designer-illustrators, animators and more to benefit from distinctly different and valuable perspectives on the field. Students will learn promotional strategies targeting established and emerging markets for illustration. Topics are taught on a rotating basis and may include: art licensing, children's illustration, editorial illustration, animation and more.

  • ART 3440, History and Philosophy of Design

Students will examine the history and relevant theory of visual communication and graphic design including its historical relationship to the larger culture in which it functions. In viewing graphic design beyond the aesthetic, emphasis will be placed on its role in areas such as commerce, culture, propaganda, ideology and the social/political arenas. The underlying themes will be technological influence on communication and the evolution of visual form and language. This lecture course combines readings, discussions and practical application of theory/concepts through written assignments and possible creation of visual artifacts.

  • ART 4910, Illustration Portfolio

This course is the final step in preparing students for careers in illustration. Under the direction of senior faculty, each student will complete a competitive, entry-level portfolio and demonstrate skills needed to succeed as professional illustrators. Unique and distinctive visual viewpoints are encouraged and expected.

  • ART 2490, Design Empathy

With the advancement in technology and changing needs of people, designers are challenged to look for innovative approaches to cater for the needs of their users toward an effective/positive user experience. As a result it is important to gain a deeper understanding of a uniquely identified targeted audience - empathy. Through projects and case studies, students will learn the importance of designing for perspective other than their own. Topics will include human-centered design process; diversity, inclusion and equity; and critical thinking.

  • ART 2850, Portfolio Practices

Through inquiry, reflection and integration, students will bring coherence to, synthesize and integrate learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom in the context of a liberal arts university by producing an electronic portfolio for both academic and professional purposes. This course will introduce students to the basis of documenting, curating, reflecting on and showcasing learned proficiency’s as shown through such artifacts as visual and written work. The course will emphasize both visual and written/reflective components of creating and critique. Students will also be introduced to professional practices in preparation for an internship.

All students pursuing a B.F.A. degree must complete at least one internship for college credit. Students may work in any art or design-related employment, such as advertising, publishing or galleries. Students can earn up to 6 credits towards their degree.

Your major will provide you with a wide array of opportunities including but not limited to:

  • Study abroad (Semester, Maymester or Summer)
  • Study away for a semester in alternate markets through Belmont USA (N.Y.C., L.A., Washington D.C.)
  • Internships- Our relationship to Nashville’s professional creative community is personal and rich. We will assist you with internship placement to ensure the experience is a good fit.
  • Four campus gallery spaces to professionally exhibit your work
  • Opportunities to present at campus-wide research symposiums and professional conferences
  • Kappa Pi, an international honorary art fraternity
  • Watkins students are consistently juried into local, regional and national competitions, including AAF Student ADDY Awards, Society of Illustrators-NYC and Graphis New Talent Annual

We encourage you to explore the exceptional work our students create in their programs.

View Student Work

The Watkins College of Art requires all students applying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree to submit a portfolio as a part of the admissions process. You must first be admitted to Belmont before hearing a decision from Watkins. 

Portfolios submitted before December 1 will be considered for the Watkins Merit Scholarships. Any applications submitted after December 1 will be considered for admission, but not for departmental scholarships.  

View all Portfolio Guidelines

Deadlines for the Portfolio and Belmont application: 
December 1 for scholarship consideration 
April 1 for incoming freshmen students 
June 1 for incoming transfer students 

What if I am accepted to Belmont but not the BFA program? 
Any applicants not accepted into a BFA program will have the option to be enrolled in a second major of their choice. We encourage applicants to select one of our Bachelor of Arts (BA) majors (See below). At the end of the student’s freshman year and completion of foundational courses, the student will be eligible to reapply to the BFA program through another portfolio review. 

The Watkins College of Art has significant scholarship opportunities for students. Last year, the college offered more than 55 scholarships to incoming students valuing over $380,000.

Applicants who intend to pursue a degree in the Watkins College of Art and wish to be considered for the merit-based scholarship must submit an essay and portfolio of work in art and/or design. Students must have their Belmont application and portfolio submitted by December 1 to be eligible for the scholarships.

Please visit the Portfolio Guidelines page for more specific details.

Learn more.

Need-based scholarships will be determined from a student's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the official form that families use to apply for college financial assistance from the federal government.

In addition to Belmont University's Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accreditation, the Watkins College of Art is a fully accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

The Illustration program allows students to dig deeper into narrative and visual development, sequential art, graphic novels, children's books, art licensing and more. This minor is the perfect companion for every storyteller at Belmont. Visual stories predate oral and written traditions by a long shot, so dive into the deep end of human DNA and show your stories. Learn how to craft successful images combining what you see with what you imagine. Excellent drawing skills are not required but a sense of play and purpose will aid in your journey to visualize short and tall tales.

Alumni Testimonial

"Watkins helped me build the courage to push the boundaries of my art. I am creating things that I would have never imagined myself creating even just a year or two ago. I am no longer afraid to try something new or even absurd."

Marina Ibrahim, Class of 2023

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Watkins College of Art

Elise Haines
Admissions Coordinator
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