Natural Science Illustration Certificate, Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education

Illustration by Mollie Stone

Natural science illustrators accurately translate and communicate subject matter to inform and educate about the natural world. This certificate equips students with the necessary skills to document and detail that world – strong visual acuity; precise hand coordination and natural subject empathy and knowledge. Students explore various media and techniques including pencil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache and oil to discover their individual style; and composition and color strategies enable students to fully interpret, capture and portray subjects including birds, animals, botanicals, etc. in natural environments. The program utilizes RISD’s unique facilities including the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab as well as site/field visits to the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History, Zoo and Greenhouse. Students progress towards creating portfolio-ready pieces of natural science subjects for the purpose of professional presentation and potential publication.

Skill Development

  • Drawing, rendering, design, color theory and its applications
  • Hand-eye coordination and drawing realistically from observation (rather than photo reference)
  • Media handling proficiency including pencil, ink and paint (acrylic, gouache and watercolor)
  • Understanding of strong composition
  • Portrayal of subjects in natural habitats

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn fundamentals of design and color as they relate to Natural Science Illustration subjects and environments
  • Gain problem-solving skills by conceptualizing, planning and executing an illustration, from preliminary drawing to final product
  • Learn how to fully observe, interpret, research and portray subjects including birds, animals, insects, specimens and botanicals in their natural habitats
  • Receive an introduction to, and familiarity with, Adobe software methods to enhance imagery – both of individual artwork and reference materials
  • Understand how to build a portfolio toward career opportunities including commissions, working with a scientist or a scientific organization, and working as an independent illustrator

Program Cost

$9,140 total
Current tuition rates; subject to change over the course of your program. Supplies, software subscription fees and other materials are not included.

Additional Information

Certificate Guide and Cost Breakdown (pdf)

Certificate Program Policies

Additional Details


Natural Science Illustration Certificate Application
Please Apply to enroll in the Natural Science Illustration certificate program.


Minimum Required

Students in the Natural Science Illustration certificate program must complete 54 contact hours in elective courses of their choice. Electives may be taken at any time in the program.

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