A student drawing mushrooms from observation.

Online Certificate: Courses in this certificate are delivered completely online.

Natural science illustrators accurately translate and visually communicate scientific subject matter to inform and educate about the natural world. This certificate will equip you with the necessary skills to document and detail that world: careful observation, precise rendering techniques and natural subject curiosity and knowledge. You will explore various media and materials including pencil, pen and ink, acrylic, watercolor and gouache to discover your individual style. You will also learn composition and color strategies that enable you to fully interpret, capture and portray subjects—including birds, animals and botanicals—in natural environments. You’ll have access to RISD’s Edna Lawrence Nature Lab and Digital 3D Specimen Library (see naturelab.risd.edu for more information). Botanical gardens, zoos, natural history museums, aquariums and nature centers in your local area are also ideal resources for observing live animals and plants, as well as preserved specimens. By the end of this program, you’ll progress toward creating portfolio-ready pieces to pursue a freelance illustration career, exhibit opportunities, as well as print and web publications.

Certificate Guide and Cost Breakdown (pdf)

Certificate Program Policies

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Skill Development

  • Drawing, rendering, design, color theory and its applications
  • Hand-eye coordination and drawing realistically from observation, as well as using students' own photos as reference
  • Media handling proficiency using 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 observe, interpret, research and portray subjects including birds, animals, insects, specimens and botanicals. 
  • 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 freelance career opportunities including commissions, working with naturalists or natural science organizations, and working as an independent illustrator

Program Cost

$9,735 total
Current tuition rates; subject to change over the course of your program. Supplies, software subscription fees and other materials are not included.

Additional Details


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