College of Science

Department of Science Illustration

The Science Illustration Certificate Program affords students an opportunity to learn both traditional and digital techniques used by scientific illustrators, and to prepare for careers in science illustration and related fields. Publication opportunities, exhibitions, and other professional experiences are stressed throughout the academic year. Science media art directors, lawyers for the arts and professional illustrators make special presentations and/or review portfolios. During the last quarter of instruction, students participate in designing and assembling a professional exhibit at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, as well as teaming up with UCSC's Science Communication Program to illustrate articles for the online publication Science Notes (1994-2014 archive). After students finish their academic year of course work, they gain additional experience by completing a summer or fall internship with a science magazine, museum, aquarium, university press, zoological or botanical institution, newspaper, or graphic arts studio. Program graduates have found jobs in art direction, freelance illustration, teaching, museum work, field research, and magazine illustration and graphic design. The Science Illustration Certificate Program requires twelve months of full-time commitment. It comprises a three-term, full-time sequence of studio and field courses, a series of master seminars designed to familiarize students with the business aspects of careers in the field of scientific illustration, followed by a professional internship. The program is unique in requiring not only completion of the course work and preparation of a professional portfolio, but completion of a substantial internship at the year's end. The follow-up internship gives program graduates an important edge both in experience and networking over illustrators who lack such experience.

Ringtailed Lemur Sketch
Ringtailed Lemur, AdamLabuen (’14)

Admission requirements

Admission to the program is limited to 15 students and is by application only. The application deadline for Fall 2016 is February 12th. Applicants must have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in a science, and must be able to demonstrate a strong background in representational drawing, as well as a developed sense of aesthetics. Other degrees are eligible if the portfolio exhibits keen observational skills and if the applicant can demonstrate a strong interest in and understanding of science.

Frequently asked questions

  • Admission to the program is limited to 15 students and is by application only. Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science, and must be able to demonstrate a strong background in representational drawing, as well as a developed sense of aesthetics. Other degrees are eligible if the portfolio exhibits keen observational skills and if the applicant can demonstrate a strong interest in and understanding of science.

  • Although each applicant is unique, typical preparation begins with successful completion of your degree in a science area of interest. In addition, take art classes or attend art workshops along with your science coursework, draw as much as possible, and start building a portfolio of your best work.

    It is helpful to do some personal research about science illustration as a career choice. Become aware of the many areas where scientific illustrations are used, from science magazines and textbooks to aquaria and museums. Keep a clip file of successful illustrations gleaned from publications, and identify the types of illustration that interest you to help define your goals as an illustrator. If possible, gain experience by trying your hand at doing illustration for your community museum, newspaper or college professors. Join the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators for additional information and peer support.

  • Science Illustration Program graduates have excellent track records at achieving success in their careers. As the program reputation has grown so have the number of applicants. Academic success, artistic ability and strong motivation are all key factors in being accepted into the program.

  • The portfolio is a crucial part of the application and the committee looks for attention to detail, accuracy and aesthetics as well as care in presentation of materials. We like to see a variety of your artwork showing your range of skills and techniques. Pencil drawings, pen and ink, watercolor, whatever you use is all accepted. Try to choose pieces that demonstrate your ability to render subjects realistically and accurately, that show your skills off to their best advantage.

    In addition to detailed illustrations of individual subjects, consider including illustrations that incorporate additional information or context. Examples include species interactions, reconstructions, hidden structures, or how things work.

  • We are looking for students who have a degree in science and who have strong interest in visual explanations of scientific phenomena, along with promising drawing skills. Other degrees are considered if you are able to indicate your interest and experience in a science related area.

  • The selection committee does look favorably on science backgrounds when reviewing applications. However, each year a few are selected with alternate backgrounds including art, graphic design, museum studies -- even history or literature. The application portfolio strongly influences selection decisions; it is one strong indicator for success in the field of science illustration. Although no two successful portfolios look alike, we look for accuracy, attention to detail, and some confidence with various media. Aptitude for telling a visual story is a strong plus, as is showing subjects in context (environments, relationships, comparisons, and so on), as well as explaining information through illustration.

    A science background helps insure a solid foundation in the scientific process and a keen understanding of the importance of accuracy and good research. If it would help you to feel more confident in those areas you might take a few science classes, read about science topics that really excite or interest you, or volunteer to do illustration or graphics for a museum, nature center or zoo. Remember, too, that a strong art background brings other necessary skills to the table. We have accepted more than a few excellent students with BFAs in fine arts.

  • Unfortunately, we do not allow visitors in the classroom since our program is quite intensive and the class size is limited. We have found that it is too distracting given the nature of the instruction.

  • The program administrator will be happy to answer your questions. Contact the program administrator if you would like a one on one meeting with a member of the faculty.

  • How much will this program cost me?

    Detailed information is available on our Cost & Aid page.

    What financing options are available to help me pay for this program?

    Financing for this program may be available through grants, scholarships, loans (federal and private) and institutional financing plans. The median amount of debt for program graduates is:

    • Federal loans: $20,500
    • Private education loans: $0
    • Institutional financing plan: $0

    How long will it take me to complete this program?

    The program is designed to take 16 months to complete. Of those that completed the program in 2014-2015, 67% finished in 16months.

    What are my chances of getting a job when I graduate?

    This institution is not currently required to calculate a job placement rate for program completers.

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