One of the hallmarks of a RISD undergraduate education is first-year Experimental and Foundation Studies, designed to push students to take risks, test theories, challenge ideas and refine work to go beyond your initial ideas and find the best solution. That’s why the RISD Pre-College curriculum also places a strong emphasis on foundation work: it is as crucial to your development as your major. In a typical week, you’ll balance two, seven-hour days of Foundation Studies with two full days of Major work and a half-day of Critical Studies in Art, with an hour each day reserved for lunch.
Evenings and weekends are reserved for homework, trips and activities. Here’s a look at what a typical week might look like:
9 am–4 pm
Homework and activities
9 am–11 am
Critical Studies in Art
Homework and activities
9 am–4 pm
Homework and activities
9 am–4 pm
Homework and activities
9 am–4 pm
Homework and activities
SAT & SUN
Homework and activities
Your foundation work is a crucial part of your development as an art student. These three required courses ask you to move beyond the expected, and help you to develop a new visual vocabulary that will allow you to confidently speak about art and design.
A representation of your drawing skills is often an essential requirement for college admissions portfolios. In Drawing Foundations, you’ll develop your power of observation and strengthen your ability to think and express yourself visually on paper. You’ll learn techniques for working from the human figure, forms in nature, landscapes, interior spaces and still-life setups. Traditional and nontraditional materials and methods may be used to investigate line, value, form and composition to help you to explore expressive and conceptual possibilities in your work.
An essential component of portfolio development is the representation of thoughtful design choices in all artwork. Design is the ability to organize and map out visual elements into dynamic expression. In Design Foundations you will be introduced to the formal principles of design: balance, shape, color, pattern and space. Prompts and in-class exercises will challenge you to discover new approaches to your work. Projects may include both two- and three-dimensional design concepts.
Critical Studies in Art
Critical analysis–the ability to examine, analyze and respond to creative ideas verbally and in writing–is a crucial part of a RISD education. In this foundation course you’ll develop an approach to critical analysis by studying artwork in its historical and contemporary context. Your in-class coursework, including a written paper and group presentation, will be enhanced by visits to the RISD Museum where you’ll explore the collections and examine original artwork up close.
You’ll build on your foundation work by choosing a major, which will allow you to focus on a particular field of design or fine art. Space in majors is limited and placement is on a first-come, first-served basis. And remember: your major work is only one component of Pre-College. No matter your major, you’ll come away with a depth of experience, advancement and artwork.
Need help choosing a major? Or is your first choice already full? Here’s a hint from our Associate Director of Pre-Collegiate Programs:
“Think about considering something that will add variety to your portfolio. Don’t have any 3-D work/skills yet? Consider a major where you’ll work spatially. Or think about if you need more work that uses different materials and processes outside of drawing and painting.
Even if your first choice major is full, you’ll still be learning and building the majority of your admissions portfolio work in your Drawing and Design Foundations classes—so be curious and think outside the box when choosing your major.”
Experience has shown us that having a broad range of work in your portfolio can increase your college acceptance possibilities.
Using a number of rendering techniques, Animation students will be introduced to basic technical skills in computer distortion, timing, exaggeration, sound and sequencing. You’ll develop strong perception and drawing skills through projects that require creating unique characters and compelling stories through flipbooks, storyboards, cutouts and stop-motion films. You’ll also study noteworthy animated films and discuss how they relate to your own work. The course emphasizes hand-making, experimentation and creating your unique approach to storytelling through motion. You’ll be steered away from copying or stylizing in ways that reflect other artists or animations. Instead, you’ll be challenged by prompts and guidelines to define your own characters and scenes in ways that you haven’t necessarily seen before.
Art and Activism
Throughout history, artists and designers have served as cultural magnifiers, bringing awareness and change to socioeconomic, environmental and political disparities. Through an exploration of 2D mixed media materials and concept building, you’ll create work that examines and unravels the meaning of social justice. Class will include sensitive and respectful discussions on topics such as social equity, inclusiveness, political and economic divides, along with an exploration of identity, privilege, bias, prejudice, navigating political constructs, religious ideology and government justice systems.
Unlike a media-centered major, the Art and Activism major will give you an opportunity to explore dual interests. As with all majors, you’ll be challenged to produce artwork that shows mastery of materials and is rich with meaning.
Clay has long been respected as the medium of choice for relief and sculptural portraiture as well as many types of functional ware. Its plasticity and versatility is appreciated in works that transcend traditional boundaries, and today, ceramics are also associated with contemporary sculpture. As a ceramics major, you’ll learn basic construction and finishing techniques, including hand-building, wheel-throwing, surface design, glazing and kiln firing, and will be encouraged to experiment with both functional and sculptural ideas.
As a fashion design major you’ll examine the process from pencil and paper to purchase. Initial exercises focus on developing the visual communication skills necessary to illustrate a fashion concept. You’ll gain an understanding of color interaction, form and proportion as well as merchandising and construction methods. You’ll also learn to appreciate how fashion tastes and styles both reflect and contribute to contemporary culture. Ultimately, students design and construct fashion pieces out of alternative materials to be shown as part of the Pre-College Exhibitions at the end of the program. Sewing skills are not required.
Furniture lies at the heart of human-centric design. In this major you’ll investigate materials and processes that support the technical proficiency needed to create a functional form. Unlike with a typical industrial design approach, which focuses primarily on concept development, in this design-build course you’ll explore key aspects of three-dimensional design through drawings and modeling while you also develop the essential skills needed to create your own piece of furniture. Emphasis is placed on developing both innovative form (through milling, shaping and joinery) and aesthetic quality (through investigation of material, surface and finishes).
Producing glass is one of the most unique, exciting and immediate art experiences offering a wide variety of creative possibilities. Students learn to work directly with hot glass and explore the potential of glass as a conceptual material. Introductory glass offers students both traditional and non-traditional techniques of glass blowing. (The studio has adapted to COVID-19 protocols with the use of compressed air and other alternative inflation methods.) Students develop a working vocabulary of hot and cold glass processes while becoming familiar with tools, techniques and safe working practices. Cold working, sandcasting, and mold making are elements in a comprehensive exploration of glass as a fine art medium. Students problem solve through research and sketches in and out of class while building on ongoing assignments. “Sketching” with the material and investigating historical and contemporary sources is encouraged. Please note: For health and safety purposes this course will be offered during the hours of 7:30 am-2:30 pm. Students who are not normally early risers should consider this carefully before listing this major as a preference on their application.
Graphic novels have never been a more popular storytelling medium for conveying all sorts of tales—memoir, superhero, fairy tales, social justice and political satire are powerfully construed through the medium of comic illustration. This major provides students with the expertise needed to combine words and pictures into compelling stories for strips, comic books or graphic novels. You’ll learn the creative and technical aspects of this idiosyncratic art form, including its unique characteristics and limitations. Classes include a survey of selected publications, in-class demonstrations of scriptwriting and drawing techniques. Emphasis in this course is on hand-making, experimentation and creating your own unique approach to visual stories. Students are steered away from copying or stylizing in ways that reflect other artists or comics. Instead, you’ll be challenged by prompts and guidelines to define your own characters and scenes in ways that you haven’t necessarily seen before.
From the creation of handheld electronics to the configuration of a satellite, industrial design is a hugely important field that affects every aspect of our daily lives. You’ll work on design solutions for social, physical and ecological needs, and develop a working vocabulary in the language of two- and three-dimensional design. Three-dimensional drawing and model-making skills are emphasized throughout the course.
Designing and constructing jewelry is an ideal discipline for developing an understanding of the structural underpinnings of all kinds of sculpture. Many skills learned in this major, if expanded in scale, are readily transferable to other modes of metalwork because they’ll familiarize you with the properties of various metals and related materials, as well as commonly used methods of joining. Techniques are learned through numerous demonstrations and structured exercises in the studio, enabling you to complete jewelry objects of your own by the end of the course.
Anyone using a camera today must have an understanding of digital tools. Digital photography majors develop technical and aesthetic skills in photography with an emphasis on digital imaging and its potential applications in fine art and commercial print and electronic media. Coursework focuses on camera techniques, lighting methods and the use of computer software (Adobe Photoshop) for enhancing and refining images. Note: You’ll have access to DSLRs in and out of class, but are also free to bring your own DSLR camera.
Here you’ll explore a range of three-dimensional concepts, skills and processes. Emphasis is placed on producing realistic structures based on human, animal and plant anatomy. You’ll select materials and methods that help you best address issues of form, space, expression, context and scale (in past years, projects have included constructing with wire, paper, fabric and found objects). You’ll also talk about the expansive field of contemporary sculpture, including conceptual art, public art, installations, memorials and site-specific work.
Learn basic architectural concepts and put them into practice by constructing physical prototypes. As an introductory architectural design studio, important architectural principles will be presented through studio exercises, slide lectures and demonstrations to develop an understanding of scale, form and spatial relationships. This intense study provides the framework for the type of analysis and synthesis that’s crucial to further architectural pursuits.
Art and Science
The overlap between art and science is undeniable. In this major, you’ll investigate how nature can inform art and design, and conversely, how creative inquiry of nature can lead to solutions to environmental problems. Through research, discussion and experimentation, you’ll be challenged to develop skills in a variety of methods and materials in order to build a body of work that best reflects your vision. Topics covered in class may include biomimetics, biophilic design, ecology, climate change, technology and medicine. A background in science is not required.
Unlike a media-centered major, the Art and Science major will give you an opportunity to explore dual interests. As with all majors, you’ll be challenged to produce artwork that shows mastery of materials and is rich with meaning.
The drawing major allows you to significantly expand upon the skills and techniques you’ll learn in Drawing Foundations. You’ll confront demanding technical exercises and explore imaginative, descriptive and conceptual imagery on paper. All the critical technical elements of drawing–line, tone, composition and color–are employed as tools for experimentation, discipline and intense inquiry.
As a film/video major, you’ll develop visual expression, storytelling, and the fundamental language of motion pictures from concept to final edit. You will learn basic digital video filming techniques and nonlinear editing with Final Cut Pro software as you shoot and edit a series of short individual and team projects. Experimental, documentary and narrative genres will all be explored. Previous experience with video editing software–like iMovie or Adobe Premiere–is helpful, but not required. Video cameras are provided for use during class hours only. You’re welcome to bring your own camera provided it shoots manually, records digitally and has a USB port.
The game designer is a jack-of-all-trades: artist, engineer, psychologist and storyteller… and most of all, a creator of fun. This course provides aspiring game makers with practical experience creating tabletop games. Through play testing, group critique and prototyping, you’ll hone projects using ideas discussed in class–like character design and game mechanics–and explore the inner workings of board, social, didactic, role playing and world building games. All projects are delivered as real, physical objects created through a combination of illustration and dimensional materials like mixed-media board, clay, metal and wood. Emphasis in this course is on hand-making, experimentation and creating your own unique approach. You will be steered away from copying or stylizing in ways that reflect other artists or games. Instead, you’ll be challenged by prompts and guidelines to define your own characters and components in ways that you haven’t necessarily seen before. Game industry designers and developers serve as guest critics.
Graphic design majors explore various combinations of traditional and digital design tools through a series of intensive classroom exercises. This regimen will help you integrate diverse techniques with elements of color, form, typography and composition. Your projects allow you to combine these tools and techniques in creative applications such as corporate identification, publications, posters, packaging and signage. You’ll also learn to recognize the principles of good graphic design as you integrate text and imagery into seamless, finished communications.
Illustration is an ideal major for those with a strong interest in drawing and the many ways to communicate a message. You’ll learn to create a compelling narrative, in a single visual construct, for a variety of genres including book, editorial and corporate illustration. Through lectures and research on historical and contemporary artists, methods and materials you’ll seek models for manipulating content and design elements to best express your viewpoint. Content and means of expression such as satire, advertising, propaganda, social commentary and fiction are learned in combination with exploration of drawing media such as graphite, pen, marker, collage and painting. Heavy focus is on developing individual concepts and a rigorous drawing practice through sketchbooks and assignments.
Interior design majors build a strong foundation in the process of designing interior spaces. You will develop a visual vocabulary that helps you explore the relationships between interior components and movement within a space. Color, texture, fabric, lighting and other elements are investigated in a way that encourages you to express your own sense of design. You’ll learn to understand the elements and principles of interior design as you develop project solutions, hold discussions and critiques.
Painting majors are introduced to both traditional and contemporary concepts and techniques in the medium. You will learn to create and organize forms, colors, textures and tones while experimenting with different methods of application. You’ll start by working from the figure, still-life setups and diverse landscapes. You’ll then be asked to create more personalized imagery by adapting lessons from the studio. Lectures, demonstrations and critiques reveal how others have tackled similar painting issues in the past to help you discover your own style.
This major is an excellent choice if you enjoy drawing or illustrating and are interested in experimenting with processes and materials. You’ll learn the fundamentals of screenprinting including hand-cut and drawing fluid/screen filler stenciling, as well as the predecessor of the process called “pochoir.” The course will also cover several relief printing techniques including (but not limited to) direct carving, reduction printing, multi-color roll printing, and the creation of stamps. You will learn how to use various forms of carving tools, how to prepare blocks, and how to hand-print images in a variety of scales. Additionally, you’ll learn how to adjust and manage images digitally, along with a variety of image transfer techniques that will help you to translate and transform your original drawings into printable matrices. Meaningful content, combined with demonstrated technical skills, will help you create mixed-media work using two or more techniques in small or large(r) scale monotypes, culminating in a series of prints for your final portfolio presentation.
Students working with textiles have the opportunity to explore how fabric and fibers can be manipulated to produce a wide variety of surface designs and expressive ideas. By mastering the basic elements of silkscreen printing, assorted dyeing methods, dimensional manipulation and embellishment you’ll learn to experiment with elements of layering, transparency and pattern. Emphasis is placed on illustrating a personal vision through meaningful narratives and motifs combined with creative use of color. This approach will allow you to explore originality in ways that can later be applied to work in any discipline and medium.
On a typical day, you’ll be in-studio for seven hours with a one-hour lunch break. In class you’ll participate in group and individual critiques, lectures and demonstrations. Most of your work will be done outside of the classroom to give you enough time to research ideas, develop concepts and complete artwork.
Your education will extend outside of the classroom and across campus, with open access to nearly 100,000 objects housed at the RISD Museum, the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab collection of natural history specimens, microscope lab and living plants and animals, and the RISD Library, which houses an extensive art and design book collection and Visual and Material Resource Center.
An essential element of the RISD undergraduate curriculum is the studio critique (or, affectionately, “crit”). That’s because all visual artists and designers, at every stage in their career, need the advice and perspective of others. At Pre-College, you’ll learn to present your work to your peers and instructors, receive constructive criticism and analyze your classmates’ work in turn.
The Human Figure
To develop a critical understanding of art, Pre-College courses use images of clothed and unclothed human figures and, in certain studio courses, live nude models. The use of professional models offers students an opportunity to study the human form in a way many have not yet experienced. Under the direction of the instructor, models typically pose for lengths of time ranging from a few minutes per pose to potentially a few hours (with breaks). The work that you create from a live nude model is designed to develop an awareness of the kinesthetics of the human form, some knowledge of human anatomy and a connection to the living energy of the subject. Photography of models is not permitted. You’ll be expected to be respectful, non-distracting and attentive to your work during the model poses.
Since most of class time is made up of lectures, demonstrations and critique, most of your work will be done outside of the classroom. Homework for all courses is substantial. You’re expected to take initiative both inside and outside of the classroom, including prioritizing your schedule to balance extensive homework assignments with time for program events and activities. Pre-College is your dedicated time to develop your skills and college application portfolio. Therefore you should carefully consider the workload of the program and avoid scheduling any competing outside activities and studies such as competitive sports training, AP coursework, SAT prep, etc. during the program.
The last week of class consists of final critiques and presentations to your class and instructors; equal in importance and intensity to final exams in other subject areas. Attendance at final classes and participation for final projects account for a major portion of your final grade. Your participation is essential to your success in the program.
At the end of the program your work will be exhibited for friends, family and the general public to experience.
For each foundations class, instructors will select exemplary work by several students to be shown in the final Foundations Exhibition. Professional staff will oversee the installation of all work.
One piece of your work from your major class will be selected by your instructor to be shown in the final Majors Exhibition. Professional staff will oversee the curation and hanging of the work. Seeing work from every student in the program will give you the opportunity to speak about your work to a new audience.
All fashion majors participate in the Pre-College Fashion Show. You’ll work throughout the program to develop meaningful concepts and learn methods of construction that help you develop a fully realized final garment. You and your classmates will be involved in all aspects of the show including model selection, styling, accessories and runway performance. You’ll also exhibit your concepts in the Majors Exhibition.
Film/Video and Animation Screening
Film/Video and Animation majors learn how to develop concepts, characters and stories that result in your final film or animation project. Instructors will work together to sequence your work for the Film/Video and Animation Screening so that students, family and friends will get to experience the work on the big screen.
Academic Calendar (2023)
SAT, JUNE 24
8:30 am–2:30 pm
Student Orientation (mandatory)
Parent and Family Meet & Mingle (optional)
Resident Advisor meetings
SUN, JUNE 25
Student Orientation (mandatory)
MON, JUNE 26
TUES, JULY 4
Independence Day (observed)
Offices closed/no classes
MON–FRI, July 24–28
Final Critiques Week
THURS, July 27
Exhibition Opening Receptions
Majors Exhibition Opening Reception
Foundations Exhibition Opening Reception
Film/Video and Animation Screening
Fashion Majors Show: Rehearsal
Fashion Majors Show: Main Event
FRI, July 28
Final day of classes
Exhibition artwork pickup
SAT, July 29
Residence Hall and Program Checkout Deadline
Arrival and Departure
You’re required to arrive on Saturday, June 24 between 8:30 am and 12:30 pm to attend Check-In and Orientation. You will be contacted by Residence Life to schedule your check-in appointment time. If you’re traveling internationally or a long distance, you can request permission to arrive early on June 23. An additional fee will apply. After acceptance to the program, additional arrival information will be shared along with instructions on how to complete your housing application.
Due to the intensive nature of the program it is very difficult to start the program late. If you have a scheduling conflict with school, we strongly suggest you ask if your school can make arrangements for you to complete the requirements early. If you need a letter documenting your attendance for school officials, simply email us for assistance.
To complete the program, you must also attend each class, in full, during Final Critiques Week, participate in Student Exhibitions and stay through the end of class on Friday, July 28. Students must officially check out by 12 noon on Saturday, July 29. For travel purposes, if students who would like to check out after class on Friday, July 28, they must notify Residence Life.
Students will receive their final grades via the Student Portal at cereg.risd.edu (not Canvas) approximately four weeks after the end of the semester. You can view your grades and/or print an unofficial transcript by navigating to “My Enrollment History + Transcript.” Grades cannot be sent by email or provided over the phone.
After grades become available students are welcome to request a transcript for your own use or to share with an institution by visiting our Transcript Request page. Please note there is a fee to process each request.
Important notice: Students who have already completed the program, please note that we’ve upgraded to a new platform. If you requested transcripts via Parchment prior to August 1, 2018, you will be required to create a new username and password.
As a participant in the Pre-College program, you’re invited to have your portfolio reviewed virtually by a RISD representative. Coordinated through the RISD Admissions office, this event is a great opportunity to receive direct feedback on what’s successful in your work, and what to think about developing further or improving upon in preparation for your college applications.
These live, online portfolio reviews are 15 minutes long. During the summer term, enrolled students will receive an invitation to register for a session, as well as information on how the session will work and how to prepare for it.