RISD Advanced Program Online - Artwork by Lotus Zhou
Artwork by Lotus Zhou


Find inspiration in the mundane and develop a sustainable and active art-making practice. Similar to RISD’s first-year experience, students begin the program by focusing on the fundamentals. These courses challenge students through research and material investigation. Assignments prompt work that reflects issues around creativity during times of uncertainty.

During each course students create work that reflects their unique vision and direction. Upon completion of one or more Essential Fundamentals courses students can enroll in a Featured Topic. Featured Topics allow students to focus on a particular topic and medium. They are paired with the liberal arts course Visual and Critical Language. Both independently and alongside peers, you will achieve exceptional outcomes within constraints. This program helps to address the challenges of working with limited space and materials outside of a traditional studio.

Essential Fundamentals

Offered during the spring, fall and summer, these courses focus on how best to express your ideas and concepts through impactful visual communication. Additionally, you’ll strengthen connections to your own interests and passions by exploring the work of contemporary artists and designers. There will be demonstrations, lectures, presentations, critique, and feedback, all working to strengthen your core skills.

Time Commitment: During the fall or spring terms, students should expect to spend a minimum of five hours per week engaging in coursework. The summer term is a shorter, more compressed experience. During summer, students should expect to engage in Essential Fundamentals courses for a minimum of 10 hours per week in each course. Students should plan their schedules accordingly to keep up with the coursework and class engagement.

Experiential Drawing

Drawing is a thinking process and a way to broaden creative passages. In this class principles and elements essential to drawing are introduced through a variety of media and methods. Students may use materials such as charcoal, graphite, markers, collage and water-based paint—as well as found materials and invented tools—in order to test different processes. Students learn about a range of compositional strategies; tonal studies, volume, weight and contour, line, and form are pursued through observation and interpretation. Emphasis is placed on developing an active sketchbook practice that serves as the reference for larger projects and allows others to understand your process.

Offered in Summer
Offered in Fall and Spring (as a 2-part course)
Fall/Spring Session I
Fall/Spring Session II

Exploration in Design

Design is a planning process and a way to create impact and expand ideas. In this class students investigate line, shape, color, value, pattern, texture, space and form. Experimentation with scale, transparency, transition and a variety of approaches allows students to create a personalized collection of studies and completed works. Students explore painting methods and materials such as gouache and acrylic; in addition, students may incorporate ink and basic printmaking techniques. From initial sketches to final projects, students develop a core practice to help in the success of current and future work.

Offered in Summer
Offered in Fall and Spring (as a 2-part course)
Fall/Spring Session I
Fall/Spring Session II


— Featured Topics course of choice
Visual and Critical Language

After completing Experiential Drawing or Exploration in Design, you may want to study a specific medium further. Featured Topics courses are an opportunity to focus on a singular area of study in the summer term. These courses conclude with final presentations. Visual and Critical Language (VCL) is a liberal arts course that is paired with Featured Topics courses. In VCL, read about the lives and works of contemporary artists and designers. Speak, write and present on how their choices influenced the development of their work, and how their work informs your own.

Time commitment: The Summer term is a shorter, more intensive experience; students should expect to engage in Concentration courses for a minimum of 20 hours per week and should plan their schedule accordingly to keep up with the coursework and class engagement.

Featured Topics

Examples of Summer Immersion Featured Topics courses:

Animation: Beyond Entertainment

With increasing expansion, animation serves as a vital tool to highlight injustices, explain data and essential information, and bring new understanding to critical issues. This course focuses on communication, problem solving, and reflection upon global and local issues through the medium of animation. The fundamental principles are introduced through a variety of methods and materials, which may include flipbooks, storyboards, collage, cutouts, and stop-motion techniques. Students think and learn about the roles of artist-as-communicator and artist-as-educator with the ability to create content that is impactful, dynamic and effective. Independent research of political and socioeconomic areas of interest provides students with the content to develop their unique vision.

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Drawing and Mixed Media: Expressive Ideation

The act of drawing when grounded in visual research unearths an individual act of expression that enlightens and reflects current culture. This course presents students with an opportunity to expand their understanding of drawing by using nontraditional materials and methods. Students learn to interpret drawing as a way of thinking through visual and conceptual problems, allowing them to see how to develop their own visual language that can address issues and areas of personal interest. Assignments challenge established approaches to composition, materiality, tools and concepts. Processes such as collage, frottage, and image transfer are covered to help students find their own medium of choice for future work. Students are challenged to create a series of larger-scale works that focus on a harmonious combination of experimentation and concept development.

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Graphic Design: Visualizing Information

Data visualization is storytelling that helps translate information into knowledge. In this course students learn to process complex material like time, location and hierarchy through the design of information structures and systems of form, color and typography. Projects communicate data through a variety of methods such as maps, graphs, charts and diagrams. Students create symbolic visual language to build a series of concepts and final work that makes information about critical issues such as health, environment and social structures accessible. Students will learn various methods of compiling data and translating this information in both analog (hand-making) and digital tools.

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Illustration and Identity: Finding Your Voice

Illustration crosses all boundaries in materials and messaging: The common unifier is the identifiable style and voice of the artist. In this class students learn how to create a compelling narrative from their own story, identity and viewpoint. Lectures and research feature historical and contemporary artists, as well as process and creative practice. Students develop effective concepts, characters and narrative through a variety of materials such as graphite, pen and ink, collage and painting. Genres of communication such as social commentary and fiction are investigated to further develop personal areas of interest, process and style. In this course expressive solutions to visual problems are emphasized through a rigorous sketchbook practice and the development of final concepts.

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Interpreting the Figure: Culture and Context

The figure continues to provide artists with a critical point of inspiration to express the human experience and reflect current world conditions. In this drawing course students learn the fundamentals of accurately portraying the human form by focusing on the underlying skeletal structure. Through a series of assignments, students work from observation and investigation to address anatomy and meaning. Then students are challenged to move outside of the conventional and cliché understanding of the skeleton, to explore other cultural and historical interpretations of rebirth, communication and transformation. Students develop a series of expressive drawings that position, layer and abstract the form to create work that is rich with personal meaning and unique viewpoints. Students are required to purchase a half-scale skeletal form along with drawing supplies. Full supply list provided upon registration.

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Print and Image: Art as Activism

How do artists convey powerful messages through image and text to address particular societal inequities? In this course students examine economic, political, environmental and social justice issues through lectures, assigned research, online discussions and 2D studio assignments. Using a variety of drawing media, students create meaningful imagery combined with text for use in print and on social media platforms. In addition, issues of scale, perception and function are addressed as students inform, enlighten and educate their target audience in public and private spaces. For the final project, students create a call to action that will bring attention to a social justice issue in their community.

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Visual and Critical Language

Students enrolled in a Featured Topics course also take a corresponding Visual and Critical Language course.

Visual and Critical Language

In this course students address where we are today and how artists and designers have used their expressive capacity to reflect on current culture. Through virtual museum, gallery and artist studio tours we will examine what artists and designers are doing and saying about contemporary issues and the role their work plays in society and how it can inspire your personal creative work.

Film viewing and reading assignments on the lives and works of key contemporary artists and designers relevant to the Featured Topic give understanding of how creativity and invention always flourish during times of uncertainty. Emphasis in this course is on concept development through research strategies that help avoid the common pitfalls of the cliché, plagiarism and citing inaccurate information. Students develop the ability to speak, write and present in clear, well-reasoned ways about the work they create in the Featured Topic.

Registration for Visual and Critical Language is included when you register for a Featured Topics course of your choosing.

Online experience

Throughout the program, students will interact with their instructor and peers in two ways: synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded). Live Zoom sessions offer face-to-face engagement with the instructor and their peers. These sessions may consist of lectures, demonstrations, project development and group critiques. In our learning management system, Canvas, instructors provide on-demand material. Asynchronous content includes on-demand lectures and demonstrations, resources, reference materials, and assignment outlines. Students participate by sharing in-progress and fully developed projects, and engaging in peer discussions. Peer discussions allow students to improve their work and to support their fellow students. Students receive direct and responsive support from instructors to promote advanced learning.

This mix of of activities means:

  • Zoom sessions will be at a set date and time in Eastern Time. You will be required to attend and be an active participant.
  • You will participate daily in Canvas to stay on track. This can mean posting images, participating in discussion boards, watching demos and completing assigned readings.
  • You’ll have access to the online course content any time of day or night.
  • The majority of class content, assignments, demonstrations and tutorials will be online. You will need to schedule your own study, research and creative time.

Successful students are passionate about creating, willing to try new ideas, and are open to working differently. Some students may struggle with tight deadlines, long-term projects and written assignments. These students may need support from family members, tutors and/or other resources not provided by the program. Each student will be assessed and graded on their engagement and performance.


An essential element of the RISD curriculum is the studio critique, or “crit”. That’s because all artists and designers, at every stage in their career, need the advice and perspective of others. Practice presenting your work, receiving constructive criticism and analyzing the work of others.

The human figure

Advanced Program Online uses images of clothed and unclothed human figures. Working from a nude model builds awareness of the kinesthetics of the human form, human anatomy and a connection to the living energy of the subject.


Since most of class time is made up of lectures, demonstrations and critique, most work will be completed outside of class time. Homework for all courses is substantial. You will need to arrange your schedule to balance extensive homework assignments. The intensive curriculum of the Advanced Program Online is your dedicated time to develop your portfolio. Carefully consider the workload and avoid scheduling any competing outside activities (ex. sports, SAT prep, vacations, family events). Overextending yourself will hinder your ability to keep up with your work.

Final projects

The last week of class consists of final critiques and presentations to your class and instructors. Final crits are 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.

Learning outcomes

The primary goal of this program is to provide an educational experience that allows students the opportunity to focus on a passion. You will reflect on contemporary circumstances and study art and design topics in depth. This online experience will help students to be self-motivated, nimble and critical thinkers. Learning outcomes include:

  • Demonstrate a strong understanding of foundational principles in drawing and design
  • Demonstrate knowledge of contemporary art and design, particularly as responses to crisis.
  • Develop a rigorous, inquiry-driven process to create work that is both conceptual and expressive.
  • Explain information, ideas and proposals effectively using methods of visual and written communication.
  • Analyze technique, theory and concepts within their work and the work of fellow students.
  • Develop a personal work ethic to create independently.
  • Produce completed projects as well as a sketchbook that includes unresolved work and concepts for future use.

Academic schedule

Each course in the Advanced Program Online has a unique schedule. Most courses offer multiple sections, with students selecting the schedule that works best for them at the point of registration.

Start dates: Classes begin on the program start date (listed as asynchronous dates on your registration). Students should start engaging with course content in Canvas immediately upon the program start date, which is before the first Zoom class.

End dates: All courses end at 11:59 pm ET on the last day of the session. Students should make sure they’re available to participate in the class up until the course ends. Students will continue to have ongoing access to the class, but will not be able to engage in Canvas (i.e., uploading assignments or discussions) after the course closes.

Zoom class meetings: Live class meetings via Zoom are three hours long and meet according to the following schedule:

Fall and Spring
Live class meetings in the Fall and Spring are held on weekends, typically offered either in the morning or afternoon. Courses meet two times per session, once at the start, then again at the end.

Live class meetings in the Summer are held weekly on weekdays. Essential Fundamental courses during the first Summer session are typically offered in the morning, afternoon or evening. Concentrations in the second Summer session are offered in the morning or afternoon and meet twice each week.

Transcripts / grades

Students will receive their final grades via the Student Portal at (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 their own use or to share with an institution by visiting our Transcript Request page. There is a fee to process each request.


Courses are open to students of all skills and backgrounds, and there is no prerequisite to take an Essential Fundamentals course. Students must successfully complete one Essential Fundamentals course in order to register for a Concentration. Prerequisite courses cannot be waived.*

*Students who successfully complete the Pre-College program are eligible to take a Concentration in the Advanced Program Online without completing Essential Fundamentals. To receive this waiver, complete the waiver application in the Student Portal.

Advanced Program Online courses cannot serve as a substitute for Pre-College classes.

Portfolio review for summer term

As a participant in the Advanced Program Online summer term, 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.