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A student and member of staff discussing work at a desk Image courtesy of Ben Shmulevitch


Illustration - BA (Hons)

BA (Hons)


4 years
Study abroad


Illustration is connected to contemporary visual culture in the fine and applied arts. ECA undergraduate courses present a creative and inspiring introduction to this subject, in both form and content, giving students a challenging and appropriate education in the applications of visual media. Projects at this level of study address such connections and they explore Illustration’s role in publishing, literature, design and print. There is a strong basis of observational drawing and a series of projects that cover the range of conceptual approaches to image-making and the interpretation of ideas.

Through years one to four, our academic projects evolve each year to encapsulate current developments in the graphic arts as well as addressing Illustration’s established traditions and working methods. Various courses will address how to answer a brief and develop an original and accomplished portfolio. Story telling and sequential imagery form a large part of the curriculum. Students will become authorial illustrators as well as being able to complement an existing text with their skilled interpretations.

Likewise, collaboration is a natural element for the illustrator, and various projects are particularly focused upon working across disciplines and with practitioners from other fields. Our graduates work as freelance illustrators, with many examples in Picture Books, illustrated literature in fact and fiction, graphic & editorial design, concept art, comics and graphic novels. 

ECA undergraduate illustrators are given permanent individual work-spaces, which are used for day to day study and for tutorials and presentations. Students will also use the Life Drawing Studio, Printmaking Workshop, and various digital suites across the college. These locations give a thorough grounding in the subject, with technical process allied to conceptual thinking, interpretation, and problem solving. A range of visiting illustrators, artists and designers introduce professional aspects of this subject, allied to the academic content of our courses.


Illustration graduates can follow a wide range of careers from freelance illustration for the publishing and design industries such as childrens' and general book publishing; editorial design, packaging and paper products; web design and the games industry; printmaking, art and craft commissions and exhibitions; agency work in print, design and digital media; education and community arts.

Widening Participation

ECA works with the University of Edinburgh Widening Participation (WP) team.

Widening Participation for undergraduates at the University of Edinburgh

Find out about Access to Creative Education in Scotland (ACES), a Widening Participation programme for eligible S4 to S6 students at state secondary schools in the south-east of Scotland.

ACES website

How to apply & entry requirements

If you'd like to study on an undergraduate programme at Edinburgh College of Art, you must apply through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. You can find out how to do this on the University of Edinburgh Degree Finder, where you'll also be able to

  • see the structure of the programme and what you will study each year
  • see detailed entrance requirements for each programme on the Degree Finder
  • get information on what to expect after you apply
  • find out about fees
  • find out where to go for further advice and guidance.

If you have any questions about the application process, your qualifications or deadlines, our Undergraduate Admissions Office will be happy to help you.

Email the Undergraduate Admissions Office:

Application process

Portfolio guidance

As part of your application, you are required to submit a portfolio as evidence of your artistic ability and potential. You should begin to plan your portfolio as soon as you decide to apply.

Assessors are not necessarily expecting a showcase of final work, but rather an indication of work in progress showing how you approach an idea or subject and develop the work from initial thought, through experimentation and enquiry, to resolved work.


Portfolios are assessed by a team of academic staff who are particularly interested in how you research and develop ideas in a visual way and how you engage with your chosen discipline. This is broken down into four main areas of assessment, briefly summarised as follows:

  • Visual Research and Enquiry shows the level of your engagement in intelligent, structured visual enquiry and how well you communicate this.
  • Idea Development shows your ability to appropriately explore and develop ideas, and your level of skills in the use of materials or techniques.
  • Selection and Resolution shows how well you judge which ideas have the most appropriate potential and your ability to bring them to a level of completion appropriate to your intended outcome.
  • Contextual Awareness shows the extent of your knowledge of the subject you have applied for and how your work relates to it.

How the content of a portfolio provides evidence for the above categories will vary enormously depending on the person and the subject being applied to, and no two portfolios will be the same.

Planning and presentation

Assessors are interested in how you have decided to put your portfolio together. This means that your portfolio should be carefully planned and well presented.

Assessors will be judging your ability to edit your work, so be selective and strategic in your choice of material.

Aim to show a clear narrative or sense of the themes in your work, as well as the connections between the pieces.

If you have lots of high quality work, include it. It can show that you have talent in breadth and are hardworking and committed. If you haven’t, select your best: these key gems can show us that you know what you are good at, and how to show it. There is no need to pad out your portfolio with work you’re not happy with.

Each image can be accompanied by a small amount of text, and applicants are strongly encouraged to make use of this opportunity. You should avoid including titles or descriptions of the work and instead explain the ideas behind the work, the challenge undertaken or any other significant factors.

It may also be useful to explain why you have included the image in its particular category (development work, resolved work or influences). Consideration should also be given to the graphical layout of the portfolio. Remember that assessors will be looking at your work on a screen so the digital image you present to them is what they assess, so be aware of the quality of photographs and scans. It is worth the time and effort to make your work look as good as possible.

The images demonstrating your influences may be images of work or objects which have inspired or influenced your work e.g. people working in the same medium or for the same audience, now or in the past; people interested in the same subject or theme, now or in the past; natural or man-made phenomena, objects, places or events which have inspired or provoked a response.

A strong portfolio is likely to display the following:

  • Playful explorative drawing/artwork
  • Time spent on experimentation and development of images and use of a variety of materials
  • A range of ways of documenting the world and your personal and local experience of it
  • Ideas explored and visually presented about both important and playful subject matter
  • Some applied work showing interest and understanding of illustration
  • Clear and careful layout of each page with multiple images per page and short text annotations guiding through the projects and ideas demonstrating research, development, influence and final work.

Be careful about including too much derivative work, such as:

  • Manga characters and comics 
  • Gothic darkness and melodrama
  • Detailed portraiture from photos
  • Slick digital work 

We recommend developing personal projects or including some:

  • Playful observational work; experimenting with quick, slow, abstract, detailed and gestural approaches in a variety of drawings with focus on different elements like composition, mark, tone and colour.
  • Applying work to a context; based on a story, song, poem or book you have found, experiment with different imagery and ways of interpreting and representing the subject matter.
  • Experimentation with different materials and styles; consider using influences of contemporary and historic illustrators and artists work to respond to. In drawings, combine and play with the methods of how you make your work using your own subject matter.
What happens next?

We will contact you with our decision by mid-May. If you are made an offer, you will be invited to attend an Offer Holder Day.

Offer Holder Days typically take place in April and are opportunities for successful applicants to learn more about their subject areas and life as a student at Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Edinburgh. Whether you visit us in person or attend a virtual Offer Holder Day, you will have the opportunity to meet with academic staff and current students from your programme, tour the studios and other facilities and attend general information sessions.

Portfolio advice video

Design portfolio guidance

Join Interior Design lecturer Gillian Treacy who will talk you through how to put together a competitive portfolio for our Design programmes, and what our academics look for when assessing your work.

Get in touch

College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Undergraduate Admissions Office
+44 (0)131 650 3565

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