Mission and Philosophy

Illustration is the art of communicating concise ideas with images in any medium. Illustration shows us who we are by visualizing how we perceive, interact with, and think about the world. It sheds light on world issues in magazines and newspapers, it narrates our inner world in graphic novels and animations, lets us enter our daydreams in picture books and artist toys, clarifies data and guides our movements in illustrated diagrams, maps and signage.

Illustration relies on several skills that are applicable to a wide range of illustrative activities, including curiosity about the world and the ways in which it works, proficiency in solving creative problems and the ability to visually express oneself and ones ideas through a variety of technical means.

The Illustration program at Parsons The New School for Design teaches students to be exceptional visual communicators. Program graduates confidently pursue multifaceted careers, creating editorial illustration, comics and graphic novels, picture books, motion graphics and animation, toy and product design, pattern and surface design and gallery art.

The focal points of the Illustration program’s well-rounded education are:

  • technical proficiency in both traditional and digital media
  • conceptual thinking and creative problem solving
  • literacy in the history of art
  • design, and illustration
  • social and cultural awareness

With these tools, students are well equipped to enter and transform the creative field of their choice, and are able to pursue personal and professional artistic goals with a solid educational foundation.


Illustration sits within the Art, Media and Technology School, alongside the Fine Arts, Communication Design and Technology and Photography programs. Illustration offers both a rigorous intellectual and artistic curriculum, emphasizing the foundations of the medium, including visual thinking and problem solving, art history and theory, and the practical and technical aspects of practicing illustration, preparing students for a diverse and fulfilling professional life. In addition to providing an intensive technical skill set in traditional media, the program is at the forefront of training students in digital technology to prepare them to be versatile creative artists.

Facts, Facilities and Figures

The program consists of 160 students and 40 faculty members. The Illustration program is located in the heart of Greenwich Village at Fifth Avenue and 13th Street. Drawing and painting classes take place in studio classrooms throughout the Parsons campus. The program also makes use of The New School University’s technology center at 55 West 13th Street, for digital courses. This 12,000 square foot facility houses multimedia classrooms equipped for computer, video, and sound presentation, as well as digital video editing stations, digital audio production and mixing suites, and a large open lab of computer workstations.


The program’s signature classes include:

  • Illustrative Printmaking, a class that explores printmaking techniques through narrative forms
  • Illustration in Performance, a class for illustration and writing students exploring the traditions of picture-recitation, toy-theater and shadow puppets.
  • Sketchbook Warehouse, where the student’s sketchbook is the final product.
  • Experimental Comics, rethinking the conventions of the comic-strip and graphic novel.
  • Experimental Children’s Books, new directions in visual narrative for picture-books.
  • Toy Concept and Design, where students design and create narratives for artist toys
  • Visual Music, a collaborative class in which illustration, design and jazz students create short animated films
  • Fashion, Illustration and Performance, a collaborative class on creating illustrative garments in a performative setting, and explore relationships between fashion, illustration and the everyday political.


For three years students provided the majority of the illustrations for Current Magazine, a collaboration between Newsweek and Harvard. Current is the student magazine with the highest circulation in the country. Students provided visual reportage, cover stories, and illustrated political commentary. The Metro New York newspaper engaged senior students in creating a series of illustrated advertisements that appeared in the New York Times.  For the last four years, Parsons Illustration students have created the logo and posters for the Make Music New York Festival.

The partnership with the Italian coffee company Illy yielded multiple projects. Illy’s house magazine, Illywords, featured illustrations created by Parsons students and its series of chapbooks, Illystories, were wrapped in student-illustrated covers. Working with Kid Robot co-founder Tristan Eaton, students in the program’s Beyond the Page class customized toys, which were exhibited in Illy’s temporary gallery space in Soho. Design Within Reach, the furniture retailer, also collaborated with students from Beyond the Page, who reconfigured designer chairs by luminaries such as Frank Gehry and Mario Bellini.

Our students partnered with the international organization 350.org to reinvent images of climate change in our own lives.  Poketo, the alternative product design group, commissioned students to create a limited edition series of wallets, and Brooklyn Industries produced T-shirts from designs created in the senior thesis classes. Xerox invited students to design a suit for a deck of playing cards for the national illustration conference ICON 5; Electronic Arts challenged students to reinvent the popular video game, The Sims, which were exhibited at the Chelsea Arts Museum, and Moleskine chose students from the Visual Narrative class to be the first to explore the possibilities of its New York guide book in a two-month long collaboration.

Students have created public art for a variety of context: The New School for Drama invited the Illustration program to make murals and other artwork for the school’s theater and lobby; Parsons Illustration students collaborated with students from the Altos de Chavon School of Design on a street mural in La Romana, the Dominican Republic; students engaged in a live mural painting event at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The program regularly participates in internationally recognized festivals and conferences. Illustration students exhibited toy designs as part of the Berlin Pictoplasma Character Design Festival, and illustrated Haikus at the
Bologna Children’s Book Fair. A panel of faculty and alumni discussed the role of an illustration education in the comics, character design and toy fields at Comic-Con in San Diego.

Students from the program are regularly recognized by American Illustration and the Society of Illustrators, and have won top awards in the Society of Illustrators national student scholarship competition.

Symposia and public programs form an important part of the Illustration program’s mission. The weekly NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium features presentations by a wide range of artists and scholars working with text-image projects. Picturing Politics (Fall 2008) explored the roles illustration plays in the realm of politics, The Word-Image Problem (Spring 2008) celebrated the publication of the complete works of Rodolphe Töpffer, the seminal figure in the development of the graphic novel, Illustration in the Age of Anxiety (Fall 2007) addressed how illustration reacts and responds to society in duress.

Guest Lecturers and Internships

Guest lecturers have included Marshall Arisman, R.O. Blechman, Steven Brodner, Clayton Brothers, Sue Coe, Brian Cronin, Paul Davis, Kim Deitch, Tomie DePaola, Tristan Eaton, Friends With You, Steven Heller, Brad Holland, James Jarvis, Jonathan LeVine, Luba Lukova, Taylor McKimens, Mike Mignola, Christoph Niemann, Jim Nutt, Gary Panter, Mike Perry, Bill Plympton, Edel Rodriguez, Arnold Roth, David Sandlin, Brian Selznick, Seth, Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine, Sam Weber and Eric White.

Industry guests and internship sponsors have included Center For Book Arts, Curious Pictures, DC Comics, Drawn & Quarterly, Funny Garbage, Hallmark, Marvel Comics, The New Yorker, Penguin/Viking Books, PictureBox, The Pushpin
Group, Random House and Sony Music.

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