Illustration and Book Arts MA

Postgraduate ( full-time, part-time)


September 2017

Intermediate awards: PG Cert, PG Dip

Course duration: 12 months full-time or 24 months part-time.
Teaching times: 9am-5pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays (full-time); 9am-5pm Wednesdays in Year 1, Tuesdays in Year 2 (part-time).


Design and carry out your own visual projects, exploring the relationships between word and image, as you prepare for a career as a visual artist in a growing creative industry.

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Full description


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Our course will prepare you for a career as a freelance illustrator or freelance book artist. In recent years these roles have been increasingly in demand thanks to the growth of interest in artists' books, graphic novels, self-publishing, e-books and an awareness of small, batch publishing. You’ll also gain skills that will be useful in many other fields, such as bookbinding or teaching.  You might even find a way to combine it with your current career, as did Dr Katy Shorttle, whose artwork on health issues was recently featured by The Guardian.

Or you might decide to move on to a research degree, like our PhD Fine Art.

Modules & assessment

Core modules

  • Process and Practice as Research
    You will engage with the relationship between research and production. In particular you will explore the process of designing a research project for Art and Design students at Masters level. Lectures and seminars will introduce you to methodology, ethics and exemplars of research methods from a broad range of art and design disciplines. The specifics of designing a research project, such as dealing with failure and evaluating success, will be considered as fundamental aspects of research design. Lectures and seminars will be delivered on a cross-school platform and you will begin to consider alternative paradigms of practice and engage with ideas from outside your own discipline. Using the initial lectures as a starting point, you will be asked to design and undertake a practice-based, self-contained pilot project which tests the scope and limits of a specific research method or methods. Through the research design process you will write a proposal, identify milestones, deliver an outcome and evaluate your pilot project. In group critiques and tutorials within a specialist subject area, you will discuss and support the ongoing progress of each other’s pilot projects.
  • Visual Text
    Through self-directed visual projects you will explore the relationships between text and image, words, authorship and the artist's voice. In lectures and seminars you will look at the role of text and typographic identity in the generation of meaning, and text and image relationships. Ultimately you will be expected to propose and resolve a self-contained project or projects. A large proportion of the teaching and learning activities will be focused around the development and resolution of individual student research projects, with group critiques and tutorials centred on developing visual practice. You will also be expected to take part in self-directed study and the ongoing development of visual work on a weekly basis outside of taught sessions. You will be assessed by a portfolio comprising a written project proposal, developmental and final visual work, with a 500-word reflective commentary.
  • Sequence and Series
    On this studio-based module, you will develop your personal visual language visual work through a consideration of series and sequential imagery. In lectures and seminars you will explore contemporary theory and practice in relation to visual language, narratology, composition, structure and editing of sequential and serial visual work. Ultimately, you will be expected to propose and resolve a self-contained project or projects. A large proportion of the teaching and learning activities will focus around the development and resolution of your research project, with group critiques and tutorials centred on developing visual practice. Self-directed study and the ongoing development of visual work on a weekly basis outside of taught sessions is a necessary part of the module. You will be assessed by a portfolio comprising a written project proposal, developmental and final visual work and a 500-word reflective commentary.
  • Master's Dissertation Art and Design
    This module forms the major written element of the MA programme. On it, you will be invited to choose a topic related to your area of study, as the basis for a research essay of up to 6,000 words. The essay should demonstrate an awareness of current critical debate in the subject, through appropriate reference to relevant examples both from visual practice and critical writing. Your subjects may be thematic and issue-based, or may focus upon the critical analysis of a particular body of work. It is expected that you will use the module to investigate the use of critical writing as an aspect of your own creative development, by investigating issues and preoccupations for which you feel a particular affinity or concern, and that you will use the dissertation as an instrument of enquiry into the debates, conventions and values which define your own field of practice. In group tutorials you will explore the use of different modes of critical method and conventions of art and design research, and the production of critical writing as an aspect of an individual's creative and professional practice.
  • Master's Project: Art and Design
    The Masters Project represents the culmination of your learning on the programme, and giving you the opportunity to develop and resolve a major area of enquiry. This is a self-directed visual project negotiated with the staff team and peers. You'll need to negotiate, manage, co-ordinate and bring to successful conclusion a complex, practice-based project within your field of art, media or design. You'll start by formally presenting your research proposal to staff and peers, and will be expected to build on your previous modules to identify a complex area for investigation and enquiry, as well as research methods appropriate to the project. Following negotiation with staff, peers and, where appropriate, outside agencies, you'll then submit a written research proposal. Your project may involve external engagement alongside a personal exploration of themes and concepts in your specialist field. You'll need to show your ability to innovate, think strategically and be sensitive to changing cultural and social climates. You'll be assessed by portfolio (a body of work comprising a written project proposal, and developmental and final visual work) and a 1200-word reflective commentary. This commentary will specifically outline the methodological and ethical considerations relevant to your portfolio work, and evaluate your final visual work.


You’ll show your progress through your self-directed visual projects, which will include written project proposals, developmental and final visual work, and a reflective commentary. On the Master's Dissertation module, you’ll submit a 6,000-word essay. Finally, the Master's Project will allow you to build on all previous modules to design a visual project which shows mastery of your subject.

Where you'll study

Your department and faculty

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Cambridge School of Art has been inspiring creativity since 1858 when it was opened by John Ruskin.

Engaging with current debates surrounding contemporary practice and with the state-of-the-art facilities, Cambridge School of Art houses light, bright studios, industry-standard film and photographic facilities, and 150-year-old printing presses alongside dedicated Apple Mac suites. Our digital art gallery, the Ruskin Gallery, exhibits both traditional shows and multimedia presentations, from national and international touring exhibitions and our own students.

We are the only university in Cambridge offering art and design courses at higher education level. A tight-knit community of artists, academics and over 900 students, we collaborate across our University, the creative industries, and other sectors. Cambridge is a centre for employment in the creative industries and there are rich opportunities for collaboration with the city’s entertainment, technological, scientific, arts and heritage industries.

Our graduates have a history of winning national and international awards and an excellent employment record. They include Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmour, Spitting Image creators Peter Fluck and Roger Law, and illustrator Ronald Searle, the creator of St Trinian's.

We’re part of the Faculty of Arts, Law and Social Sciences, a hub of creative and cultural innovation whose groundbreaking research has real social impact.

Where can I study?

Lord Ashcroft Building on our Cambridge campus

Our campus is close to the centre of Cambridge, often described as the perfect student city.

Explore our Cambridge campus

Specialist facilities

You’ll work in purpose-built art and design studios, with open access to our printmaking, bookbinding, letterpress and laser cutting facilities, and training from dedicated technicians. We also have many digital imaging resources that you’ll be able to use, including Macs, scanners, and A3/large-format printers, as well as photography darkrooms, animation and moving image studios and 3D workshops. Our University’s Media Services Unit stocks photographic and recording equipment that you can borrow.

Fees & funding

Course fees

UK & EU students, 2016/17 (per year)


UK & EU students, 2016/17 (per year part time)


International students, 2016/17 (per year)


UK & EU students, 2017/18 (per year)


UK & EU students, 2017/18 (per year part time)


International students, 2017/18 (per year)


Important fee notes

The part-time course fee assumes that you're studying at half the rate of a full-time student (50% intensity). Course fees will be different if you study over a longer period. All fees are for guidance purposes only.

Additional costs

Optional field trip to Antwerp - 2 nights
Cost £160

How do I pay my fees?

Paying upfront

You won't need to pay fees until you've accepted an offer to attend, but you must pay your fees up-front, in full or in instalments.

How to pay your fees directly

International students

You must pay your fees up-front, in full or in instalments. You will also be asked for a deposit or sponsorship letter/financial guarantee. Details will be in your offer letter.

Paying your fees
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Funding for UK & EU students

There's no statutory funding for postgraduate study. However, we offer a number of scholarships and we've put together guidance on where to start researching funding options.

Students taking up a place on this course are eligible to apply for the Mark Wood Art and Design Scholarship. This is a financial award to recognise and encourage excellence. For more details and the application form, please visit our Making a Difference website.

Additional costs

Optional field trip to Antwerp - 2 nights
Cost £160

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Funding for international students

We've a number of scholarships, as well as some fee discounts for early payment.

Entry requirements

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Portfolio requirements
Your portfolio should:

  • show examples of your recent visual practice including, where possible, work that gives an idea of the themes and areas you’d like to develop on the course
  • include preparatory work like sketchbooks or contact sheets to show how you develop and resolve visual ideas
  • include projects where the experimental approaches and developmental work is evident, regardless of how successful the final outcomes are. These can be more valuable points of insight than a series of highly finished pieces.

If you’re an international applicant, please host your portfolio online if possible and let us know the URL, or email it to us as a PDF. We’ll also accept CDs or hardcopy sent by post to our International Admissions Office, but please note that these will not be returned to you.

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International students

We welcome applications from international and EU students, and accept a range of international qualifications.

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English language requirements

If English is not your first language, you'll need to make sure you meet our English language requirements for postgraduate courses.

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Improving your English language skills

If you don't meet our English language requirements, we offer a range of courses which could help you achieve the level required for entry.

We also provide our own English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT) in the UK and overseas. To find out if we are planning to hold an ELPT in your country, contact our country managers.

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Get more information

UK & EU applicants

01245 68 68 68

Enquire online

International applicants

+44 1245 68 68 68

Enquire online