Illustration with a Foundation Year - BA (Hons)

Currently viewing course to start in 2025/26 Entry. Switch to 2024/25 Entry

Our BA (Hons) Illustration with Foundation Year degree course aims to give those with a passion for image making and illustration the skills they need to capture and communicate ideas through pictures. We celebrate the challenge of finding your individual visual voice through experimenting, risk taking and critical reflection....

  • Level Foundation
  • Study mode Full Time
  • Location City Centre
  • School School of Visual Communication
  • Faculty Faculty of Arts, Design and Media

This course is:

Open to International Students

Overview

Our BA (Hons) Illustration with Foundation Year degree course aims to give those with a passion for image making and illustration the skills they need to capture and communicate ideas through pictures. We celebrate the challenge of finding your individual visual voice through experimenting, risk taking and critical reflection. You will also explore how your work can be applied across a wide range of contexts, from commercial work to personally-driven projects.

This course provides an opportunity to develop a wide range of transferable skills and design process knowledge that is highly desirable to employers.

About foundation courses

This four year programme has been specifically designed to allow you to undertake additional level 3 study, to ensure you are successful on your chosen degree programme. The foundation year helps students to develop skills such as academic writing, referencing and researching, as well as important transferable skills such as project management and team work.

After successful completion of your foundation year, you will have the flexibility to switch (should you wish to change direction) onto a number of related undergraduate degree programmes within the Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts.

Why study a degree with a foundation year?

Foundation years are a great option if you have the talent, ambition and potential to thrive at Birmingham City University, but do not meet the entry requirements for your preferred course. It’s ideal if:

  • You want the flexibility of a year’s study on a more general course to find out the best degree choice for you.
  • You have changed your mind about your career since you chose your A-levels or BTECs and need to improve your skills in a different subject area.
  • You would like extra time and support to help you build your knowledge, skills and confidence before starting a full degree.
This course is open to International students.

What's covered in this course?

Our challenging and exciting Illustration course will help you develop new skills and different ways of thinking, enabling you to find your own individual, visual voice and prepare you for the ever-changing creative industry.

The course celebrates the synthesis between illustration and all the other visual communication subject disciplines, leading to the development of strong student collaborations that again aims to reflect industry practice.

We support a lively creative community, encouraging the value of peer learning. This learning is supplemented by an integrated workshop programme that provides the opportunity to work alongside, and be informed by, industry experts from a wide range of disciplines.

I took part in an internship with Moonpig and I’ve also worked for George Asda, as well as completing some design work for some festivals. The course gives you live briefs which gives you direct connections to the industry, as well as the opportunity for your work to actually be used and displayed somewhere.

Phoebe Munger

Why Choose Us?

  • Your Foundation Year gives you the chance to explore Graphic Design, Illustration, Photography, Fine Art and Art and Design. You will have the flexibility to switch (should you wish to change direction) onto a number of related undergraduate degree programmes within Birmingham School of Art or the School of Visual Communication.
  • There will be opportunities to exhibit at high-profile London graduate shows, including New Designers and D&AD New Blood.
  • You will receive industry insight from significant practitioners, including Laura Carlin, Russell Cobb, Sarah Fanelli, Le Gun, Paul Willoughby, NoBrow, Paul Slater, People of Print, Dan Fern, Jonny Hannah, Isobel Greenberg, Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, Paper Cinema, Fabric Lenny, Sarah Maycock,Graham Rawle, Lizzie Stewart and Jo Todd-Stanton .
  • Live project partnerships include Tiny Tree Books, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, DanceXchange, Flatpack Film Festival, Playground Games and Moonpig.
  • Professional practice and core business skills are delivered by outside agencies such as the Association of Illustrators and other external specialists.
  • Top 20 for Art and Design student satisfaction (Complete University Guide 2024)

Open Days

Join us for an on-campus Open Day where you'll be able to learn about this course in detail, chat to students, explore our campus and tour accommodation. In the week before the event, we’ll post you an event programme to plan your day and find your way.

Next Open Day: 29 June 2024

Book Now

Entry Requirements

These entry requirements apply for entry in 2025/26.

All required qualifications/grades must have been achieved and evidenced at the earliest opportunity after accepting an offer to help confirm admission and allow for on-time enrolment. This can also include other requirements, like a fee status form and relevant documents. Applicants can track their application and outstanding information requests through their BCU mySRS account.

Essential requirements

80 UCAS tariff points

If you have a qualification that is not listed, please contact us.

Fees & How to Apply

Please select your student status to view fees and apply
  • UK Student
  • International Student

UK students

Annual and modular tuition fees shown are applicable to the first year of study. The University reserves the right to increase fees for subsequent years of study in line with increases in inflation (capped at 5%) or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament. View fees for continuing students.

Award: BA (Hons)

Starting: Sep 2025

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees

International students

Annual and modular tuition fees shown are applicable to the first year of study. The University reserves the right to increase fees for subsequent years of study in line with increases in inflation (capped at 5%) or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament. View fees for continuing students.

Award: BA (Hons)

Starting: Sep 2025

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees

Access to computer equipment

You will require use of a laptop, and most students do prefer to have their own. However, you can borrow a laptop from the university or use one of our shared computer rooms.

Printing

You will receive £5 print credit in each year of your course, available after enrolment.

Field trips

All essential field trips and associated travel costs will be included in your course fees.

Access to Microsoft Office 365

Every student at the University can download a free copy of Microsoft Office 365 to use whilst at university and for 18 months after graduation.

Key software

You will be able to download SPSS and Nvivo to your home computer to support with your studies and research.

Key subscriptions

Subscriptions to key journals and websites are available through our library.

Project materials (mandatory)

This course includes project work that requires you to develop and produce a portfolio or collection. You'll be expected to provide the materials for use in your individual major projects; costs will vary depending on the materials selected.

Clothing and safety equipment (mandatory)

This course requires the purchase of safety equipment in order to use the workshop facilities, at an estimated cost of £50 for safety boots.

Excess printing (optional)

Once you have spent your £5 credit, additional printing on campus costs from 5p per sheet.

Field trips (optional)

This course includes the option of additional trips that may enhance your experience, at extra cost.

Memberships (optional)

You may wish to join a union or professional body related to this course.

Personal equipment (optional)

Whilst not essential, it is advised you own a computer or laptop capable of design and video editing.

Gallery visits (optional)

It is advisable for all Creative Arts students to visit exhibitions, galleries and other creative and cultural institutions and events depending on your own individual area of interest. Travel and entry costs may be associated with this.

Accommodation and living costs

The cost of accommodation and other living costs are not included within your course fees. More information on the cost of accommodation can be found in our accommodation pages.

Guidance for UK students

UK students applying for most undergraduate degree courses in the UK will need to apply through UCAS.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is a UK organisation responsible for managing applications to university and college.

Applying through UCAS

  1. Register with UCAS
  2. Login to UCAS and complete your details
  3. Select your course and write a personal statement
  4. Get a reference
  5. Pay your application fee and submit your application

You are not required to submit a portfolio for this course.

Course in Depth

Foundation year

Throughout the year you will be challenged with projects that question your current creative experiences and explore a breadth of experimentation to broaden your technical and critical understanding.

You will be encouraged to analyse methods and materials appropriate for creative development and to question your position in relation to historical, contemporary and future world scenarios. Both practical and written research tasks will be supported by one to one tutorials and small discussion groups to help you constructively build academic and social confidence.

The two first semester modules will form the building blocks for future work and will explore core principles of creative practice focussing on, the development of technical confidence, research, study skills and productivity.

The two final semester modules will give you greater autonomy, encourage positive integration between research and practice, challenging decision making and technical competency. This semester is designed to empower you with independent learning skills appropriate for your future BA studies.

In order to progress onto your BA Programme, you must successfully pass all four core modules (totalling 120 credits).

First Year

You will undertake an Introduction to Visual Communication alongside students from the other Visual Communication degree paths. You will begin to formulate knowledge and understanding of the subject’s key visual and intellectual principles.

With the support from staff within the School you will start to develop a real depth of knowledge of illustration practice, as well as other design related areas. Towards the end of your first year, and into the second, you will receive guidance helping you to select your chosen area of practice within illustration and possible career progression.

Your modules will cover the processes of production within the field of illustration. You will develop entrepreneurial and collaborative skills through the Introduction to Visual Communication module, as well as developing connections across the four different subject disciplines, preparing you for the life of an illustrator.

In order to complete this course a student must successfully complete all the following CORE modules (totalling 100 credits):

In order to complete this course you must successfully complete at least 20 credits from the following list of OPTIONAL modules.

Second Year

In your second year of study you will develop your practice, producing successful commercial outputs through a wide range of different projects and context. Your studies will focus on contextualising your chosen discipline within specific aspects of contemporary practice.

Live projects, industry links and competitions form a key part of the curriculum from this stage of the course onwards. We will encourage you to reflect upon your strengths and weaknesses and advise you to build upon achievements in order to improve your performance. Active participation through various workshops and masterclasses are a key part of the second year.

During your second year you will begin to focus on a specific area of illustration, preparing you for your final year of study. Working alongside a specially assigned tutor, as well as small groups you will identify and research a specific area of illustration practice. This will be supported by seminars and lecturers from industry experts.

In order to complete this course a student must successfully complete all the following CORE modules (totalling 100 credits):

In order to complete this course you must successfully complete at least 20 credits from the following list of OPTIONAL modules.

Final Year

You will develop sustained and original work which will demand a lot of independent study. This will culminate in a dissertation, where you will develop and refine your specialist knowledge of a particular area of practice.

Your final year focuses on your professional future, ensuring your project work provides you with the research and skills you need to prepare yourself for after graduation.

You will have the opportunity to showcase your final year project at our Visual Communications graduate show, as well as having the chance to be nominated for a Visual Communication Graduate Award. In the past we have had award sponsors such as illustrator Dave McKean, photographer Brian Griffin and Trevor Beattie.

In order to complete this course you must successfully complete all the following CORE modules (totalling 120 credits):

Download course specification

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Course structure

During this course you will gain hands-on experience and produce relevant, innovative work. We encourage you to challenge yourself and produce work that sees you step outside your comfort zone. You’ll also experience high-level industry engagement through creative, practice-based learning.

Classroom projects and activities

  • Moonpig: We host a yearly collaborative project with Moonpig, culminating in student placements and publishing.
  • Le Gun: Le Gun deliver live workshops exploring drawing on a large scale. They work with students to break down their boundaries and inhibitions.
  • Fabric Lenny: A fantastically lively and collaborative project, engaging students in painting, sculpture, print, animation and live projection.  
  • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Live Portrait Project “Hundred’s and Thousands”: Students responded to artwork in the gallery leading to the development of their own portrait pieces. These were exhibited in the gallery as part of a cultural exhibition. 

Student work

Helen Green
Helen specialises mainly in portraiture - particularly in relation to music - with a varying yet distinctive style. Since 2011, she has produced work for Lady Gaga, becoming part of her Haus collective, working on projects for her and the Born This Way Foundation.
 
She has since enjoyed work for a wide variety of clients such as Elton John AIDS Foundation, Warner Music, Tumblr, Hollywood Reporter, Sky Arts, TS3 (France), Refinery29, Esquire, ESPN FC, The Stranger (Seattle), airberlin, Economy (Rethinking Economics), American Express Essentials, Entrée Libre (France 5), StudioCanal UK and Skype.
 
For more information, visit Helen's website.
 
Josh Patterson
Josh is an award-winning freelance illustrator. The majority of his work is conceptual and editorial based as this allows him the freedom to express abstract and contemporary thinking. Josh's clients include BBC Sport, Computer Arts, Bulletin and Quarto Children’s Books.
 
For more information, visit Josh's website.
 
Sonny Ross
Sonny creates quirky characters and has a very personal and diverse visual language. He applies his designs to children’s books, self-publishing, editorial, fashion and surface pattern.
 
For more information, visit Sonny's website.
 
Katie Tomlinson
Katie shows a flair for working in more traditional materials such as graphite, watercolours and inks. Her strengths in mark making and observational drawing has led to commissions from Radley, Dr Martens, London Midland and Soho House Magazine.
 
For more information, visit Katie's website.


Trips and visits

While you study the course you will be offered opportunities to go on group excursions both in the UK and abroad. There are usually three overseas trips a year, which we offer both at subject level, as well as School level, to Venice, New York and Berlin.

Locations do alter each year to allow for students to experience a range of cities. We always put on UK study trips to places such as London, Manchester, Oxford and Liverpool. Where possible, UK trips are free or heavily subsidised.

As a Visual Communication student, you’ll be encouraged to take advantage of these trips as we see them as adding extra value to your course and they do offer additional research opportunities.

Employability

Enhancing employability skills

Throughout the course you will discover and refine a portfolio of practice which best suits your motivations and aspirations. Through this you will develop as a creative individual, equipped not only for a career within the illustration spectrum, but with the transferable skills to benefit a whole range of professional contexts.

This degree is designed to enhance your skills and aptitude, preparing you for a career within a landscape that is continuously changing. You’ll develop specialist knowledge and understanding within the field of illustration. As a creative practitioner and graduate of this course you will be able to generate a range of potential ideas and visual solutions. You will have the ability to produce creative work that demonstrates sound judgements in accordance to the theories and concepts of illustration and visual communication subjects, responding to the demands of industry.

You will develop an in-depth understanding of the relationship between theory and practice through research, allowing you to create meaningful, well-informed work and preparing you to take on further study. You will gain an understanding of the underlying concepts and established principles that govern creative practice.

Alongside this you will establish a range of working strategies, methods and materials, learning how to apply these to production. You will also discover, and respond to, the influence of audiences, clients, markets and other participants in relation to visual communication practice.

Placements

As an Illustration student you will be encouraged to develop your professional networks. We strongly believe that creating relationships with industry will enable you to develop your profile and enhance your professional networks. Networking is vital to furthering your opportunity to undertake work placements and paid jobs.

While placements are not a compulsory aspect of this degree you will be encouraged to engage with industry, incorporating this throughout your work. Engagement with industry is a core focus throughout this programme.

You will also be presented with the chance to attend trips and visits which will widen your insight into the working-practices of industry. In addition to this, as a School we have multiple working-relationships with organisations, allowing our students to take on professional roles and gain experience. Take a look at how students have worked with industry here

International

Birmingham City University is a vibrant and multicultural university in the heart of a modern and diverse city. We welcome many international students every year – there are currently students from more than 80 countries among our student community.

The University is conveniently placed, with Birmingham International Airport nearby and first-rate transport connections to London and the rest of the UK.

Our international pages contain a wealth of information for international students who are considering applying to study here, including:

Further Information

Students come to study in the School of Visual Communication from all over the world but we have nurtured some long-standing relationships with Malaysia, Thailand, China and India.

If you are a student from these countries, or any other, you should consider studying with us as we offer a wide curriculum that has internationalisation built into the modules. We actively encourage trans-disciplinary teaching, group projects and have established relationships with colleges and industry overseas.

We take a pride in developing strong creative communities and these thrive on the injection of different cultural experiences. To develop a sense of sharing all experiences and ideas is fundamental to the philosophy of visual communication.

Facilities & Staff

Parkside - City Centre Campus
Graphic design student work - open magazine with distorted images

Our visual communication degrees are housed in the state of the art £62 million Parkside Building, part of our City Centre Campus.

We offer extensive studio and workshop space and cutting-edge equipment such as Vicon 3D (an external tracking motion capture facility) and Gypsy (an exoskeleton-based motion capture system). Both of these systems extend the possibility for production of 3D animation and films.

We offer cutting-edge provision such as digital print centres and Sonny Ross became the first student on the Visual Communication course to master the art of the RISO machine. He has since used this to produce many successful RISO publications including “Rojo & Baxter” which has been a success at various zine and book fairs across the country.

The Parkside Building also offers:

  • exhibition space
  • digital and analogue photographic facilities and studios
  • dark rooms

Margaret Street campus

During your Foundation Year you will be based at our Margaret Street Campus - an impressive purpose built Grade 1 listed building. From industry-standard machinery in metal, wood and print, to our studio spaces and media suite, everything you need will be at your fingertips from day one. See our facilities

Our staff

Jo Newman

Foundation Course Director and BA course leader

Jo chose a career in education so that she could provide students with learning environments where conversations, ideas and materials can be selected, combined, analysed and shared, offering them a way of socializing, caring and questioning to grow their learning with meaning for their futures.

More about Jo

Professor Andrew Kulman

Professor of Arts and Design

Award winning Illustrator with 30 years of industry engagement. Research areas include the development of autographic print processes in contemporary graphic art practice. Andrew Kulman has taught across all three years of the undergraduate course in Illustration at BCU, has delivered lectures to several postgraduate courses and has...

More about Andrew

George Hart

Deputy Head of Digital Arts

George Hart was the first member of my family to go to University, which has given him an understanding of the challenges students face when going to Universities. After the completion of his degree George worked within the creative industries for seventeen years as a Freelance Illustrator/ Designer, mainly working in London, but also nationally....

More about George

Helen Wheeler

Course Director BA (Hons) Illustration

Helen is a commercially successful artist, working with the BBC, Paperchase, Waterstones, House of Fraser, WH Smith, Boots and Next. Within her work as a freelance illustrator, she has expanded her practice to character development for CBBC.

More about Helen

Ian Dodds

Deputy Course Leader in Illustration

Ian has had work published nationally and internationally for clients such as The Japan Times, Radio Times, The Guardian, Cycling Plus, The Economist, Financial Times and The Independent on Sunday. Working as a freelance illustrator since 2002, his style is a blend of painting, drawing, photography, found objects and printmaking that are fused...

More about Ian