TyRuben Ellingson
Assistant professor and chair

arts.vcu.edu/communicationarts

The Department of Communication Arts’ mission is to empower students to create and communicate with insight, vision and voice. 

By guiding students to a deeper understanding of past and present artistic practices and methods of visual problem solving, while concurrently fostering a thoughtful awareness of future technologies and theoretical concerns, the department increases their ability to devise informed design solutions and present them in a refined and professional manner.

The communication arts faculty encourages critical-thinking, discipline and entrepreneurship — abilities critical for success in the fast and ever-changing world in which we live.

The program

Centered on a rigorous investigation of studio methods and practices, the communication arts curriculum additionally explores historical, conceptual and theoretical concerns critical to the development of a well-rounded and informed understanding of image, media, content and context. 

With a history richly rooted in drawing, painting and art theory, the communication arts program is effectively tailored to provide students educational opportunities to develop the types of quality skills and meaningful understandings that are relevant and sought after in the expanding universe of communication medias.

It is a curriculum that endeavors to provide a balance between past, present and future, valuing artistic traditions and techniques, while thoughtfully embracing new tools, technologies, opportunities and outcomes.

Woven throughout the program, the study of communication arts is concerned with the powerful and timeless relationship between art and narrative — image and story — which invites each student to embrace, amplify and build upon their unique views and life experience so that they, in the lifetime beyond university, may add to humanity’s ongoing evolution and unfolding.

The communication arts department offers a B.F.A. in Communication Arts as well as a B.F.A. in Communication Arts with a concentration in scientific and preparatory medical illustration.

COAR   200. Visual Studies: Drawing. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: ARTF   131. A course in drawing from direct observation of specific references: visual analysis, surface light and color, structure, and context. Various painting and drawing media will be explored. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   201. Drawing Studies: The Figure Observed. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: successful completion of the Art Foundation Program. Students will study and explore how to draw from direct observation using the figure as the primary means to understand proportion, volume and spatial relationships. Class will include skeletal structure, basic anatomy and physical aspects of the figure. Various drawing and painting media will be explored. Specific assignments will be informed by the reference and use of the figure in the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   202. Drawing Studies: The Figure in Context. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   201. Drawing from direct observation using the figure as the primary means to understand proportion, volume and spatial relationships. Specific problems will include the figure as a dynamic element in different lighting, spatial and conceptual contexts. Various drawing and painting media will be explored. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   210. Visual Studies: Design. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: ARTF   132 and 133. A course in which an understanding of the relationship between form and communication is developed. The student will develop an awareness and appreciation for visual imagery as a tool for the transmission of information and ideas.

COAR   211. Fundamentals of Typography. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: ARTF   132. An introduction to the study of typography as used in communication arts. Course will include the study of hand-drawn and digital letterforms and their context. Students will be introduced to professional digital methods (e.g., Illustrator).

COAR   230. Introduction to Computer Techniques. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: successful completion of the Art Foundation Program. An introductory workshop in microprocessor hardware operations, software procedures and Internet communication necessary for contemporary communication arts and design practice.

COAR   300. Illustration: Drawing and Painting. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   202. Explores and addresses formal, conceptual and technical considerations and issues involved in the use of drawing and painting. Various drawing and painting media will be explored.

COAR   301. Drawing Studies: The Figure (Intermediate). 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. May be repeated for up to 6 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   201. Drawing from direct observation at the intermediate level using the figure as the primary means to understand proportion, volume and spatial relationships. Various drawing and painting media will be explored.

COAR   302. Print Media. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   202. An intermediate course in the use of printing processes and techniques to develop communicative imagery. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   303. Color Theory and Practice. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   300. An intermediate course in the application of color theory to specific illustrative problems. A number of color theories, both historical and contemporary, will be studied and applied.

COAR   304. Illustration Media and Techniques. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   200 and 202. Explores various mixed-media techniques, including both two- and three-dimensional approaches to illustrative problems.

COAR   305. Figure in Illustration I. 4 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture and 3 studio hours. 4 credits. Prerequisite: COAR 206. An introduction to the visual representation of the human form as it applies to illustration.

COAR   307. The Face. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   200 and COAR   202. Employing a variety of drawing media, students will explore the nuances of the human face as a subject. This course focuses on both process and the realization of final projects.

COAR   311. Type and Image. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   211. An advanced course that explores graphic design as a means to express and communicate ideas. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   312. Art Direction. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   210, 211 and 231. An introduction to the integrated activities of strategy, conceptual development and design.

COAR   313. Art Direction II. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   312. Concept, layout and design of a corporate advertising campaign based on the evaluation of research, market analysis and planning.

COAR   314. Advertising Concepts I. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   312. Focuses on creative thinking and the development of concepts and ideas in problems of art direction.

COAR   320. Concept Drawing. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   202. Explores the use of drawing as a tool to communicate concepts. Various painting and drawing media will be explored. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   321. Sequential Imaging. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: junior standing in communication arts. Sequential imagery as applied to books, graphic novel and film storyboarding. Various painting and drawing media will be explored. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   325. Botanical Drawing. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   300. This course explores plant life from direct observation and analytical drawing. Students examine the major divisions and structures of plants and how to depict their unique form.

COAR   326. Imagery for Science Fiction and Fantasy. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   300 and 320. This course focuses on assignments for science fiction/fantasy subject matter and its various commercial applications.

COAR   327. Comics and Graphic Novels I. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   201 and COAR   202. This course develops skills essential for visual storytelling through comics and graphic novels.

COAR   328. Comics and Graphic Novels II. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   327. This course further develops skills essential to expanding understanding of visual storytelling through comics and graphic novels.

COAR   331. Photographic Principles in Visual Communications. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   210. A studio course that explores the use of the camera, from pinhole photography to digital imaging, and includes the introduction of digital methods (e.g., Photoshop) as tools used in visual communications.

COAR   332. Digital Drawing. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   200. An intermediate course exploring the use of computer and peripheral devices in the creation of raster (grid/pixel) and vector (mathematical) -based drawing. Students will be introduced to professional digital methods (e.g., Illustrator, Photoshop).

COAR   333. Web Page Design. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   210, COAR   211 and permission of instructor. A course developing the design of websites. Emphasis is placed on the visual design, navigation, development, communication and authoring of websites.

COAR   340. Anatomy for Medical Illustration. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   201. An advanced investigation of the human organ systems. In addition to assigned readings, students will execute a series of anatomical drawings.

COAR   341. Scientific Illustration. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Corequisite: COAR   202. An introductory course in the development of accurate representational imagery for recording scientific observations and ideas.

COAR   351. Origins of Visual Communications. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: successful completion of the Art Foundation Program. A history of visual communications and design from prehistoric times to the 20th century.

COAR   352. History of Visual Communications I. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: ARTH   103 and 104. An examination of the historical developments in visual communications from cave paintings to modernism.

COAR   353. History of Visual Communications II. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: ARTH   103 and 104. An examination of the historical developments in visual communications from modernism to the contemporary era.

COAR   354. Theoretical and Philosophical Aspects of Contemporary Communication Arts and Design. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. A study of current theoretical and philosophical issues having an impact on the understanding of communication arts and design.

COAR   391. Communication Arts Topics. 1-3 Hours.

Semester course; variable hours. 1-3 credits per semester. May be repeated for a maximum of 9 credits. Topical lectures in design issues and visual communications.

COAR   392. Research/Individual Study. 1-6 Hours.

Semester course; 1-2 lecture and 3-6 studio hours. 1-6 credits. May be repeated for a total of 6 credits. Enrollment requires permission of instructor, approval of faculty adviser and chair. The structuring, research, execution and presentation of an independent project in visual communications under the direction of a faculty adviser. The student will be encouraged to become a self-generating problem seeker and solver with the ability to carry out self-stated goals.

COAR   401. Drawing Studies: The Figure (Advanced). 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. May be repeated for up to 12 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   301 or permission of instructor. Drawing from direct observation at an advanced level using the figure as the primary means to understand proportion, volume and spatial relationships. Various drawing and painting media will be explored.

COAR   407. Senior Project. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   300 and 320 and senior status in communication arts. An advanced course in the conceptualization, execution, realization and documentation of a portfolio project. Students will be required to create and structure a major project that will develop and test their conceptual, contextual and technical abilities. Project work will be exhibited, documented or printed. Various drawing, painting and mixed media will be explored. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   412. Art Direction III. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   313. An advanced exploration of art direction based on positioning of the corporation that carries over several different channels of communication.

COAR   413. Art Direction IV. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   313. An advanced course in art direction including the development of integrated business advertising plans.

COAR   414. Advertising Concepts II. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   314. An advanced course in art direction focusing on the successful integration of strategy and creativity.

COAR   415. Art Direction for Nonprofit Organizations. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   313. Advanced concept, layout and design under the delimitations of precise environmental or social agendas and limited budgets.

COAR   420. Graphic Essay. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: UNIV   200 or HONR   200 and COAR   320. An advanced course that explores the relationship between text and image, and their potential as tools to enable us to create and communicate effectively. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and literature.

COAR   421. Imagery for Children. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   300 and 320. An advanced course developing both fiction and nonfiction illustrations intended for the preschool and elementary school children's publishing market.

COAR   422. Editorial Illustration II. 4 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture and 3 studio hours. 4 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   300 and 320. An advanced course developing the student's skill at interpreting an author's manuscript. The major emphasis is given to illustrations appearing in books and magazines.

COAR   423. Illustration for Business Communications. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   300 and 320. An advanced course developing illustrations appropriate for business communications.

COAR   424. Experimental Illustration. 4 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture and 3 studio hours. 4 credits. Prerequisites: COAR   300 and 320. An advanced course encouraging the student to discover unusual techniques and to develop innovative solutions. Stresses experimentation with novel media and surfaces.

COAR   432. 3-D Image and Movement. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Course restricted to majors in the School of the Arts. Course addresses current technological tools to explore the relationship between image, object and movement.

COAR   433. Game Design, Theory and Practice. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   432. Students will study the history, theory and design of games, gaming concepts and narrative from past to present.

COAR   435. Organic 3-D Modeling for Concept Design. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   432. A focus on the use of high polygraph 3-D graphics software as tools to create highly detailed computer models for concept design, movies, broadcast media and games.

COAR   441. Scientific Illustration II. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   341. An advanced course in the development and creation of accurate documentation and representation of scientific information and imagery including plant taxonomy, insect morphology, and physiological and pathological processes.

COAR   450. Business of Communication Arts. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: UNIV   200 or HONR   200. The study of business management with an emphasis on ethics and the standards of fair practice including financial and contractual guidelines.

COAR   462. Projects in Illustration. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: senior standing in communications arts and permission of the instructor. An advanced-level course in conceptualization, execution, realization and documentation as realized through a series of projects in illustration. Students will be required to create, acquire and structure projects that will test their conceptual and technical abilities. Project work will be exhibited, documented or printed. Various drawing, painting and mixed media will be explored. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   463. Communication Arts Honors Studio. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. May be repeated for up to 12 credits. Prerequisites: junior standing in communication arts, 3.0 GPA and permission of the CA faculty. An advanced course for selected students. Expectations include to work on individual and group projects at a professional level.

COAR   464. Senior Portfolio. 6 Hours.

Semester course; 4 lecture and 6 studio hours. 6 credits. Prerequisite: COAR   450. An advanced course in the conceptualization, realization and documentation of a portfolio project. It is a capstone experience integrating professional development of the portfolio, promotional materials and resume preparation within the field of communication arts. Assignments will incorporate applicable references to the history of art and contemporary developments.

COAR   491. Studio Topics in Communication Arts. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. May be repeated for credit. Topical studio focusing on research and experimentation in specialized visual communication media.

COAR   492. Communication Arts Internship. 1-6 Hours.

Semester course; 1-6 credits. May be repeated for a maximum of 12 credits. Prerequisites: senior standing, 3.0 GPA or permission of the chair. Supervised pragmatic work experiences. Training is provided under the direction and supervision of qualified professional practitioners.