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 may, in the lifetime beyond university, 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 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. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisite: COAR 202. 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 with an introduction to digital methods 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 and COAR 211. An introduction to the creative and logistical concerns of art direction, with special focus on the methodological best practices for developing compelling visual concepts, organizing work flow and arriving at unique design solutions. The course includes an introduction to professional-level digital tools and their relevant application.

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 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 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 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 COAR 320. Enrollment restricted to students with senior status in communication arts. Focuses on the assessment and advancement of studio techniques, methods and practices. Students document and share their decision-making processes in the generation of creative projects.

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 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. 3 Hours.

Semester course; 2 lecture and 3 studio hours. 3 credits. Prerequisites: COAR 300 and COAR 320. Enrollment restricted to students with senior status in communication arts. Focuses on the curation and evolution of a portfolio that aligns with the student's professional goals. Integrates effective oral, written and visual communication, critical-thinking and advanced studio and professional practices.

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.