He studied at Eastbourne School of Art, and at the Royal College of Art, where he studied under Paul Nash and became close friends with Edward Bawden.
He began his working life as a muralist, first coming to notice as an artist in 1924. He went on to become one of the best-known artists of the 1930s. His watercolours, painted with a fine stippling technique within compositions that give light or dark features a telling role, are thought by some to have an almost uncanny loveliness.
He was the leading light of wood-engraving in England at that time, and undertook ceramic designs for Wedgwood. He also designed graphics for London Transport.
Ravilious was an official war artist in World War II and received a commission as a Captain in the Royal Marines. He was killed in 1942 at the age of 39 while accompanying a Royal Air Force air sea rescue mission off Iceland that failed to return to its base.