Bob Foster: "...happy, energetic and extremely generous..."

By Tom Watson Part 2

Bob Foster would bring in examples of the latest illustrations from the popular women’s magazines like McCall's, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping and others. He would point out the avant-garde compositions of Coby Whitmore...

Joe De Mers...

... and Joe Bowler, cropping into figures like Degas did over 60 years before,

... or Al Parker, designing and incorporating the story title into his illustrations as a single flowing unit.

He was intrigued by Bob Peak’s unusual color combinations and sense of high fashion, that was rapidly coming into vogue.

He would point out the sensitive and expressive fluid line of Austin Briggs...

... whom he thought was one of the top draftsmen of the day. He also admired Robert Fawcett’s skilled stylized draftsmanship, his theatrical lighting and staging, and his dramatic compositions...

... particularly for the Sherlock Holmes series. While thumbing through the magazines, he would come across perhaps a new Al Parker illustration that would particularly inspired him, and he would get a twinkle in his eyes, and a big smile, remarking to the class, ‘this guy always comes up with something unique, look at that design.. just great.’

His enthusiasm in the new creative directions of editorial illustration captured our attention and left us hungry for the next batch of magazines to hit the news stands each month. It was like waiting for the grand opening to an epic Hollywood movie.

In those days teachers dressed as if they were interviewing for a job... matching suit or sports jacket, slacks and tie. The average illustrator was fashion conscious, and took pride in having good taste in their appearance and choice of clothing, as they would in their illustrations.. and Bob Foster was no different in that respect. He usually wore a dark matching three piece suit that was carefully tailored, and his shoes were always polished. He conveyed credibility, success and respect as an instructor and a professional. He worked out with weights regularly, and kept himself in good physical shape.

I never saw Bob angry, irritable or grumpy. He always seemed happy, energetic and extremely generous in sharing his vast skill and knowledge with his students. His natural ability to inspire and motivate his students in a “down to earth” manner was one of his major assets as an instructor.

As part of the process of developing an illustration, Bob would set up a photo shoot in the studio using a few selected students as his models to avoid outside model expenses. Most of us were cash poor and art supplies took most of our extra money. He asked me if I would be willing to be one of his regular models, and I jumped at the opportunity. Not only would I learn the procedure of developing an illustration, I would experience it as an actor experiences the character he plays.

While modeling, he would maneuver us in various positions, as though we were in a stage play, and when everything was just right he would click the shutter. He would take numerous variations of the same scene for students to choose from, sometimes with only subtle changes and sometimes obvious changes. I recall some of the poses were somewhat uncomfortable and felt unnatural, Bob assured us that what seemed to ‘feel’ natural often didn’t translate well in an illustration, and a pose that was awkward and uncomfortable, often looked natural in an illustration.

He emphasized that it was the job of the illustrator to convey the right attitude of the figure, for each situation. The photo only gave the information we could not possibly store in our head. Usually the props were photographed separately from the figures, especially when the props were not conveniently available.The scenes usually consisted of two figures, a male and a female.

In one scene, which emulated a cigarette ad, I posed as though I were lighting a beautiful woman’s cigarette. Since it was to be a beach scene, I was bare from the waste up, with a towel around my neck, and she wore a swim suit top, and a thin transparent blouse that was unbuttoned and flowing in the breeze. In this case, we would have to research and create a beach background from our clip files, etc. We used a fan to create a sea breeze effect. Bob preferred overlapping figure shapes, which created strong design units.

In another scene I posed as if in deep thought, dressed in Victorian period clothing and a very attractive female student model sat in the foreground in front of me in a white wicker chair. She was wearing Victorian undergarments that indicated perhaps a bedroom scene.

Above is a copy of the original photo of that scene.

Continued tomorrow.

* Tom Watson is a retired West Coast illustrator, art director and educator. He has been a frequent contributor to Today's Inspiration and his storyboard work for film was a subject of a post on my other blog, Storyboard Central.

* Many thanks to Kyle Katz for allowing me to use the Bob Foster paperback cover scans above. The original art scan is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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