Recollections of Robert “Bob” Foster, Illustrator / Teacher / Friend

By Tom Watson Part 1

Robert Foster was one of many well trained, experienced and very accomplished illustrators working in Manhattan during the 1960s and into the '70’s. He wasn’t remembered for winning ribbons and awards and his work didn’t grace the pages of the leading magazines. He didn't work for a leading art studio with top name illustrators and he was never a candidate for the Society of Illustrator’s Hall of Fame. They say, ‘timing is everything,’ and I think that was partly the reason Robert Foster’s name isn’t recognized as one of the big names in illustration history.

However, I don’t mean to imply that he was unheard of, or didn’t leave a noticeable notch in the realm of published illustrations. I am referring to a market that was indeed significant during the 1960’s, when illustration styles and directions were beginning to change at a more rapid pace than ever before or since. However, I’m getting ahead of my story, so I digress.

In 1958, I enrolled at the Academy of Art in San Francisco to start my education as an illustrator. I was almost 19, and my very limited knowledge of illustration was rapidly becoming dated. Fortunately the Academy of Art, then a small private art school, allowed us to immediately take all the classes that they offered which related to our major.

One class that caught my attention was listed as ‘Editorial Illustration, Instructor: Robert Foster,’ which was one of several illustration related classes he was teaching. When our teacher arrived the first morning of class, a student had a question, ‘Mr. Foster,’ he began... our teacher then interrupted the student, commenting, ‘Just call me Bob.’ That set the tone for a casual, open and engaging approach Bob had in all his classes.

That isn’t to say we could screw around and ignore structure and class discipline. He always had our respect and our attention when he spoke, and we learned quickly that discipline was the key to learning a very difficult craft. Bob would usually start each session with a ‘how to' demonstration. He would tell us again and again, ‘if we learned to draw and paint the human head and the human body accurately, we could draw and paint anything.' Then he would break down each part of the head and the body, drawing in white chalk on a dark green chalk board, large enough to be seen from the back of the room.

He would explain the anatomical structure and its function for all the features. He would do these demos, usually without a model, just from his vast knowledge of anatomy. They were beautifully simple and easy to translate and understand. Bob would draw with an effortless fluid motion of his entire arm. It was like watching a conductor’s rhythmic movements to music. As I quickly learned, drawing for Bob, was like orchestrating classical music for a magnificent concert. I never met anyone that reflected his love for drawing, painting and the process of developing an illustration, as much as he did. It was nothing short of contagious! I was absolutely captivated from the beginning, becoming seduced on the magic of creating an illustration.

For many of us students, Bob’s enthusiasm soon inspired us in wanting to become top notch professional illustrators.

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 Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use the original Bob Foster art scan seen above and to Kyle Katz for allowing me to use the Bob Foster paperback cover scans above.

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