Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bob Foster: "... a gentleman (with) personal high standards of integrity, as a teacher and a friend."

By Tom Watson Part 5

Bob explained to me an amusing account of how he was able to read the time consuming manuscripts of stories to be illustrated and still meet his deadlines. He explained that he didn’t read them, instead he hired prostitutes to come to his apartment / studio, who would read to him while he painted (I imagine at perhaps a lower rate than their normal fee).

He said they had time during the day, since their normal working hours were at night and into the early morning. He said they would also model for him occasionally, and they really enjoyed the change of pace. Yikes! The evidence is clear that illustration was linked to prostitution! What a terrible scandal -- I had no idea!

Of course, I'm joking. As much as Bob appreciated beautiful women (and he truly did) he was always a gentleman, and I never heard a crass or disrespectful word from him about anybody. I never observed anything that he said or did that breached personal high standards of integrity, as a teacher or a friend.

Bob found his niche in the pocket book cover market and remained quite busy through the 1960s and into the ‘70s. Unfortunately, he started his illustration career in N.Y. a decade too late to effectively compete in the ‘50s editorial market which had greatly inspired him. He certainly had all the tools and the skill level that was necessary, but it became an increasingly insecure and fickle market by the late 1950s, even for the the top names.

Incidentally, Sandy Kossin - a well known mid century illustrator - and Bob Foster became friends after moving to N.Y. They shared models and photo shooting sessions. They also would have lunch together at the Society of Illustrators, where they were both members. Foster and Kossin were admirers of one another's illustrations and shared the same high standards of professionalism. (Below, a 1970 Sandy Kossin paperback cover)

I lost contact with Bob after our visit in N.Y. and, in 1977, I heard through the illustration grapevine in San Francisco that he had passed away. It took me by complete surprise because, when I saw him last, he seemed in good health. It was confirmed recently from members of his family that he indeed passed away of a heart attack in 1977, at the age of 49, after having progressively poor health.

Posted are some of the few examples of Bob’s work, that I have been able to find. They represent just a glimpse of his output, versatility and extraordinary talent. If anyone has additional information of - or illustrations examples by - Robert (Bob) Foster, I would be grateful to hear from you. My email address is

* 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, Tom, for a great week on Today's Inspiration!

* Many thanks also to Kyle Katz, gojira2012 and mystique123_2000 for allowing me to use the many Bob Foster paperback cover scans you saw this week from their Flickr collections.


  1. a terrific series of posts on Mr. Foster. Thank you!

  2. I've enjoyed this series very much. Thank you both for writing and publishing it.

  3. Harry Borgman3:10 PM

    Hi Tom,
    Really great work, I was not aware of his wonderful art, thanks for posting.

  4. Awesome, I worked for a year at a great used bookstore called the BookTrader in Philly besides getting amazing opportunities to snag old leyendecker, frazetta, wyeth art books, I loved my time shelving in the science fiction section because I could marvel at the covers of Bob Foster and discover so many others(like John Harris), frustrated when uncredited.
    thanks for all the inspiration

  5. Hi Mr. Watson.

    Absolutely loved this series of articles. I recently purchased a painting by Mr. Foster. I'm reasonably certain it was for a book jacket, but have never been able to locate the book.

    Again, thanks so much for posting.