In the twenty-eight years since Robert Barrett faced his first class of students at Brigham Young University, illustrators have retooled for the digital age. They have switched mediums, experimented with software, and explored alternative outlets for their work. Illustrators who are educators have struggled to accommodate these changes. Through this uncertainty, Robert Barrett’s touchstone has remained constant. In his own work and in his classroom, drawing is paramount.
When Barrett started college, critic Clement Greenburg’s essays denigrating realism had convinced many educators that drawing was irrelevant. Fortunately, at the University of Utah, portrait painter Alvin Gittins braved the derision of his colleagues to teach drawing fundamentals. Barrett found this curriculum liberating and honed Gittins’s lessons during his graduate studies at the University of Iowa and his post-graduate work in Germany.
Drawing has been the foundation of Robert Barrett’s success as an award-winning illustrator, muralist, painter, and author whose clients include Random House, McGraw Hill, Harper Collins, and McCalls magazine. He has exhibited his work nationally and has had one-man shows in Utah, Idaho, New York, and Berlin, Germany. He has shared this success with his students by teaching them the skill that made it possible; both in his classroom and through his book, Life Drawing: How to Portray the Figure With Accuracy and Expression. “Bob Barrett is truly a great educator,” writes illustrator and author Brett Helquist. “I began my illustration career as an unhappy engineering student with marginal drawing skills. Bob patiently taught me the craft of making pictures. More than anything Bob helped me understand illustration as a serious discipline worthy of serious study.”
“There appears to be no substitute for shaping natural abilities through discipline,” Barrett writes. Nevertheless, as his students struggle to meet uncompromisingly high standards, they have a sympathetic mentor. Current student Ty Carter, who just completed his internship at PIXAR writes, “He is a teacher consistently motivated by the success of his students, whose classroom is a preface to brilliance and hope.” Carter works digitally and is headed towards a career that bares little resemblance to the opportunities available twenty-eight years ago. Even so, Barrett’s example will guide him through his first years as an illustrator. “Robert is the epitome of a teacher, he is a living example of inspiration,” Carter explains. “To me, Robert Barrett confirms that you are only as good an artist as you are a man.
Alice “Bunny” Carter