Bob Wabnitz received his medical illustration training from Natt Jacobs at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Jacobs had studied at Johns Hopkins, so it’s not surprising that his students learned the classic “Brödel techniques” of carbon dust and ink. Although equally skilled in ink, Bob’s preferred medium was always carbon dust. His choice of materials was typical of many illustrators doing carbon dust in the 1950s through 1990s - Royal Sovereign Wolff’s Carbon pencils, red sable brushes, and #00 Ross clay board.
Like his mentor, Bob was capable of producing halftone drawings with exquisite detail and photo-realistic rendering. However, he felt that detailed rendering was often unnecessary and, in many cases, distracted the reader from the main focus of the illustration. This is particularly true in surgical illustration where the focus is on the sequence of steps, not on the anatomical structures themselves. Bob’s approach is evident is his surgical illustrations, many of which are featured here.
Sacrificing detail also meant that Bob could complete his illustrations very quickly. This was important for someone running a fee-based service unit in a medical school. By working quickly, he was able to meet tight deadlines, keep costs down for his in-house clients, while increasing output and revenues for the department.
I remember watching Bob create a surgical illustration and was amazed at how fast and effortless it seemed. During one of my meetings with him prior to enrolling at RIT, Bob continued to work at his drawing table while we talked. He began by transferring his pencil sketch to a piece of Ross board using homemade carbon paper. He quickly laid down areas of tone, working from dark to light, and by the end of our 20-minute meeting, the drawing was done.
As the director of the University of Rochester Medical Illustration unit, Bob had many responsibilities besides creating surgical drawings. He and his staff created charts, graphs, poster sessions, brochures, signage, slide graphics, and other educational materials. According to Kirk Moldoff, one of Bob’s students in the mid-1970s, Bob was particularly skilled at creating dual slide projector presentations, the precursor of today’s PowerPoint. Unfortunately, most of this work is in the hands of individual faculty or simply hasn’t survived.