Alex Foster: Creative communication

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Since October 2020, Alex Foster has been the Graphics Producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. As a designer, Alex’s artistic and organizational influence can be seen throughout the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center building, in Providence, online, in social media and in promotional materials for programs and initiatives. And if you’re reading this in Jewish Rhode Island, you’re seeing Alex’s work laying out the pages.

This profile is the third in a series of first-person essays by staff members.

As a kid, I liked to draw. I had a strong interest in art, especially anything strange or creepy. I remember looking at the activities on the backs of cereal boxes and thinking, “There’s an adult out there getting paid to doodle.”

I took art classes and kept it up as a hobby, but I never really considered art as a professional option. I wonder if casual jabs at the “starving artist” cliche might have scared me off.

Fast forward to my third year of undergrad at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, when I was wrapping up the final requirements of a B.A. in archaeology. I was studying Andean cultures and had a specific interest in iconography and ancient artistic records.

At the same time, I was beginning a new elective class in typography and, somewhat accidentally, discovered the delightfully practical field of graphic design.

While a little unsure of my long-term career goals, I was presented with an opportunity to join an archaeological dig in Peru. Eager to travel, I put design on hold and signed up.

Soon I boarded a plane to Lima and linked up with a crew of mostly American students. After landing, we drove off the beaten path, into the Chao Valley of Peru. I loved the duality of gritty fieldwork and then returning to the lab to map and catalog.

With my passable art skills, I asked if I could draw and document the art on some of the more interesting ceramic artifacts. The professor obliged, and later I was very excited to see my drawings published in the dig’s final summary.

The trip was a formative experience on many levels, and by the time I returned to New York, I’d decided to pursue a career in graphic design. Unfortunately, I soon graduated – but with some clever credit-accounting, I was able to do so with a B.A. in anthropology and minors in archaeology, studio art and graphic design.

This was 2008, the height of the Great Recession, and even experienced designers were struggling to find work. I made do by managing a toy store, and began building a freelance portfolio in my spare time. This wasn’t ideal, but I was making a living in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and gradually improving as a designer.

While talking to a friend with his own career frustrations, we decided to make bold use of our untethered youth by joining the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program and moving to Hawaii.

We lived in a small off-grid shack and toiled daily restoring a defunct coconut farm. When the solar panels had enough charge, I continued doing freelance design work.

Through hitchhiking and networking, I eventually found a very interesting job at a wilderness-therapy program for at-risk youth.

I wasn’t specifically trained for the work, but I turned out to be a capable camp leader. As an absolute bonus, it was here that I met Lynne, a perfectly capable camp leader in her own right and a totally awesome future wife.

Eventually, Lynne and I hung up our grass skirts and moved back to the mainland to get serious about careers and our futures.

We moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she had professional and family connections. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to year-round palm trees, so that plan sounded good to me.

All the hours spent watching Photoshop tutorials finally paid off when I secured a job at a print shop. Later, I was hired by a small marketing agency, where I had the opportunity to work on much larger projects and came to appreciate the unique space that design maintains between art and business.

Lynne’s career moved us to Buffalo, New York, for a few cold, snowy years. I continued working for the marketing company remotely – before it was cool.

Around this time, my father retired and was looking for a project. I helped him with some branding and design work, and eventually the small project became a small company. With two other partners, we design board games and license them to larger publishers. The company has grown slowly over the years, and to date we’ve published nine games, with more on the way.

Lynne and I had two beautiful babies and moved to Providence, where I continued to work as a freelance designer. After a while, working from home in a new city felt isolating and uninspiring.

My search for a creative team and in-house design work was not made any easier by the sudden onset of the pandemic. Then I heard a rumor that the Jewish Alliance was looking for a designer.

Now, for a little over a year, I’ve had a great opportunity to serve this community.   Some of my favorite projects to date have been designing the look of the Top Nosh event campaign and the puzzle-like challenge of the monthly newspaper layout.

As a father, I love sharing my creative gifts with my kids. I’m delighted to see that my son, Evan, 5, has a strong interest in art. I will do my best to help him and his sister, Juliet, 3, grow creatively as they explore their own interests.