Bateman was always interested in art, but never intended to make a living from it.
He was fascinated by the natural world in his childhood; he recorded the sightings of all of the birds in the area of his house in Toronto.
He found inspiration from the Group of Seven; he was also interested in making abstract paintings of nature. It was not until the mid-1960s that he changed to his present style, realism.
In 1954, he graduated with a degree in geography from Victoria College in the University of Toronto. Afterwards, he attended Ontario College of Education. Although the stage was set for an expert wildlife artist, Bateman moved on to be a high school art/geography teacher. However, he still painted in his free time.
It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that his work started to receive major recognition. Robert Bateman's show in 1987, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, drew a large crowd for a living artist.
Bateman also has approximately six books devoted solely to his paintings. The majority are acrylic on various media . Bateman's decision in 1977 to produce reproductions of his paintings through Mill Pond Press has been criticized by some who feel that the reproductions are "overpriced posters that cheapen the legitimate art market".
The reproductions are popular items, being sold in print galleries across Canada and more internationally.
In 1999, the Audubon Society of Canada declared Bateman one of the top 100 environmental proponents of the 20th century.