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Great British Bake Off Illustrator Tom Hovey Reveals His Scrumptious Success Story

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Great British Bake Off Illustrator Tom Hovey Reveals His Scrumptious Success Story

Ah, the Great British Bake Off. A BBC cookery show featuring cake, loveable presenters, expert judges and an overload of puns, it's become a hugely-watched national gem, and is soon to crown its fourth ever Bake Off Champion.

But you know us here at Cass Art. It's often more about the art than it is about the cake. (Sometimes. There's never a shortage of cake here either.) Bristol-based food illustrator Tom Hovey is the artist behind the gorgeously depicted cakes that formulate before your eyes every episode, and we wanted to get to know him. Ahead of the Great British Bake Off return to our screens this week he tells us more about his illustrations, gives us the low down on his favourite drawing materials, and of course confesses his favourite sweet treat.

Read on for the perfect balance of art and cake, as well as a sprinkling of sheep,  layer of music festivals and a huge dollop of serendipity.

Food artist Tom Hovey

So tell us: how did you land the job of illustrating those wonderful treats on The Great British Bake Off?

I moved to London in 2010 to earn my millions as an illustrator but I hadn't organised a job to go to, and with only a few freelance gigs I was stuck working in a pretty rough pub. Luckily my best mate worked in TV and managed to get me a job helping out in the edit of a new cookery show for the BBC. I was working in the edit suite of a posh post-production house in Soho with the Series Director and Editor. They mentioned that there was a visual element missing from the show and they were thinking of including some illustration to help the viewers understand what the bakers were intending to create. I said I could do it, pitched a few ideas and got the gig. A serious bit of serendipity. 1000 bakes (and counting) later I'm still doing it!

Tom Hovey Bakery Illustration

What’s the process for drawing each one – and how long does it take you?

During the filming on set, after the bakers have finished baking, one of the production team take lots of photos of each bake from various angles, so I can get an idea of how the bake is put together.

I always sketch out the bakes in pencil first, making sure I have the form, shape and details roughly in place. I then ink each bake by hand with my trusty Posca pen. I love keeping a hand-drawn element in the illustrations as I think it adds to the homely aesthetic that fits the show so well. Once drawn I scan it, colour it in Photoshop and set it to its background, adding the title and ingredient arrows. 

Hand drawn cake illustration

What kind of art materials do you use for the Great British Bake Off drawings? 

As I am part analogue part digital I use a lot less art materials than I used to. I have also streamlined my process for GBBO so that I know exactly what supplies I need before every series, so I stock up before I start. 

I use a 0.9mm Pentel Mechanical Pencil with B lead to sketch out every drawing quickly on any old printer paper. I then draw the final illustration with PC-1M Posca pens on 160gsm Fabriano Academia paper. I buy Posca Pens in packs of 20, I've gone through 16 in this current series. I buy the Fabriano paper in slabs of 150 sheets and that will all get used for the main series. I'm onto the second slab for this year's Junior and Sport Relief Great British Bake Off. I complete the illustrations by colouring and fiddling in Photoshop with my Wacom Intuos 5. 

GBBO cake illustrations 

Do you watch the show yourself? And if so are you rooting for anyone in particular this season?

I do now, it took me a few years to be able to watch the show and be completely happy with how my work looked on TV. I'm always self-critical but I think knowing that so many people were watching the show it made me determined to make the illustrations look better every year. By Series 4 I felt I had figured out the keys to unlocking the style I had been striving for in the first 3 series which meant I felt much more comfortable watching the show and I really got into it. I've been hooked ever since!

I tend not to have favourite bakers, just favourite bakes as the bakes are my main focus on the show. I love illustrating the really big fantastical bakes like Paul's King of the Jungle 3D bread sculpture and Flora's Earl Grey Tea box. I shouldn't be after six years on the show but I am constantly surprised at how creative people can be with baking. 

Glastonbury Illustrations

You’re perhaps most well-known for your GBBO work but what other illustration projects have you worked on recently?

A dream job for me has been to work as an on-site illustrator for Glastonbury Festival's Free Press newspaper for the past couple of years. I am also now producing a lot of food illustration work (not just cakes) for a range of clients from editorial for publishing to branding for foodie businesses and even adult colouring books. However as I have been a freelance illustrator for nearly a decade I have a range of styles that I still use if the job needs it. I have range of animations coming out soon. My work for Glastonbury Festival Free Press for instance, working as an on-site illustrator is very different stylistically, but just as fun to produce - it's nice to draw people sometimes too. There are several other really exciting projects that I can't talk about yet but keep your eyes peeled as they are looking fantastic and I think people will really enjoy them. 

Tom Hovey Food Illustrator 

What was it like working on your Shaun the Sheep for Bristol? (He looked good enough to eat…)

It was one of the best projects I've ever been involved in. It was a really fun process as I got to paint alongside lots of the other Shaun in the City artists in a big workshop. It felt a bit like being back in university, just with more tea and biscuits and sheep of course. I am honestly not sure of exactly how long it took but I guessed at about 150 hours. It was a lot of long days and nights over the space of about 5 weeks. Seeing as I spend a lot of my time illustrating food and more importantly cakes, I felt like it would be a great opportunity to design a sheep-shaped cake. I decided that creating a layered cake design based on the french pastry dessert, mille-feuille would work well on the 3D sculpture, with layers of multi-coloured fruit, creams and pastry. I also incorporated swill rolls and cream buns for the ears, top of the head and tail, and legs which gave the design a bit of balance against alongside the busy body. I ultimately wanted to make it bold, bright and look good enough to eat and I think I achieved that. 

 Tom Hovey Food Illustration

How did you get into design and illustration?

I studied art full-time from 16 onwards; I got out of school as soon as I could. I never really had any ambition to do anything other than draw pictures but my school art education was so poor I had no real knowledge about how to do it for a living. I discovered Ralph Steadman & Gerald Scarfe in the college library and it blew my mind; I saw a clear path to a career as an illustrator, but I also realised I had to get much better at drawing. So after college I took a HND in Sequential Illustration in Swindon and then an Illustration degree in Bournemouth. 

I've been working as a freeIancer for 10 years next year, but I've only been full-time freelance since 2012. I always knew illustration was the right path for me although I have changed styles and directions with my work a lot over the years. I experimented until I found a direction that really suited me. I made my own way in a style that was unique to me and I was lucky to find success doing it. 

What’s the best thing about your job? 

Never feeling like it's a job. I've drawn pictures everyday since I was able to, and now people pay me to do it. 

And finally for your Top 3…who is your favourite artist, what is your favourite art material, and of course – your favourite dessert?

Favourite Artist - Parra.

Favourite Art Material - Posca pens.

Favourite Dessert - Cinnamon buns with brown sugar.

Paul's Doughnuts by Tom Hovey 

Feeling inspired?

You can buy Tom's favourite Posca Pens in all Cass Art shops

Visit Tom Hovey's website here to check out more of his Great British Bake Off illustrations.

Let us know who your favourite baker is for this season's finale of Great British Bake Offer on Twitter by tagging @CASSART with the hashtag #GBBO.