The secret ingredient in “The Great British Baking Show”


It is a widely understood fact of life that not everything goes according to plan. Perhaps no one knows this better than contestants on the popular competition show The Great British Bake Off, known in the United States as The Great British Baking Show. Each week, they embark on a dramatic, sugar-filled journey through the uncertain and sometimes tumultuous expanse between what they had planned to cook and how it turned out.

The cakes flow. Buttercream frosting cracks. Isomalt breaks down. Sometimes someone forgets to turn on the oven, which wastes precious time. But even if the sponge is “claggy” or “heavy” (or God forbid, ends up on the floor before it gets to a judge’s plate), there is a perfectly executed version of the creation that the home viewers can ooh and aah at anyway.

That’s thanks to Tom Hovey, whose appetite-teasing illustrations have become a hallmark of the series over the years. They are presented on the screen in a digital notebook on a fake work surface, as if the bakers had bitten into them themselves.

“It shows why the artwork is sometimes, most of the time, better than it turns out in the tent, because that’s what they intended to create, not what they actually created,” Hovey said via Zoom from his studio in Newport. , South Wales. The 13th season of GBBO is halfway through on Netflix. We have already seen structurally dubious masks made of cookies; black pudding on pizza; and a coconut sponge that tasted like “a bit of suntan lotion.”

A sketch of a dessert with layers of meringue and fruit near the top.

Season 7 contestant Candice Brown’s mango and strawberry crown.

Love Productions, Studio Hovey

Hovey, 39, has been making illustrations for the popular reality show since its debut in 2010. Black ink outlines the colorful swirls of meringue, crumbs of crust and fruity layers of filling that appear from an oven bake. other. It shows how artfully frosting can drip down the side of a two-tier cake decorated with foxes and mushrooms, or how rosemary whiskers protrude from the snout of a lion-shaped bun. In Hovey’s illustrated world, nothing has ever been undercooked.

While moving to London with his girlfriend the same year, a friend who worked at a TV production company told him about a baking show in the works. Hovey basically became a runner, sitting in a room with the series director and an editor and helping them out. While he loved the gig, he was also an artist, having worked on murals, live drawing shows and even political cartoons – street art was having a moment in London.

“I kind of professed my lack of ambition for TV work and that I was actually a budding illustrator,” Hovey said of an exchange he had with his bosses. Instead of berating him, they went out to lunch one day with the show’s other producers and came back offering him the chance to help create a visual element that they felt the show lacked.

Sketch of a two-tiered cake decorated with foxes and mushrooms.

Contestant Kim-Joy Hewlett’s Season 9 Lavender Lemon Fox Cake.

Love Productions, Studio Hovey

In the evenings and on weekends, Hovey began working on sketches of the usual cakes, cookies, and pastries. Quickly, the powers in place signed. And his time in the world of street art influenced the style of GBBO’s illustrations, especially the use of lots of Posca-style black ink. The look worked well for graphics that were meant to be attractive but not overly polished or stylized.

And in that, they reinforced one of the main draws of the series: the warm vibes; the joy of home bakers baking delicious pastries for the glory of an engraved cake trophy, and helping each other along the way with words of encouragement and a happy thumbs up. In an often fast and harsh world, GBBO is a fuzzy blanket and a warm cup of tea at the end of a long day.

To create the illustrations, Hovey gets photos of the pastries sent to him from the tent and goes back and forth with the production team. He said some of the funniest illustrations can be for bakers who have committed to an aesthetic, like the 2019 season’s Helena Garcia, who dabbled in spooky-themed baked goods like apple illusion cakes. wicked witch. Or Kim-Joy Hewlett in 2018, whose creations like orange cat madeleines were just cute, in a word.

Over the seasons, Hovey also changed his approach to illustrations. In 2016, it went completely digital. He had started doing the line work with the black Posca pens and scanning them into Photoshop to add color and text. But after a series of projects, including the Great British Bake Off Coloring Book, it was clear that digital could make life a little easier.

An illustration of a slice of a dragon fruit on a pink background.

A cross section of a dragon fruit drawn by Tom Hovey. At this point, the artist focuses entirely on food illustration.

Studio Hovey

“[It was] a few months doing black line art and then zooming in, and me and an intern removing very small paint splatters from the tips of the pens,” Hovey said. Now he uses a Wacom Cintiq tablet and has created a digital brush that mimics Posca pens.

Another big change is that he has a team of three illustrators, which is fitting since he handles illustrations not only for the flagship show, but for others including the American spin-off and Junior Bake Off. . He estimates that his team has produced over 3,000 illustrations for all series so far.

Over the seasons, he visited the tent a few times. Although there is a family day for the crew, he usually avoids since his daughter is allergic to eggs.

And no, he doesn’t like to cook very much, and he doesn’t like cakes.

“Maybe he’s just a greedy person, but I like to do things that I want to eat, and if I don’t want to eat cake, then I’m not going to.”

Hovey has worked for Mastercard and Bloomberg Businessweek, but at this point his focus is entirely on food illustration.

It has a series of fruit slices, rich in color and detail – you can see every seed of the dragon fruit and every twist and turn in the flesh of the fig. A poster for a group called Idles features a huge ice cream sundae on a pink background, covered in chocolate and strawberry syrups, topped with sprinkles and raspberries, two perfect cherries and whipped cream. The bottom says “joy as an act of resistance”, and it is.

“I never intended to be a food illustrator, let alone a cake illustrator,” he said. But since the tent has learned so much, sometimes things turn out a little differently than expected.


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