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Great British Bake Off illustrator Tom Hovey: This year’s bakes are already looking fabulous!

17:32 14 August 2015

Luis' Star and Stripes Eclairs from GBBO series 5 (Love Productions).

Luis' Star and Stripes Eclairs from GBBO series 5 (Love Productions).

Andy Devonshire 07775581946

For fans of the Bake Off, the colourful sketches of the bakers’ creations are about as integral to the show as Mary and Paul – things just wouldn’t be the same without them. We caught up with Bristol-based Tom Hovey, the man behind the cake illustrations

Tom in his studio.Tom in his studio.

Firstly, hello! What have you been up to today?

Drawing lots of bakes for Episode 4 of the new series of GBBO.

How did you come to work for the Bake Off?

It was a real case of serendipity. I moved to London to seek fame and fortune but I had not organised a job to go to, so a friend managed to get me a job helping out in the edit for a new amateur baking show for the BBC. I was working in the edit suite with the Series Director and Editor when they mentioned that there was a visual element missing from the show and they were thinking of including some illustration. I said I could do it, pitched a few ideas and got the gig. Six years later and I’m still here.

Nancy's red windmill from GBBO series 5 (Love Productions)Nancy's red windmill from GBBO series 5 (Love Productions)

Your illustrations are such an integral part of the show - what was your initial brief from the show’s producers?

The brief was to illustrate what the bakers planned to create for each challenge in the program by making it look as though they had sketched it in their kitchen note books. This hasn’t changed and neither has the need for me to keep the homely aesthetic in mind, but my approach to creating the illustrations changes every year. We didn’t use any colour in the first series, so I decided to use big areas of black shading to bring a bit of contrast to the bakes to help the viewer understand the different components. For the second series we introduced colour to the graphics from the start and had a much stronger photograph to drop the images onto which really helped the overall look. Every year I developed a better understanding of how to use colour to show off the components of the bakes and by series 4 I felt I had figured out the keys to unlocking the style I had been striving for in the first three series. I think with every long-term project there should be a visible progression in technique and skill.

What is your starting point for each illustration?

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. Unfortunately I have never tasted a crumb. Even when my wife and I visited the set last we had to leave before they’d judged the bakes – so much to my wife’s annoyance, we left without tasting a thing!

Tart cherry juice - Healthy Breakfasts - an illustration for Cycling Plus magazine.Tart cherry juice - Healthy Breakfasts - an illustration for Cycling Plus magazine.

What has been your favourite series of Bake Off to work on?

The last thing I’ve done is always my favourite, so up until about a month ago it would’ve been the last series. I’m always trying to improve and develop, I believe that as the contestants’ skills have improved year on year so have mine and in turn my ability to display their creations in the best possible way. This year’s bakes are already looking fabulous!

Do you watch the show?

I am hooked now. It took me until about the third series for me to really watch it and be happy with seeing my work on the TV. I’m very self-critical, so I’m really happy that I’ve been able to get my work up to a level that I’m happy with. Once you start watching you’re hooked, the new series is going to be fantastic, I can’t wait!

Korean Pork. Tom doesn't just create sweet illustrations.Korean Pork. Tom doesn't just create sweet illustrations.

What response have you had from the contestants to your work?

They have all been really lovely. I met a group of them on set last year for the first time and took them some of my illustrations from the show I had been working on and they were thrilled. I chat to them all a lot on social media, there is a real GBBO community on twitter, it’s ace.

What inspires you?

At the moment I am incredibly inspired by the amazing foodie scene in the UK. I have developed a recognisable style and approach to illustrating food and lots of people are aware of it, which has led to requests for me to draw things that aren’t baked. Food illustration wasn’t a direction I instantly realised that I should be pursuing but the more commissions I got, away from GBBO, the more I enjoyed it and saw the possibilities. Sometimes your work life is taken in a natural direction and you have to go with it, actively investigate the new direction and put everything else aside until you are done with it. Apart from food, I’d have to say my new wifey Candy – we got married in May of this year after being together for a decade and she inspires me every day.

Do you enjoy baking and cooking?

I love cooking. I cook most of the meals in our house, although Candy is a great cook too. I did try baking bread for a time when I started working on the first series of GBBO – I went out and bought all the flours and yeast and spent a few Sundays making awful tasteless bricks. All that flour is still in my cupboard. I leave the baking to my wife who makes a mean cupcake and is being taught all the Welsh specialities like Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes from my mum and nan.

What is your favourite food?

I cannot possibly choose a single dish, there are too many to mention. But the best thing I have eaten recently is in a small place in Rome on my honeymoon. It was Spaghetti Amatriciana Flambé in a small tavern near where we stayed called Vecchia Roma. It was flambéed inside a pecorino shell so the cheese melted into the sauce, it was massive – I had it for lunch so had to go home and sleep for three hours, it was the best!

When you take a break from illustrating, what are your favourite things to do in Bristol and Somerset?

Bristol is such a fantastic city, there are things going on nearly every weekend so it’s great to wander round town on the weekends. It feels like there are new places to eat popping up on a weekly basis so we always have a list of places we want to try out. One of the other reasons we love Bristol is that you can drive out of town for ten minutes and you are in stunning countryside – we love exploring the West Country. We got married in May in an amazing venue on the edge of the Quantock Hills, in Nether Stowey, and we were blown away with the beauty of Somerset. We are going back to the area for a family break at Christmas with the whole family as we all loved it so much.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

I have a lot of exciting, but secret, projects in the works that will be announced over the coming months, but for the time being I’m working on a variety of foodie projects.

To discover more of Tom’s beautiful foodie art prints, head over to tomhovey.co.uk

Follow Tom on Twitter @twistedloaf or Instagram.

Words: Daisy McCorgray

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