Tom Hovey, the painter who has now painted about 3,500 drawings of The great Brit bakes. “I would have been very happy to explain a show about grilling, for example – but that’s not the hand that life handled me with. I’m a foodie, and I really love cooking.”
Even if he didn’t have a sweet tooth, Hovey has had contestants favorite over the years. “I really liked it Helena,He says, referring to Spanish Goths from last year’s series. “It was a woman who was the type of vampire and bat in the house. Her bakery reflected that and it was a pleasure to explain it. I also love Kim Joy [2018’s Belgian-British winner]. I love people who embody their worlds through their bakery. For them, it’s not about producing things – it’s about expressing yourself. I love that.”
Like Helena and Kim Joy, the 37-year-old has developed his own unique style. “Each illustration is displayed on screen for six seconds, so I really have to make an impact. I’ve learned in my work how to do it – developing thicker layouts, using vignetting, and ultimately using PhotoShop to colorize the photos.”
Every week while filming, Hovey receives bunches of contestants baked goods from every angle. Among his favorites was the Flora and Paul Tea Box King of the Jungle. He works remotely from his studio in Newport and was only in the Bake Off tent once. “I also get pictures from the bakers of their workouts at home, which are often better than the ones they do on show, because they don’t work against the clock.”
Hovey faces a new challenge on this year’s Bake Off, which arrives last night tomorrow. In an early episode, each contestant had to bust their hero for the show. Hermine chose Mexican-Kenyan actor Lupita Nyong’o, Linda created Orange and Ginger Bob Marley, while Mark made The Origin of Species, in a tribute to Charles Darwin. “Your illustrations should look like celebrities,” says Hofey. “So I didn’t use food photos all at once.” Instead, he simply built his illustrations on Google’s photos.
Hovey wanted to be an artist since childhood. An uncle who had a pottery studio pointed the way. “It made him a self-sufficient artist, and that was an important example for me.” He left school at the age of 16, happy to be out. “But then I realized I needed to be trained, so I ended up taking a pictorial staging course in Swindon and then earning a degree in Bournemouth. This is where I found my tribe.” As a student, he drew a lot of political sketches, inspired by pungent masters like Gerald Scarf And fellow Welshman Ralph Steadman.
So how did he end up illustrating Nadia’s sparkling cheesecake or Stacy’s Tropical Treble Terrain? “Ten years ago, I had just finished surfing on the sofa in London. I was creating murals in Soho with a range of street art. We’ll make them in the Saatchi foyers and stores across from Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green Shop on Carnaby Street. You weren’t making money, so I did loads of jobs – McDonalds, bars, record stores, and all of that. “
Then one day, a co-worker told TV about a job in the editing suite. “The next thing I knew, I was sitting in this room with the director and editor of Bake Off who was just getting started. They said it lacks visual element, so I suggested that as a draftsman I could draw designs.” His first writing was rejected – from the signature cake. “It was cumbersome and very detailed. She needed a thicker line to work on TV. It only felt like in the fourth series I really found my style.”
As his style evolved, so did the baked goods. “They got more accomplished by design, which was more fun for me to illustrate.” The Roman Colosseum was dedicated to Ginger John of the third series, which is an engineering feat as much as bread.
By 2016, the workload proved overwhelming: He was producing illustrations for Bake Off and its subsidiaries including Celebrity Bake Off, Junior Bake Off, Stand Up to Cancer, American version, Christmas specials, and a coloring book. So he hired some graduates from the University of the West of England in Bristol.
Does this mean it’s like Damien Hirst making his assistants draw points as he kicks? “Not true! I live on a property in Newport, not in a huge pile in England. I’m still really involved in the creative process, as well as mentoring.” What did the upcoming artists learn? “Draw all the time, anything and every day, to find your style. Don’t waste your time – there are a lot of artists out there, so you have to grapple and seize the opportunities.”
Hovey never expected to be a food artist. “I dreamed of doing something [Guardian cartoonist] Steve Bell says. “But I don’t think I have what it takes to work on the daily deadline and do work with subtext, so it’s visually fun.” Hovey gets his own frustrating revenge, envious of contemporaries who have made him shoot albums for the likes of Metallica.
He’s planning projects unrelated to Bake Off and doesn’t want to detail them yet – because he knows that, like the famous Iain Arctic Roll from the first series, the show will someday be neglected. “Don’t get me wrong. I love this and don’t look back with regret. I’ve become obsessed with illustrating food. I look at Cézanne with renewed awe and Dali too.”
Two years ago, Hofe’s work was exhibited at a gastronomy exhibition at the University of Leeds. It made him realize that it was part of a long tradition preceding food photography. “I am passionate about clarifying the food and I can continue developing it again. But eating donuts is not for me, which is good for my waist. In restaurants, I am the guy who orders two appetizers and skips dessert. I don’t want to eat donuts. I just want to paint them.”
• The Great British Bake Off Final is showing on BBC1 tomorrow.