Meet the Illustrator: Tom Hovey



The name Tom Hovey might not mean too much to you at first. Although, if I were to tell you that he is, amongst other things, the illustrator for the Great British Bake Off you might well know his work.

As 'GBBO' once again captivated viewers this year Tom's drawings of the contestant's various bakes once again took centre stage in front of millions of viewers. In fact, over the past five series Tom's drawings have become pretty famous in their own right.

But it isn't just elaborate cakes and bakes that the Welsh illustrator draws, so in a bid to find out more about the man behind the drawings The Essential Cyclist caught up with him.

Marcus Leach: At what age did you first start getting into drawing and illustrating?

Tom Hovey: As early as I can remember. I always drew and painted and it was my favourite thing to do after playing football with my mates. With regards to illustration, I only found out what that was when I went to college at 16 to study art and design. I discovered illustrators like Ralph Steadman, Gerald Scarfe and Robert Crumb. They were everything that I had wanted to be and I did everything I could to emulate them.

ML: Did you have any formal training or is it a skill you have practiced and honed yourself?

TH: I don't think you can teach anyone how to illustrate, I think it takes practice to be good at something. You can teach someone to draw by making them draw everyday, locking them in a room and making them draw from life, or copy photographs. But to develop a style and a voice you have to want to do it. 10,000 hours practice to become a master they reckon, sounds about right.

And yes, I studied art in a few different colleges and did a BA in illustration at Bournemouth. But I really don't feel like I was taught any skills or techniques. I was taught how to interact with other creatives and how to talk about my work, and to meet deadlines. But I learnt more from being a freelancer and making a lot of mistakes.

ML: From a creative point-of-view, what makes you tick? Where does your inspiration come from?

TH: I love music, I love food, and i love art. ​When I'm making art I'm listening to music. When I'm listening to music I'm sketching in my sketchbook. When I'm cooking I'm listening to the radio or my record player in my front room. I re-kindled my vinyl addiction a couple of years ago after moving out of London and back to Bristol. I finally had enough room to house all my records and buy lots more!

ML: How did the role with GBBO come about?

TH: I was living in Bristol after university, but I wasn’t getting much consistent paid illustration work. But I was getting lots of work doing live drawing and group exhibitions, drawing all sorts of non-food related monstrous things on walls around central London. I found that I was spending more time in London sofa-surfing than in Bristol, so I thought it made sense to come here and give it a proper go. Being the super-organised girl that she is, my darling fiancé got a job earlier than planned, which was great but it meant that we moved to London a month early.

In that I had no paid work lined up a mate, who worked in TV, saved me by suggesting that I apply for a job helping out in the edit of this new cookery show.​ ​With no TV experience, or idea about how edits worked, I blagged my way in and started two days later.​ So it turned out that I was in an edit suite with the series director and editor of what turned out to be GBBO​. ​​Which led to the director coming to me in the second week saying that he felt there was a visual element missing from the show and maybe I could come up with some ideas. ​​I pitched and got the gig.​

ML: How does it work, do the bakers bake what they want you to draw first and you go from that? Or is it a case of you drawing from a description?

TH: 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. So during the filming on set, after the bakers have finished baking and they are waiting to start judging, a couple of researchers run around and take lots of photos of each bake, from various angles, so I can get an idea of how the bake is put together. I then get sent a big folder of photos after the each episode has been filmed and I compose the illustrations from them.

ML: Do you get to eat any of the bakes?

TH: No, not a crumb in the five years I have been working with them. ​

ML: Is there added pressure knowing your illustrations will be seen by millions of people on a weekly basis?

TH: A little, but it's only self initiated pressure to develop my style and technique until ​I am happy with what I am producing. I have been developing the style since the first series.

ML: Which illustration are you most proud of, GBBO or otherwise?

TH: I honestly don't have a favourite, after drawing 800 different bakes over the years, it's hard for me to choose anyone that stands out. I love the big extravagant ​gingerbread creations purely because they don't look like they could or should be eaten.

ML: Most people may know you for your GBBO work, but there are plenty of other projects you have worked on, including the Glastonbury Free Press. Again, how did that one come about?

TH: A friend works for the festival and suggested me to the editor of the paper that I could help out. It was literally a dream job. I have been going to Glastonbury since I was 17, so to be able to see behind the velvet rope and run around back stage has been incredible. But most importantly it has been an honour to be able to contribute to the festival, I loved it!

ML: Is it safe to assume you're at Glastonbury every year then? What is the brief there? Or can you be as creative as you like?

TH: Hopefully! The brief was to always keep in mind the editorial illustration of papers from back when they were preferred to photographs. We printed the papers on a 1950's Heidelburg printer that the festival rescued and restored a few years ago, so we didn't want to try and dishonour the printer by ​running some modern paper through it.

ML: Are all of your illustrations done the old school way, or do you use modern technology?

TH: They are a mixture to be honest, although I do still hand-draw.

ML: In a world where technology seems to be taking over do you think certain skills get lost, not just in a sense of what you do, but in so many other fields as well?

TH: ​For the next generation maybe. But I think my generation of illustrators and designer have mostly grown up drawing analog and have moved onto using Wacom Cintiqs, purely drawing digitally. Most illustrators I know that have made the switch do so because it saves time and is much more efficient. It is certainly the future, the better digital brushes that become available ​the less reason there will be for analog to jobbing illustrators. I love drawing and will hopefully never lose the want to draw with pens.

ML: What are you working on at present, and what are you plans for the future?

TH: ​Lots of really exciting things happening in 2015. Lots of things happening that I can't talk about unfortunately. One thing I can mention is that I am painting a Shaun the Sheep statue for Shaun in the City that will be displayed in Bristol and London next year. ​

To see more of Tom's work, as well as the option to buy some, head over to his website.


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