How Tom Hovey draws mouthwatering cakes for The Great British Bake Off

Bob Mortimer's cake in the shape of Baker Street Underground Station's sign

The hit show's illustrator reveals the secrets of drawing scrumptious-looking cakes.

Tonight sees the final of the latest series of the hit BBC show The Great British Bake Off. A couple of years ago we interviewed the show's illustrator Tom Hovey about how he draws such appetising treats – even when the actual creations didn't appear that appealing (which happened a lot then as Tom had just finished working on one of GBBO's special Comic Relief editions, featuring well-known faces who were less talented bakers than the show's usual crop).

We also discussed how Tom came to work on the series, his favourite cakes to draw and his own skills as a baker.

NB: How did you get the gig? 

TH: "It was a case of serendipity that got me the job producing the illustrated graphics for The Great British Bake Off.

"I had recently moved to London in search of fame and fortune with no real plan for work or how to pay rent. I had done some TV work on the side while living in Bristol, so I got a job in post-production on a new amateur baking competition in a post house in Soho. I worked in a small dark edit suite with the editor and series director. They mentioned they were considering using some illustrations in the show, not knowing that I was in fact an illustrator.

"That was four years ago this March and many, many baked drawings later. [It led to] last year's Sport Relief Bake Off and this year's Comic Relief Bake Off."

Ed Byrne's birthday cake for Comic Relief's 25th anniversary
Claudia Winkleman's cake on a theme of Comic Relief's symbol, the Red Nose

NB: What was the brief in terms of the style and feel they were looking for?

TH: "The look we were going for was something homely and nostalgic. We wanted it to look like the baker's had sketched out ideas for the cake in their baking sketchbook at home.

"The first few test illustrations I did were really detailed and didn't work, so I concentrated on getting the essence of the cake with bold lines and good definition. The first series was purely black line drawings except for the final, in which I added colour.

"We found the colour really worked, so for Series 2 I decreased the stroke of the line and worked on making the colours really bright and bold to pull the bakes off the screen."

NB: How did draw the cakes – and were you asked to create what the contestants wanted to create or how it finally came out?

TH: "All my illustrations are taken from the photos of the final created baked items once the episode has been shot. It's a lot easier that way as I get the crew on set to photograph them at the right angle and with slices removed if needed which all helps when it comes to drawing them.

"Sometime it is quite difficult when the contestant has dropped their cake on the floor, or it is a complete disaster and falls to bits. This is when my imagination comes into play,  I have to create what I believe the baker meant to create.

The creative process for Tom Hovey's illustration of Jo Brand's Black Forest gateau in a likeness of Bishop Desmond Tutu

"I sketch out all the bakes in pencil really quickly so I have the right shape, height and width. I then move each sketch to the light-box and draw using an ultra fine Posca pen, using a larger pen large areas of shading. These drawings (above top) are then scanned in at a hi-res and moved into Photoshop for editing.

"I remove the background, play with the Curves and – if I am happy with the quality of all lines – I drop onto the set background (the photograph of kitchen work surface with an open sketchbook – above middle) and add the type [in Dakota], arrows and colour and create the layers for animating (above bottom).

"I provide the editors with 10-12 files for [each baked item]. Each frame in the process is accompanied by a clean frame with no text for use in foreign countries.

NB: What's been your favourite cake to draw so far?

TH: "From this series of Comic Relief Bake Off, anything that Bob Mortimer made [such as his Tube cake, top] as he has been a massive comedy hero since I was a kid. But I did enjoy the challenge of drawing some of the less talented celebrities attempts at cakes, especially Jo Brand's Reverend Desmond Tutu cake (above).

NB: What's the secret to drawing an appealing cake?

TH: "It really helps if the cake is brightly coloured, covered in fruit or is a really original shape or design. It has proved difficult to make certain things look appealing – like quiches or tarts that are just different shades of brown and yellow.

"The secret I guess is to not get too involved in drawing every detail as they won't be seen anyway. The images are only on screen for about six seconds, so the details need to be exaggerated sometimes to get the essence of the bake – rather than a photo-realistic drawing."

NB: Are you any good at baking yourself? If so, any tips?

TH: "I am not very good at baking. I got quite into baking bread while working in the edit on the first series as it looked so easy. It is not easy.

"I leave all the baking to my girlfriend Candy, who makes a mean banana loaf and has been passed all of the Welsh family recipes from my Nan like Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith."

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