For more than a decade, ‘The Great British Bake Off’ has delighted the nation with endearing contestants, show-stopping confections, and a fair share of soggy bottoms. But the secret ingredient to the show’s tremendous success is Tom Hovey’s delectable illustrations introducing every single bake.
Hovey wanted to be an artist from an early age, yet when the budding political cartoonist moved to London in 2010, he found himself sofa-surfing and jobless. A friend eventually introduced him to an entry-level editing job at a new cooking show where a group of amateur bakers compete against each other.
“One day, they [Hovey’s bosses] came back from lunch, pulled me aside, and said, ‘Through the course of editing the first episode, we’ve realized that there’s a little visual element missing from the show,” recalled Hovey. “’The bakers are throwing flour and eggs in the bowls and then sitting on the floor and staring at ovens for 20 minutes—it’s hard to kind of get a grasp on what’s actually being created. We’d like you to have a go at giving the viewers a way to understand what the bakers are putting together.’”
His brief was to represent what the bakers had planned to create as if they had sketched it themselves at home. Following the show’s recording, Hovey received photos of the finished delicacies from every angle. He created the illustrations by hand for the first six years, starting with a rough sketch using Posca paint markers, scanning and then touching up in Photoshop.
Hovey revealed that at the start he “couldn’t watch it at all, because I wasn’t massively happy with my own creative output.” But his elaborate drawings were an instant hit with viewers and after three years he made freelance illustration his full-time job. The prolific illustrator has since created over 3,000 works for the award-winning show that flicker on screen for only six seconds at a time.
In recent seasons, editors encouraged contestants to photograph their bakes while practicing at home, which Hovey admits usually “turn out a lot better” than the final versions. He now uses a Wacom tablet to virtually paint his illustrations. “I took a lot of time to create a pen in Photoshop that pretty much exactly replicated the one I used in real life,” explained Hovey. “Six years later, no one’s noticed!”
Now he also has a company in Newport, called Studio Hovey, which brings together a team of dedicated illustrators who help him make the Bake-Off images for eight months a year. They spend the rest of the year creating other types of food illustrations.
Speaking about his favourite contestants over the years, Hovey said “I like people who embody their worlds through their bakes. For them, it’s not about producing stuff – it’s about expressing yourself. I love that.”
While the television company Love Productions owns the on-screen graphics, Hovey still retains the rights to all of the original line work. Avid Bake-Off fans can even buy the illustrative prints on his online shop from £20. Reflecting on his time as the show’s illustrious artist, Hovey marvelled “when I started Bake-Off, I never thought it would be the hallmark of my career!”