I think I might have to put up two warnings here in advance of reading about today’s interviewee, artist Tina van den Broek. The first is: there is a high chance you will get hungry while reading this and second, you may also get pangs of jealousy at how Tina has been able to incorporate two of her favourite loves (food and art) into pretty much everything she has done. It’s even taken her to a catering a job at a chateau in the south of France. Although her various jobs have been diverse, food and art have been a common link and the skills she’s learned along the way have helped to shape her current venture and enabled her to go out on her own. Hence, The Food Artist was born, where she creates tasty food related illustrations for businesses, products and services wanting to spice things up a bit. She delightfully calls it ‘food communication’.
Tell us about yourself and how have you ended up where you are today?
When I was a child I remember thinking I wanted to be an artist. I drew all the time and would trace around the images in my colouring-in books. Growing up I also spent a lot of time in my Oma’s kitchen helping her cook and outside making mud pies in an old wood fired oven. I loved making actual food too!
In 2003 I completed a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts at Auckland University in New Zealand. The first few years of the fine arts degree were multi-disciplinary so I could dabble in painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, design, printmaking, jewellery and film. In my last year my major was sculpture. I minored in fabric arts and screen-printing, and throughout my degree drawing was compulsory. During my time at university I worked part-time in the kitchen of a local café which I enjoyed immensely.
After university I worked for a painter and decorator for five months and then got a job working in the sign industry for a year, where I learnt some office and sign-making skills.
In 2005 I moved to the South of France to a château in the countryside called Pont-de-Barret. I lived and worked there for six months, cooking, cleaning and entertaining up to 30 new guests each week, as well as having my own little studio. We had themed weeks where guests came to paint, sculpt, cook, play bridge, bring their motorcycles and relax in the countryside. Every second day we shopped at the markets and catered all the meals. We even delivered food on-site to guests so they could picnic in crumbling down old churches while they painted.
After France I lived in Holland briefly where I did visual merchandising, painting and decorating. I then moved to London for two years and worked for Gumtree.com in their online trust and safety department. The company was owned by eBay at the time and we shared a building with PayPal and Skype. It was then that I was introduced to the online world and ecommerce.
In 2008 I moved to Melbourne for a year and worked in the large format digital printing industry for a while, until the global financial crisis hit Melbourne and I lost my job. In 2009 I moved back to New Zealand and started working in advertising and marketing doing administration, quoting and print buying for a year and planned to return to Melbourne to continue what I had started.
In 2010 I moved back to Melbourne and started working for a large advertising company where, after a year, I found I had an interest in online marketing, specifically managing Google Adword campaigns.
2013 was a year of big change and I knew I needed to get back to my original artistic pursuits. I attended the inaugural Big Hearted Business (un-) Conference, which is run by Claire Bowditch. This provided me with the skills I wish I had learnt while doing my visual arts degree and decided I was going to pursue my creative interests. As I was working full-time, I spent the most part of 2013 working weekends and after hours, learning how to build my website, reading, drawing, making and researching.
In the beginning of 2014 the company I was working for announced redundancies and I instantly saw an opportunity! I invested in a business coach to help make a plan to start the transition to work for myself. I had previously being doing my various art practices under the name The Visual Citizen but it was hard for me to articulate to people exactly what services I provided as I was doing all sorts of random things from illustration, painting, printing, face painting. I wanted to create a business that was extremely specific and told a story, which is how The Food Artist was born.
Food artistry is quite specific. When and why did you begin exploring with drawing food?
I wanted to create a business and life that I loved, something I did because I enjoyed it, not just because of the money. In order to articulate what it is that I do and can offer people, I had to think long and hard about my core values, beliefs and passions.
All my life I have loved food. I enjoy freestyle cooking where I whip something up based on the ingredients at hand. I can cook for hours and be in that same ‘happy place’ I go to when I’m making art. I also love making people happy with food as I also do with my art. It made sense to bring my two passions together: food and illustration.
I’m now having fun exploring different ways in which I can use my food illustration skills to take it to the next level and offer more than just an illustration. I want to use my passion for food and illustration as a communication tool to help people who don’t have the artistic skills or time to add personality and interest to their business, product or service.
Can you share a bit about the creative process and materials you use?
I am inspired by making and tasting food, seeing food on display, food blogs, recipe books, design and homeware brands, fabrics and textiles, plants, animals and people.
I will often start with a light pencil sketch, followed by outlining with fine liner (just like my colouring-in books), colour with watercolour inks or pencils and then alternating layers of pen and colour until it feels finished. I love colour and enjoy experimenting with combining colours that traditionally clash, similar to how I experiment with combining food ingredients.
Recently I’ve started experimenting with using apps on my iPad to draw digitally, although I want to stay a traditional hand-drawn illustrator as I think that pushes me to constantly improve my style. Design software allows you to undo, delete or edit if something doesn’t go the way you planned. However when drawing by hand I can incorporate my ‘mistakes’ so they no longer remain a mistake and contribute to my quirky style.
Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists, designers, peers and creatives do you admire?
Other illustrators, food stylists, design trends and positive people influence me. Here are just three from an ever growing list:
Herakut – HERA + AKUT = HERAKUT. An artist duo from Germany. Their art works can be found in big cities around the world – from Toronto to Kathmandu, San Francisco to Melbourne. Their drawing/painting style is raw and often they combine quotes or text with the images.
Claire Bowditch from The Big Hearted Business – Claire is an Australian musician but also a creative entrepreneur who teaches creative people about business, and business people about creativity, in ways that makes sense.
Claus Oldenburg – an American sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring very large replicas of everyday objects. Banal everyday objects inspire me and Claus puts them on a pedestal.
What would be your dream project/commission?
To illustrate a coloring in book, or children’s book.
To take my illustrations from 2D to 3D and do visual merchandising, styling, installations, collaborate with set designers or prop makers on TV, film or music videos.
To license my artworks for use on products.
Do you get to eat the food you’ve been drawing? Or are you so over food by the time you’ve finished?
So far, yes I do get to eat it! Sometimes I photograph the food and don’t draw it until after I’ve eaten it so that perhaps a bit of the flavour goes into the drawing.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in setting up your own creative business? What’s one piece of advice you would give to others wanting to do the same?
The biggest challenge for me was myself. I first had to believe in myself. I had to figure out what I was trying to achieve and then get to work making, talking to people, researching and finding people who needed what I did. I needed time to pursue all of that and it was hard to do while working full-time in another job.
My advice would be that you can’t do everything yourself so get help, such as a business mentor/coach. Have people you can rely on for support and outsource what you can. There is always something you can work on so accept it and set yourself tasks rather than working yourself into the ground in a never-ending attempt to finish just one more thing.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to attend workshops where I can learn and practice new skills and meet people. Recently I’ve been doing face painting, sign painting and hand lettering.
I like to spend time with friends and enjoy delicious home cooked meals (or try out a new cafe) with scrumptious conversation.
I love to travel to new countries and back to New Zealand to spend time with family and friends. I love soaking up the Kiwi culture that I miss out on living ‘across the ditch’, like food products, and TV commercials – I love NZ TV commercials.
I enjoy Melbourne’s eateries and finding new artisan products to sample.
What’s your favorite café/restaurant hangout in Melbourne?
Tiggy at Schoolhouse Studios, 81 Rupert St, Collingwood is a little café where you’ll find me. It’s the resident café at my art studio with awesome owners and one cool dog called Romulus.
Short Round in Thornbury – lovely staff, delicious food and not too bad on the eyes either.
Vietnam Noodle House on Swanston Street. When I’m in the city I love a bowl of the vegetable noodle soup. It’s packed full of fresh veggies, noodles and sits in a chicken broth; it’s quick, cheap and filling.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Actually I have a Pinterest board all around that ‘who’d have thought’ moment.
Thanks so much, Tina, for your inspirational and tummy-rumbling inducing story!