“Press Check” is a DXD Original Series which takes a deeper look behind the scenes of the publishing industry by focusing on the creative process of authors, photographers & designers and how they create magic for the page before it hits the printing press.
Chances are you probably already know about Sarah Coates – be it from her energetic website The Sugar Hit, or over here on our MADE BY MAIL recipe series…and I’m sure we can all agree that this girl knows how to make some mean sweets! Sarah’s aesthetic is bold, playful, packed with color and personality. So it makes perfect sense that this hot spot on the web would eventually be captured in cookbook form….and to our delight she is just as vibrant in print.
This book is a graphic explosion of feel good colors and recipes, which fuels our love of Sarah’s creativity in the kitchen – and of course she’s going to tack on a suggested soundtrack to go along with the experience, because she likes to make everything look and feel like a party.
We take a moment to chat with Sarah to understand what went down behind the scenes and why all you need is a positive attitude and a mini spatula to get the job done….oh and maybe some Van Halen.
Definitely some Van Halen.
Tell us a bit about the branding behind The Sugar Hit – What was the inspiration for naming your website (and ultimately your cookbook!) this?
When I set out to create The Sugar Hit in the first instance, the naming process was tough. I brainstormed constantly over potential names. I was very friendly with the marketing team in the office I worked in at the time, and we could toss ideas around over lunch. One memorably misfire was ‘Coated in Rich Creamery Butter’ as a play off my last name (Coates). I wanted something punchy and fun, almost like a Newspaper – The Times, The Post, The Daily Telegraph – but also food related and to the point. The Sugar Hit struck like lightning one day, and it stuck!
As the book is an extension of the blog, it made sense to stick with the name and branding. Plus it’s fun, and I think even a little cheeky in the face of the very anti-sugar sentiment around at the moment.
How about the visual branding – we’d love to know more about the backstory of creating the logo and carrying out an electric color blocked graphically-packed comic book feel.
The cake-bolt is my favourite – I absolutely love that thing. It’s based on a drawing that I did, which was brought to graphic life by talented graphic designer (and friend) Sam Wolski. I think that the ethos of being fun, punchy and uncomplicated really informed the design of the logo, and the blog (designed by Jason Grimston) and it informs pretty much everything I do as well!
The book design was created by the talented designer Aileen Lord, and it carries through the same bright, pop-art, comic book influences, which are evident in the Lichtenstein-esque dots, and the bright silhouetted treat details. She really did an amazing job. The cover of the book was brought together by head of design at Hardie Grant Mark Campbell, and features this beautiful bright blue holographic foil – which just kicks ass. In short, I am very lucky to have always been surrounded by gifted designers who understand that The Sugar Hit is all about damning the torpedoes and going hard after FUN – and they represented that visually with extraordinary precision and skill.
How did you stay inspired on this sweet journey and what was your creative process like developing recipes? Any particular soundtracks, cafe breaks, or mental tricks to push you through?
Staying inspired is the hardest part of any creative endeavor. It’s so easy to allow those little seeds of doubt and feelings of inadequacy to slip in, and as soon as you do, you’re lost. The best way to keep those feeling out is staying in the moment – some people call it mindfulness. Just stay aware that this is your life, and your ideas are valuable, and life is short so do whatever you want and who cares!
My biggest trick for getting positive, and back to a creative headspace is music. I like something fun, high energy, and even a little cheesy – in fact I included my soundtrack in the back of the book. At the moment my go-to psyche up song is ‘Jump’ by Van Halen. I find it impossible not to want to kick ass after listening to that.
What were the main challenges and rewards that occurred while bringing this book to life? Is there a creative process that worked particularly well or anything you might do differently in the future?
This was the first time I’ve ever worked on a cookbook. That seems like an obvious thing to say, but I mean I’d never worked on a shoot before, or seen the process come together. So it was all totally new to me – writing and testing I’m plenty familiar with, but editing, shooting, working with a designer, working with a kitchen team (angels, both of them – Caroline and Jem will you marry me?), working with a stylist, a photographer, a publishing house!
So the challenge for me was working out where I fit into all of that, and learning to be a bit less of a control freak. Usually The Sugar Hit is just me, cruising along trying to make things exactly how I want them – well, a dictatorship doesn’t really work when you’re putting a book together. I was incredibly lucky to have a team of people willing to be so generous with their time and understanding, and I think that the book is so much better for having the input of a team of such talented people. Seeing it come together to be so much more than the sum of it’s parts – the writing compliments the food, the photos compliment the food, and the design is amazing – that’s the ULTIMATE reward. So I really want to bring collaboration into my work more! I’m so hyped about it.
Tool kit – what are your styling and photography must haves?
Mine personally, are my 50mm f1/4 lens, a small offset spatula, a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, a sharp knife, and a mini spatula. That’s my basic, can’t live without it, kit and I’ve done magazine shoots with it as well as all my blog work. Props are a separate deal, of course, but with those simple items and some good natural light I think you can take a photo that lets the food speak for itself.
Vicki Valsamis and Chris Middleton, the food stylist and photographer respectively, on the shoot were a WHOLE other ball game!
Chris had a crazy-huge camera, a major selection of lenses, folding tables, step ladders, tripods, reflectors, diffusers, and stands. Vicki turned up with three tables worth of props, all grouped and labeled according to the food we were shooting, paper towels galore, brightly coloured backgrounds, confetti, cupcake cases, cotton buds, tweezers, knives and any and everything else you could imagine.
What are a few of your favorite moments while shooting this cookbook? Any particular stories or images that resonate most for you while being in the kitchen and collaborating with a creative team?
It was SO MUCH FUN! I had totally forgotten how much fun it is to have a team to work with, and how much easier it can make things when you get to share responsibilities and tasks. The most memorable few days that stick in my mind were towards the end of the shoot – we were working out of a beautiful house in Melbourne which actually belonged to the book’s designer Aileen Lord. It was the beginning of Autumn, but usually temperate Melbourne had decided to turn on a mini heat-wave, and unfortunately for us we were shooting all the ice cream recipes for the book. The air conditioner stopped working, the freezer wasn’t cold enough, and things were basically going haywire!
Luckily for me, Caroline Jones, the home economist, and Vicki and Chris were all seasoned hands. Caroline got on the phone and organized an extra freezer and Rachel Day, my editor, organized a portable air conditioner as well. It was still a struggle to keep everything cold, though, and we all had to have quick hands on those days – it was scoop, style and go, go, go!
Where to next?! Any new projects brewing or dream collaborations on the horizon?
I am at such a crossroads at the moment! I have so many irons in the fire right now, who knows what’s going to come to life and what won’t? I’m really excited about video, and I’m definitely going to be popping up on Youtube more often! Other plans in the works include a fun collaboration on an eBook, a major upgrade to The Sugar Hit blog, creating some fun merchandise (jumpers, mugs, you name it!) and maaayyyybbeee even a bricks and mortar operation! 2016 is going to be legitimately insane. I can’t wait.
A POSSIBLE BRICK AND MOTAR!? SQUUUUEEE! GIRL YOU ARE ON FIRE.