“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, illustrators & photographers and how they create magic for the page before it hits the printing press.
Publication: What To Bake And How To Bake It, Phaidon PressAuthor: Jane Hornby Photography: Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton Illustration: Kerry Lemon
Location: London, UK
We shot the entire book at Jane Hornbys lovely home and kitchen, we took over her home with all our props and camera equipment for weeks on end, but luckily her garden had a shed that used to be a ‘nail bar’ which housed everything on the days we were not there… Long live The Nail Bar!!
~ Liz & MAx, Haarala Hamilton Photography
I work from my home studio in a little quiet village in Surrey, it’s my favourite room in the house. The walls, ceiling (and floor!) are covered in postcards, tear sheets from magazines and all sorts of inspiration. I have three desks next to the window that overlook some really beautiful old trees, one desk is for my computer and scanner, another is for painting, and the third is my drawing table with a lightbox and ENORMOUS magnifying lamp on an articulated arm screwed to the desk – it’s the only way I can capture the level of detail I’m after!
~ Kerry Lemon, Illustrator
AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – JANE HORNBY
What is your creative process leading up to the start a new cookbook? Travel? R&D in the kitchen?
I don’t know if I’m a typical author, but before I start a cookbook I’m busy writing for magazines and online here in the UK, and write features on anything from weeknight pasta to how to make a wedding cake. I’m immersed in seasonality and scratch cooking, occasions, menus, finding new ways to inspire people in the kitchen. I think that my day job is actually my R&D.
Travel and eating out are a natural influence, too, and I try to get to new openings, or even just jump in the car and visit a new market or deli when I can – it’s all food for the brain.Meeting people is crucial. I try and chat to everyone I can, friends, people I meet all over, about how they like cook, how they shop, what they enjoy/dislike cooking, and what challenges they face when feeding their families and friends. Then there are the great people involved in house at publishers and in the studio when we shoot; we’re talking about food non-stop.
Where do you pull new recipe inspiration from and how do you keep food exciting in your own kitchen while in the midst of recipe creation for a book?
I’m very influenced by seasonality, what looks good in the shops, and strive to cook with produce that is best at that time of year, propped up by a well-stocked store cupboard. No tomato salads in December for us. Food has to fit the season, weather and the occasion. We like to eat healthily on weekdays, so when I’m not developing recipes and just cooking for our own dinner we have some meat and fish, but mainly lots of lovely pulses, veggies, and big panfuls with plenty of texture and visual interest. This style actually follows through into lots of the recipes I write. I’m often trying to use leftovers too (there’s a LOT of that in my kitchen, as I have haul plenty of ingredients back from photo shoots as I can’t bear to waste food). I’m not an angel – I worked very long hours creating What to Bake and sometimes I just had to wave the white flag and sent my husband out for takeout. It was that or meltdown!
Many recipes, particularly comfort food, are fixed to some kind of food memory – mac and cheese from childhood, a certain cake from a tea shop by the sea, a ravishing salad eaten on a beach – made my own and written with a realistic, helpful style. I have a heaving library of cookbooks and mags, and especially love the more retro titles. Strip the food down to the bones and a seemingly old fashioned recipe has some nugget of an idea that can be turned around for contemporary cooks. All of my books have been based around occasions; what to cook for that brunch date, a quick supper, or Sunday meal with the parents, or as a Christmas gift, for example. They absolutely have to be helpful.
At what point did you start meeting with your photography and creative teams? How involved are they in the cooking/baking process and how do you communicate your overall vision?
I first met with photographers Liz and Max (Haarala Hamilton) in September 2013, at the Phaidon offices in London. We got on immediately, talked rough schedules and planned in a test shoot for a few weeks’ time. The test shoot is crucial; I write a few sample recipes and we photograph them for the team at Phaidon to assess for style, props and that kind of thing. I was really lucky in that Liz and Max were willing to travel, so we shot the What to Bake in my kitchen. We shared tear-sheets and visuals, but I have to say knowing my editor well and also having the team come to our home was probably key to the feel of the final recipe shots. Liz and Max were involved in the actual baking or recipe side of things – I think that they had to trust me that I was trying to create recipes that photograph well as well as being delicious. I would be very easy to make a baking book that’s full of round, brown shapes, and that’s definitely not what we were looking for…
I haven’t met with Kerry Lemon (the illustrator) yet, but we are Instagram- and Twitter-ering if that counts… I love her work and think that she has done a fantastic job. I wanted the illustrations to represent the food within the book and to make it beautiful, yet accessible. It certainly stands apart in the bookstore.
What was the greatest challenge and what did you learn from it while working on this particular book?
Of course the sheer volume of work for a step-by-step book is a huge challenge for the team, but personally my own demon was getting to grips with cup measures and their conversions for the UK and the rest of the world. I am a complete stickler for detail and as baking success relies largely on getting the ingredients right (like a mini chemistry experiment), there was no room for error. If the book were say, only published in cups or only in metric, that would be fine, but as it’s published in both, the conversions needed to be sensible and accurate. I had to work things out very carefully so that the recipes were in sensible cup measures (the lead) and also grams for the rest of the world. I had to go back to the drawing board for even the most simple cakes, which took time and a lot of testing. I could write a book on it!
I’ve learned from this is that it’s vital to check how the author of a book has tested their recipes flour-wise before you begin cooking from it. A cup of flour filled one way can weigh a heck of a lot more than a cup filled another.
If there was just one recipe to start with from WHAT TO BAKE AND HOW TO BAKE IT – what should it be? (We know it’s hard to pick favorites!)
I’m biased of course, but for me the Blueberry Crumb Cake is a winner. It teaches several useful skills and is completely versatile as well as yum factor ten. The batter uses buttermilk for guaranteed lightness, and there’s a texture and taste in every bite. With Autumn now upon us, I swap the blueberries for chopped apple (something with a bit of tangy bite), add a few pecans if you like, or pumpkin spice instead of the cinnamon. It’s a cake that can suit any time of day, for dessert or with coffee, looks fantastic, and will make almost everyone happy.
What’s next? You’ve tackled three comprehensive books – are you already working on the next, or do you have a dream collaboration and/or project outside of the book binds that has you occupied?
One of the largest frustrations of my world is that we have to work so far in advance, and often out of season (you’ve heard of Christmas in July?). In response, I’ve been working with a good friend of mine, photographer Stuart Ovenden to write and shoot beautiful food features together, shot in real time. I’m looking forward to building on this side of my work as it’s very freeing, creatively.
My dream, like lots of cooks, is to start some kind of food business. I moved from London to a little town in the country almost three years ago and we have a thriving high street, but can see a gap for a contemporary grocery store-come-café-come-bar with modern, simple food. I’d fill the window with beautiful produce, learn to make fabulous coffee, have cool tunes playing and a library of cookbooks for customers to peruse. My husband is a graphic designer and typographer, so working out the look and feel would be fun, and we could sell his letterpress prints on the wall. Ah, we can dream huh!
PHOTOGRAPHY SPOTLIGHT – HAARALA HAMILTON PHOTOGRAPHY
How did the process begin on this cookbook and how was your creative vision mapped out leading up to the initial shoot days?
With Jane’s What To series of books there was already a mapped out vision of what the book was to be like . So there had to be an ingredients shot, step by steps and a final dish shot. We had to come up with all the props and backgrounds for the entire shoot, so within those boundaries we could decide on how the shots looked and felt.
Challenging Chow – As seasoned food-focused photographers, what dishes raise the anxiety bar and how do you creatively solve those problems? Any outrageous tricks that needed to be pulled out of the hat?
For this shoot the only thing that caused us real anxiety was the short daylight hours and just the logistics of photographing all the elements of one recipe; ingredients, steps and final dish in one day. There were not that many tricks, but we did have to develop our ability to eat cake as there was a lot of it and all very delicious and moreish. In general however brown food can bring its own challenges, but with an accomplished food writer/stylist, like Jane Hornby onboard this generally isn’t a problem as they are the ones with the tricks up their sleeves and make our jobs easier!
Tech Talk – What kind of equipment did you use and what is your essential photographer’s kit while heading into a large book shoot such as this one?
This shoot was kind of unique as we had to have 3 different set ups working concurrently. So we had individual set ups for the ingredients shots, steps shots and recipe shots all running simultaneously each with their own different light sources and cameras, just to make sure we achieved every shot we needed in time – One of the most important bits of equipment however was flask of strong coffee for our journeys in the early mornings to get to Jane’s House.
What was the environment and mood like during the shoot? Any particular caffeinated bevvys or playlist that helped keep the creative steam puffing?
They were great Fun days! We really miss our weekly trips to Jane’s house as it was a pleasure working with her. We had many long days but we were all pulling towards the same goal and wanted to create something beautiful, so it was a great creative environment to be in. As for playlists, luckily Jane and her husband Ross have a very similar taste in music to us, so we were delighted with the musical entertainment on offer, a particular favourite was a Bonfire’s night mix that Ross had made that seemed to liven us up on long days, apart from that BBC radio 6music seemed to be a good choice for everyone too. There was plenty of coffee always on offer and we consumed quite a bit of Coca Cola as well.
What was the highlight of your experience working on this cookbook and which recipe was a favorite to shoot (and possibly eat after you wrapped)?
The Highlight was meeting and getting to work with Jane. She is such a talented and interesting person, when you work with someone like that for a period of time it makes your job a pleasure. We were also very honoured to work on a cook book for Phaidon as they consistently produce beautiful books…and our favourite cakes after a long debate are the ’Sticky Pear & Pecan Toffee Cake’ to eat and the final shot we were most pleased of is the Jelly Roll photograph, it is probably the most simple shot in the book, but we think that simplicity is beautiful.
ILLUSTRATION SPOTLIGHT: KERRY LEMON
For your illustration process, did you work from a creative brief, photographs, or did you have an open creative block to create freely all things baked and delicious?
Thankfully I was able to work from Liz and Max’s beautifully photographs, as trying to guess what the finished bakes looked like could have been interesting! The brief was lovely and open which allowed me to spend time trying to capture the right identity for the book. Initially I was exploring a much more lyrical typography, but I’m really pleased with the stronger less fussy lettering. I always draw the text by hand, as the subtle wobbly bits make the type sit more harmoniously against the drawings rather than adding polished computer fonts on top.
Color Code – Such a whimsical palette for this book. How does color play into your process and are there particular guidelines while working on a book like this to keep in mind?
The colour was my favourite part of this job, I usually work in muted pastels, a feminine colour palette reminiscent of the 1950’s. Here I used a MUCH hotter, and brighter colour range – it was such a fun challenge to explore new colour combinations and really interesting to note how these new colours affected my mood while working on them everyday – colour is powerful!
Art Arsenal – what’s in your creative toolbox and what did you use for this particular project?
I draw EVERYTHING by hand using 005 Sakura Pigma Micron pens, I get through boxes of these pens each month and order them in bulk from Hong Kong! I draw under a large magnifying glass with a strong daylight bulb, these drawings are then scanned in and digitally coloured in Photoshop. I spend as little time as possible on the computer, just adding flat areas of colour and allowing the pen details to add the shading.
How do you stay inspired while working on food illustrations? Any particular caffeinated bevvy or playlist that helped keeps the pen moving?
I have no problem staying inspired, drawing is my favourite thing to do and I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do it every day. I don’t tend to listen to music when I draw as it affects the quality of my line, I really respond to the fast or slow, happy or sad music and you can see it in the drawing. Instead I listen to a mixture of audio books and Radio 4, at the moment it’s Michael Palin’s new audio book which is wonderful!
What was the highlight of your experience working on this cookbook and which recipe was a favorite to illustrate (and possibly even bake from the book)?
This was such a fantastic job, and it was really exciting to be a part of such a great team. I loved drawing the peanut butter cookies and would have snuck them into every spread if possible! I’m always drawn to the details, and so these biscuits were fantastic. I feel very proud of the final book, and enjoy spotting it in the shops wherever I go!
Intro Image Credit: Kristin Guy Additional Images Courtesy of Phaidon Press Photo Credits Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton || Illustration Credits: Kerry Lemon
Pre heat that oven and get inspired by Jane’s collection of recipes by grabbing your own copy of What To Bake And How To Bake It and be sure to follow along with countless other inspirational ideas straight out of her kitchen online!