If you're a fan of The Great British Baking Show, you know that sometimes, despite the bakers’ best intentions, the final product doesn’t always live up to its promise. Cakes collapse and fragile toffee tuiles fall to the floor as the clock ticks down. But regardless of whether they fall short of star baker or are asked to leave the tent, we still get an idea of what those best intentions were thanks to Tom Hovey, the show’s illustrator.
In every episode, each contestant’s creation is described by hosts Noel Fielding and Sandy Toskvig while viewers are shown a rendering of that baker’s vision. Those illustrations aren’t created by some photo app filter; they're the work of Hovey, who has been with the show since the beginning. He's now in his tenth year hand-sketching cakes, biscuits, and loaves of bread, but his first job on the show didn’t involve doodling at all.
"It’s a real case of right place, right time," he told me via email. "After spending so much time in London painting murals, my [girlfriend] (now wife) and I decided to move to London where the streets are paved with gold and I wanted to get a piece of all that illustration cash I’d been hearing nothing about."
"So we moved to London in early 2010, but I had no paid work lined up," Hovey, who is now based in Bristol, wrote. "My best mate worked in TV and suggested that I apply for a job in the edit of this new cookery show. With no TV experience or idea about how edits worked I blagged my way in and started two days later. The show was the first series of GBBO. As it turned out, I was in an edit suite with the series director and editor who were both cool guys, so within a couple of days I had told them my lack of ambition for TV work and that I was really an aspiring illustrator. Which led to the director coming to me in the second week saying that he felt there was a visual element missing from the show and maybe I could come up with some ideas. I sketched a few examples, we decided on a style that fit the bill and I got the gig."
While it’s up to the bakers to envision their bakes before arriving on set, Hovey told me his work actually begins after the judges have already rendered their verdict. "I am sent photos of the finished bakes from various angles so I can get a good idea of the whole bake," he said. "My job is to illustrate what they planned to create not what they actually baked in the tent. So sometimes if the bakes don’t go as planned I have to work out with the producers and the bakers how to fix the issues, add missing elements, extra layers, that sort of thing."
If you remember fan favorites from last season, like the highly-elaborate decorations of Kim-Joy Hewlett, you can find illustrations from that crop of contestants available right now on Hovey’s website, along with all of the previous eight seasons. As for the season that’s currently airing on Channel 4 in the U.K. and streaming weekly on Netflix in the U.S., those illustrations should be for sale within a few weeks of the finale (in this case, mid-to-late November). You can sign up for Hovey’s newsletter if you want to stay in the loop on the exact timing.
Prints start at £15 ($19) for A5 size (that’s 5.8 x 8.3 inches to us Americans), and £25 ($32) for A4 (8.3 x 11.7) and are available at his store.
Considering that some of the beautiful treats from GBBS are fed to pigs after the cameras stop rolling, framing a picture of a show-stopping cake seems like lovely way to remember it.