Not too long ago, I was innocently browsing online when a jar of Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves spoke to me:
Don’t you love my beautiful lines and shading? Look at my luscious rosy watercolors, my checkered lid. Do I not stand out from the hundreds of food illustrations you see every day?
The jam was spreading it on thick, but it had a good point. There was something pure and serene about its singular beauty. Detailed and realistic, it had that charming handmade quality I always fall for.
“Bonne Maman” is by Boston-based artist, illustrator and graphic designer Kendyll Hillegas, whose work “focuses on capturing the emotional and narrative significance of food and everyday objects.” Using a combination of colored pencil, gouache, and ink, she creates a delectable world of ooey gooey cakes, cheery popsicles, tempting doughnuts, cupcakes, and reach-out-and-bite-me muffins, breads, and bagels.
She invites us to appreciate anew the pleasing design of a bottle of San Pellegrino or Heinz Ketchup, the rumpled comfort of a bag of King Arthur Unbleached Flour. A bowl of soup, a stack of pancakes, a double scoop ice cream cone — we all have emotional connections to these familiar foods and like to hear and share good stories about them.
Kendyll’s Etsy bio says, “Say hello if you like. I’m a little shy, but I’m nice!” I found these words quite captivating and surprising in this day and age of electronically-induced personal detachment. Was she really nice?
Yes! I soon discovered she was not only nice, but a true kindred spirit — a fellow lover of “Downton Abbey,” Maira Kalman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, bakeries, and — *wait for it* — PIE!
I know you’ll enjoy hearing what Kendyll has to say about making art and living the creative life. And to top off an already sweet visit, she’s sharing her recipe for Apple Peach Raspberry Pie. :9
Open your heart, feast your eyes and enjoy.
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Name of shop or business:
“Kendyll Hillegas”- Since my legal name is crazy enough on its own, I figured I’d do ok without choosing a unique business title.
Items you make:
Original illustrations and archival prints.
Quincy, MA (5 min south of Boston).
Three words that best describe your art:
Narrative, Nostalgic, Approachable
Self taught or formal training?
Formal training (BFA painting)
Tools of the Trade:
• Canson Cold-pressed Watercolor, various sizes – I use other papers too, but this is my standby.
• Holbein Acryla Gouache, this set + some other colors which you can get at Utrecht which has an excellent open-stock gouache selection (primary magenta, vermilion, orange, luminous red, opera, mint green and burnt umber).
• Brushes – Oil/Acrylic (size 2, round), Watercolor (size 000, 2 & 6 round, 1/4 inch filbert, 18/0 spotter). Generally, if you’re going to spend $ on something, I recommend splurging on brushes. You can always find decent paper on the cheap, but good brushes perform well and last a long time.
Inspirations and influences:
Broadly: Nature, my family, animals, botanical & medical drawings, public transit, bakeries, the Internet, music
Specifically: Henri Matisse, Euan Uglow, Wayne Thiebaud, Maira Kalman and many others
Three significant milestones in your career:
Drawing I with Sue Trent – She was such an amazing teacher that even drawing piles of cardboard boxes was fun and inspiring.
My first set of watercolor pencils – Carly, my younger sister gave them to me for Christmas a couple of years ago and they’ve become the foundation for my current mixed-media technique.
Starting a Tumblr – This really motivated me to draw everyday and to let my art develop organically on its own rather than trying to artificially force a vision on it.
Food that inspires your best work:
Carbohydrates, without a doubt. I love doing things that have a mix of textures like bread and pastries. Flaky/shiny combined with drippy/gooey is just so much fun to draw!
“Sriracha” archival print
What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?
So many of my earliest memories are of drawing, or building things or playing make believe (which I consider a creative act) so it’s tough to pin-point a first one. I do remember that Mr. Roger’s was one of the few TV shows that I watched as a child and his (now remixed and cool) “garden of your mind” quote was something I thought about a lot as a young girl. I always really enjoyed open-ended activities and alone time because these gave me an opportunity to grow things in my imagination. In terms of actual early drawings, I did find a drawing which I made at age 5-6. I think I had just read Madeline for the first time.
How and when did you become interested in drawing food? What do you like best about it?
I didn’t become interested in illustrating food until recently.
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2011 and had been sick and undiagnosed for a long time before that. Being sick had made the practice of art really difficult for me. It made me feel disconnected from my body and from physicality in general. I was so perplexed by this that I even stopped making art for a time.
Fast forward to the end of 2012, after a particularly difficult year I decided to draw again. Nothing major – just small works that I could complete on the couch or even in bed if I wasn’t feeling well. I started out mostly drawing portraits of friends and family, and mixed in a few food drawings. As time went on, I found that I gravitated towards the food drawings. They were fun to make. Even better, creating them reminded me of the times I had eaten those foods and the people I had eaten them with. Surprisingly, they felt more personal to me than portraits did. So I made more and more of them.
On another level, because my illness often makes me feel disconnected from my body and isolated, I am fascinated by things that are physical and connected to the experience of community.
Fundamentally, we all eat, we all have memories of food, feelings about food, stories about food. Mealtimes and eating carry a long history of significance in narratives across cultures. Food is a symbolically rich and fascinating subject. So to me, making art about food is making art about people, families and their stories and that’s what I love about it.
Please explain your process by using a favorite painting as an example.
1. GATHER REFERENCES – My first step is always to gather reference photos of the subject of my drawing. I know lots of people like to draw from memory, but in my experience, reality is much richer and more finely tuned than my mind’s eye is capable of capturing. I like to take pictures in the grocery store, at home and at bakeries. Drawing from life is wonderful and I certainly prefer it, but it’s difficult to accomplish when my subject is perishable.
2. SKETCH – So, after I have my references and feel like I have a good understanding of my subject I do the sketch. For materials, I work on cold pressed paper. Sketches are done with a 4H or 6H graphite pencil. My basic purpose with the sketch is always to set the composition and capture the overall proportions of my subject. I try to keep my lines really light so that they’re easy to erase when I’ve got some paint on. The sketch may be more or less complex depending on the complexity of the subject. Some are literally nothing more than a few rough circles.
2. COLOR WASH – The first real layer is always done with Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils. I lay them down dry in a pretty heavy layer, trying to capture the basic colors and values of the subject. I don’t worry too much about details or texture at this point. Then, working with water and a stiff, round brush (it’s an acrylic/oil brush, not a watercolor brush) I blend the watercolor pencil thoroughly. I let that layer dry. Then depending upon the subject, I may add in another layer of watercolor pencil, again focusing primarily on the basics – structure, perspective, color, values. Let that dry. Then, I erase any remaining sketch lines.
3. DEVELOP DETAIL – I use Prismacolor Soft Core pencils to sharpen and define some of the details of the subject. Depending on the piece, this step might include thin washes of gouache. This whole time, I try to keep as close to reality as possible and also to minimize my marks (which is actually quite difficult for me, because I love texture). If the subject has a lot of inherent opacity (like a chocolate pastry for example) I may decide to use full-strength gouache instead.
4. ADD TEXTURE AND DIMENSION – For the final layers, I add my darkest-darks and lightest-lights in Prismacolor Soft Core pencils and little opaque touches of gouache. At this point, I’ll usually allow myself to be a bit more interpretive with the texture and add in pops of complementary and analogous colors.
5. SCAN AND PROCESS – Once the piece is done, I scan it in using an Epson scanner. If I’ve made any egregious messes, (i.e. a blot of paint where it shouldn’t be) I clean those up in a photo editing program. When I prep for printing, I usually remove the entire background as well since it makes for a nicer print. No other digital editing besides that.
Which one of your paintings has the most interesting backstory? Which do you feel most emotionally connected to and why?
This question is tough for me to answer because every single painting (except for the Favorite Food Submissions) has a personal story. Many of them are funny or strange and I feel emotionally connected to every single one. I don’t include all the stories in the Tumblr descriptions because some would seem so random without the context.
One example of this is my recent illustration of a bagel which I did because 12-year-old-me once melted our microwave door closed when I tried to defrost a bagel on high for 7 minutes. It seemed only logical at the time given that my mom microwaved her coffee for 2.5 minutes. 2.5 minutes doubled, because it’s frozen gets me to 5 minutes, add another 2 minutes, since it’s a solid = 7 minutes. Perfect! Of course I decided to depict the ideal bagel rather than the smoldering rock we pulled from the smoking microwave.
What’s your dream project? Any aspirations to illustrate a children’s story or cookbook?
Most simply, my dream project is anything where I get to imagine an idea, work on it with my hands, carry it through to completion and share it with others. But, if we’re talking crazy, up in the clouds type dreamin’- then something I have thought about quite a bit recently is a way to pull some of my illustrations together in a book that would explore family narratives, objects of significance and of course food.
I’m not sure whether it would be a children’s book or not. Maybe kids and adults would both like it. Hopefully there would be recipes in it along with everything else, so maybe it’d be a cookbook too. I’m clearly still in the brainstorming phase so I guess I’ve got some time before I have to be totally clear on the what/how. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!
Do you have a favorite food scene from a children’s book?
Ever since I was a little girl and my parents read me Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder I have loved imagining what those meals must have looked and tasted like. Honestly, I cannot even remember whether there was an accompanying illustration, but here is one of my favorite passages:
“The shelves on both sides were loaded with good things to eat. Big yellow cheeses were stacked there, and large brown cakes of maple sugar, and there were crusty loaves of fresh-baked bread, and four large cakes, and one whole shelf full of pies. One of the pies was cut, and a little piece of crust was temptingly broken off; it would never be missed.”
On your tumblr blog, you invite readers to submit photos of food items for you to paint. What new foods have you learned about? Any particular painting(s) you especially enjoyed making? How has this project stretched you as an artist?
I’ve learned about lots of new foods! Some of the first submissions were foods I had never even heard of which is so cool! I think the most different dish was a collection of Peruvian foods. I had to look them all up online to even understand what I was painting.
My two favorites from this project so far are the chocolate fudge cake and the double scoop ice cream cone. Not exactly exotic, but I love painting drippy-gooey things. This project has stretched me as an artist by encouraging me to be more open to collaboration. I’ve always been interested in collaborative/interactive projects, but it can be difficult to figure out how to put them into practice. This is yet another wonderful aspect of painting food – it’s a naturally relatable, approachable subject matter and meals are something that we usually share and come together over. So it’s a great fit for this kind of project.
Please tell us more about your love for pie ☺. Share a favorite pie memory!
Around age 12 or so, my love for baking grew out of a realization that if I baked it, I could lick the bowl with impunity. I also developed a strong preference for doing everything in the most tedious, labor intensive way possible so baking from scratch was quite appealing to me.
One day my father told me that a truly excellent baker could make a truly excellent pie, which was by his estimation the most difficult baked good in the world to make. (He must not have considered croissants and chiffon cake but we’ll leave that for another day.)
Naturally, I decided then and there that I had to make a truly excellent pie if it was the last thing I did. It took me about 5 years, but sometime around my junior year of high school one of my pies was pronounced a complete success (I think it was Apple-Peach-Raspberry). I’ve continued to enjoy baking, sharing and eating pies ever since and will go to great lengths for a good slice to this day. It’s my favorite dessert, hands down.
Was tickled to learn you like visiting bakeries. Where should I go the next time I’m in the Boston area? What treats should I definitely try?
Oh, wow – there are so many wonderful bakeries in Boston! If I had to pick just one, I’d say Flour Bakery. They have an incredible selection of pastries and baked goods, and I have never had a bad experience there. Some of my favorites are the Sugar Brioche, the Cornmeal Lime Cookie and the Blueberry Bread Pudding. Oddly enough, I haven’t had their pie because they don’t usually sell it by the slice. If you’re up for a drive outside of the city, Canto 6 in Jamaica Plain is incredible and A&J King in Salem is totally delicious.
Describe your studio. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?
We have a two bedroom condo, and I use one of the rooms for a studio. It has two big windows, a bed for our cat and even its own bathroom which is lovely because I tend to make a big mess in the sink where I wash my brushes. I have two desks set up in an “L”shape – one is a drafting table, the other a standard desk. I do most of my painting on the drafting table, but having the other desk next to me for my computer and overflow is perfect.
I’m not a naturally organized person, so it’s been important for me (especially since I started selling on Etsy) to set myself up with a lot of structure and organization systems. There are also pictures of my family, artwork made by others, and little interesting/funny objects. I usually listen to audiobooks while I work. I’ve been churning through a lot of sci-fi lately, and my favorite recent read is Among Others by Jo Walton. When I do listen to music, I like Sufjan Stevens, The Books and Sigur Røs.
How do you chart your growth as an artist? How do you define success?
Success to me is:
Listening/Looking – Keeping my eyes, ears and heart open
Moving/Learning – Taking the next faithful step even if I don’t know where it leads. Mastering new skills (artistic or otherwise)
Connecting/Trusting – Sharing what I make with others. Looking for opportunities to build relationship.
What do you like best about the creative life?
Some of my favorite elements (aside from the art-making) are the flexibility, the potential for growth/change and the ability to see a project through from inception to completion.
Any new projects you’re especially excited about?
Nothing especially different from what I’ve been doing. I’m producing a lot right now – one painting every other day or so – which is great! I’m hoping to keep that pace up, and also work on some of the portrait commissions that I have scheduled for the summer.
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♥ TRULY EXCELLENT APPLE-PEACH-RASPBERRY PIE (10-inch) ♥
Crust* (makes 2 crusts)
- 4 ice cubes
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cold, salted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon salt
Makes enough for the pie and a little extra for something else. I freeze my extra crumble uncooked in a ziploc baggie and use it to top muffins, bars and coffee cakes.
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, salted butter, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 scant cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup oats
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 large Granny Smith apples (or Cortland if they’re local and in-season)
- 6 yellow peaches
- 1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
- 1/4 cup salted butter, melted
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
1. Make the crust:
First, remember the 2 most important rules of making a delicious, flaky pie crust: #1 stop mixing before you think you are done; #2 keep everything cold.
To begin, place 4 ice cubes in a 1-cup measure and fill it with water. Set aside. Measure out the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Drop the cubes of cold butter into the flour-salt mixture and use the tips of your fingers to briskly break up the cubes of butter into smaller pieces. Aim for pieces about the size of large peas. This should take less than a minute or two to achieve.
Once you have the large-pea texture, you’re going to make “sheets” in the pie dough. To do this, grab a small handful of dough in your non-dominant hand and rest it on a flat palm over the bowl. Take your dominant hand and and swiftly run it down and over the dough, allowing the little flakes (“sheets”) formed by the motion to fall into the bowl. Grab another handful from a different part of the bowl and repeat the motion. You only want to go through the whole bowl one time, so I find it helpful to start on one side and work my way towards the other side. Again, this process should not take longer than a minute or two. Once you are done, the dough should look like a shaggy mess.
Remove the ice cubes from the water and pour out all but 1/2 cup of the water. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of water over the dough while briskly tossing with a fork or your fingers. Stop when the mixture just begins to come together. It should still look dry and crumbly. If it looks smooth and neat, you have probably over-worked it. Lay out two pieces of plastic wrap. Dump half of the dough onto one piece and half onto the other. As you wrap the dough, form circle. It should be about 3/4 inch thick. Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Dough will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or in the freezer for one month.
2. Make the Crumble:
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low with bursts of medium until a crumbly dough forms. Be careful not to over-mix. Set aside in the refrigerator.
3. Roll the crust:
Unwrap and lay the chilled dough circle on a floured surface. Using a rolling pin (I like the tapered french kind), roll out the dough to a 12-inch circle and transfer to your pie plate. Flute the edges, or press with a fork. Set the prepared crust aside in refrigerator.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
5. Prepare the filling:
Blanch the peaches to remove the skin (or use frozen peaches if you prefer). Slice and place in a large mixing bowl. Peel, core and chop the apples. Add to the bowl along with the raspberries, the lemon juice and the sugar. Melt the butter and add the cinnamon to the butter. Pour over the fruit and toss to combine. Add the flour and cornstarch. Toss to combine.
*Note: don’t skip the lemon juice! It helps to activate the pectin in the apples and gives more body to the filling which is important in a pie that included berries. Omitting this ingredient can lead to a watery filling.
6. Assemble the pie:
Pack the filling into the prepared crust (It may seem like too much, but it will bake down). Top with 2 cups of the crumble. I like to press it on a bit, especially if it’s a tall pie. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet (it often bubbles over while cooking) and into the preheated oven. Bake for 1 – 1.5 hours or until the filling is bubbling steadily and the crust and topping have browned.
7. Serve/bask in your glory
Let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. Pie is best if made one day ahead. Store loosely covered in the refrigerator, or better yet, in a cake carrier. This keeps the topping from getting soggy.
* Crust recipe adapted from The Village Baker’s Wife by Gail Ortiz
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♥ More Treats ♥
- Be sure to check out Kendyll’s blog. She regularly posts process pics of her illustrations and answers reader questions — a wonderful primer for aspiring illustrators.
- Watch this “Materials & Media” video for a detailed discussion of the products Kendyll uses in her work.
- Visit Kendyll’s Etsy Shop and enter the special Coupon Code PIELOVE at checkout for $5 off any $20 purchase!! Most of the food illos in this post are for sale, as well as some cool non-food objects (green sofa! Converse sneakers!). Now’s the time to get that special birthday, graduation, bridal shower, or “just because” gift for friends and family.
Thanks so much for visiting, Kendyll!
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This interview is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your aprons and bibs and come join the deliciousness.
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.