Helena Milsom

September 11th, 2019 in
Illustration & Art

Alexa, illustrate my cake (and Photoshop out the soggy bottom...)

Summer is nearly out, which means we can hide away the fan we bought in a panic sweat mid-heatwave and relax inside guilt free as The Great British Bake Off hits our screens once again for its 10thseries. If you've not heard of Bake Off or (ex-judge) Mary Berry, you're missing out on arguably the most quintessentially British TV show to ever grace our screens. It wouldn't be a stretch to label it the friendliest amateur baking competition ever aired with the contestants all selflessly helping each other in between making jokes, drinking tea and trying to ignore Paul Hollywood hovering over their shoulders like some judgemental bat whose biggest fear is a bad loaf of bread. But despite the sometimes-tense atmosphere and cakes that collapse, crack and concave, the shows good natured vibe prevails and has made it one of the most popular British TV shows of all time.

So what's new for 2019? From Illustrations on Wacom tablets to Amazon's Alexa dishing out recipes in the ad breaks, it's more on trend than ever before, and with it being the biggest series for 16-34 year olds on any channel, it's no surprise that this year is also hosting the youngest line-up the show has ever seen. But not everything has changed as the format remains the same, the infamous Bake Off tent is still pitched up over Summer at Welford Park in Berkshire and Love Productions have kept the same resident illustrator since the show began in 2010 despite the change of judges and presenters after the infamous Channel 4 switch. So lets take a look at what makes the show great behind the scenes and how an unknown illustrator from Wales helped to define the beloved show that has brought us such wonderful British bakes.


The Great British Illustrator

This man is Tom Hovey, a Welsh born and Bristol based Illustrator who creates the weird and wonderful drawings of the baker's creations that have become an integral part of the shows aesthetic. His colourful illustrations give the viewer a peek at the bakers' innovative designs, even when the bakes go wrong (see 'Bingate' for some quality cake-drama) the baker's original concepts and plans are taken by Tom to create a finished piece that is shown on screen. Otherwise, the bakers still-standing creations are photographed from several angles by a member of the production team and are sent to Tom so he can create an illustration that best shows off the bake.

So how does he create these quirky pieces? Well in an interview with Lecture in Progress he describes going fully digital in 2016 with just the pencil roughs done by hand. However it seems he began in his earlier illustrations by hand drawing the whole bake, and only colouring in Photoshop at the end. But as any illustrator will know, hand drawing can become very time-consuming and with the huge amount of bakes each season (He has done an estimated 3000 including all the spin offs) and the sometimes incredibly elaborate creations from the bakers, it isn't always easy.

In fact the tablet he now uses is a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 with a stylus which he praises as affording him 'more concise work and colouring' which is only a plus for viewers who have come to love his style. It is one of the high-end (and higher priced) models from Wacom and is specifically built for creatives, with a desk-sized screen that is perfect for creating the detail of complicated cakes and biscuits and really bringing them to life.

His style retains it's hand-drawn feel despite the switch to digital, and is distinctive and unique to himself and the show. He uses bold black lines to create the outlines and detail, and bright colours and soft shading for a 3D look that jumps off the page. His handwritten font with cake names and ingredients has also remained consistent since 2010, and he inserts these and the arrows himself before he sends it off to make the final cut in the show. But it's not only the show that has benefitted from this quirky addition, he sells prints on his website of particularly spectacular bakes he has illustrated, perfect to hang up in your kitchen if you're lacking some inspiration in your baking life (or just to show your appreciation for such madness as a lion's face made out of bread).


The Great British Sponsor Off

It's not only the drawing that's gone digital for 2019, this year's sponsor is Amazon who paid £5 million for the deal and who is using the show to plug its Echo speakers and promote using glamourous virtual assistant Alexa for no hands recipe searching. This is a step away from last years sponsors Dr Oetker and Lyle's Golden Syrup (who at least make products you could put in a cake) and who shared the spot for £2 million each in a bargain deal brokered after there was no bidding war for the contract from advertisers.

But the viewers still came, even after concerns that the loss of British baking Queen Mary Berry would leave the show floundering (there were still fewer of them with the 2016 BBC final attracting 14 million viewers and the 2018 Channel 4 equivalent only reaching 7.5 million). However the most attractive part of the show to advertisers, apart from the slow shots of cakes that make you drool, is the younger audience which Dr Oetker and Lyle's Golden Syrup both struggled to previously reach, and who Amazon is always trying to get to.

However, Amazon isn't the only digital giant interested in the show, Netflix was rumoured to have been interested after the BBC contract ended but lost out to free-to-air Channel 4. Nevertheless, Netflix doesn't tend to relent and as a result this season every episode that is aired on a Tuesday night in the UK will be put on Netflix on the Friday for viewers abroad to keep up in (almost) real-time. So as long as you have Wifi don't fear, your late summer holiday won't be lacking cracking bakes, contestant meltdowns and Paul Hollywood's never-ending stare.


A Rise in Sales

Bake Off isn't only to thank for its service in providing delicious food for us to fantasise over on a Tuesday evening, but has also been credited for a rise in home-baking across the UK. This also has an effect on the supermarkets, for example Waitrose has recently seen a year-on-year drop in sales across all its sectors which it has attributed to 'mixed weather', yet ahead of the first episode of Bake Off its baking products were up 9%, which presumably isn't linked to the recent hot weather which makes us more likely to throw the oven out than turn it on.

But it isn't only the lucky family and friends of talented amateur bakers who have sampled more baking goods thanks to Bake Off, according to a YouGov survey for the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) nearly a fifth (19%) of 16 to 34 year olds said that the show had inspired them to get involved in charity bake sale fundraising, so it seems Bake Off's positive approach is spreading even further than just our living rooms. 

So with a new series that is more millennial-focused than ever before whilst still retaining the illustrations and attitude that first made bake-off great (albeit with a Noel Fielding twist that still feels at odds with the British fete vibe) it remains to be seen if this year can pull in more younger viewers than ever before. With broadcasting on Netflix and a push from Amazon it's set to be popping up on our screens more and more, so if you're not already watching, you might not be able to say the same in a few weeks. If it's the baking, the illustrations or just the good-natured Britishness of it all, it's universal appeal will be hard to ruin even with Channel 4's dreaded ad breaks, so we may as well just sit back, have our homemade cake and eat it.  

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