Norwich artist's picture perfect food
- Credit: Zoe Barker
A mouth-wateringly lovely encyclopaedia of 1,000 delicious things to eat has been illustrated by an artist with an appetite for Norfolk.
Few people visit Norwich Market to buy a single potato or a few grains of a very specific lentil, but Zoe Barker's singular purchases were essential professional ingredients.
She was working on a children’s book celebrating food in all its glory, from initial ingredients to finished meals, and every piece of fruit, slice of cheese, shape of pasta or noodle, every nut, seed and leaf, or pie or pudding, had to be drawn.
The result is a charming, colourful and comprehensive compendium of pictures and information called Feast Your Eyes on Food.
“For anything that was available I drew the items from life,” said Zoe. “I’d go to my local greengrocer or market and be buying one of each thing. I had to explain what I was working on and they got to know me from visiting them each week.
“Not many people go to them asking for one potato or one plum, or a tiny handful of a specific lentil. This became quite comical. It also reinforces why I love Norwich so much - you quite quickly get to know everyone. I love having a chat with the people on the market, the independent shopkeepers or the postman - it’s such an important way of feeling part of a community.”
“The book is aimed at children aged around nine-plus, but I think other age groups can enjoy it too. I love how Laura Gladwin has written it - she doesn’t shy away from talking about farming, food miles, over-fishing, or how we need to care for the planet with the food choices we make. I love books that don’t over-simplify things for children or fluff up important issues,” said Zoe.
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She even learned some food facts herself. “It’s targeted at a world-wide audience so some of the items I’d never even heard of before. Slightly embarrassing as a 36-year-old. My favourite fact was about durian fruit. ‘It’s so stinky that it’s not allowed in hotels or on public transport in Singapore!’
“This was such an enjoyable project for me, because I love food and cooking. My ultimate comfort food is a steamed sponge pudding with loads of custard. I also love Thai and Vietnamese food and trying food from other cultures. It feels like a little holiday!”
But Zoe, who grew up in Beccles, always returns to her beloved East Anglia. “I defy anyone who claims fish and chips are better anywhere other than Norfolk (or Suffolk - I still have loyalties). Especially when you can go for a lovely long walk somewhere beautiful like Wells-next-the-Sea, and finish it off with a bag of fish and chips with lots of vinegar. Even on a rainy day that’s got to lift anybody’s spirits.”
Zoe and her graphic designer husband share a studio in the Lanes. “Norwich has everything we love. The art school and university means it’s creative and full of life, there’s beautiful countryside nearby - I love running and cycling - and it’s so friendly and unpretentious. And we can get to beautiful beaches too.”
Zoe has worked for major national and international companies including Harrods, Cartier, Red Bull, Virgin Atlantic, The BBC, Liberty of London, The National Trust and Ralph Lauren and last year her work for Old Town clothes maker of Holt won a national prize and was long-listed for the World Illustration Awards.
She admitted a project focusing on food was not always easy. “Drawing a spread of waffles and pancakes in the hour before lunchtime is going to test anyone’s self-control!” she said.
Alongside the book, Magic Cat Publishing, has used Zoe’s drawings for a baking bingo board game. “Both the book and the game are intended to emphasise the joy we can get from food and eating together,” she said.
She loved illustrating Feast Your Eyes on Food but her absolute favourite subjects are buildings and people. “I love drawing streets like Elm Hill in Norwich - they transport you to another time,” said Zoe. “I’ve always been drawn to drawing shops, maybe because I come from a family of shopkeepers - my grandad was a watchmaker and my dad a clockmaker, and they had a shop in Beccles. I find something comforting about those local scenes. They’re full of nostalgia and warmth.”
Her latest projects include writing, and illustrating of course, her first children’s story. “It’s about my grandad, so I’m hoping I can do him justice,” she said.