Fancy eating a realistic chocolate heart..or toad?
- Credit: Archant
Food artist Sarah Hardy's carving out a tasty name for herself.
Norwich-trained artist Sarah Hardy (who now lives on the Suffolk/Essex border) combines the gruesome, the natural and the historic to create pieces of hyper-realistic art. Charlotte Smith-Jarvis visited Sarah in her studio to find out more?
Q: So you started out as a traditional artist. What's your background?
A: I grew up in an antiques business and there was a fork in the road where I was potentially going to do antiques restoration…but I wanted to get out. I was living in a village in the middle of the Suffolk countryside and I fled to art college in Norwich originally then to London. But I came back and finished my degree in Norwich because I didn't like London at the time, to be honest.
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I studied sculpture – quite a formalised type of sculpture and from there became an exhibiting artist while also working in waxwork figures. I ended up making lots of waxwork heads for museums – and they were highly realistic. I was inserting eyelashes and eyebrows. We still have a couple in the kitchen staring at us every day! That job meant a lot of travelling around. I didn't know where I was half the time and it was having children that stopped me. I remember clinging to a tree with morning sickness one morning saying 'I can't do this anymore!'.
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Q: How did you transition into food art?
A: After going back to drawing after having my children I started making cakes for my kids. That was great fun! One I did for my son was a sugar castle and they smashed the walls down with gobstoppers flung at it from a Playmobil cannon. I was spending a lot time on them and set this ridiculous bar that I had to get better and better each year. That led to the obvious thing of people saying I should do cakes for a living.
I had a period where I made wedding cakes, working out what was fashionable and making that. But there was a glitch where I realised it wasn't my own style so I started doing slightly odder things. The real turning point was a competition at a cake and bake show at Olympia in London. I had to go into the professional section, which I didn't feel comfortable doing as I'd only just starting making them six months before. The theme was seaside so I did probably the world's ugliest cake. It really was!
It had a crab on top reaching out at you, with seaweed and limpets and barnacles. It was muddy and green and slimy in places. I looked at everyone else's and just scarpered. Other people had done things like a figure on a striped towel on the beach or fish and chips. But I came back at the end and had won it. I was really gobsmacked and confused but, again, I thought it had been a mistake. I got a call from one of the judges saying there'd been a real falling out. Some of them loved it, some hated it. That's what made me think there could be something in this.
Q: Where did you go from there?
A: I was invited by one of the judges to do an extreme cake show and made a whole bunch of things including a cupcake covered in ulcerated wounds being cleaned by maggots. They sold out within an hour and I had to keep making more. That was a game changer. There was an audience. I just had to find the kooky people. The people who don't buy Hallmark cards.
I got a commission to do a cake for Mick Jagger's daughter who was having a really cool birthday party for her 21st. It was working with a big party design company and we got this magician's table with a sling underneath and an actress to lay in it. We made a cake that looked like her ripped up torso with blood, and bones and guts. It looked like a zombie in a mortuary on a table and when you cut with a knife her hand leapt up and grabbed you. At first you'd be convinced it was a person, then a cake, then you cut it and it was alive! That was great fun.
Q: You've done lots of cool promotional products too haven't you?
A: Oh yes. I started doing stunts with food. One I really loved was making bento boxes for Sega when they were launching their Alien computer game. I got to do the Chestbuster. It's little head was made of quails eggs with teeth cut in, and its body curling round was baby sweetcorn and there was ham in the middle with ketchup coming out. That was really fun.
I get odd ones – like being asked to make a chocolate tree for the middle of Covent Garden in August. I've got a great inbox. There've been requests to make portraits out of tennis players in strawberries and cream, DJs out for fruit and vegetables for Gregg's, and portraits of famous people from a borough in London on popcorn for the Odean which was impossible.
One of the best I did was a 6ft Hell Kitty. It was her birthday and Hamley's were doing this big party. We had a brief chat and there was quite a tight deadline but I managed to make and deliver it. I got a call afterwards saying they couldn't cut it because you can't stick a knife in Hello Kitty in front of 100 children.
Q: When did you transition to chocolate?
A: It was a little bit to do with making the white chocolate vertebrae for Mick Jagger's cake. I realised if I'd made a mould I could have created loads more at the drop of a hat. At the time I carved them or used a disposable mould. Having come from a background of sculpture and using moulds for wax heads I realised there was no point doing one-offs so I started making the moulds and it's been fantastic. I get people emailing saying they've proposed with one of my chocolate hearts. And a few weeks ago someone said they were being donated a kidney and asked if I could make a chocolate kidney to return to the donor. I love those stories.
Q: Tell us about your regular collections
A: They are collector boxes of chocolate fossils and British birds eggs and from that we also do smaller boxes that fit through letterboxes, and larger, 'hero' items – brains, hearts, T Rex teeth, natterjack toads, starfish.
Q: How important to you is it that your work is realistic?
A: Very. There are other companies that make objects out of chocolate but they tend to be bog standard for kids in plastic trays or focus on stereotypes – tools for men, sewing kits for women. Because I'm a sculptor I can make something realistic and I suppose the original idea was that I couldn't afford the fossils I wanted – but I could make them cheaply out of chocolate. They had to be so realistic they could sit in the Natural History Museum and be mistaken for the real thing. That goes back to my career in waxworks. Each piece has a jolt of 'is it real or not'.
Q: What's your favourite piece?
A: The Guillemot eggs. They sit on rocks covered in poo, so the shape has to sit high enough so the bird's beak doesn't get covered in it! They're made of thick, hollow chocolate. I feel it should be satisfying amounts of chocolate. I also make blackbird, song bird and thrush eggs. I went for a eggs of a variety of shapes to get a real contrast. The idea is you've got the chance to enjoy them and look at them. I know a lot of people keep them and don't eat them.
Q: Tell me about one of your most interesting projects.
A: I talked to these archaeologists. These guys go on digs and fund themselves with Crowdfunding and sell spaces. They were over at Lindisfarne, a very romantic place, and they dug up this artefact with a new Anglo-Saxon name on it that's never been seen before. I replicated it in chocolate for them and they sell those to fund new digs. I've also been asked recently to make a city scene out of tacos!
Q: What's the most visually arresting thing you've made from food?
A: When I was doing cake work I was asked to make a cake that looked like a raw turkey in the silver tray ready for the oven. It was lightly glazed in a bloody syrup and had blue veins under the skin. When the photo was shared it went bonkers.
Q: What's next?
A: The next thing I'd love to do is, because I grew up with Sutton Hoo as a primary school project, I want to make some of the items from chocolate – perhaps the belt buckle or something.
See more of Sarah's projects at sarahhardy.co.uk and buy her chocolate collections at ediblemuseum.com