Bringing food and ingredients to life takes on so many forms, whether through cooking, through writing or through illustration it is essential to treat the food with integrity, to give it a purpose. A couple of years ago for the sadly defunct ‘Food Niche Collective’ site we asked Anna Koska to give us an insight into the passion and drive behind her illustration. Looking at the little turnip illustration that hangs on my kitchen wall that she sent after the article was published I decided it was a shame it was lost, so am grateful to Anna for letting me republish with some updated illustrations.
What was the main reason for you focussing on food illustration?
A long while back when I decided to set out as an illustrator, I realised I’d need to find out what publishers were looking for, what was needed and wanted from an illustrator. I raided the local library, listed styles of illustration and publishers who I thought I’d like to work for. On calling in at some of these publishers, a few took pity on me and agreed to have a look through my portfolio.
Their advice was very clear, I would do well to find a niche market, build and establish it. Most importantly it would have to be one that I felt passionate about.
I knew immediately this had to be food in all it’s glorious anatomy of colour, texture and mood. This passion for food.. particularly in it’s raw state, stems from my very rural and basic upbringing on the north coast of Cornwall. With barely enough money to buy the next pair of school shoes, my parents were (still are) incredibly resourceful and creative souls. We grew, reared and foraged for everything that would end up on the plate. I can remember marvelling at the quills of a goose as my numbed fingers plucked at the tough feathers. Cleaning mussels fresh from the beach is another strong memory.. jeans still wet where the wave went over the boot as I scrabbled over the rocks. I was stunned at discovering tiny seed pearls nestled in the milky flesh of those unhealthy ones that remained open. Just describing these images to you, I can now smell the intoxicatingly raw and rich scents of those moments. At the heart of all my illustrations is that need to convey the fresh, living quality of each subject. To evoke the smell and sense of it for the viewer.
Who have you worked with?
As an illustrator it’s quite rare that you get to meet the authors for whom you illustrate, such is the structure of the publishing world. However, there have been a memorable few, which would include Pat Chapman (a man merrily obsessed with his cause), Gary Rhodes, Sophie Grigson and her then husband William Black. There are many other food authors that I would give my eye teeth to work with.. those would be the ones that have that tangible passion for their work; they write like they talk, and they talk with a great zestful spiritedness about their food.
How do you approach an illustration, do you look to bring the subject back to life or show as is?
It’s usually very much guided by the brief, but whatever the illustration maybe, my aim is always to make the subject look fresh, just placed there, and, yes, it has to have a heart beat! Even if it’s an onion!
What are your favourite subjects to illustrate?
Oh my goodness! Where to begin, Where to end?
It would have to start with my vegetable garden.. anything freshly pulled or plucked , earthworms and all, anything! I Love Ruby Chard, Onions, radishes, peppers.
All fruit is beautiful to illustrate; the lush sheen of a plum, the dappled texture of an apple skin, the sensual centre of a ripened fig.
Fish will always be a beloved favourite. It never ceases to amaze me that some people STILL have no idea how arrestingly beautiful these creatures can be. Even the ugly ones! An octopus would a perfect example of ugly beautiful.
Anything else that you feel is relevant to what you do.
With all my work there seems to be a personal involvement. I’ve usually handled, prepared or tasted that which I’ve illustrated. It helps me to fully appreciate what I’m about to portray. The aim with every illustration is to evoke a sense of excitement in the viewer, a love of food from the moment it’s picked right through to the finished dish.
With that in mind i’ve found myself in all sorts of places, meeting some lovely enthusiastic souls. I love my job!
Some silly facts..
I’ve never tried oysters
I’m pretty obsessed with cycling
I would like to work as a newsreader on radio 4
I use my kite buggy to get down to the vegetable garden
I’m rubbish at painting flowers!
Anna started out simply doodling….on anything and everything. Brought up on the North coast of Cornwall by parents who liked to grow and rear their own food, she found that most things she thought beautiful were either to be found in the sea, on the beach or growing in the soil. Since starting to take the doodling seriously she has illustrated over 100 books to date, working with some wonderful chefs and writers and thoroughly enjoying the process. She is regularly commissioned to create canvases for restaurants, interior designers and private collectors alike.
All images copyright of Anna Koska and used by kind permission