THE FOOD STYLIST AS THE MODERN ARTIST
ARTICLE BY ELIZA SOLOMON | FOOD AS ART ISSUE 2015
Come along as Eliza learns more about the art behind food styling from one of the best stylists in the field. Savor the beautiful images and find a new way to appreciate a culinary experience!
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“It is just a bowl of pears to somebody else, but to me, I am thinking of it as an art form.” – Lisa Homa
On the cold morning of December 5th, I met with Philadelphian food stylist, Lisa Homa. We discussed her job, the food industry, and the ever-growing obsession with food in our society. Lisa Homa is a food stylist with an interesting career past: she has a degree in photography and marketing as well as a diploma in the culinary arts. From an early age, Homa loved cooking, but just 15 years ago she decided to change careers to professionally pursue her culinary passions. At the time, she was Director of Pre-Press and Graphics for McGraw-Hill Companies. To start her transition, she took night classes at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (which is now known as the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC), and later got additional training at the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park, NY and Relais Il Falconiere in Cortona, Italy.
While at Peter Kump’s, Homa discovered food styling. Given her past experience with graphics, she thought the field could be a great new career path. Food styling would allow her to combine her love of cooking, color, art, and design. For five years, she worked as a personal assistant to Delores Castor, one of the most prominent food stylists in the country. The job also gave her professional connections to food companies like Hellman’s, leading to freelance writing jobs for Bon Appetit magazine down the road. After that experience, Homa’s career blossomed. Over the past 15 years she has styled food for many famous marketing campaigns, magazines, television shows, and even celebrity chef cookbooks, such as her most recent work on Marcus Samuelsson’s cookbook.
From Homa’s description of a typical day at work, it seems like her job as a food stylist is strikingly similar to that of an artist. While an artist uses a kit of brush and paints of all types to color a blank canvas, Homa “paints” on porcelain plates as her canvas. A basket of edible ingredient are her colors and many types of “paintbrushes” improve the visual quality of her “colors,” like a pair of tweezers, a spoon, and a knife, for placing food, plus a Q-tip to fix up any imperfections and a little water spritzer to make lettuce leaves “look lively.” She also uses a food paint brush to literally brush meat with oil, giving it a “fresh off the grill” look. Homa says she only uses oil or water on the plate, since she aims to “keep it so everything is still edible.”
But her work involves more than merely putting “paint to canvas;” a food stylist is responsible for finding the best ingredients and preparing them perfectly. Homa explained that, “food stylists bring the food, cook the food, and plate the food to be photographed.” While working on a recent ad for Country Crock Butter, she realized just how meticulous a food stylist must be to achieve the perfect look that the company wants. Homa said that, “getting the perfect natural shmeer that they wanted was like 20 pieces of toast later and all different shapes of shmeers. That was a day.” Homa had to hand-pipe the butter into the tub, making sure that the butter didn’t show too much of a swirl.
Homa feels that her job is comparable to that of a painter’s, explaining that she puts a lot of artistic thought into her creations. The light, shapes, textures, shadows, and colors of the food on the plate are all taken into consideration before a final image is achieved and the photo is taken. Homa says she views each dish as “almost a small sculpture.” Though her plates of food may not last as long as a sculptor’s stone or marble creations, Homa explains that it does not discredit the artistic qualities of her job. Though her work “is not long lasting, not all art forms are long-lasting.”
When asked about her favorite project, she cited the fruit bowl piece she chose as the opening photo on her website, shown below. Homa says her inspiration came from a “painterly,” artistic place. She says she was “influenced by the early Dutch still life painters.” For her, the imperfection of a simple fruit bowl “is beautiful, elegant and sensual, just the way these shapes stand together.” Homa’s analysis of her still-life photo reminds me of a perspective similar to that of a sculptor, a painter, or even a poet.
As a home cook, I love to journal and snap pictures of my creations but I am nowhere close to Homa’s skill level. I asked Homa what she thought about the amateur food styling work being done by the recent surge of food bloggers and Instagrammers. She was reserved on the topic, saying “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that people are considering themselves as food stylists without real training. Everybody can take a picture, but still I think there are probably only a handful of people that can do it professionally.”
But Homa quickly added a note of encouragement, urging amateur food stylist to pursue their passions. She said she thinks “it’s great that people have taken more interest in food, and more people want to cook and are interested in eating a higher quality of food.” She encourages us amateur food stylists, saying that “….everyone is a food stylist, everybody is a cook. She loves that technology allows food to be “truly appreciated in all its forms, flavors and shapes.” Now that we have the encouragement of a professional food stylist, let’s all remember to eat not only with our mouths but with our eyes too.