By Ryah Cooley
With the aftermath of Valentine’s Day consisting of a heart shaped box filled with crumpled-up wrappers and half-eaten chocolates, it can be easy to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t eat my feelings,” or, “Perhaps food doesn’t equal love.”
Artist Kendyll Hillegas would object to the latter. About six years ago, the Boston-based creative was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, forcing her to quit her job working 70 hours a week and spend a lot of time recovering on the couch. So the former art major took to drawing something that always made her happy: food. Her first drawing was of a plum. Muses like Pop-Tarts and croissants followed.
“Food is such a shared, universal experience,” Hillegas said. “It’s something that was physical and concrete, but still approachable.”
Hillegas’ whimsical drawings of mouth-watering desserts like decadent chocolate cake and pink frosted cookies can currently be seen in the Sweet Art show on display at Studios on the Park, along with about 20 other artists’ works inspired by their appetite’s object of affection.
Hillegas started posting her food-inspired drawings on Tumblr and now works as a freelance designer for clients like Conde Nast and Real Simple, whipping up renditions of everything from sriracha hot sauce to her favorite food, pie (pumpkin or apple for Hillegas). Her process typically starts with a light pencil sketch to lay out proportions and composition, and then Hillegas uses some mix of watercolor, colored pencil, marker, wax pastels, and gouache to gradually build up color and detail. The result is a dreamy portrayal of a stack of jelly doughnuts with red jelly oozing out so thick, you have the urge to reach out and swipe a taste. A sprinkling of powdered sugar seems to pop off the page with an almost three-dimensional effect.
Initially, when Hillegas was sick, her diet had to fluctuate as doctors treated her. She couldn’t always just whip up a meal to serve for friends like before. But she still wanted to tap into that feeling of food being a way to connect and share love.
“I had always loved to cook,” she said. “Food made me happy. That’s the reason why it felt like a lifeline to me at that time. I felt really lonely and thought of food as that expression of love and community.”
Aside from its being delicious, what Hillegas really loves about her subject matter is the nostalgia factor, the inherent tie that food has to our memories of family and friends.
“If it can function as a window to a time or a memory, that’s always very satisfying,” Hillegas said. “But I also like it if people just look at a cupcake and it makes them happy.”
The icing on top
The Sweet Art show is on display at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles through Feb. 26. The gallery is open Monday through Wednesday from noon to 4 p.m., Thursday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. Visit studiosonthepark.org for more information. Check out kendyllhillegas.com for more of the artist’s work.
Ryah Cooley is baking English-style scones at email@example.com.