I was doing my usual lurking at the lively Global Malaysian Makan Minum Network FB Group when a photo stopped me short in my e-tracks.
“What a gorgeous looking bowl of hokkien mee!” I thought.
My mouth watered at the sight of succulent prawns swimming in an appetizing bowl of noodle soup topped with a seductive film of fiery prawn oil.
Then I scrolled down further and read the comments.
The bowl of noodles was a PAINTING.
A painting which looked so incredibly lifelike that many others, like me, had mistaken it for real food as well. The artist’s work has generated tremendous response in the FB group, eliciting hundreds of Likes and Shares every time she posted a photo of her latest illustration.
Who’s the artist creating food paintings that look good enough to eat?
Her name is Laura Raymond Boin. The eldest of six siblings, she was born in Kota Kinabalu and is married to a Penang boy. Previously a quality engineer, Laura is now a full-time homemaker with two sons, aged 14 and 10. She lived mostly in Penang but also in Korea and Japan due to her husband’s job.
Laura comes from an artistic family: her father drew and painted as a hobby and her youngest sister is a freelance artist doing mostly portraits. While Laura shared this creative streak, she didn’t really develop it since high school in order to focus on studies, work, and then family. She says, “You kinda always think of art as something that only certain people are capable of doing and if you do, it’s a struggle to pay the bills. At least that was the assumption.”
The idea of revisiting her artistic passion through food paintings came to Laura during the COVID19 pandemic. “We had gone on a long walk as we had avoided the subway due to the pandemic,” she explains. “The next day, my legs were so sore that all I wanted to do was sit down. That’s when I picked up a pencil and followed a Youtube video on how to draw a 3D looking water droplet. Looking at the finished result, I thought, ‘This doesn’t look bad!’”
Laura immediately placed an order for watercolour pencils. When they arrived, she started experimenting with drawing a cupcake and eventually ended up drawing a bowl of hokkien mee.
Explaining why she chose to draw food, Laura says, “A while ago, I watched Flavors of Youth, a Netflix anime show that explores the simple joys of life through sensual memories. One scene depicted animated noodles that looked really appetizing and I identified strongly with the theme of having food as part of your memory. That’s when I realized even animated food could look scrumptious and evoke nostalgia.
“When I posted it to my Facebook, the strong reaction encouraged me to challenge myself to do more Malaysian food illustrations.”
Let’s get to know Laura, in her own words.
You clearly have a strong artistic and creative streak. According to your website, you were even a portraiture photographer at one point! How did that happen?
One of my passions growing up was photography. I began to pursue this seriously in Busan when my husband was posted there between 2012-2017. My initial motivation was to go into serious portraiture photography without relying on my family as my only published works. What came next was a bonus. My clients were mostly English speaking clients who either lived in or visited Busan. I also did some interior photography for hotels which I also came to enjoy.
You didn’t have the luxury of focussing on your art until later in adulthood. What motivated you to get back into the groove?
Some years back, my ‘re-entry’ to art began when I tried adult colouring book and then paint-by-number kits. I enjoyed the process of colouring and blending but it felt very taxing to finish a page so I never did. I was busy working again when I was in Penang, dealing with work and children’s school but at the most stressful times, I enjoyed watercolour videos on Youtube. They felt very relaxing and I kept that vision of doing it myself.
Finally when we moved to Tokyo I had plans for my post working life, and that was to go back to portrait photography. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened and all things related to tourism had halted, including tour photography.
I found myself stuck sitting beside my 4th grade son to make sure he does his home learning. If I left his side, he would lose focus and doesn’t get his work done until late into the night. So, apart from scrolling Facebook, I had to do something else to make my time worthwhile.
Sounds like a dilemma that every mother is struggling with during the COVID19 pandemic. Most people who have seen your art would agree your time was worthwhile though, because your paintings are so lifelike! Please give us a little insight into your art creation process.
First I choose a reference photo either from internet or my own photos. I have asked friends to send me pictures too. Then I would sketch the food in pencil. Next, I would start colouring with watercolours by choosing or mixing (if the colour needs tweaking) the base colour and tone of the different areas. With watercolours, you need to start light and build up to the darker colours. I will avoid colouring highlighted areas. Once I have laid down the first layer by making sure the colours are near to the reference photos – which I print out – I continue adding on details.
“Every step takes patience and they don’t look like anything in the beginning but as it progresses I can see it coming to life.”
The final touch up is done with colour pencils and highlight pen. Not forgetting shadows too, it’s an important part of making it look realistic. I add seemingly unimportant details as that’s how they could look realistic. Real food is not perfect. I think my experience as a photographer also helped in understanding colour saturation, temperature, hue and brightness. Every decision I’m making is based on that and if I make a mistake I can step back and see how I can correct it. I also take multiple photos during painting so I can see how it looks like after each application.
My first few works took me 2-3 days as I did them on top of daily chores, cooking and homeschooling. I hope to improve my time as my skills improve. Drawing realistically is challenging but I try my best to make every piece of work fun and enjoyable by everyone.
Posting your art on a global network with thousands of members is really brave. What motivated you to share your art with a bigger audience?
I actually just wanted to share with everyone how I miss Malaysian food during this pandemic. Instead of cooking food, I drew it! I didn’t expect members to have such a positive reaction and that gave me encouragement to create more Malaysian food drawings. I feel good to share my art vision with global Malaysians. Malaysian food never fails to invoke nostalgia of life back in Malaysia.
“Every overseas Malaysian has their own food that has the power to bring them ‘back home’.”
There are even fans calling on you to set up an Etsy account so that they can support your art. What’s your end game – do you have any plans to sell your artwork in future?
Actually I’ve been loving wall art more as I get older, but I can’t afford original art. By painting for myself, I can have my own wall art for my home, made by my own hands. But because I enjoy them, I’m hoping that other people can see my vision too. Some people have encouraged me to share my art by selling prints and that is going to keep me busy for a while, which is good.
I’ve always wanted to work from home, and this could be the way. I am currently growing my portfolio and my food illustrations Instagram. It’s all very new so I can’t maintain an Etsy account yet but I have opened an account with www.artpal.com where I uploaded some of my works for people to order (Artpal prints and ships to any country).
Although I would love to print them myself and ship them as a personal touch, printing can be more costly in Japan. I want to keep it cost-effective for Malaysians who are around the globe to have them. Furthermore, I’m still in my refining period where I spend the bulk of my time creating, so I watch Youtube and Skillshare videos to sharpen my skill.
I would love to diversify to other kinds of prints in the future like tote bags and calendars. I also hope to work with food brands that are open to using illustrations instead of food photography alone.
We wish you all the best Laura, and can’t wait to see more of your works! Do check out Laura’s work at: