Artist profile: Michelle Wibowo, Michelle Sugar Art Ltd.
Michelle Wibowo, founder of Michelle Sugar Art Ltd, creates award-winning sugar and cake sculptures with incredible precision and realism. Michelle draws on her architectural training to hone her attention to detail in cake decorating, a talent that was recognised when she won both the 2008 and the 2012 Culinary Olympics in Germany, with gold and silver medals for her sugar and cake sculptures.
How would you describe what you do?
I am a food artist, so I create artwork using food; mainly sugar and other sweet stuff. A huge part of my work is to create massive scale projects for corporate clients as part of their public relations campaigns, but I also do exhibitions and teach courses in the UK and internationally for bakers who want to learn my secret techniques and get some useful tips on how to make lifelike cake sculptures.
What is your background?
I studied architecture and as soon as I graduated as an architect I continued my studies, but in baking science. I know it sounds bizarre, but I guess people do always come back to pursue their true passion and I have always loved to bake, ever since I was a little girl. I also love art; baking and art are my true passions, so I just put them together!
What made you first begin creating art using sugar and cakes?
Ever since I was little I have always loved making sculpture, painting and drawing, as well as baking, but in Indonesia, where I grew up, those subjects aren’t even considered as pursuable if you want to earn a living. So, I went to university to study architecture as I also love designing. When I came to England to study English, I saw the huge amount of diversity in the subjects you can study here – even baking – so I went to baking school in London to pursue my passion. While I was studying baking science, I realised that I could create almost anything out of sugar and chocolate, so I began experimenting using those mediums to create cakes with something different about them and that incorporated painting and sculpture, instead of just creating ordinary round cakes with flower decorations on the top.
What inspires you?
Nature and music are such a great inspiration for me as I love paying attention to fine details such as texture, colour and composition – the way everything is laid out and put together.
Do you have a favourite piece of work?
It’s hard to pick a favourite as each project has its own challenges. Even though most of my bigger projects are paintings, I also love creating sugar and cake sculptures of organic things, such as animals and humans.
What is the most difficult project you’ve undertaken?
Most of my projects are quite challenging as I always say yes to any project that really pushes my skills as a food artist; I am challenge driven! I love the process of problem solving too, so the more challenging the project, the better for me. I always learn something new every time I take on a project and I love that. Some of my craziest and most creative ideas have come from overcoming problems and I often say no to projects that I find boring.
What’s the longest amount of time a project has taken you? And the shortest?
I actually can’t remember which one has taken the longest, or the shortest amount of time as more often than not I like to take my time because I’m doing something I really enjoy. Of course, in most cases I have time pressure as we have a deadline to meet, but even with a really challenging project that should take one week to finish, I have to finish it in three days without any sleep!
Do you ever get the food artist equivalent of writer’s block?
Yes, sometimes, but it doesn’t take a long time for me to recover. Usually I struggle with that after taking a long holiday, which is funny, really.
Do you have a favourite confectionery or material that you like working with?
I love working with sugar in paste form as it’s pliable and can easily be used to sculpt, just like clay.
How do you balance your home life with the pressure of work deadlines?
I mostly work overtime; it’s never as simple as 9am-5pm, plus I’m a working mum. Whenever my little girl is at home, I always make time to be with her, so I work when she’s at school, and after she’s gone to bed at night. When I’m working on a big project I often work through the night, going to bed in the morning and waking up at 8pm when my ‘day’ starts again. I’m so lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband and we play the same, interchangeable role raising our daughter together. We support each other and are both committed to making time for our daughter and prioritising family time together too. It’s tiring, but it’s totally worth it because you can’t turn back that time.
Where can we see your work?
You can see my projects on my website www.MichelleSugarArt.co.uk, which include the world’s first edible billboard, made using 13,360 Mr Kipling cakes; a popart portrait of Beyonce made from 3,780 handmade Oreo pops (crushed Oreo biscuits mixed with cream cheese); and a six-metre long replica of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in cake sprinkles.
Michelle Sugar Art Ltd.