How to Quit Your Job and Take Pictures of Food for a Living
Ida Skivenes's road to Instagram stardom.
Ida Skivenes has one of those jobs it's easy for someone who punches a clock and has to show up to a cubicle every day to regard with a bit of professional envy.
In her own words, Skivenes gives her job description as "playing with food." In actual fact, this mother and resident of Oslo makes her living manipulating ingredients, colors and textures into sumptuous visual delights—food art, which she's occasionally paid by brands to produce, but which her nearly 280,000 Instagram followers get a kick out of for free.
Those followers are treated to a menagerie of everything from rocket ships blasting into space to birds happily perched on tree branches. Some of it's as simple as a piece of toast that's given two eyes and with peppers placed side-by-side to form a droopy moustache. There are representations of characters from the hit smartphone game Monument Valley; icing delicately layered into the form of the Eiffel Tower; snowmen; ghosts. You almost expect some of it to jerk to life Wes Anderson stop-motion style, such is the time Ida has spent creating little characters and personalities.
She's especially proud of the famous artworks she's recreated on pieces of toast, works like Magritte's Son of Man—the famous image of a guy in a bowler hat whose face is obscured by a green apple. When Ida's watch broke and she got her hands on a new Daniel Wellington timepiece, she found herself inspired to make a cherry rose smoothie bowl with an almond dial that mirrors a watch face.
All of which is to say, her work makes hers an interesting and unusual life. There's also plenty about it that's prosaic. The daily grind, for her, is an accumulation of projects, of kitchen experiments to figure out what works and what looks attractive, of deploying her talents as a photographer, and managing her email.
"Still," she muses, "it's quite nice to make your hobby into your work."
She means that literally. She left her job in 2013 at the official bureau of statistics in Norway—called Statistics Norway—to pursue food art full-time. It had actually been the culmination of a few things.
She'd always been something of a hobbyist photographer, so in her free time back then she started getting hooked on Instagram. "As a way of getting back into photography and as a way to share my daily life, more or less."
She remembers coming across food art online with increasing regularity. Part of her, she says half-jokingly, just wanted someone to serve her a breakfast that looked like that, like a painting come to life. So one morning she decided to try out for herself some of the things she was noticing online—how you could dress up food and make it look, well, fun. She thought her first forays didn't look terrible, so she posted a few creations to Instagram.
She got better and started experimenting more. "I kept at it, making food art every morning, before I went to my job at the statistics bureau. And it started to become popular. I got recommended by Instagram themselves, which gave me a lot of new followers, and exposure in media both in Norway and internationally."
She started to get requests to do projects, to write columns and eventually write a book. In 2013, she published "Eat Your Art Out: Playful Breakfasts by Idafrosk." @Idafrosk is her Instagram account handle and, as she puts it, "my alter ego."
It eventually got hard to juggle all that and still show up for her day job regularly. So in 2013 she left the 9-to-5 and started doing food art full time.
It's hard to not imagine that Ida's enthusiasm for art and beauty wasn't informed partly by growing up on a farm near the fjords and mountains of western Norway. She lived there until high school. It's the kind of place that looks, she says, like a postcard.
"I'm not good at sketching, so I don't make any sort of concrete plans beforehand," she says about her creations. "So a lot of the food art happens though improvisation while I'm making it."
She's inspired today by everything from the shapes of ingredients to modern art to other food art she encounters online. She believes food should be "fun, colorful and creative." And that belief has taken her from being Ida, a statistician working at an office in Norway to Ida, an artist who takes pictures of food she's played around with and who's been written up by major publications, given speeches and appeared on TV.
One of the things she's learned? Perfection and verisimilitude shouldn't be the goal for something like this. She's not shooting for hyper-realism with her art, and that imperfection is part of what she thinks attracts people to her. It's the idea that this is all approachable stuff, that you can do it and make it too.
She approaches food, the way she approaches life in general: Believing that with a lack of pretension, an appreciation for beauty and a playful disposition, you almost always end up with something wonderful.