Her son threw down.
Phoenix artist Sandra Marshall accepted the challenge. A few years later, she has a three-book deal, a growing social-media fandom, a collection of remarkable food art photos and children who eat their veggies.
Marshall, 46, will talk about her first book, “One Hot Night at the Veggie Bar,” on Friday, Jan. 20 at her studio, Be an Artist.
When her son was about 7, he declared that he wouldn’t eat any of the vegetables on the counter. Looking at the pile in the light of a window, Marshall noticed they resembled an owl. She crafted the creature and showed her two kids. They were amused.
When they later asked the question every parent hears daily – “What’s for dinner?” – she told them “owl soup” and created a story around the owl art creation before chopping the vegetables for a savory broth.
A background in art
Marshall studied oils, pastels, acrylics, and mixed media at a private art institute in New York and later taught painting in Italy. She also worked on movie sets as a backdrop painter and set designer and studied photography.
She took the photos of her food art that she had been posting on Facebook to publisher Vesuvius Press, which wanted her to write three books, one of them for children.The first book features photos of her more adult creations — some of them are wink-wink racy — with a short story for each that is a play on words with the type of vegetables used in the artwork.
Question: How did your funky food art go from making family dinner more fun to a phenomena and book?
Answer: I started doing it every night and taking pictures of it and naming our dishes. More people would see the messages on Facebook, and were getting a kick out of it. Everybody said, “‘Publish, I want a book.’ After you hear it for the 100th time, you start to think there is an interest.”
Q: How did the storytelling enter into the food creations?
A: I would write poetry when I was little to get out of cleaning my room. My parents said if it was good enough, I could get the day off. As long as I was doing something creative, I got out of cleaning. So I’ve always told stories.
Q: Where do you get your ideas for the food art?
How food inspires her
A: A lot of it is very spontaneous. Someone gave me a gift of this European bread. I thought, this looks like Michelle Obama’s hair. So I made it and posted it as, “Breaking bread with Michelle.” It looks just like her.
Sometimes it comes from requests. One lady said her son would not eat any fruit. At all. I dedicated a wolf to him made of pancakes, and I had her buy blueberries and strawberries. He was so excited that I dedicated (the Facebook picture) of the wolf to him that she said, “Thank you so much. He loves fruit now.” … And this part is really interesting to me. I had a friend in college who said you could wake yourself up and remember your dreams. So I kept a notebook next to my bed. … All of my stories come in this twilight sleep. I will dream of something, go to the store and the whole creative process comes together.
Q: What has been the reaction to “One Hot Night at the Veggies Bar?”
A: Friends think it’s cool. At first, everyone just looks at it like a picture book. But after a while, they’ll mention the stories. With the play on words, they’re like a puzzle, and you can read them over and over again and find new things when you read them.
‘Everything is art to me, including dinner’
Q: How has your food art changed your relationship with food?
A: When you crack a vegetable open, it’s like a miracle every time. It’s a gift nobody sees anymore because we’re so used to it I guess. The fascinating thing to date for me is that if I buy a vegetable I’m not familiar with, I can go on the Internet and find so many different ways to prepare it, and it just keeps expanding.
Q: Your Phoenix art studio seems to keep you busy and is open to the public. What can people find there?
A: A few years ago, my husband and I opened the studio as an all-around arts center. We do performing arts, fine arts, painting classes, comedy nights, recitals and shows. Our idea was to see what the community wants and build it. Then I started doing these books and food art — everything is art to me, including dinner.