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It all started as a joke, but Gretchen Röehrs quickly conquered Instagram with her doodled women dressed in fruits and veggies. She surely knows how to play with our mind. On her illustrations we can find food and fashion for all tastes: from dresses made of mussels to others made of coffee beans, to the most fashionable banana jumpsuit and a tomato handbag, there’s even a girl squad dressed in mushrooms. 

In her recently released book, Edible Ensembles, these colourful illustrations appear satisfyingly arranged in a rainbow. While her illustrations are fun, quirky, and very successful, she still prefers to paint. And jokes aside, her paintings feel like real poetry. Today, meet the San Francisco-based artist whose work will leave you craving for more (and for a little snack, too).
Who is Gretchen Röehrs? Tell us a bit about you and how you started illustrating and painting.
An artistic slant has always been in my blood – I recall communicating with pictures rather than words for as long as my parents could tolerate. Illustrating became a way to joke, and painting is a way for me to be tender and poetic.
You’ve studied Fashion Design and have worked in the fashion industry in New York City. How did your studies and early career help you develop your own artistic style and technique?
Fashion design schools instil in you a deep understanding of the human form, and that’s stayed with me. Understanding how people look and move, and how they want to look and move, has helped me create images with a fantastical touch.
How did you come up with the idea of turning food into clothes? And how did these doodles develop till today?
They all began as a joke! Really, I drew around some food as a taunt to a friend and texted them. I uploaded a few to Instagram and it really took off from there.
Could you tell us about the process of creating them? Do you go to grocery stores and markets regularly, seeking the most stylish fruits and vegetables? And what do you do afterwards? How long does it take for you to create one illustration?
The farmers market in San Francisco gives me access to some really amazing produce, both in looks and taste. I’m typically inspired by a particularly flamboyant piece of produce. I place it on a sketch pad, draw a few lines, and snap a picture with my iPhone. Occasionally, I’ll clean up some shadows in Photoshop. It’s all very quick.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when creating new pieces? Are there some fashion designers that especially admire? Or other artists?
Sometimes I’m inspired by a new collection or a magazine spread, but usually, I’m taking an object that reminds me of a really classic shape – something everyone has seen before. I’m still inspired by Irving Penn’s still lives, though.
Are you actually passionate about food and cooking? Or you just love playing with it for your art? What’s your favourite food and favourite place to eat?
Yes! I love to cook, though I am not the best at it. It is a fun way to express myself off of paper. My favourite food is eggplant right now, it’s so weird. My favourite place to eat is Tosca, in San Francisco.
And what’s your favourite food to play with? And the messiest one you’ve used till today?
The banana was the most fun to play with, and the messiest was definitely the uni.
You’ve just released a book, Edible Ensembles: A Fashion Feast for the Eyes, From Banana Peel Jumpsuits to Kale Frocks, published by Rizzoli. What can we find in it that we can’t find on your webpage or Instagram profile? Where does this book belong: in the kitchen, on the living room shelves or on coffee tables?
There are lots of new drawings mixed with some that have appeared on my Instagram. It’s arranged in a rainbow, which is a very satisfying way to consume these illustrations. I’d keep it anywhere you need a little snack.
Having worked with clients like Marc Jacobs and Chantal Guillon, I wonder what was the highlight of your career till today? What was the funniest commission to work on?
Working on a big piece for The New York Times was both the highlight of my career and the funniest commission – I mean, I drew a Weiner dog carrying a sausage.
What are the parallels between food and fashion? Do you know other artists that mix both of these fields that you admire and could recommend us?
It’s all a matter of taste. Both fields are ripe for creativity on a daily basis: what you wear, what you eat, it’s all a way to express oneself.
I believe that, in a way, these Edibles have changed your life since you have now more than eighty thousand followers on Instagram. The fact that your audience has grown drastically has changed the way you work? Is Instagram part of your work routine now? I was wondering if you feel pressured to post regularly and, if so, how do you deal with that?
It’s focused me on this series more than I would have ever done, but I never try to post for the sake of posting. It has to be fun or I won’t do it.
What are, in your opinion, the pros and cons of social media (for an artist)?
The pros are being able to share your work instantly with the world, for free. The con is feeling like you need to compete with other artists; we should view it as a community with infinite possibilities.
Besides illustrating, you also paint with oil. While your illustrations are fun and bold, I find your paintings to be soft and dreamy, yet so elegant. I personally love them. How differently do you approach the two techniques? Which different message/sensations do you wish to evoke with each of them?
Thank you! The oil paintings are so precious to me because I truly put so much of myself in each one. It takes weeks to do them, which is different from the illustrations. I want the paintings to really move someone; the illustrations, I hope to make people laugh.
Have you ever thought of joining food with your oil paintings, just like you do on your illustrations? Could that work or do you think both things don’t mix well together?
I often paint produce because I think it’s so beautiful. But I would never mix food and paint because you can’t eat it after!
And if you had to choose, painting or illustrating?
Painting, forever.
Any exciting plans for the future? What’s one food you haven’t played with yet, but can’t wait to do so? I’d love to see some fast food and candies on the play.
Yes, I need more candy. I am working on a project with just that. Stay tuned!

Catarina Marques

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