This Toronto artist spent the pandemic making hyper-realistic fruits and tiny furniture out of clay
Toronto artist Jenn Robeson creates realistic bite-sized Plasticine sculptures of decadent chocolate cake and corn dogs. Robeson, who is a doula, first worked with the medium during a creative challenge she participated in about five years ago where she made clay sculptures of food everyday for over three months. When the pandemic hit and everyone started baking bread, she returned to the art that gave her comfort. We asked her how she made it happen.
Robeson’s sculptures take about three days to make, depending on how complicated they are. Day one is spent colour mixing, day two is for assembling her creations, and then day three is when she finishes and photographs her work. Robeson is vegetarian, so getting the colour of the various meats just right on this charcuterie board was a fun challenge for her. “I did the prosciutto, and at first, it was kind of like a weird salmon colour, so I had to mix again,” she says. Robeson added tiny pieces like the crumbs on the blue cheese to bring the scene to life. “It makes it look like it has some movement to it.”
These sugary cakes were forbidden to Robeson as a kid, so creating clay versions was cathartic. The childhood staple elicited a strong response from her Instagram following. “A lot of people reacted to the sculpture in the same way too, like, ‘I was never allowed to have this either!’”
Robeson gets inspiration from food accounts on Instagram that are full of visually appealing novelty foods, especially in the summertime, like funnel cakes and ice cream cones. Her more recent creations are increasingly realistic as she adds in other materials. For this apple pie sculpture, she achieved a gooey filling by dabbing oil in between the clay apple slices.
The clay doesn’t last long so Robeson typically disassembles her work and reuses the colours. “This piece has a table and little salt lamp from older pieces that I couldn’t bring myself to dismantle,” she says. The scene is inspired by a colour palette you’d find in her home and represents Samhian, a pagan festival that starts on Halloween.
Robeson uses gloss—either oil or clear nail polish—to add dimensions and sheen to the clay’s matte surface. She created this cozy living room scene as a calming imaginary space where people could rest, and to highlight the importance of self-care during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement.
After months of creating her art, Robeson is more mindful about examining everyday foods. “Prior to making these, if someone asked ‘what shape is a cherry?’ I’d say a circle with a little stick coming out of it,” she says. “But if you look at them, they’re heart-shaped with these little indents.” These are made with real cherry stems and covered in gloss.
This piece was Robeson’s first attempt at a functional clay sculpture. She played around with how to make the gourd realistic, and after a few attempts, she decided to treat the clay pumpkin as she would a real pumpkin and scooped out the insides to make the carving. A few days later, she put in a small candle to light it up, just for a second.