Welcome to Eat Sleep Instagram , our weekly series of conversations with photographers behind the most drool-worthy Instagram accounts about how they’re navigating the digital age, deliciously.
This week, Taste Talks contributor Amanda Odmark spoke with tiny cake master Erin Clarkson ( @cloudykitchen ) over lattes at Variety Coffee in Williamsburg about baking on oil rigs, spontaneous dinner parties, and finding crumbs in bed after photoshoots.
Taste Talks: How long have you been in Brooklyn? Were you in the food scene or working in food at home in New Zealand?
Erin Clarkson: I moved here two years ago. We have a little design business in Bushwick, so that’s my big girl job. Our main product is an interactive speaker lamp in the shape of a cloud. The food thing is just a fun side thing at the moment but maybe one day I can make it into a job. I studied Geology in Wellington and then worked on an oil rig for a year, in the middle of nowhere (pretty much) in the north island. We did nights, and often I would make the boys muffins in the oven that we were meant to be using to dry the rock samples. Double chocolate muffins with cream cheese on the inside were their favorites! I quickly built up a reputation – everyone knew that they would be ready at 3am so there would be a steady stream into our unit soon after!
Taste Talks: How much time do you spend on social media?
Erin Clarkson: A fair amount! I love it. I also manage our studio page so between my food page, the studio and my personal page, I’m on it often! It also helps a lot with the homesickness – because of the time difference it’s not as easy to chat to people at home as often so it’s a nice way to see what everyone is up to!
Taste Talks: How did you get interested in food photography? Do you use an iPhone or camera or a mix for your Instagram shots?
Erin Clarkson: I have always been interested in food itself. I make almost everything we eat from scratch and used to photograph it to put online. It slowly became more and more important to compose shots properly, and work on the background, photo surface etc. I still have a huge amount to learn! When I first started the Instagram, I just used my iPhone and our tv cabinet as a surface. We got a new camera fairly recently so I have been learning how to use that, and it’s mainly what I use to take all my shots now. When we got a camera and I realised how much fun it was to shoot food ‘properly’, I asked my husband Rich if we could get a marble table. After a little bit of research we realised it was probably easier if we just made one ourselves so we ordered a slab of honed marble from the place next to our studio and built a frame. Its amazing! It functions as another surface for photography but its also the same width as the bench so joins on nicely and means that we can fit a bunch more people around it when they come for dinner! It also has wheels on it so I can wheel it around to get the best light (which sometimes means standing on my bed to get the best photo – last time I did that we ended up with crumbs in the bed. It happens.)
Taste Talks: How has social media offered connection for you? Do you have a favorite story of social media connecting you to someone you admire?
Erin Clarkson: It offers a way to make initial contact that feels a lot “safer” than in real life. You can see who shares a common interest/aesthetic with you. I’ve made friends with some amazing people over Instagram, and managed to meet some of them in real life too. It’s so much fun! It’s such a great source of inspiration too. My favorite story would probably be how I met two of my really good friends (we have a little gang, we are called the ‘sugar hoes’, haha). I followed them both separately on social media (one is a caker and the other a pastry chef, both INSANELY talented) and connected them one day so they could exchange knowledge. The group message I started months ago is still going! We have little gang meetings when I’m back in NZ and it’s awesome. And then there’s the excitement when someone who’s work you loves follows you back!!
Taste Talks: What inspires your lovely cake baking? And how much cake do you eat everyday?
Erin Clarkson: All sorts of things! Mainly things I have seen on the internet, or people asking me to make specific things. I love seeing things and giving them a go myself and putting my own wee spin on them! The slightly ironic part is that I LOVE to make sweet things but much prefer eating savoury! ( I love making savoury things too!) So I hardly eat any cake! I’m always looking for an opportunity to make things to take to gatherings etc! I tend to work from home in the morning where I do emails etc and then make something for lunch to take in. If I am baking or something I normally do that in the morning too as it is the best light to shoot photos. This generally results in fairly elaborate lunches, and slightly less exciting dinners!
Taste Talks: I love that you’re always looking for an excuse to foist a beautiful cake on someone. Did you grow up in a foodie home? Where did your love of cooking for people come from?
Erin Clarkson: Growing up, my parents made the majority of our meals from scratch. I grew up assuming that everyone did this, and its something that I consider very important in my cooking today. Both my parents are amazing cooks, and it was a rare occasion that we didnt have anyone around for dinner. I think that this has played a huge role in what food is to me today – half of it is about the experience of enjoying it with others. My idea of an awesome night is having a few good friends come around and all making food together/contributing to a meal. Often on a Friday we have a few people around for dinner – Iv’e started asking people to bring ingredients when they ask what they can bring and we go from there!
Taste Talks: Do you have any rules or advice for people who are working to develop their social platform?
Erin Clarkson: I’m still learning too! CloudyKitchen was only started in October so it’s grown crazy quick. I think the most important thing to do is to really engage yourself. Have conversations with people, reply back to comments and make yourself very open and approachable.