British Columbia

Eat your words: Vancouver graphic designer turns food into art

'You have a moment of tada! Then you shove it all into the frying pan'

Posted: May 31, 2019
Last Updated: May 31, 2019

A 'punny' pizza created by Emily Cheung. (Eric Sanderson/Sanderson Films)

Artist Emily Cheung is used to eating her words.

The Vancouver-based graphic designer uses food to create word art and her work is the subject of the new CBC short film Eat Your Words: Food Typography by filmmaker Eric Sanderson.

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Cheung told Mathew Parsons, guest host of CBC's North by Northwest, she loves lettering and typography but was tired of staring at a computer screen and wanted to work with a more tactile medium.

So Cheung started playing with her food.

Her process involves using the natural shape of a food to help her determine what words she will spell out with that product, which usually involves a pun or two.

For example, a pizza with the phrase, 'you wanna pizza me?' spelled out in peppers, pepperoni and black olives.

"The food will inform the lettering and the lettering will inform the food — it goes both ways." said Cheung.

Her education in typography and lettering comes into play when Cheung is building her creations.

According to Cheung, lettering is the act of drawing letters, and typography is using set letter forms and arranging them in an ascetically-pleasing fashion. 

"Hierarchy is big when planning multiple words in a message,' said Cheung, who told Parsons she applies "basic typography principals" such as giving more space and weight to the words that need to stand out the most.

Emily Cheung hard at work turning pizza into word art. (Eric Sanderson/Sanderson Films)

Cursive words, Cheung said, can be a real challenge because she needs to source food with a "flow that will work" for cursive. 

"What you are working with always informs your finished piece," she said, telling Parsons that sometimes her plans go haywire.

Cheung approaches a project with a general idea of what she wants to create but also lets the food she is working with inspire her work. Often, she said, her creations turn out a different size than expected, because she doesn't like to manipulate the food product she is working with so much that it no longer resembles its actual shape and form.

"I have to know and realize that the plan is probably going to go haywire sometimes," she said.

But most of Cheung's masterpieces double as a meal, and mistakes are just as tasty.

"You have a moment of tada! Then you shove it all into the frying pan."

North by Northwwest