The dinner table directive of innumerable mothers warning kids not to play with food was never taken seriously by Ahwatukee artist and author Sandra Marshall.
Now her example may inspire children worldwide to give it a go.
Marshall, an artist and author of books that include the award-winning 2016 “One Hot Night at the Veggie Bar,” has made a career of using vegetables and fruits to create works of art.
Her plant-based art received worldwide exposure this year, appearing in newspapers as diverse as Hindustan Times and the New York Post after author Stephen King tweeted Marshall’s veggie version of a Bernie Sanders meme based on the Vermont senator’s attire at President Biden’s inauguration.
Made of cauliflower, kale, eggplant and new potatoes, the photo quickly went viral.
Her newest book, “The Razzle Berry Wackadoodle Garden” is her first for children, which she chose to self-publish.
“The whole book is made up of fruits and vegetables,” she said, eyeing the boxes of books stacked in her art studio that arrived the second week of May.
“It’s kind of a discovery book, and the kids are eating it up,” she said, laughing at the pun.
“They get all excited when they discover the vegetables in each of the pictures. It’s kind of a ‘Where’s Waldo’ with fruits and vegetables.”
Marshall said this book has been five years in the making and as with all her vegetable/fruit artworks, they are the result of or the inspiration for her own family’s dinners.
Nothing goes to waste.
“I started making food art when my children were little. When my daughter was five, she announced she wouldn’t eat meat, so I needed to get creative with plant-based ingredients,” recalled Marshall of her daughter, now 17.
“I wanted her to be healthy so I did a lot of research, and learned this was a really healthful way of eating. Our family is pretty much plant-based eaters now. And now I have been making food art for over 12 years.”
What some of her 20,000 Facebook and Twitter fans may not know is that Marshall started playing with food when she was a youngster growing up in Smithtown, New York.
It was the creative parenting by her own parents, Elaine and Richard Davis, that set her unusual art medium on the road to success.
“My parents didn’t chide me when I played with my food but they did tell me I couldn’t do so unless I also ate it,” recalled Marshall. “They could see I was doing more than pushing the peas and potatoes around my plate; I was creating my childlike version of art.”
In the dozen years since she revived her playing-with-food artwork, Marshall’s works have garnered great attention.
Her racy vegetable artworks in her adult book and a 2019 calendar of veggie art both sold out their first printing.
“This book has been a long time coming. ‘The Razzle Berry Wackadoodle Garden’ takes you on an artsy adventure to a magical place where the colors from nature are turned into art, and will brighten your day as you travel in the book from dawn to dusk,” said Marshall.
Paging through the 41-page book is an amazing visual adventure best explained by the author herself.
“When you enter the gates of The Razzle Berry Wackadoodle Garden, you enter in the morning with bright blueberry skies, surrounded by flowers of purple cauliflower and pink grapefruit,” she said.
“A pretty pink watermelon pig greets you with a smile, while a proud purple peacock made from cabbage and squash parades down the garden trail, showing off his pretty plume of green dill and other bright vegetables.
“This is no ordinary garden. Broccoli trees are really a thing and the pathway takes you on a journey meeting all sorts of artsy fruit and veggie friends.”
Also featured in the Wackadoodle Garden is a sunset with peachy skies made from a close-up of peach skin that soon gives way to nighttime with glowing fireflies crafted of melon, and a banana crescent moon glows against a deep blue and purple fruit and vegetable sky.
“Once you enter the gates, you’ll have to and want to come back for more; seeing new things, discovering new fruits and vegetables hidden within the art,” she said.
“Absolutely everything in the story is made from fruits and vegetables – the sunsets, the mountains and all the little creatures and bugs in the book,” she said proudly. “It took so many years to complete with all these details; I can’t believe it is finally here.”
The new book is already being shared by Marshall with schools throughout the U.S.
“The book was just delivered when I got to visit my first classroom,” she said. “It was so much fun! It was over Zoom, but I got to talk all about being an author, and I read to the kids and talked about fruits and vegetables and they were so excited.”
“I was on their big white screen, and I could see all of them and it was really fun to interact over Zoom,” she enthused. “They were all so cute. They asked me if I could come over, but they were in Kansas City so I had to say no, not quite yet.”
“I’m so excited for my children’s programs. I’m in the process of looking for sponsors who are in line with my mission of combining art, healthy eating, storytelling, and the love for reading all into one.
“Fruits and vegetables are a gift to us all, and I want to help people see them through an artist’s eyes. Exploring through an artist’s eye, they see the color and the beauty in produce which leads to discovery,” she said.
“I try to explain to the kids how fruits and vegetables are a true gift. I often open an actual wrapped gift box in front of the children, and when they see how excited I get, they get excited even when it is an artichoke.”
Marshall described how she often sees art in what others may dismiss as a mundane vegetable – such as a red cabbage cut in two that becomes a treasure map.
“Vegetables and fruits are magical and different. All shapes, sizes, colors and flavors at our fingertips, and it’s never too late to notice. Parents are telling me how they see plant-based ingredients in a different light after viewing my artbooks,” she said.
“My goal is to get the book in the hands of children with parents and grandparents reading to them. And of course, I want to see them in schools, too,” said Marshall who earned a degree in early childhood education from Arizona State University.
Marshall, also mother to a 14-year-old son, has always been an Ahwatukee business woman and entrepreneur.
From 2014 to 2019, Marshall owned and operated Be...An Artist Studio within the Trader Joe’s shopping center. Upon leaving, she fully pivoted to a business providing residents with a mobile art studio.
Her BeAnArtistAZ.com website is proving to be a great success. She has created her own paints to go along with painting kits that include an easel, brushes and her custom colors, and provides online instruction.
“I’ve been slammed hosting giant painting parties on Zoom. I work with schools and teach groups to paint online. I have 100 people for every single class! It is so much fun. Some of the children have never painted before so they get really excited.”
She said during the pandemic, she spent a lot of time involved in her studio.
“I hunkered down during the pandemic and became a total artist in my studio. And, I’ve been writing a lot.”
Her third book, slated for publication later this year, is geared once again to adults and will, of course, feature creations made from fruit and vegetables.
For more information on her creations and painting parties, see SandraMarshallArt.com.