Synesthesia happens when a person experiences one sense through another: hearing Bach, you see rectangles. Or the word “table” brings purple to mind. Its Greek roots mean “senses coming together,” according to Dr. Veronica Goss at Boston University.
Closer to home, artist Renee Fisher and gourmet chocolatier Ines Rehner have created a synesthesthetic experience in their collection of hand-painted chocolates inspired by master artists. Their Chokolatine line is a delicious mashup of artistic reinterpretation and exquisite taste.
An artist’s palette-shaped box contains jewel-like morsels of hand-created chocolates. These colors are breathtaking: clear azure blue, velvety apricot, metallic copper with bronze highlights peeking through, a warm pink that seems to glow. Each nestles into its traditional white fluted paper case; each is surrounded by enough white space to set it apart from its equally lovely neighbors.
These are no mixed-crème assortment; nosiree.
“Ever since the chocolate industry came up with edible cocoa butter paint 20 years ago, I’ve been intrigued,” says Rehner, owner of Sweet Designs Chocolatier in Lakewood. “I had always wanted to play with those, but there was never enough time, running a business.”
But then Fisher joined the team in 2017, as a shipping manager. She was also a painter, with a degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design and experience in mural painting and commissioned pet portraiture. Fisher wanted to explore the artistic side of chocolate making, and Rehner realized she had a perfect partner for working with cocoa butter paint.
For five years, Fisher and Rehner experimented. Fisher learned the intricacies of tempering chocolate to reach the right consistency for painting into a mold, then stunned Rehner with the intricate designs she created. At that time, other companies using cocoa butter paint produced chocolates with big splashes of color. Fisher spent hours building layers of hues and shades in the tiny space of a chocolate mold. Rehner was amazed.
“I’m inspired by the great artists. I put these colors down, and that takes it to a whole other level for me,” says Fisher. “Working with chocolate is like painting on glass. I paint the foreground in the mold first; it’s layered differently than my realistic work.”
Fisher studies the colors, painting techniques, and final works of master artists, and interprets these aspects—often using similar color palettes or techniques—on each piece of chocolate. She recreates an impression of the artist’s work, calling them “snapshots.” Fisher also designed three different backgrounds for Chokolatine’s boxes. Both box designs and chocolate flavors will change annually, with a new collection debuting later this year.
Fisher and Rehner collaborated on pairing each artist with the appropriate flavor combination. The outside of “Lemonardo daVinci” swirls muted colors that reflect tones found in the Mona Lisa; inside lies a vibrant pop of fresh Amalfi lemon surrounded by a white chocolate shell that offsets the strong flavor of lemon. “Pablo Pistachio” was inspired by Picasso’s rose period, with a nougat flavored with rosewater and pistachios hidden under a swirled rose of red orange against warm ivory and moss green. “Hokusai Hazelnut” is a triangulated wave shape of light blue with a delicate foamy white on its crest; the deep blue background of “Dulce Degas” represents a darkened theatre while shimmering gold and green swirls stand in for ballerina tutus.
Artist themes and names were suggested by Sweet Designs staff chocolatiers (the artist herself is there, too, in “PB&J Renee”), and each piece is accompanied by a card explaining that chocolate’s flavor combination and a fact about the artist it depicts.
Fisher works on one artist reinterpretation at a time, with each batch of 300 pieces taking up to 12 hours to paint. After drying, the painted shells move to the kitchen to be filled with flavors that range from dulce con leche and mocha to passionfruit and hazelnut.
At this intersection of art and consumption, Fisher says that she thinks about the enjoyment that a person has at that moment—no matter how short or ephemeral—of experiencing one of her hand-painted chocolates. And customers tell Rehner that a box of Chokolatine chocolates have inspired conversations about art, artists, and creativity around an after-dinner table.
Heady psychological definitions have never looked and tasted so good.
Sweet Designs Chocolatier is located at 16100 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio 44107 and online at sweetdesigns.com. See Renee Fisher’s portfolio at petportraitsbyrenee.com.