There’s a particular skill to illustrating food. Food illustration is a delicate balance of aesthetics, taste, and appetite appeal. And it takes more than just following the tried-and-tested rules of how to draw or painting for success.
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How to create fantastic food illustration using just a handful of simple techniques
In this article, we look at how to create fantastic food illustrations using just a handful of simple techniques that are guaranteed to make your work stand out from the crowd—whether you’re an illustrator who specializes in cooking or someone with no culinary experience at all!.
Illustrating food is a difficult task and something an illustrator can take years to perfect. Images of food are often used on menus as well as in cookbooks or magazines so most importantly of all, it needs to look appetizing.
You can’t go wrong with something that’s nicely colored, but this doesn’t mean you should skimp on the details. The secret is a balance between texture and colors.
Food illustrations can be done with pen & paper, watercolors, oil paint, straight onto the page, or by digital media programs like Photoshop or Painter. The latter is probably the easiest way to get started, but you can’t beat the feeling of working with traditional media like watercolors, or applying paint strokes on paper which gives it a texture.
And remember, everyone will have a response to images depicting food, but not everyone’s will be the same.
With food Illustration it’s imperative to get a clear message across, the most important thing about your illustrations is,
“Does it look good enough to eat?”
“Does it look appealing?”
Both photographs and illustrations can make food look very unattractive and may well be unsuccessful if they are repulsive, rather than delicious looking.
There will be situations though where your intention might actually be to turn people off. In such cases making food, ugly may be the goal if the aim is to convert people to veganism for example.
This article will hopefully give you some exclusive insights and tips to allow you to create great food illustration, ensuring you generate the intended response to your work at the same time.
Below are several tips and hints used when creating food illustrations.
01. The use of abstraction as an illustrator
A good technique to use is the less-is-more approach. Illustration with more abstraction can create lots more interest than a simple copy. Add in only enough details to make the food feel right.
And another top rule to apply is, always check your work as you go just like a chef should taste his food. (you will see ‘many an illustration’ that has missed this point on refelction). Achieving a more detailed look can also produce great work so neither is ‘better’, just ‘different’, remember, your illustration design just needs to be ‘exclusive’.
02. Limit your color palette for your illustration design
When it comes to the colors you use, keep things simple for food illustration. So to clarify, one great tip is to limit the colors on your palette when it comes to food illustration. Choose a smaller color palette, maybe just three colors. Include a highlight, main color and shadow to apply to the shape of the subject to illustrate its volume.
This forces you to look at light and the form, instead of just surface details.
03. Limit the colors on your palette even more…
When working on icons for food illustration using vectors, it may be that you need to limit your colors further. When doing this, focus on the shape, form and detail first, before adding colors. Using this approach will help you consider what kind of visual details are bespoke to that particular food that is being illustrated.
04. Believe it or not, unnatural colors CAN indeed work for food illustration
The obvious choice when coloring food is to match the colors in your illustration to those of the foods in real life. However, by using unnatural colors in your illustration it can often create brilliant, unique results. When attempting this in your graphic illustration design it is even more important to ensure your shapes and textures are accurate and that you’ve applied highlights and shadows in a logical fashion.
Apples can be pink and still read as apples…
05. Try to generate emotion in your work
When creating food illustration, it can be useful to add context into its creation, for example, country of origin, the culture and typical scenery.
What you’re trying to achieve in a food illustration is something that can’t be simply captured by a camera. As an illustrator, you have the potential to add emotion and to ‘tell a story’ with your food illustration.
Incorporating the food preparation and by overemphasising movements such as flying chopped vegetables can create fantastic works of art. Over exaggerating size, scale and perspective can also be hugely manipulated to produce totally unique pieces of illustration.
So don’t simply focus on creating lifelike works of illustration, design and generate uniqueness and energy into your work to make it totally bespoke.
You may find it helpful as a part of the design process to actually research and prepare these foods too. 2021 might be the year you take up cooking too.
06. Draw food from memory
Drawing from life is something that many illustrators would agree on, but not to the extent that it becomes less original and takes on a look of a GCSE still life.
Remembering characteristics from food enables you to focus on the elements that make that food recognisable as to what it should depict.
When looking to design graphic or iconic food illustrations this becomes even more important as you have to convey the subject utilising often very basic forms and limited colors.
There is of course a time and place for photorealism and at this point, you should, of course, aim to make it hyper-realistic and even more lifelike than the actual food itself.
An additional 20 food illustration tips
1. Begin your compositions by sketching simple shapes like circles and rectangles for fruits and vegetables.
2. Use a variety of colors to represent a variety of foods.
3. Add shadows to make the drawing more realistic.
4. Experiment with a selection of mediums such as pencil or pen, markers, watercolours, inks, etc…to see what works best for you!
5. Don’t be afraid to draw from your imagination.
6. Don’t copy someone else’s work!
7. Use simple shapes for shadows, and be sure they’re consistent with the lighting in your picture.
8. Don’t forget to leave negative space around items you want to focus on!
9. Avoid drawing perfectly symmetrical food, because food is natural and it may not look realistic if you do.
10. Practice sketching from life. An illustrator should observe how light and shadows change the look of a visual object.
11. Prioritize items you want viewers to see: draw the most important items first, then fill in other details.
15. Add in additional decorative items like flowers, etc…around your food to complete the composition.
16. Study the food in different types of lighting to create various types of moods.
17. Ensure you depict the overall concept of the food. For example, bananas are generally curved so ensure you get the curve recognisable as that of the banana.
18. Don’t overwork your illustration. Knowing when to leave it is a skill in itself. Often the best work was 2-3 steps prior to when you decide you’re done.
19. Create several versions of an illustration depicting the same food for each image but by utilising different materials. Once you find one you like it will allow you to develop a style that suits you best.
20.Try to draw at least once a day. Illustration is free and artists should possess a true love of art to succeed. If you haven’t begun already then 2021 could be your chance to start, simply draw that first line on a page to begin.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading over the tips on how to improve your food illustrations. I trust it’ll help get you started with the basics, and to find and develop a style that suits your needs best.
With some practice and patience, these drawing techniques (or ingredients if you prefer), will have you producing beautiful food illustration in no time!