How to Draw Food Instead of Photographing It: 6 Helpful Food Illustrator Tips
In a world where we are regularly inundated with food porn, I find food illustrations refreshing. Particularly when it comes to recipes, food illustrations allow a way of guiding the reader as to what the food should look like, but without any judgment attached to the end product. Follow a recipe in a cookbook with a photograph, and you might be disappointed by the end result, which is normal, given that you didn’t spend 18 hours styling and shooting it. Follow a recipe with an illustration on the other hand, and the comparison of your culinary creation and the image is easier to digest.
While I am no food illustrator, I do love sketching food, and it’s something I would like to be better at, so I figured there was no better way of doing just that than by talking to a professional. My friend Jessie Kanelos Weiner is a talented illustrator and stylist, and while she doesn’t just work with food, her food illustration portfolio list is long. Her new book “Edible Paradise: A Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables“ is out next February.
I caught up with her to learn her essential tips for people who want to get into food illustration, not only for some useful insight, but more importantly, for some inspiration.
1. Invest in the best materials within your means.
It is the same « you are what you eat » mentality . Good work isn’t a reflection of expensive supplies, but it can take the quality to the next level. I use a set of 30 or so Windsor & Newton pot watercolors. I replenish only once or twice a year so it isn’t a huge hit on the wallet. However, good quality watercolor paper adds up. I stock up on 100-page blocks of Canson Montval 300 g/m2 watercolor paper which clears up my mind from ever worrying about running out.
2. Think about what makes food appetizing to the eye and try to recreate the same qualities.
Color, reflection, contrast, depth and texture are all qualities that go into the creation of a successful dish. And they are all vital to recreating it 2–dimensionally, too.
3. Learn the basics of Photoshop.
Because a huge component of creating and sharing work now is digital, learn the basics in Photoshop to clean up images before posting them to the internet.
4. Look look look draw.
A few years ago, in a grueling interview for an MFA program at NYU (which unfortunately didn’t come to be), the distinguished professor interviewing my portfolio told me « you don’t look enough when you draw. You draw what you think something is, but you don’t back it up with enough firsthand information ». She was right. Really look at the subjet at hand. How do the elements interact ? Study the positive and negative spaces. What are the darkest and lightest areas ? Drawing what you « think » an eggplant looks like is mental block when you can actually look at it firsthand.
5. Start a blog, an Instagram or a Tumblr.
I started a food blog about my life in France in 2011. Knowing my embarrassing photographic abilities, I added illustrations instead. It gave me the confidence and the platform to start considering pursuing illustration professionally. When I finally did, I had a body of work and plenty of feedback from readers to give me a boost of confidence to do so.
6. Find inspiration.
I love Instagram for following illustrators’ processes, techniques and new projects. For example, I was recently inspired by Clym Everden (@clymdraws) who has started creating short illustrated GIFS, inspiring me to think about simple animation. Now I just have to figure out how to do it.
You can follow Jessie on Instagram for more illustration inspiration.
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