Food is a fantastic subject matter for artwork: It’s universal, recognizable, appealing and, best of all, it will stay still if you want it to pose for you. However, rendering food in your artwork isn’t always easy.
Adding edibles to your artistic repertoire can pose a challenge to your drawings< and illustrations. Sometimes, it's a fine line between drawing recognizable, appealing food and creating an unappetizing mess. Luckily, there are some easy tricks that can help you improve drawing food, so you can get your point across and make the finished piece more appetizing to your viewers.
While these tips are illustrated with simple line illustrations, they are fairly universal, and can be applied regardless of medium or style.
Start with foods you like
Illustrations via CakeSpy unless otherwise noted
You’ll never stick with drawing food if you’re not excited about it, so start by drawing foods you know and love. It makes a difference — it’s hard not to smile and have instant inspiration when you’re drawing a food you really love.
When possible, stick with foods that people know
This might seem a bit obvious, but unless a particular food is an integral part of your piece, try to stick with foods people know. For instance, if you’re drawing a street cart scene, a character purchasing a knish might be confusing, but a hot dog is instantly recognizable. People might have a hard time discerning a slice of pound cake from a slice of toast in art form, but they will always recognize a layer cake, so maybe it’s a better choice for an illustrated scene of a tea party.
Educate with humor
What if the whole point is to illustrate a little-known food? Adding humor can be an engaging way to help introduce viewers to unfamiliar foods. For instance, the above illustration is out to prove a point: What is a Nanaimo bar? Most people might not recognize these decadent bar cookies by name. But, they are introduced to the cookie in a witty way with this cartoon, engaging the reader and enticing them to learn more.
Adding context is an extremely effective way to clearly draw or illustrate foods. For instance, a bowl of ice cream without context could be just about anything: pudding, yogurt, or who knows what.
However, adding a puff of whipped cream and a cherry makes it instantly recognizable: ice cream!
Adding a carton in the background is another effective way to make your subject matter clearer to your viewer.
There are many other ways to add context to your food art. Drawing a dish of General Tsao’s chicken might be challenging, but adding chopsticks and a takeaway container can help get the point across. Adding lines of steam will differentiate a bowl of soup from one of cereal, while adding a straw will show that a beverage is most likely cool.
Context can also occur by pairing foods with like foods, as illustrated in the below image. Alone, the oranges and blueberries in particular might just look like smiley face icons. But when put next to recognizable apples, lemons, limes and grapes, the eye fills in the rest of the story.
Choose an iconic version of foods
In general, you want to try to draw the simplest and most recognizable version of a food. For instance, it might take a few beats to “get” an image of a whole watermelon, but a slice is instantly recognizable.
A boneless, skinless chicken breast might be the kind you most frequently eat, but in art form, a drumstick is more easily identifiable as chicken.
Try to find the iconic, most easily recognizable view of a food, think of the image that would accompany its dictionary definition.
Style your foods
Even when the food is meant to be viewed, not seen, you want it to be looking its best. Be sure to choose reference images or foods that are beautiful. This will make your job easier from the get-go.
Think like a food stylist
You have the opportunity to create an idealized version of food in your art. Instead of making a cupcake with disheveled icing, make a beautifully decorated one for the most pleasing result. A nicely turned-out piece of food will look best in a finished piece.
Think like a makeup artist
Fruit oil painting blankita
With real food, we should strive to go as natural as possible (with a little room for tasty treats now and then). With food in art, however, you can augment reality a bit. Adding a vibrant shine to fruits and vegetables can give them an appealing look, even if that’s not exactly how they look in the bowl on your table.
You can take liberties with color, too. While you might be hesitant to use artificial food coloring on actual foods, coloring your red velvet cake a vibrant red in fine art form will bring home the point and be more appetizing to viewers than a possibly more realistic ruddy tone.
Now that you’re armed with these tasty tips, it’s time to draw some vibrant vittles. Enjoy the wonderful world of drawing food!