How to draw food - 20 tips from leading illustrators

Top food illustrators reveal how they produce fresh and mouth-watering artworks.


Visit local markets for new and interesting looking produce - keep an eye out for new food trends too. I also like looking at vintage cookery books, which often have beautiful food illustration in.

When drawing food for public consumption [like this work May created for cafe chain Leon], the artwork should always be original and unique and look visually fresh and appealing. 

May van Millingen (USA)

My design process usually starts with a trip to a local market. I'll photograph the food in its natural state, then do some initial drawings and send them to the client for feedback - working closely together for the whole process until the final illustrations are done.

I'm passionate about food and cooking, so I enjoy my job very much.

May van Millingen (USA)


Always photograph the food in its original state to use for reference - often the food I’m drawing will change colour whilst I'm drawing it, especially avocados! 

May van Millingen (USA)

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Food illustration is a modern, alternative medium to photography to portray a delicious looking subject matter. Photography provides the viewer with an image of the food in a more direct way.

Food photography is often visually simpler to understand, but illustration is now being used more because it is a highly creative interpretation – it doesn’t have to portray exactly what is there: it can be stylistic, colourful and evocative and can open the viewer’s imagination.

May van Millingen (USA)


When illustrating food I think the most important thing is that it's worthwhile. A good question to ask is "why isn't this a photograph?" To me food illustration is most exciting when you can see the mark-making of the artist and get a sense of their relationship with the food and why they've chosen to recreate it. I don't think it's enough to make sure it's realistic, it has to have character, character that a photograph could never capture.

It's a challenge to make an interesting image from everyday food items but in a way cooking is very similar to illustration – it's about creating something exciting out of the ordinary.

Holly Exley (UK)


I recently worked with ES Magazine for the London Evening Standard and was commissioned to paint a large purple sprouting broccoli to fill an entire page. The brief stated that the broccoli was to replicate a family tree so on every broccoli leaf a small piece of text about the "family member" would need to be positioned. 

I used multiple reference images (found online) to work from as I needed to paint more leaves on the stem of the broccoli than typically occur in real life and I wanted to make sure I was painting then accurately.

Holly Exley (UK)

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The main image I worked from wasn't the purple variety of broccoli either, so the colour palette was adapted from other references and also from my imagination. The colours had to be bright and eye-catching, but not too dark and overpowering. 

Holly Exley (UK)


Food illustration is an artist's depiction – it’s not something that can be captured with a camera lens. It's an illustrator's job to make a dish look extra-ordinary, inspiring & appetizing – and breathe life into ordinary dishes and ingredients we're used to seeing on a daily basis.

Holly Exley (UK)


I take a lot of inspiration from food illustration of the 40s and 50s, when photography was expensive and not very effective – and therefore illustrators were in high demand. The food illustrations were always bright and bold and decorative and the composition exciting.

Holly Exley (UK)

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Food illustration should be a celebration of food – so personally I think bright, fresh colours work best. Texture, light, and composition are also important to determine how the eye travels around an image and ultimately how successful it is.

Holly Exley (UK)


It’s a great joy to see that the artist was having a lot of fun while creating the food illustration. I think it should be done lighthearted and in a playful way. And of course, it should look absolutely yummy. 

Nanna Prieler (Vienna)


An apple on a photo is just an apple. Everybody knows what it looks and tastes like. But when you illustrate an apple you can give it a kind of personality. The apple is still just an apple, but now it can surprise the viewer. A good mix of accuracy and personal, artistic style is essential. 

Nanna Prieler (Vienna)

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Play and experiment with the different forms of food, there are so many amazing things you can try.  And don’t just draw it once, draw it again and again. The sketch will get more and more personality, and that is the most important part of an illustration. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It’s not a big deal if things are not exactly like in reality. That’s even good - it makes the style.

Nanna Prieler (Vienna)


Created for Lucerne Dairy Farms, these illustrations were often drawn to be seen from the purchaser’s point of view – as if sitting down to enjoy.

Greg Stevenson (USA)


Bright, appetising colour palettes convey an overall freshness and appeal. The rustic, folksy line illustrations with colour washes help reinforce the company’s long-standing tradition in the dairy foods market.

Greg Stevenson (USA)

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An ‘iconic’ look – from the purchaser’s point of view – was used to spot the brand easily on foods shelves. 

Greg Stevenson (USA)


Go out and find markets and delis, either take your own photos or bring the items home. I believe that the imperfections in different foods make them more interesting to draw.  

Camilla Perkins (UK)


I am currently obsessed with drawing anything to do with seafood. As I live by the sea, it's easy for me to find inspiration from the little fresh fish shops. I also love old botanical drawings of fruits and vegetables.

Camilla Perkins (UK)

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Initially do everything by hand - either drawing or using acetate and scratching through with a knife. I then manipulate colour and composition in Photoshop. 

I like to use blending modes such as Linear Burn to create an overlay effect that adds depth and texture to the illustration.

Camilla Perkins (UK)


Be mindful of the colour you choose. For some reason, I once decided to do a roast chicken in green. Big mistake - it looked awful! 

Camilla Perkins (UK)