Make your audience drool! Tips for drawing delicious realistic food

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Have you ever seen an anime or manga that really makes your stomach rumble? In English we talk about really delicious-looking food as “food porn”, and anime and manga are really good at delivering this! In fact, they even have a word for it in Japanese! “Meshi-tero” comes from the word “meshi” for food, and “tero” from “terrorism” – it is often used when posting something delicious-looking on social media, to “terrorise” your followers and make their stomachs growl!

We would usually use “meshi-tero” in reference to a photo, but let’s look over some tips to help us make our food look good enough to eat!

Today I’m using reference pictures from Shokugeki no Soma – Food Wars – because it is full of excellent examples of all the techniques I’m talking about. I must admit, my stomach was rumbling collecting all these reference pictures!

Let’s get started with the tips…


“Good enough to eat”

In the introduction, I mentioned “good enough to eat”, but this is actually our first key point! We want our food to look real enough that we believe we can eat it, and we want to focus on all the points that make it look delicious. To keep food looking real, always use a reference photo! If our food isn’t believable, nobody will want to eat it! Our job here is to make the audience suspend their disbelief, and actually feel like they want to eat something that’s on a page or a screen.

Sometimes making the food delicious involves simplifying the details – for example if we are drawing a grilled fish, we don’t want to get too hung up on counting and drawing every bone in the fish – rather than that, think of what parts of the image look delicious, and focus on making those areas real. Try to bring out the shine on the top of the skin of the fish, and make the meat look fluffy and tender.


Up that saturation

Which of these two images looks most delicious to you? I think most people would say the right hand image!

To draw delicious food, sometimes we need to stray away from our reference material, and exaggerate for effect. Colouring is one of those times! Try bringing up the saturation to make the image more vibrant and colourful. You can see examples of this with photo filters on food apps – most will go quite heavy on the saturation to make the food look more delicious!


Don’t over-blur

Left: over-blurred / Right: crisp detail

Many food artists will add a soft gaussian blur layer to their food, replicating a technique we often use on human portraits to give them a “glamourous” appearance. Sometimes we also use a blur layer to represent the steam coming off a freshly made dish. This is a great technique, but be sure not to over-blur! Keep in the details that will give your food the realistic texture you’re looking for. For example, we don’t want to lose the lines showing the grain of the meat, or the detailing that makes our breadcrumb look realistic and crispy.

If you have over-blurred, try using a very fine, sharp brush to bring back some of the details. One area that really benefits from sharpness is the highlighting on food. Crisp outlines on your finer areas of highlight will help to give a really nice gloss to your food.

The fine details like the grain of the meat and the grill lines are in tact, making the image look realistic and delicious!

Overlay layers are your friend!

I talked about photo filters earlier, and this is another thing we see in food photo filters. Deeper shadows and brighter highlights will help bring extra shine to your food, and make it look rich and glossy. One technique we can use for that is duplicating your finished image and setting the duplicated layer to overlay. Play around with the percentages until you find one that’s not too extreme, and you’ll have a richer, deeper looking image!


Use “manpu”

What are manpu? Find out all about them in our articles here: part 1 / part 2.

I mentioned this in the article on manpu as well, but sparkling marks are great for making something look extra special! They are also used when something is brand new or freshly made, so they’re great for giving food that extra special finish. Either use very small sparkles for a more realistic sparkle, or large ones to have them stand out and give a dramatic shine!

Smaller, realistic sparkles

I hope you found these tips helpful, and will use them to draw all kinds of delicious food in your work!

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