The art of food

PUBLISHED: 12:42 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:03 20 February 2013

And the watercolour one!

And the watercolour one!

The key to successful food painting is remembering to carefully layer up your colour ingredients, says artist Richard Nichols

The key to successful food painting is remembering to carefully layer up your colour ingredients, says artist Richard Nichols

Whenever culinary delights are set before me there is usually a temptation to sit back and admire the creation a little longer than a cursory few seconds of "doesnt that look good" politeness, but invariably taste buds take over and the gastronomic delight has disappeared all too quickly.

Having put such urges to the test on several occasions at The Petistree Greyhound, I decided it was time to rise to the challenge and asked for the opportunity to paint one of their delightful desserts before I was tempted to consume it.

My quest was to match that flair with pencil, paint and brushes whilst restraining the urge to eat whatever was temptingly set out before me.

I had arranged to call in after a lunchtime session, as my plan was to give the diners a chance to dissipate or linger in the restaurant whilst I set up materials for my task in the comfy bar area, allowing half an hour or so to study the subject before the magazines photographer was due to arrive

Taped in place were two pieces of heavyweight watercolour paper, new Saunders Waterford High White and Bockingford, which would give me an opportunity to use one as an experimental piece if necessary whilst allowing areas of the main composition to "rest."

I run many art workshops throughout the year for students with various abilities, and enjoy encouraging others to realise their own creations in various media, but one fundamental stumbling block with watercolour is an almost uncontrollable urge to continue with a piece and not to let it rest, or dry, before loading in more colour and detail.

Here, the main artwork was sketched out lightly with a soft 3B pencil before mixing paints from the primaries of red, yellow and blue, as these can provide exciting myriad changing colours without the complication of choosing ready-made from tube or pan.

As with most activities, there is a invariably a moment of trepidation when actually beginning and the proverbial blank white sheet of paper can, for many beginners and established artists, be one of the most daunting parts of a painting.

In this case there was precious little time for such thoughts as I had no idea how long the beautifully presented cheesecake which arrived in front of me would last before it started to subside or (perish the thought) look less attractive!

Very pale colours were needed to replicate that delicious chocolate swirl so touches of blues and reds went quickly into a small amount of cadmium yellow with plenty of water to pigment ratio and the same "blend" being used to create the darker chocolate colour a little later on by combining Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson with Cadmium and Winsor Blue so maybe chocoholics should consider food painting as an alternative quick fix when craving those luscious, silky smooth tones and tastes?

The photographer arrived when I had progressed to those Rubenesque redcurrants and we happily chatted whilst he fired away and I honed in on detail after carefully laying down base pale washes.

Soon I was alone with my cheesecake, still waving at me siren-like to abandon the diversion of painting the thing and to consume it, yet I concentrated on finer points now and continued to take "progress" shots with my own camera. This is always a bit risky, as a part of the composition could easily dry or blend too much if distracted for too long!

My technique today was for "layering up" those beautiful watercolours to allow the luminosity of the pigments to hit the watercolour paper and shine back through some areas needed to merge wet-into-wet and others had to be perfectly dry before adding the next crisp layer of paint.

Those blueberries called for a luscious, deep colour, achieved by mixing the Crimson with Winsor Blue and layering delicately with a "dry brush" technique as used to achieve the icing sugar frosting effect on the redcurrants.

By now the natural light was beginning to fade so I had to work a little faster (not hurry, is a message I endeavour to get over at my workshops) although I was amazed at how gorgeously tempting the subject still appeared, with only a slight hint of movement from the original presentation.

Greyish shadows for our plate, mixed from all those primary colours and then the puree decoration (apologies John, should that be flavour enhancement) were added with more Crimson to the blueberry mix to give some punch to the foreground.

This in turn required other areas of the composition to be bumped up in colour strength and again, such is the beauty of watercolour that this further enhanced paler areas.

I invariably wait to avoid potential overworking and look at an artwork later the same or following day so, sitting back to critique before one or two final touches. My main temptation now was soon to be satisfied by seeking out a fork and spoon to sample that very same delight set out some two hours earlier.

The customers had long since departed but distant noises emanating from the kitchen plus wine orders being phoned through reassured me I was not alone in this atmospheric place but feeling part of the preparation for a busy evening ahead.

At last my chance to savour the wonderful flavours and textures of my delicious cheesecake untilhalfway through, Karen returned to see how things were going and there I was, caught Cadmium Red Handed!

Richard Nichol runs his workshops, Suffolk Art Safaris and Art Walks indoors and en plein air at various venues around the region. He is also happy to visit groups large or small and arrange one-to-one sessions to suit those busy individual schedules.

Call 01728 663722, visit or email

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