When I see food…

(I’m on a seafood diet. When I see food…
I’ll get me coat.)

This is an image to be used on the place settings of Houhai seafood restaurant. Below is an explanation of my process when I’m working on a commission…

So these place settings are on A3 paper, the idea is that they serve two purposes: To tell the customers the time that each type of seafood should be cooked (this is a self-cook hot pot restaurant), and secondly they can be thrown out after each customer, making clean up easier.

They’re using plain white A4 paper at the moment

So my first idea is that the different seafood items could be laid out in a kind of clock:

So you have ‘raw’ at the top (for oysters) then clockwise ‘1 minute’ for shrimp through to ‘3 minutes’ for octopus. The two characters in the middle are ‘Houhai’, the name of the restaurant.

This was done with a series of pencil sketches:

Filefish (‘horse faced fish’ in Chinese) and cuttlefish
Bombay duck fish (not from Bombay, and not a duck, one of those British Empire names) and red tilefish

But this sketch had two problems: Cooking the seafood isn’t such an exact science, and the images of the fish were too static, they wanted something more anthropomorphic. So I came up with these:

For bombay duck (the ‘tofu fish’ in Chinese) and abalone
The filefish and red tilefish, redrawn.
Octopus

Definitely more interesting. And then put them together in this colour sketch in Photoshop:

So the client was very happy with this, and I went ahead with the final image. I painted all the fish individually in watercolour:

Red tilefish, shrimp, shellfish, oyster

And put them together in Photoshop:

The Chinese text is cooking instructions for the hotpot

I made the whole image much darker, I like the evening look and it let me draw more dramatic shadows giving the image a much stronger ‘3d’ feel, the fish popping out away from the table. But the client wasn’t happy, they liked the light sunshine feel of that original sketch – and with good reason. The restaurant is in Chongqing, a city continuously shrouded in low cloud and smog, the sun (famously) never shines. So the image should get away from all that, and welcome the customer by being light, breezy, uplifting with bright sunshine. Not dark and claustrophobic.

I rejigged the colours back to the colour sketch, and that’s how I came to the final, accepted version:

Which I like, and I’m happy with, but the way the fish don’t stand out so well from the crowded table of food does bother me still :) I couldn’t come up with a good solution for that.

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