https://www.dpi.media/article/25251My first DPI interview: #54 INTERVIEW WITH A FOOD ARTIST – PART 1

I am very excited that my second interview with DPI Magazine in Taiwan has been published. I will share the English translation with this post. But first, I would love to share some recent artwork.


1. Hello Judy Unger! Since in 2017, we’ve had an email-based interview with you for the Art Quarter vol.16 (Tempting Food Illustrations: An overwhelming banquet for the senses), we are so curious about your recent life! Please share it with us.

It is wonderful to have another opportunity to share my life and art with you. Thank you again for contacting me.

Since 2017, I have continued to explore my passion for music. That same year, my meditation album was featured on the app Insight Timer,” the largest free mediation app in the world. I am a teacher on Insight Timer and share my music through two courses, 44 tracks and twice weekly live performances. My main instrument is acoustic guitar, and my genre of music is healing.

My art career has been slow, but I still receive an occasional commercial assignment. Recently, I’ve enjoyed illustrating elaborate fruit labels for 1800 Margarita Mixes.

Last summer during the pandemic, I decided to expand my stock library and kept myself busy painting new art. After years of being somewhat disconnected from illustrating, I began to prolifically paint new images. I still work traditionally with watercolor dyes and colored pencils. But I’ve also learned to incorporate many digital shortcuts. Once I scan my finished painting, I digitally manipulate it to create alternate versions. Currently, I have about 800 images on iStock and Getty, partner companies.

2. We know that your most recent painting is named “Autumn Leaf Medley.” As you said, painting autumn leaves was something you have done before. What drives you to refocus this theme again? What’s the biggest difference between painting fruits and leaves for you?

Thank you for mentioning my “Autumn Leaf Medley” painting. I was drawn to paint this theme because the fall variations of leaf colors captivated me. I wanted to portray their beauty, just as I would for any fruit or vegetable.

I have a newer painting named “Camellias in Bloom.” My camellias and autumn leaves are fully rendered. This is in contrast to my fruit and vegetable paintings that float upon a white background. Lush paintings that fill every inch require considerably more time. I use frisket to mask and keep areas separate and clean. Below are two other paintings that are fully rendered.

I appreciate high contrast in my paintings. I will compare areas to see relationships of contrast. A leaf might look dark enough, but when an area next to it is filled in with a deeper tone, the leaf becomes lighter.

The exploration of color and texture is a delight with every painting. Texture is a “puzzle to solve” and is achieved for me using many inventive techniques. I will sometimes use Prismacolor pencils to delineate details before painting, as well as after. An eraser is often used to smooth things over. Liquid frisket is useful for lighter areas of texture. I apply it with a toothpick, a toothbrush or a quill for fine lines.

The transparency of watercolor allows me to create interesting color combinations. Even muted colors involve many washes of brilliant transparent dyes to create rich tones.

3. When creating, do you have any ritual or odd habits? What do you value most in the process?

If I could describe a ritual element, it would be my fascination with water droplets and moisture. They are in most of my paintings and fascinate me. I am always discovering new and interesting ways to portray those jewels. Whether they are running down the side of a fruit or pooling on a leaf, every droplet is precious.

What I value most about my current technical process is how I’ve incorporated using the computer. It saves me significant time, so I can focus upon the colors and textures in my painting. The digital process has been invaluable and incredibly efficient for creating reference layouts.In the past, I always worked from photo reference. However, those photos couldn’t be easily manipulated. I used to make color copies and laboriously cut and pasted together my layouts.

I would trace my photo reference and then meticulously transfer the drawing to my watercolor paper using graphite paper. It was tedious. I couldn’t know ahead of time how it might come together. Now I am able to pre-plan on my computer and solve all the compositional, contrast and color issues there. I utilize my own photography, and after combining and refining many photos, I print out a reference image to look at while painting. Then I print a very light version of it onto my actual watercolor paper to save the step of tracing and transferring outlines.

4. How would you describe your style of artworks? Please select one of your most satisfying works and introduce it to us.

 My work has always been photo-realistic, but I must say it has gradually become even more so. Still, my technique is apparent when areas are enlarged – the watercolor/dye is very vibrant!

Sometimes I refer to my work as “idealistic.” The objects are ideal because I usually remove flaws. But there are times when those flaws add to the realism and beauty. I never want anything to be so perfect that it is no longer appetizing.

My most satisfying work is usually my most recent painting. So right now, that would be “Camellias in Bloom.”

But if I had to name a satisfying older painting, it would be “Perfume Medley.” Illustrating reflective glass objects presented challenges, and it was different for me to explore a non-food subject. This illustration was done before my digital awakening, and I cut up several photos when designing it. I was very inspired by the beautiful bottles of my mother’s perfume collection resting on a mirrored tray. And during the painting process, I discovered myself holding the camera in one of the reflections, which was truly amazing!

5. Give us three of your favorite/ most inspiring things right now. Could be a book, a food, a destination, a song, a person, etc.

The first thing that comes to mind are my three living children. They are the lights in my life, and I treasure each child. My deceased son, Jason, also lights the way for me and he lives on in my music and songs.

My music brings me joy, and I am blessed to have composed so many songs. I am especially inspired because for many decades I lived a sad and numb existence without music. But all of that changed in 2010 when I began to sing again.I am very inspired by my song Beside Me Always.” I love the piano meditation version and published a book with that name that shares the rediscovery of music and my personal transformation. I wrote my song when I was 17 years old and even read the words at Jason’s funeral in 1992. I never expected that it would carry so much significance later in my life.

I’m grateful for my art career and appreciate the shift into creating art for pleasure. I’ve definitely taken stock of my art and life. For thirty years, I was pleasing other people with my art, and now I’m enjoying pleasing myself!

6. In the end, do you have any ongoing plans or new exhibitions in the future?

I’ve never had exhibitions as a commercial artist, but I would be gratified to consider one. I have signed all of my work and have many boxes of originals. However, much of my art is not meant to be displayed. Dyes are fine for reproduction, but unfortunately they are not colorfast.

I have a lot of dreams, and I am enjoying my journey. My stock image library provides some revenue. I don’t worry too much about financial success – I am fine with the simple lifestyle that I’ve chosen. My joy is simply to have the freedom to explore my creativity and share my heart with the world.

Posted in TECHNICAL INFORMATION | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


My most recent painting, “Camellias in bloom” was definitely an exercise in patience. It also became an opportunity for me to explore endless green color variations because I painted a lot of foliage.

I took photographs of my overgrown camellia bush for a period of two weeks. When the first flowers bloomed, their vibrancy was exquisite and the center petals were more closed up. Later on, the bush had far more flowers blooming, but many of them were in stages of decay.

The digital process of creating a photo-layout for my painting took time. I worked from many photos and chose the best-looking camellias to be my stars. I pulled them closer together than they were in my photos. I made sure to add some buds and chose interesting leaves to fill in my layout.

The left photo was my basis, but the actual flowers were from the photo on the right, which was taken a week earlier.

The camellias were my stars or “heroes” and my goal was to have the background heighten them. This led me to darken the leaves in certain places. I found the blueness to be very interesting and even added purple into the green for another effect.

There were also many details that I eliminated, including speckled moisture on the leaves. I simplified water droplets, but left so many on the flowers that they kept me busy.

I saved considerable time by printing my layout lightly onto watercolor paper. I began by painting the camellia flowers first.

Masking was an important part of my technique. I cut out every petal and the larger droplets. For the smaller ones, I used liquid masking fluid.

I usually draw upon my frisket film to indicate the areas I plan to cut.

When the flowers were completed, I masked over them with fresh frisket film because I didn’t want the red and green colors to bleed together.

I put the pink palette aside and started a new palette that was mostly green. I saved the pink one for later on – because I knew at the end I would do some touch ups.

At this point, there was still frisket film on the red camellias and large leaves.

I completed areas in blocks and constantly found myself going back to rework older sections. The relationships between areas changed as I filled in more of my painting. I was continually darkening leaves and the transparent veils of color added richness. Some of the leaves had well over a dozen washes of color on them.

Although I used a lot of masking with the hero flowers, for the background I only masked the larger leaves. The delineations in the other areas were blurry and didn’t need sharpness.

When the background was completed, I eagerly removed the frisket on the flowers so I could see them again. My next step was to pull out my Prismacolor pencils. Those pencils were great for eliminating darker lines that happen as a result of using frisket film.

I can show this with two close-ups before and after I used colored pencils.

Colored pencil helped to soften the flower’s edge.

I did end up using the pink palette to knock back some of the white areas on the petals. I wanted the flowers to be more subtle, with less contrast.

I spent oodles more hours working over my painting with colored pencil and watercolor touches. But then I noticed it wasn’t significantly improving anything. If I kept working, my painting might become overworked and less sparkly. Finally I stopped and said, “Enough is enough!”

Then I scanned my image, which became yet another opportunity to spend countless hours fixing small details. I had to rein that in also. My main objective was to remove any spots of dust.

For stock purposes, I went ahead and created two paintings of my “Camellias in bloom,” and they were just different croppings of my larger painting.

During the time I was working on this painting, there was another magical surprise in store for me amidst the flowers.

I was having a haircut on my patio and my lovely stylist noticed a tiny bird’s nest resting on a branch. If she hadn’t pointed it out to me, I would never have seen it.

The day after I took this photo, the tiny hummingbird flew away.

I took many photos of that nest and even created another painting layout. This time, the camellias took a back seat to the tiny bird. However, when it came time for me to move forward to paint it, I hesitated. I decided I just wasn’t excited about revisiting this same subject right away.

I might paint that hummingbird someday, or maybe not. With distance the answer will come to me.

I’m already working on two other new paintings that I am excited about. I plan to paint whatever subjects intrigue me. My creative instinct tells me to follow my joy.

I end my camellia post with close-ups of the final painting.

Posted in TECHNICAL INFORMATION | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments


In order to make the concentric rings sharp, I used an exacto knife to score the paper.

Since I painted an onion, I felt compelled to do a tomato after that.

I continue to take stock of my life and my art. I began painting new images for fun last summer and tell that story with #57 TAKING STOCK OF ART AND MY LIFE – PART 1.

This is the first time in my career where I’ve been prolifically creating new art for my own purposes. Since last July, I’ve painted over fifty illustrations.

I’m also excited to share that DPI Magazine will be featuring my work for a second time. My post, #54 INTERVIEW WITH A FOOD ARTIST, will soon have a part two!

Recently, I moved 80% of my stock images from Getty to a partner company named iStock. This is advantageous, because now my work will be in two places. I’ll hope in time to see results.

My iStock images can be seen here: Judy Unger iStock

I have noticed that my recent paintings are “branching” into the fine art realm. I am enjoying garden and nature scenes, but the time involved with filling every inch of my painting doesn’t escape me.

Currently, I’m painting some camellias and am excited to share my painting in progress. I will probably finish it later this week.

I continue to paint new images for my stock library. A few of them I’ve already shared on prior posts. But since persimmons didn’t quite go with a post about apples, I have grouped them here. I will also indicate which images are digital combinations.

Now I’ll just let my images tell the story.

The advantage as an artist is that I am able to remove the brown blemished areas. This is my photo for reference.

I love the brilliance and translucence of that particular water drop resting on the highlight area.

These two berry paintings were originally for a job assignment. When the job was cancelled mid-stream, I went ahead and painted the illustrations anyway.

Having access to a tree with leaves and fruit was very helpful for me. I went ahead to put the autumn brown touches on the leaves, which added to the realism.

I love closeups, because they share the texture. The lighter spots were created by using liquid frisket masking fluid and a toothbrush, as well as a toothpick.

Believe it or not, I actually found myself eating pomegranates while illustrating them. The homegrown fruit was quite delicious!

It seemed strange to have blue reflections on these red seeds, but it added to the realism that way.

The decision to paint a shadow is sometimes a quandary for me. That is why I’ll create an alternate stock version without a shadow.

This was another digital version I created.

This texture required masking with liquid frisket.

This was another digital version I created by removing the yellow squash.

It has been interesting for me to create new medleys by combining many paintings.

I share another digital combination.

I surprised myself by doing another avocado illustration. I have my first one on Part 1 of this post.

The interplay of warm and cool was fascinating for me. The opaque highlight adds coolness.

A stock image, incorporating my new whole avocado with my prior cut half.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


Clicking on the painting below opens up a window to my leaf related stock images on Getty Images.

My most recent painting is named “Autumn Leaf Medley.”

It was definitely enjoyable to capture so many colors. I filled my palette with eyedroppers of dye from at least 20 bottles in order to create my painting.

My painting of autumn leaves evoked a poignant memory that can be found at this link: “CAN I KEEP THEM FOREVER?”

Below is an image of my painting in progress:

Collecting leaves in Southern California is not comparable to other areas in the United States where autumn leaves are prized for their spectacle.

But I didn’t have to hunt too hard to find examples of the season. I ended up being very inspired by the bland ones, such as the oak leaves. Even though they weren’t initial standouts, their interesting bluish tones really enhanced my painting.

These are some examples of photos that I used as reference for my painting:

Painting autumn leaves was something I have done before. In the 1990’s I had several assignments painting romance covers for Avon Books. To create stock images, I excised individual leaves from the book cover below.

In the 1990’s, I painted another leaf themed romance cover named “See You In September.” Below is the layout for that cover. I photographed my reference and followed my job instructions closely. It was helpful that a friendly art director did me a favor and mailed me a box full of leaves from Upstate New York. I set up my layout and even found a plastic stand-in for the red heart.

Before I had access to incredible digital tools, I used to painstakingly trace my reference photo and then transfer the drawing onto my watercolor paper. It was tedious and time consuming.

And below is my finished book cover. I was supposed to get the original artwork back, but unfortunately that never happened. I was told that it had been lost and I was paid a small sum as compensation.

I love the palette of colors in my newest autumn leaf painting. Lighter veins held challenges and I used a crow quill with liquid frisket to mask out those areas.

Touches of Prismacolor pencil worked really well on many of the autumn leaves. Lighter colored pencils inherently add coolness, which can be advantageous and interesting. It imparts a waxy sheen. For the speckled areas, colored pencil put down first added another dimension, and didn’t bleed when painted over.

I also especially savored painting crisp and subtle shadows with watercolor/dye.

Even though this painting required an investment of my time (about a week), Autumn Leaf Medley was fun to paint. I’m so glad I took the opportunity to create an enjoyable painting for myself!

Posted in TECHNICAL INFORMATION | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments