Looking to perfect your still-life drawing game? This easy Procreate tutorial is here to help! Read along for a simple yet comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to draw onions digitally using iPad Pro.
Digital drawing continues to thrive as an exciting medium in the world of art. Many famous illustrators have created truly remarkable work using Procreate on iPad Pro, and now it’s your turn to try out the amazing tools this artistic medium has to offer.
This realistic onion drawing Procreate tutorial will break down the process of illustrating on a tablet and set you up with the basics of this amazing app. We’ll use how to draw an onion as our example!
How to Draw Onions: Drawing on iPad
I’m a Toronto illustrator who specializes in book illustration, portraiture, editorial illustration and exhibition design. Over the last few years the digital medium has become an important drawing tool for me and a integral part of my illustration process overall.
If you are new to digital drawing I am sure you’ll be amazed, both by how easy it is to pick it up, and by the new range of drawing potential it provides. Creating illustrations of everyday things around your home, like an onion, with an Apple Pencil on iPad Pro, allows for new and advantageous ways of creating layers, texture, and dimension, and is also really quite fun.
Sketch Realistic Onions At Home
One of the best ways to become an expert on how to draw onions is by visiting your local farmers market or the produce section of the grocery store.
Onions are widely appreciated for their characteristic aroma, come in a variety of colours and sizes and all share eye-popping rings when sliced in half.
Onions are cultivated and used around the world. As a food item, they are usually served cooked, as a vegetable or part of a prepared savoury dish, but can also be eaten raw in salads or used to make pickles or chutneys. They are pungent when chopped and contain certain chemical substances which may irritate the eyes. We suggest wearing swimming goggles when slicing to avoid tearing.
Purchase a variety of shapes and sizes as it helps make a still life onion drawing more interesting. Be sure to arrange the onions on your kitchen counter to photograph in ample natural light.
Once you’ve finished drawing onions be sure to eat them up! We know you’ll love these popular onion recipes at home:
- Homemade Fermented Onions
- Schwäbische Käsespätzle German Cheese Noodles
- Älplermagronen Cheesy Swiss Alpine Macaroni
- Moghrabieh Lebanese Chickpea Chicken Couscous
- Caramelized Shallot Pasta in Cream Sauce
- Easy Healthy Roasted Vegetable Couscous
- Traditional Tagliatelle alla Bolognese Pasta
- Vegetarian Mafalda Pasta Noodles
Onion Drawing Procreate Tutorial
When I think of comfort food, I automatically think about onions. Few aromas give me that warm, cozy, appetite-inducing feeling than the smell of onions sauteing in a pan at suppertime. An intense flavour base in countless sauces, soups, curries and other dishes the world over, onions are a beloved and important food staple for humans, and have been so for millennia.
Onions are also a lovely subject for still-life drawing. Their paper-like skin is smooth and delicate, and their firm and juicy interiors are oozing with savoury pungence (all of which I’m convinced you can see when you cut into it). Not to mention a unique internal structure of tightly packed layers. Their colours too are at the same time earthly and elegant. A glowy golden-coloured onion is a beautiful thing to behold.
Luckily for you Procreate makes recreating telltale onion characteristics like these in your drawing fun and easy. And this Procreate tutorial will break down the process into separate steps that will have you creating a still life onion masterpiece in no time.
Not to mention, the Procreate methods you’ll practice using in this tutorial will create the benefit of adding many exciting new tools to your art arsenal!
Procreate Tutorial: How to Draw Onions with iPad Pro
Let’s first get set up with a new canvas in Procreate. When you first open the app you’ll be in the “gallery” where all of your artworks will be visible. Tap the “+” in the top right of the screen and a menu will appear where you can select your canvas size.
To choose your dimensions click “create custom canvas” and enter them (in mm, cm, inches, or pixels). You can simply select “screen size,” however I recommend going bigger so that you have the option to print your finished piece with a nice resolution.
For my onion drawing I’ve created an 11″ x 14.5″ canvas. I’ve gone with a resolution of 300 DPI, which allows for up to 35 layers. If you go too big the maximum number of layers you can have in your artwork can be too few for our purposes, this is a good size.
Now it’s important to explore and familiarize yourself with Procreate’s basic tools. Starting with the toolbar on the top right of your canvas.
- The Brush Tool: This is the tool with which you draw/paint. Tap it to open your Brush Library. Procreate’s brushes are categorized in a list down the left side of the drop down menu. Tap any of these to see your brush options in each category. Choose what you like and then tap the brush icon in the toolbar again to close the menu. Now get scribbling! Try a few different brushes and use different pressures and angles of the Apple Pencil – it’s remarkably realistic in its response to your hand.
- The Eraser Tool: It does exactly what you think it does! Tap it and you’ll open an identical Brush Library as tapping the brush tool. Try a few and see how it erases your scribbles.
- The Colour Tool: This is your colour palette. Tap and it will open in its default view of “Disc.” Use the outer wheel to select colour, and the inner circle to select lightness/darkness. Or you can use the square view that combines the two. When you’ve chosen the colour you want to use, tap the colour icon in the toolbar again to close the menu. Again, do some scribbling! Choose a variety of brush and colour combinations to get a feel for the colouring process.
- The Smudge Tool: This is used to blend colours and create gradients. This tool has the same effect as taking your finger to pencil on paper and rubbing it to blend. The smudge tool mimics the real thing fairly well but it does take some getting used to.
- The Layers Tool: You can use this menu to create multiple layers on your canvas, and select between them. How to do this, and the benefits of layers, will be best understood by following through my own example here in this Procreate tutorial.
Then there are the slider toolbars on the left side of your canvas.
- Brush Size: The top slider. Tap, hold and move up and down to adjust the size of your brush tip. A preview window will open up to help guide you. This slider is used for your brush, smudge and eraser tools in the same way.
- Brush Opacity: The bottom slider. This works the same way as the brush size slider, but is for brush opacity.
- Undo/Redo: Under the sliders you’ll see these two buttons. Tapping the undo button will undo the last stroke you drew/erased. Vice versa with the redo button. This is a very useful tool you’ll probably use a lot. You can also undo by tapping once anywhere on your canvas with two fingers.
There is also the toolbar in the top left of your canvas. For these tools I will point them out and explain them along the way as we need them.
How to Draw Onions Step One: Choosing a Reference Photo
If you can take your reference photo yourself, great. You can use the iPad itself to capture a good photo.
If you don’t have any onions handy, there are plenty of images online for you to choose from. It’s a good idea to chose one that is copyright free and there are several websites that have large libraries of free images.
I took my reference image myself in my kitchen. I picked up two slightly different varieties, one yellow onion, and one white. I cut the white onion in half so that I could also include a cross section of the interior. The yellow onion I left whole.
I made sure to choose a spot where the light reflected the wetness of the onion flesh and where the rings of its layers were visible. Make sure you get a nice shot that is close up to capture details and is in focus.
The first thing to do before you get to drawing is setting up your reference photo to work from. A great option with iPad Pro is that you can keep your photo open in a window beside your Procreate canvas while you work.
To do so, tap and hold the bar at the bottom centre of the screen in Procreate, then slowly pull up the iPad menu (if you swipe too quickly you’ll close Procreate).
Once the menu is up, tap and hold the photos icon, and drag it to the left side of the screen (or right side, for the lefties out there!) Pull it past the edge of the Procreate window and drop it there and tada, you have both open at the same time. You can also adjust the size of the photo window by holding and sliding the side bar of the window.
How to Draw Onions Step Two: Blocking Your Shapes
Now you are set up to start drawing onions!
The first step will be blocking out the shapes of the individual onions with a solid colour. For this I used the studio pen brush under “inking” in the brush menu, because it gives a nice clean line.
To determine which colour to use, I took a look at my onion reference photo and tried to match it generally to the medium colour tone of each piece. A deep orange/brown for the whole onion and an off-white yellowish tone for the halved onion.
Once you have a fully enclosed shape, you can fill it in with solid colour by tapping and holding the colour icon in the top right, and then dragging it to the inside of your shape and releasing. The shape will then fill with that colour. Make sure your shape is fully enclosed or the “fill” will fill the entire canvas. If this happens just tap your canvas with 2 fingers to “undo.”
You will find it helpful to separate these shapes onto separate layers. For my whole onion I draw the bulb and the dried top on separate layers. This will make painting and editing them much easier down the road because you won’t have to worry about your painting bleeding from one clearly defined area to another.
To create a new layer tap the “layers” icon in the top right menu, and then tap the “+” in the drop down. You can tap and hold any layer in the menu and drag it above or below other layers.
You can adjust the size and position of different elements in your blocked shapes by utilizing the “lasso” tool. That is the tool in the top left menu that looks like the letter “S”. Tap it, and then make sure “freehand” is highlighted in the bottom menu. Then you can use your Apple Pencil to draw around the part you want to adjust.
One you’ve traced around that portion, tap the cursor tool in the top left menu and you’ll see a bounding box appear which you can use to make adjustments.
For example, I adjusted the size and orientation/placement of my cut-open onion, for a more pleasing composition.
For the cut onion, I also used a little digital drawing trick to speed up my process. Looking at my reference, I see that there’s a very thin line of a dark colour around the open onion cross section (the skin). Rather than draw out that very thin line all around I duplicated the existing blocked shape and adjusted its size and colour.
To do so you can open the layers menu, and swipe the layer you want to duplicate to the left with one finger. An option button will appear to “duplicate.” Then select an onion skin colour and drag and drop that onto the copied shape. Next tap, hold and drag that layer underneath the original open onion layer. Then tap the cursor tool again in the top left menu for the bounding box to appear. From here you can slightly increase the size and position until only that thin layer of skin is showing underneath the open onion cross section. Amazing!
From here you can then add any extra pieces of skin that appear around the edges of the cut onion. For the one piece in my onion where the skin hovers over the exposed interior, I draw that piece on another new layer on its own.
How to Draw Onions Step Three: Underlying Gradients
Now that you have your base layers of colour you can start “painting” and adding layers of colour to build up the 3-dimensionality and shape of your onion. Take a good look at your reference photo and try to see the underlying gradients of light and dark tones beneath all of the finer details.
Before you begin though, Procreate has a feature that makes this painting and blending part a lot easier, called the alpha lock. If you “alpha lock” a layer, you can only paint on what already exists on that layer. Meaning when blending out some colours you don’t need to worry about your smudges coming past the edges of you blocked out shape.
To alpha lock a layer, open the layers menu. Using two fingers, swipe the layer you want to lock to the right. If you’ve done it successfully the layer thumbnail will get a checkered background. To un-lock the layer at any point simply swipe it with two fingers to the right again.
Now you can get to painting. For my drawing I started with the whole onion. For this part you do not necessarily need to be very tidy with your painting. This part is about getting your colour tones down. For this part I chose the “gouache” brush under “painting” in the brush menu, but feel free to use whichever brush suits you.
How to Draw Onions Step Four: Blend and Adjust
After you have your general rough painting down, it’s time to smooth it out and blend your colours where need be. For this you with use the smudge tool in the top right menu. For the smudge “brush” I also chose the gouache brush just to match the paint strokes.
Go ahead and blend where you need to in order to get the right kind of transitions between areas of different colour. Keep in mind it is possible to overblend! You want the transition between different colours to be smooth but still defined. To undo any stroke remember you can tap the canvas anywhere with two fingers to undo your strokes.
It make take some time to find the right balance with this. You can switch back and forth between the blend tool and painting over it again until you come to the right appearance.
It’s also important to really pay attention to the details in your reference photo. Really zoom in and try to separate the different colours you see. My onion is a nice golden colour, however there is a very distinct area of purple shine to it, which I may not have noticed at a glance. Including it however really helped with creating a realistic look.
The final part of this step is the dark area at the bottom of the onion. You could do this on a separate layer, however given how small it is I found it worked fine to include it on the same layer as the rest. There was a lot of defined detail in this area, so for some parts I switched to the technical pen brush for that crisp edge.
How to Draw Onions Step Five: Dry and Broken Skin
Next will be the areas of skin on the top of the whole onion, as well as the bits of torn skin around the edges of the cut onion. For these it will mostly be a process of copy what you see, all done on a single layer for both.
Start with the whole onion top. Again the first step is to alpha lock the layer for your painting.
For this area in my reference photo there are a couple of defined edges within the shape where there’s a crisp edge of colour change. To make recreating this easier you can use the lasso tool again, but this time use it to isolate a certain area of a layer to paint on. Using this technique will allow you to blend out and draw each of those areas freely and separately without affecting one another.
Start by tapping the lasso tool and then draw around the portion of the shape you want to draw on. Then tap the “brush” tool, and voila, you have your isolated portion of that layer to draw upon. Once you’ve finished painting and blending out that portion you can use the same method to trace out and isolate any other area. You may find this makes your drawing process easier.
This area has a lot of changes in tone and colour to give the impression of the skin being dry and crumpled. Zoom in close and do your best recreate what you see. Utilize changes in the opacity of your brushes to merge colours over one another. In my drawing I drew this portion in three sections, all defined using the lasso drawing technique.
Next are the skin pieces on the cut onion. Make sure the layers are alpha locked and have at it! Repeat these same steps/techniques for these bits of skin to create a realistic rendering. You can also “borrow” colours you’ve already used on the whole onion by tapping and holding on an area with the colour you want to pick. A magnifying circle will appear that you can move until you’re over the colour you want to select.
How to Draw Onions Step Six: Onion Interior
The next step is to capture the interior of your onion, with all of its telltale layers and rings. For this portion the process is again similar to what’s already been done, with some rough painting, blending, and back and forth between the two.
I found I got a nice effect that mimicked the real thing when I painted out a ring in a darker colour, and then took the smudge tool and roughly smudged out in a perpendicular direction from the line using single strokes, side by side.
There are portions where the rings look less defined, due to how the light is striking the surface, keep that in mind and blend accordingly. Another tip is to pay attention to the variation in colour. The darker areas of the onion flesh aren’t a single tone of grey, some are more blue, others more yellow. Adjust your colours accordingly.
The final details on the onion interior are the shadow cast by the piece of skin, and the very bright speckling highlights of shine. for each of these I would suggest drawing them on separate layers to maintain your ring layer in case you need to make any drastic changes.
For the shadow I used the same gouache brush with the paint and blend process to achieve the desired effect. The highlights on the other hand are very defined, so for those I used the technical pen in a true white colour.
When I finished the interior I realized that it was a little bit too bright. So rather than painting over it again with darker colours, I darkened the layer slightly for the same effect. To do so, with the layer you want to adjust selected, tap the magic wand icon in the top left menu. From there tap on “Hue, Saturation, Brightness” and adjust the brightness with the slider at the bottom. I knocked my layer down a couple of percentage points.
How to Draw Onions Step Seven: Shadows
Finally, to complete the drawing I added some shadows to ground the onions.
For these, it’s important to choose your background colour first, because your shadows will be a darker shade of that colour. You can do so by opening the layers menu and tapping the “background colour” layer. I chose a pale coral colour because I thought it brought out the rose gold tones in the onion skin nicely. But this part is up to you, so choose whatever colour you like.
Now to do your shadows, once again start on a new layer positioned below the onion layers. Draw out your shadow shapes with a clean-edged brush (like the technical pen) and fill them in with a dark, nearly black shade of your background colour. Then you can use the layer’s opacity to make them slightly transparent to let the background colour come through.
To do so, open the layers menu, then tap the “N” on the shadow layer. Then you can adjust the slider to the transparency of your liking. I also used an airbrush eraser to create the subtle variations in darkness in my shadows.
And voila! Your finishing touch is done.
- Give your canvas and/or your reference photo more space if needed by dragging the slider in between the two windows. You’ll see a grey bar to tap on, hold and slide.
- You can zoom in and out by “pinching” the screen with two fingers. Don’t forget you can zoom in for areas with small details. You can also rotate the canvas using the two-finger pinch (rather than turning the iPad itself around, an inevitable habit when you’re used to turning your piece of paper around – there is an easier way!
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You’ve Completed our Realistic Onion Drawing Tutorial!
You’ve now mastered how to draw onions!
If you’re someone who draws or paints a lot, you know it’s possible to keep going and going and tweaking and tweaking into eternity. And truthfully Procreate makes falling into this even easier.
The up side, however, is that you can leave the piece alone for a time, and then very easily pick up where you left off, without having to get all of your paint and supplies out.
All that said, you will know when it’s done, and for a satisfying finish to your digital drawing experience, you can utilize one of my favourite Procreate features – time lapse video.
By default, Procreate records your entire drawing process (you can opt to turn this off, but really why?) You can play it all back in high speed when your drawing is complete. It’s a fun thing to watch and a fantastic thing to share with curious fans of your art.
If you’re a freelance illustrator, find that offering a time lapse video of your clients’ work acts as a competitive advantage. And better yet, offering a video that showcases the creation of your onion drawing requires no additional time or money.
By using this Procreate tutorial as your step-by-step drawing guide for how to draw onions, I’m sure you will be very satisfied with your result. Once you’ve gone through the motions from start to finish you can experiment and settle into your own process.
This medium has so many possibilities that you can really let your creativity run wild. So dive in, go digital and have fun!
Best Illustration Apps
This story offers a step-by-step Procreate tutorial on how to draw onions. It’s important to note that there are several other drawing apps you can use on iPad Pro when drawing onions. Here are just a few:
- Notes: The Apple sketch app that comes with your iPad! Simple, easy to use for quick sketches, free and fast. Though for serious drawing you may want to seek apps with more robust options/tools. Price: FREE
- Adobe Illustrator Draw: This app is for creating vector graphics, with a very intuitive interface. It can also sync with Adobe’s Creative Cloud, meaning you can transfer your work between the iPad and desktop no problem. Price: FREE with Creative Cloud subscription, monthly plan prices vary.
- Inspire: Fast and nicely responsive, with a huge variety of customizable tools, and over 80 brushes. Great for beginners and intermediates alike. Price:$13.99 CAD, $27.99 for Pro Version.
- Procreate: Easily one of the most popular drawing apps, it works seamlessly with Apple Pencil, is highly responsive and offers an excellent variety of tools, all presented in a terrifically simple interface. Price: $13.99 CAD
If you’re a newbie digital illustrator we also suggest purchasing Beginners Guide to Digital Painting in Procreate, iPad and iPad Pro for Dummies, a protective iPad cover and Apple Pencil Case.
Procreate Tutorial: The Benefits of iPad Pro
- The process is very similar to drawing using traditional methods on paper. You’ll be delighted by how intuitive it is, and how for the actual drawing part, you don’t need to re-learn anything.
- Streamlined process. All of your supplies – camera, reference photos, paper, pens, pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, paint and paint brushes, are all combined into one place – iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.
- The ability to undo when your pen stroke wasn’t quite right. You can also edit certain elements after the fact. The thickness of that piece is too much, I don’t quite like the colour I used here. All of that can be fixed!
- The ability to work in layers, drawing or colouring over or under certain elements without worrying about accidental erasing or colour contamination.
- You aren’t tethered to your desk, you can get comfy and work wherever you like. And that includes outside your own home too.
- Easy transferability/shareability of your art. Your finished product is already in a format that you can add to your illustration portfolio online, share on your social media, etc. No need to arrange a high quality scan or professional photograph.
- The ability to replicate elements, (for patterning, for example) rather than needing to hand-draw the same thing over and over.
If you’re a freelance illustrator looking to up your game, getting familiar with this medium will benefit you tremendously. And if you are an amateur who just loves to draw, looking to have fun creating onions or other still life drawings, iPad Pro and Apple Pencil can help you do things you might not have thought possible.
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