Illustrated Recipes: Five tips to get you started

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They Draw & Cook is the internet’s largest collection of illustrated recipes created by artists from around the world. Founded by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell, the site features more than 7,200 recipes, and it grows each day. They’ve since published more than a dozen books with recipes from the site, and one The Most Gorgeous Cookbook Ever, features 30 recipes by artist Ohn Mar Win. Swindell says, “We LOVE receiving illustrated recipes from Ohn Mar Win! Her illustrations always capture a mood and vibe that would be really hard to achieve with a photograph.”

Win who’s based in the UK, has been an illustrator and designer for 20 years. She teaches classes for Skillshare on drawing and watercolor techniques. Here, she shares five tips to help you get started on your own illustrated recipe.

  1. Research

Before beginning a project, I always collect lots of reference photos and create a mood board. This helps me to see many angles of the image—in this case, figs—and shows the variances in colors. I often use Pinterest for broad references, but if I need something more specific, I’ll use an image library like Shutterstock.

  1. Put it down on paper

I always start with a hand-drawn sketch rendered in brush pen or black pen, which I scan and take into Photoshop for the texture. I find this method helps me keep the spontaneity of the sketch, which a lot of clients like. My best suggestion is just draw and draw and draw – that’s how I got good at food! It’s very important to observe actual food so you can translate your understanding of it in a recipe or piece of packaging.

  1. Establish the composition before drawing

I draw out the ingredients that I think I’ll need based on the layout I’ve chosen. Most of the time I follow the sketch layout, but sometimes I’ll rearrange the composition in Photoshop or Illustrator depending on what other elements I’m using.

  1. Follow basic lettering rules

I’m mindful of the lettering placement when I sketch out my rough. I also take a look at lettering sites like My Fonts to get a feel for what sort of lettering style would suit the vibe of my recipe.

Swindell notes, “The angle of the title and the mix of lettering styles help to make this composition so dynamic and engaging.”

  1. Color is key

I look very closely at foods and often seek out the nuances within them, especially if they are heirloom vegetables, which I love to paint or illustrate. You can do whatever you want when you’re creating for yourself, but clients may have their own ideas about how they want their foods to be colored based on the final product.

“The colors and stylization of the figs are pure magic. The colors almost sparkle against the dark rich background. Figs are a super sexy fruit to draw because they are so curvy and lyrical. In truth, I think her illustrated version of the fig tart looks way more appetizing than the real thing. One of the best things about this recipe is the organization of the information. It’s super easy to know what ingredients you need and how to prepare the dish. It makes me want to make a Fig Tart. NOW!” Swindell notes.

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