It started in 2010 with a crate of figs, some fetuccine, butter and balsamic vinegar. The next thing they knew, they had spawned a community of food and illustrations around the word. Salli S. Swindell and her brother Nate Padavick of Studio SSS—were on vacation.
“Nate was cooking fettuccine with figs in butter balsamic sauce—sounds amazing, right?” recall Salli. “While he was cooking, I was at the counter drawing the crate of fresh figs and sipping wine. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment. Drawing food is fun! I told Nate we needed to find more food illustration jobs.”
They Draw and Cook first began as a printed book of illustrated recipes they’d give away to friends, family, and clients. Nate had the idea to invite other friends to contribute to the book. Weeks and months passed. While awaiting one submission for the book, Nate grew impatient. On a whim, he posted eight of the illustrated recipes to a blog he and Salli decided to brand They Draw and Cook.
Word spread. Others began submitting illustrated recipes. In a short time, they had hundreds. Then thousands: more than 250,000 follow the blog on Facebook; more than 40,000 follow it on Instagram. Schools are using these sites for classroom assignments. “Some of our finest illustrated recipes are from students attending MICA, CCAD, and SCAD,” adds Salli. “We welcome a range of styles and skill level, and especially like it when we see an artist improve their skills one recipe or map at a time.”
The site’s popularity has inspired Nate and Salli to think of fresh ideas to unite illustration and personal interests. The compiled a list of “They Draw and …” variations. Nate’s love of travel includes an interest in map design. The brother and sister added a map feature to their site to enable visitors to find other illustrators around the world. Then they created They Draw and Travel—a companion site that is just as fun as their food site.
Although these started as a whim, the sites take up quite a chunk of time each week. Salli manages the cooking site and Nate the travel site, and each spend 15 to 20 hours a week. With so much effort devoted to the sites, Nate and Salli try to offset the costs with sponsorships that won’t clutter the site, such as illustrated recipe contests. Salli explains, “In the past, companies such as Glad, Kraft, UPPERCASE magazine and The Food Network have sponsored contests and offered cash prizes of up to $5,000. Contests are super fun and create a ton of buzz. We don’t have any planned right now, but would love to! Anyone? Anyone?”
They also have published several books as offshoots of the sites that help pay for website development. Cookbooks ranging from cocktails, vegan, fig and holiday recipes are available on their online shop, and Nate just published his first illustrated map book, titled The Draw and Travel, 100 Illustrated Maps of American Places by Artists Around the World.
The best part about both sites is the collaborative nature and it has actually helped many artists secure new clients. “We’ve made so many new friends and have discovered new food and adventure with every recipe and map,” Salli explains. “What started out as a way for nine of us to meet a few new clients, turned into a way for thousands of artists to connect with art directors all around the world. Every week or so we hear from an artist telling us that they were contacted by an art director who spotted their work on one of our sites. It doesn’t get any better than that!”
But don’t be surprised to see amateur artists featured alongside pros on the sites. They only turn art away if it isn’t the correct size or format. “Quite a few schools use our sites for classroom assignments. Some of our finest illustrated recipes are from students attending MICA, CCAD and SCAD. We like the range of styles and skill level and we especially like when we see an artist improve their skills one recipe or map at a time!”