It was a seemingly regular day in 2010, when brother-sister duo Nate Padavick and Salli S. Swindell decided on a whim to post eight illustrated recipes on a quickly created blog titled, They Draw & Cook.

Little did Nate and Salli know that the artwork those eight artists had submitted, originally for a book idea, would spark an online sensation that has now morphed into a PR tool for many artists and illustrators to share and demonstrate their work. Their first book, They Draw & Cook, is a compilation of 107 different illustrated recipes. With a number of other books available on They Draw & Cook as print-on-demand, it looks like the future for illustrated recipes is endless.

BookTrib had the delicious pleasure of sitting down with Salli to chat about the surprise of They Draw & Cook’s popularity and how it became a go-to site for art directors around the world.


Mom’s Fresh Fourth of July Cherry Pie! by Aimee Fleck featured on They Draw & Cook

BookTrib: How did you and Nate start this website for illustrated recipes?

Salli Swindell: It all happened so spontaneously. He was not in any sort of design career. And one day he was at my house and just said, “do I think I could ever do what you’re doing?” because I had just become a freelancer. I had worked at American Greetings for many, many years. And I was like, “Sure, give it a go. See if you can figure this out.” And he did, and we just sort of became partners at that time. It was so fluid. He had good technical computer skills and that was when everything was just starting to be computerized. This was almost 15 years ago.

And then it was in February of 2010 that we came up with this random idea of illustrated recipes. It started out on family vacation and we sort of fell in love with this idea of illustrated food. So I said, “You know when we come out with a client gift this year to send friends, family, clients, let’s illustrate recipes because then our art has a bit of purpose. It’s not just another book of someone’s art, but it’s a collection of recipes.

So Nate, in a moment of brilliance said, “Why don’t we ask some of our artists friends? We need nine illustrations to make these books on our computer through the iPhoto program.” Everybody did them except for one person who never got the thing in on time. So in a moment of impatience, frustration, whatever, Nate said, “We’ve gotta do something with this collection of eight great illustrated recipes, I’m going to just put them on a blog and call them, They Draw & Cook. And we’ve gone from eight recipes to about 5,000 now.”


Cilantro-Lime Pasta Salad ingredients by Полина Ганзина featured on They Draw & Cook

BT: In what way does the site affect your freelancing opportunities?

Swindell: We make money in a very indirect way. We get hired for projects to do illustrations … because people find us through this site that we host and they hire us because we can bring a big audience to the project should it be like a book, which is a very interesting spin in the design world today.


Grilled Corn on the Cob by Ohn Mar Win featured on They Draw & Cook

BT: Do you and Nate both try out these recipes?

Swindell: Oh heck no! We don’t test them. We’re never really sure that we’re a foodie site or an art site. And we still really don’t know! It can also be in any language. The [They Draw & Cook] community is very international, so a lot of times people try to submit something with a translation and I’ll tell them, “Oh, just write in your native language,” because we have so many people that speak Russian, Spanish, Chinese, whatever it may be.

Literally the only guideline we have is that it has to fit that size. That long, narrow size has sort of become our brand and that’s because it’s the size that the book originally was supposed to be. Other than that, we try to look it over to make sure that it’s probably something that could be made, but we don’t make every recipe.


Happy Hour around the World by Ohn Mar Win featured on They Draw & Cook

BT: Tell us about the recently added, Illustrator For Hire, page on the site.

Swindell: Now that we have this new page, “Illustrator for Hire” that launched a month ago, that’s a really beautiful [group] of illustrators that really do good work. But we couldn’t vouch for all 3,000 artists that submit. But the ones we put on that page, we can vouch for them. So we really wanted to move it towards: “If you’re looking for talent, yes, this is the place to go.”

We have waited five years until we actually became a credible site and we really knew that art directors were perusing it to find new talent. And then probably once a week we get an email from some artist or another saying, “I got this cool job because they saw my work on your site.” So, that’s very interesting and now we just want to hone it in so art directors really do have a reliable place to go.


Tomato Salad by Suzanne De Nies featured on They Draw & Cook

BT: What is your main goal for They Draw & Cook?

Swindell: The bottom line of They Draw & Cook from the very beginning was to promote the careers of artists, especially artists who aren’t normally going to get their work up out there in the world. We post 99 percent of what we receive. And that was a very smart decision since the beginning, but it’s also put us in a whole different arena than other curated illustration sites.

But it’s a really fun community and everybody is supportive of everybody else and the one thing that an illustrated recipe does is it busts apart that known collaboration of a great photo and recipe. You don’t have a photo to refer to, so at the end you can never say “Oh, mine didn’t turn out like that,” which for me is hugely important because I don’t really like getting disappointed after I’ve spent time making something. So these recipes are more of an adventure and we think there’s a lot of emotional connection to them because people are illustrating what they like.


Home Style Broccoli Recipes by Kit Mizeres featured on They Draw & Cook