“Have Your Cake and Draw It Too”: Food Illustrators Reflect on Taste and Memory

Drawing a dish can take as much time as cooking it (even more, depending on what you’re making). Both are intensive, hands-on activities and — at their best — an emotional process as well: a true labor of love. Here’s a selection of some of the finest food illustrators on WordPress, speaking about what makes this medium so special.

Frances Leech, Tangerine Drawings

Cheesecake ingredients by Frances Leech.

Cheesecake ingredients by Frances Leech.

After graduating from university in the UK, Frances’ food adventures led her to Paris, where she trained to become a pastry chef (and wrote about the experience in a memorable essay, “Kitchen Rhythm: A Year in a Parisian Pâtisserie”). The illustrations that accompany her food writing and recipes channel a distinctly French quality: they appear at once spontaneous and complex, full of movement and texture.

What’s on your plate? Share the story of a memorable meal in our Daily Post writing prompt, “Feast.”

I started illustrating my blog because I didn’t know how to take photos but I did know how to draw fruit. It felt like something different and fun. I have always loved color, finding as many colors as possible reflected in the skin of a red pepper.

Some of my illustrations are scrappy, less than perfect. But I am happy to have evolved over the years, from oil crayons to watercolour and pens. Best of all? I can eat whatever I have made first, when I am hungry, and draw it later from memory, which is impossible to do with photography. Have your cake and draw it too.

Molly Reeder

Drawing of Johanna Kindvall, from Molly Reeders Kitchen Drawing Series.

Drawing of Johanna Kindvall, from Molly Reeder’s Kitchen Drawing Series.

Maryland-based artist Molly Reeder is also an experienced baker who’s worked in kitchens from Bulgaria to New Zealand. Her Kitchen Drawing Series (part of an essay, “Creating Spaces,” published at Life & Thyme) focuses on bakers and cooks immersed in their work. It’s a refreshing take on food illustration, bringing to the fore the people who produce all those beautiful dishes we, as diners, get to admire.

For me, being an artist and a baker, illustrating food comes easily and naturally. I find joy and inspiration in both processes of baking and drawing. When it comes to illustrating, I want to depict the natural beauty of the ingredients, and also create a visual narrative about how food holds the power to nourish us in both a physical and communal way. Food brings us together to share what is essential in life.

Johanna Kindvall, kokblog

kokblog-kardemummabullar-buns-02 Johanna Kindvall

Cardamom buns by Johanna Kindvall.

Johanna Kindvall — yes, the very same baker pictured above in Molly Reeder’s drawing — is an accomplished artist in her own right. Splitting her time between Brooklyn and Sweden, Johanna’s culinary and visual sensibilities are inspired by the clean, comforting minimalism synonymous with Scandinavian culture and design. She illustrated and co-authored (with Anna Brones) Fika: The Art of The Swedish Coffee Break, a cookbook that came about after a decade of food-blogging (and -drawing) on kokblog.

A really good food illustration should give the writing the right atmosphere, that little extra that isn’t mentioned, a little surprise.

A drawing can show a step-by-step cooking method in a very direct and clean way. It also gives the viewer room for imagination. Readers of kokblog and the book Fika have told me that they appreciate my work, as they don’t feel they have to create perfect cakes and dishes that look like something out of a magazine. I guess a drawing of a cake is more forgiving than a food-styled photograph!

Matthew Midgley

holiday-meals-sm Matthew Midgley

A week’s worth of meals, by Matthew Midgley.

UK-based illustrator Matthew Midgley has been drawing food — from entire meals to single ingredients — for six years, with work commissioned by local restaurants and magazines alike. His pen-based sketches zoom in on minute details and often feature a playful mix of image and text.

One of my primary motivations for drawing food is documentation. When we go out it is usually to have a lovely evening or to celebrate with friends and family. When I look at a food drawing, it often transports me back to that moment; I am able to recall sights, sounds, and smells, and better remember the whole experience. Of course, the real trick is to not just draw a picture of the food, but to try to capture a sense of freshness, of heat, of liquidity — all the elements that make a simple dish into something appealing and mouth-watering.

I’d like to think that sometimes I am able to capture that particular lightning in a bottle — to evoke those elements that create a sense of desire.

Charlie O’Shields, Doodlewash

Doodlewash 12-oysters-on-the-half-shell1

Oysters on the Half-Shell, by Charlie O’Shields.”

Doodlewash is a vibrant community of watercolor sketchers, founded by Charlie O’Shields, a prolific illustrator from Kansas City, Missouri. Since starting to draw in 2015, Charlie has amassed an impressive body of work, including some bold, well-executed food illustrations, a topic to which he devoted the whole month of May on his blog.

I love food, but can’t even cook an egg, so illustrating food is the closest I’ll ever get to cooking. It’s fun to transform a particular dish into a watercolor sketch. I think illustrations evoke memories we have about food. From childhood dinners to good times shared with family and close friends, we mix in bits of our own personal experiences to complete the dish.

Aram Kim, illustrated memory


Breakfast in Selcuk, 2002,” by Aram Kim.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Aram Kim spent her childhood in South Korea before returning to the States in 2006 to become a book illustrator and author. At illustrated memory, she documents past meals from her travel-filled life, infusing the gorgeous images with an unmistakable sense of nostalgia.

For me, drawing food is re-living times I loved. My memory revolves around food — what I ate and where, the people I was with, and the emotions I felt while eating. I tell my story and recompose the memory by illustrating food. People react to drawing with more heart and emotion than they do to photography: perhaps because it’s rarer, or because it contains a more personal story that viewers can relate to. In today’s fast-paced world, slow illustrations inspire us to take time to look instead of quickly scrolling down. I hope my illustrations inspire others to reminisce about their own stories.

If you’re feeling inspired to write, draw, or share a photo about food, join other bloggers and publish a post in response to our writing prompt, “Feast.”

July 20, 2016Cooking, Food, Illustration, Inspiration, , ,