Food illustrators are stars on Instagram, in cookbooks, and in streaming video.

By Jamila Robinson
June 08, 2021
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Egg illustration
Credit: Miguel Ángel Camprubí

From bingeable shows to frame-worthy cookbook pages, food illustrations are enjoying a renaissance right now. Maybe it's because these sketches and paintings offer a soothing, simpler alternative to overstimulating video loops or GIFs-or maybe it's because they're just so darn charming.

"Illustrations are the best way to convey a larger idea or concept," says Marcella Kriebel, whose watercolor paintings of ingredients and recipes can be found in cookbooks like Mi Comida Latina and Comida Cubana. Among this year's latest book releases, Cheese, Wine, and Bread by Katie Quinn ($22, amazon.com) incorporates watercolors by Jessie Kanelos Weiner, while World Travel by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever ($21, amazon.com) is filled with line drawings by Wesley Allsbrook. Bavel ($31, amazon.com) employs energetic renderings of tagines, figs, and lemons that highlight the Middle Eastern cuisine from the James Beard Award-nominated restaurant. Lucky for readers, these illustrations take on lives outside of cookbooks; in Kriebel's online shop (marcellakriebel.com), you'll find kitchen towels and stationery emblazoned with her intricate paintings of charcuterie boards and citrus, and Kanelos Weiner's stunning watercolors can also be purchased as prints online (jessiekanelosweiner.com).

Meanwhile, Netflix signed former first lady Michelle Obama's delightful animated children's series, Waffles + Mochi, where two puppet friends from the back of the freezer explore the culinary world. Musa Brooker, creative director at animation studio Six Point Harness, directed the animation for Waffles + Mochi, which used illustration and graphics to interpret the ways textures, colors, and patterns reveal the shape and form of food. His team used different styles of animation, including 2D and stop motion, "because there are a lot of different flavors and food and cultures, and we wanted to reflect that." You can stream season one on Netflix now, or use one of the show's animated illustrations as a sticker on your next Instagram story post.

Speaking of IG: Say what you will about it decaying our brains, but the platform is allowing food illustrators to address the news in a nimble way. Run by artist Jeff McCarthy, the wildly popular account Celebs on Sandwiches (@celebsonsandwiches) depicts Dolly Parton on a Nashville hot chicken sandwich while getting a coronavirus vaccine, and Bernie Sanders bundled up from the cold while resting on a Vermont cheddar grilled cheese. You can purchase the prints at McCarthy's website (celebsonsandwiches.com) and assemble a hand-drawn gallery wall depicting the year's most important pop culture moments.

Jamila Recommends

Read This: Midnight Chicken

Elisa Cunningham brought author Ella Risbridger's 2019 title on the redemptive power of cooking to life through water-colors of kitchen scenes, ingredients, and instructions. $23 at amazon.com

Follow Them: They Draw and Cook

This Instagram feed features illustrated recipes from artists based around the world. @theydrawandcook

Jeannie Phan

This award-winning artist and designer's work lives in restaurant reservation apps, in magazines, and in travel guides. @jeanniephan

Lola Nankin

Stylized renderings of cocktails show up in the feed of this Argentinean artist who is based in Brazil. @lolanankin