Northern Ohio Illustrators Society: They Draw and Cook

Illustration is popular again. After a decline in favor of photography in the 1980s and ‘90s, illustrations appear everywhere — in books and magazines, TV commercials, video games, food packaging and more. Computers make it easy to share art and information, and the Internet makes it easy to find an artist for hire.

But artists don’t find work in the ways they used to, when advertising agencies had them on staff. The new era requires innovation, savvy and flexibility. “Making a career of it – that’s not going to happen on its own,” says longtime illustrator Salli S. Swindell.

Swindell knows how to do it. She and her brother, Nate Padavick, are Studio SSS, creators of greeting cards, lettering, illustrated maps and editorial illustration. They’re also the accidental founders of, a wildly popular community-based website featuring illustrated recipes from all over the world.


Started on a lark five years ago, They Draw & Cook today has an archive of 5,500 recipes done by 2,000 illustrators (from doodlers to pros), a Facebook following of 260,000, and a nice little sack of stories about dream projects that have sprung up for the founders and some of the TDAC contributors. A sister site, They Draw & Travel, features illustrated maps – Padavick’s specialty.

Swindell, who lives in Hudson, will speak in February at the Northern Ohio Illustrators Society at the Cleveland Institute of Art. (Padavick lives in Somerville, Mass.)

TDAC works like this: Cook/illustrators create an illustrated recipe to prescribed dimensions; submit it; then watch it get posted. If this sounds like the much-criticized “We can’t pay you, but you’ll get lots of exposure” gambit, it helps to know that the project was begun — and continues — in the spirit of fun.

Swindell, a graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design, and Padavick, who worked in finance before following Swindell’s art lead, were with the rest of the family on vacation when Swindell started drawing the figs Padavick was using in his fettucine recipe.

The two hatched an idea to create a small self-published book of illustrated recipes, drawn by them and their artist friends. When Nate got tired of waiting for the final recipe, he started a blog instead and posted the art.

They Draw & Cook was born, quickly discovered by other artists who wanted to participate for the fun of it, and took off fast. (The first dilemma: Could they – should they? – post a recipe for M&M Casserole? Sure, they decided. Why not?)

Soon The Food Network was calling to see if TDAC would launch a sponsored recipe contest. In 2011, lifestyle publisher Weldon Owen released the first compendium of TDAC recipes. Swindell and Padavick also have gone on to publish smaller books dedicated to single artists, who earn 50 percent of sales.

Padavick and Swindell call this community contribution model “the creative playground.” Websites such as theirs offer a hint of structure for artists who need motivation or want to take a break from paid assignments. At the very least, they say, artists get the satisfaction of being part of the online community and working their art practice.  Ideas for new projects get born.

Occasionally, other things happen, too. Artist James Gulliver Hancock played around with a brand new rendering style for the kimchee recipe he drew for TDAC. He further developed the style, which helped him secure a deal for the book that became “All the Buildings In New York (That I’ve Drawn So Far).”

TDAC’s success – and the work it has generated for some of its illustrators – are a testament to the power of good will and generosity.  From the start, Swindell and Padavick adopted a come-one-come-all attitude, posting democratically and cheering on the participating artists through social media.

Swindell credits her brother for determination and a will to solve technical challenges. “He’s very resourceful,” she says. “There’s no big roadblock for him. He perseveres through the things that just shut me down.”

“Salli is a connector and a community builder,” Nate says. “She takes a genuine interest in the work and lives of so many artists who participate in our online communities. She reads their blogs, befriends them on Facebook, follows them on Instagram, converses with them via email and often refers them to clients. She has an abundance of positive energy and passion.”

NORTHERN OHIO ILLUSTRATORS SOCIETY: THEY DRAW & COOK — A CREATIVE PLAYGROUND with SALLI S. SWINDELL 7 pm Feb. 16, 2016  at the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Ave, Cleveland

Northern Ohio Illustrators Society