Interview with They Draw and Cook's Salli Swindell

I am so excited to bring you a special interview with Salli Swindell of They Draw & Cook (TDAC).  Together with her brother, Nate Padavick, Salli founded TDAC in 2010.  Today, TDAC is the internet's largest collection of illustrated recipes created by artists from around the world.

This interview is timely because on Sunday, I will announce three winners from my Skillshare workshop, and one of those winners will receive TDAC's very first published cookbook -- a hardback, eclectic collection of 107 richly illustrated recipes.

In 2011, Salli and Nate founded They Draw & Travel (TDAT), now the largest collection of illustrated maps on the internet.  The sister and brother duo form Studio SSS, an illustration and design team.  Art directors use TDAC and TDAT as their go-to to find talented illustrators and designers.  Salli and Nate's selfless dedication to promoting the the work of artists has catapulted their status among an adoring and loyal art community. 

Salli manages TDAC, while Nate focuses on TDAT.  Today, we learn a bit more about the fascinating behind-the-scenes world of Salli's brainchild, TDAC, and other awesome stuff she has going on.

Salli working on one of her creations, photo courtesy of TDAC

Nicole:  They Draw & Cook has a following of over 255,000 on Facebook, almost 3,500 on Twitter and over 50,000 on Instagram.  When you and your brother, Nate, started the first TDAC blog, did you ever envision it would become the movement it is today?  To what do you accredit this exponential growth?

Salli: We had no idea what we were starting! Looking back I think three things helped the site become what it is today. 

#1. Illustrated food was just starting to trend and our name They Draw & Cook was very easy to understand

#2. The initial group of eight recipes that we posted were created by friends who had large blog followings. Once they posted their recipes to their blogs it was easy for artists all over the world to discover the project. We started receiving recipes from artists in Brazil, London, and Russia!  All of the artists who submit are very generous, talented, and inspiring.

#3. We reached out to every single artist who submitted a recipe to thank them and start a dialogue. We’ve made so many new artist friends around the world and feel that TDAC has a very genuine sense of camaraderie and community. We post and showcase almost all of the submissions we receive and embrace both professional and amateur artists.

Sallie and Nate, siblings and business partners

N: You and your brother are incredible visual artists.  Had you collaborated with Nate on a project prior to founding TDAC?

S: We became studio partners about 15 years ago. It wasn’t a big business decision or anything, it just kind of happened. Nate and I have very different backgrounds and training so we each bring different things to our business…mostly laughter!

N: What is your favorite art supply right now?

S: Right now because of #the100dayproject I’m in love with Caran D’ Ache colored pencils on cheap brown craft paper. However, most of the work I sell and license is digital.

N: I have enjoyed your pineapple art on Instagram for #the100dayproject.  What inspired you to choose pineapples?

S: Pineapples have so much personality, and I’m finding you can really push the boundaries and still maintain the recognizability. My main goal was to break away a little from the computer and try using paints, pencils, collages, stitchery, and paper crafting. 

Last summer I taught an online course Build a Freelance Illustration Business and the participants kept coming back to the topic of “style.” From my experience “style” is way bigger than your art technique; it’s also about how you think and how you manage your projects, deal with clients, etc. At some point during the class I said, “You’re style is going to be unique because it’s yours. If each of us were to draw a pineapple we would have dozens of very different pineapples.” The next day we all started posting our pineapple illustrations and found they were diverse and engaging! So I guess the pineapple theme was still on my mind.

Nicole's note: Salli's course is available online, and you can sign up here.

N: What is your favorite medium that you create in?  

S: For both myself and Nate we cannot live without our Wacom tablet and computer. I also love FW acrylic black ink and my old gloppy ink pens. They make the most random blobs!

N: Since 2010, TDAC has published 11 books, both collaborations of artists and single artist books, and you must be proud of these accomplishments. But what is the one thing you are most proud of about TDAC?

S: We are most proud of the work that artists all around the world are receiving because an art director has spotted them on one of our sites. Our main platform from the very beginning was to give artists a place to showcase their work via something purposeful - a recipe or map. Both Nate and I have always felt extremely fortunate to have successful careers as illustrators. We’ve had a few good breaks and have wanted others to share the same experience. What started out as a small project for nine of us to meet a few new clients ended up being a place for thousands of artists to meet new clients. That is something we are really proud of and celebrate every single day. Bonus: weve met SO many super cool people because of TDAC and TDAT!

Grilled pineapple
Recipe from artist Heidi Blondin, courtesy of TDAC

Thanks, Salli, for spending some time chatting with us about an inspiring and supportive artistic phenomenon.


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