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NYT Cooking: Drawing Color Illustrations

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe
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Alex Rowe, Illustrator & Children's Book Artist

Alex Rowe
Illustrator & Children’s Book Artist

♪ Alex’s Studio Playlist ♪


Illustrate a recipe from the New York Times Cooking section.

Core Ideas

Storytelling, integration of image & text, educational illustration

Recommended Tutorials


Any 2D media of your choice!  Our example image shows Rapidograph pen and watercolor.


Choose a recipe you want to illustrate from the New York Times Cooking section.

Our example uses the recipe for One Pot Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Kale.


Cook the recipe and take notes and make sketches as you are cooking.

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe

Map out how you want to display the recipe visually.

Do you want to make a list, a comic, an instruction manual? 

Watch the video below starting at 07:47 min. for tips on thumbnail sketches.

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe

Sketch out characters in pencil, and establish your style for the images.

For tips on designing characters, watch this video below.

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe

Draw the layout of your piece in pencil.

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe

Draw over your pencil lines with the Rapidograph pen, or whatever media you are using.

Watch this video below starting at 04:30 min. for tips on the Rapidograph pen.

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe

Add color or gradients.

For tips on making gradients in ink wash, watch the video below starting at 11:03 min.

Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe
Illustrated Recipe, Alex Rowe


Clarisse Angkasa, Illustration Student

Clarisse Angkasa
Project Assistant

“I thought this was an unusual project because it seemed as though the main exercise was following the recipe while the illustration part was secondary. As I was cooking (or attempting to cook), I remembered how hard it is for me to follow recipes exactly.

A degree of improvisation was required and I realized that these personal touches are what makes the illustrations interesting. Instead of being generic illustrations to act as visual aid for each step of the recipe, they became a series of sketches that illustrate my personal experience trying out the recipe. It was an interesting way to reflect on how I had to improvise because of problems like not having mortar or pestle (and also to learn that you can’t crush garlic into paste with spoons).

It would be fun to see how different people approached the same recipe and what problems each encounters. This project was also a good motivation for me to actually cook a proper meal. In general, I find that illustrating my daily experiences really helps improve my storytelling abilities because it’s like keeping a visual diary.”

Ro Antia

Ro Antia

“This project went through many different iterations, both mentally and physically. I first wanted to do something playful. When I started sketching and was reminded how unfamiliar it was for me to make something playful so I combined all my images into one, mimicking how scatterbrained I was while making the cake.

I then decided to make a digital illustration/infographic, but as I tried to illustrate a bag of flour, I moved on to an entirely physical piece. I haven’t made simple and clear line drawings for a long time and it was very pleasant to pick it up again.”

Ruth Lee

Ruth Lee
Project Assistant

“Although cooking is something I’ve always enjoyed (mainly because it results in things I can eat), saying I am out of practice is an understatement–so making entertaining illustrations for something like cooking couldn’t be easier for me, as I never run out of things to poke fun at myself for.

The majority of the exercise focused on the actual action of cooking, and starting with the experience before getting started on the piece, versus the way things usually tend to flow; where the art making comes first and the additional experience and observations to fine-tune the piece come afterward.

I found this to be a really refreshing change of workflow. Part of being a good artist is picking up on environments, dynamics and sensory encounters, and cooking is all of those things; an engaging activity and atmosphere serving up a feast for the eyes, nose, mouth, hands and even ears.

Taking moments to detach from the grind-mode of making art to experience things that provide fuel for your creativity and artistic mind is crucial, and it’s something easy to overlook or unknowingly skimp out on. Sometimes an experience needs to first dictate the artwork before the artwork can replicate the experience.”

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