If you’ve got a recipe book ready to share with the world, we strongly suggest you include illustrations in your cookbook design, and here are some great ideas on how to do it.
Think about Andy Warhol’s soup cans. While there are different art history considerations that make this artwork so major, from a design point of view it’s a testament to the power of food illustrations. Not only do they look good, but they also present a unique experience, as they often make us think of (and sometimes feel like we can taste) food.
Cookbook illustrations are a great way to draw readers in, evoke tastes and easily list all the necessary ingredients and kitchenware needed to make magic in the kitchen.
1. Volga Recipes: full-page illustrations
Think of your favorite children’s books. Did they have any food illustrations in them? These always made me hungry as a child and still I always prefer an artsy food illustration over a lazy cookbook stock photo.
This concept achieves a very similar effect, with dreamy watercolor illustrations that perfectly capture the warm feeling of home cooking. It’s not just about the simple dish, it’s also about the setting, the timing and little details like nostalgic kitchenware that capture a sense of home. Think of your favorite children’s books. Did they have any food illustrations in them? These always made me hungry as a child and still I always prefer an artsy food illustration over a lazy cookbook stock photo.
This concept achieves a very similar effect, with dreamy watercolor illustrations that perfectly capture the warm feeling of home cooking. It’s not just about the simple dish, it’s also about the setting, the timing and little details like nostalgic kitchenware that capture a sense of home.
2. Taco Tales: a collage design
The best thing about illustrations is that they are extremely versatile and easy to combine with other design elements like photos and text.
This colorful recipe book by Ivette Perez de Wenkel is available on Amazon, and definitely a terrific design example to look up to. The full title of the book is Recipes and Stories from Mexico, as the book goes beyond mere instructions on how to prepare food and expands on stories about the author’s family recipes, tradition and details about traditional Mexican ingredients.
The eclectic and fun illustration style works equally well as framing for food photos and recipe cards, as well as fun full-page illustrations celebrating the flavors of Mexico. The layout of this cookbook is truly fantastic: every next page has a different and unique look which makes reading this cookbook as exciting as making the delicious recipes!
By Anne Wenkel
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3. Easy Peasy Cookbook: simple illustrations that accompany the text
It doesn’t all have to be watercolor artsy or nostalgic like children’s books. Simple line drawings can give your cookbook design a more modern feel and a look that will stay relevant for a longer time.
This recipe book concept shows how this type of illustration can be used in a variety of ways, either to give a quick breakdown of the main ingredients or simply to give any page more visual interest.
It would make a great option for a first cookbook, in case you haven’t perfected your photography skills and don’t want to use cookbook stock photos. It also helps drive home the message that your recipes are simple to make and beginner-friendly!
By Lydia Hill
4. Appetites: amazing cover art
Illustrations are certainly a big favorite with cookbook covers, but this example takes it to a whole new level.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was known for his very cool and edgy style and this cover art perfectly conveys that. It looks almost like the cover of a trendy magazine like The New Yorker.
Although this dramatic cover art matches the legendary “bad boy” of the cooking world, it also pairs well with the eclectic collection of recipes found in the book. It combines his 40-year experience as a professional chef and globe trotter, together with some family favorites. So expect to find anything from simple curries, to elegant clam dishes and elaborate risottos, down to an American cheese classic: mac and cheese.
5. La Pignatta: breaking down the cooking process
Probably the most famous examples of cookbooks using this technique are Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook and Julia Child’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While the complicated cooking techniques of these culinary bibles often warrant a simpler visual representation, it’s a great method to use even in much simpler recipes.
This type of cookbook illustrations is a great option for a first cookbook, for example for children, as most people respond better to visual learning.
7. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: an illustrated cooking guide
Samin Nosrat’s celebrated guide to “mastering the elements of good cooking” is probably the most successful example of using cookbook illustrations. This fun,colorful guide relies solely on illustrations to help beginners grapple with the four basics of cooking.
The fun illustrations done by Wendy MacNaughton are paired with straightforward text that helps inexperienced cooks take on their favorite recipes without fear. And for those with a little more experience, this style makes a fun (and funny) read and a useful reminder of the basics.
8. American Fashion Cookbook: subverting expectations
If you have any doubts about illustrations being stylish, then surely a group of world-renowned fashion designers can convince you otherwise! Oh, and there’s a foreword by Martha Stewart for an additional stamp of approval.
This unique cookbook brings together several fashion legends from the United States and beyond, with recipes that are as indulgent, creative and elegant as their fashion designs. That’s why the playful, yet beautiful food illustrations found in the book give this concept a more approachable feel and helps subvert the traditional expectations of both chefs and fashion designers. And what’s not to love about that!
9. Cooking app: cooking in the 21st century
All walks of life are slowly getting their mobile version and your favorite recipes are no exception. Why hassle searching for recipes on Google, going back and forth when you can have everything you need neatly condensed in one simple app?
When it comes to cookbook illustrations, you may be tempted to go with simple clip art instead of custom illustrations. However, custom illustrations will help give you a competitive edge over many similar apps and make for more pleasant user experience.
Use illustrations in the onboarding process, to help users understand the cooking process or to easily list all ingredients. The joy of cooking may be an ancient art but it’s getting a new modern approach as well!
We hope this gives you plenty of food for thought on how you can use illustrations to make an amazing recipe book. Whether you go with romantic watercolors or simple line drawings, cookbook illustrations can help your cookbook stand out on the shelf, but also act as a great teaching tool for cooking beginners.
If you want to spice things up without breaking the budget, remember there are plenty of food illustrations readily available in our free illustration gallery!