The Food That Makes Us Who We Are
Drawing Mini-eggs, Matzo balls, Manakish, and Memories
Hellllooo Grown-Ups Table peeps.
Hope everyone is having a good holiday week/end/month.
A little housecleaning first:
New to DrawTogether/Grown-Ups Table? Head to the intro page and say hi! (We are now in 50 states and 170 countries around the world!!)
If you haven’t checked out the the AMAZING Constraint-Embracing Chance Drawings GUT members created in response to last week’s assignment, head over the GUT Chatand be inspired. A few are featured at the end of this dispatch. (I want to make us a ZINE of all of them! Want to help? Email me.)
Congrats GUT Member Chris Murray! You won a copy of Elizabeth Haidle’s book “Christo & Jeanne-Claude Wrap The World”! (Email me, Chris!) I love give-aways for GUT Members. Viva free art books!
Aspiring illustrators: the NYT is offering illustration portfolio reviews. Want to publish in the NYT? Take a deep breath and jump! The first time I showed a NYT Art Director my work it was a total disaster. But I kept sending him stuff and eventually he relented and published my first visual op-ed. Deep breaths and jumps are rewarded.
Now onto the show.
Drawing Food, Drawing Feelings, Drawing Memories
Whether you’ve been eating matzoh ball soup (me!) binging on an entire bag of mini eggs (also me!), or forgoing food and drink during the day (def not me, but much respect!), this time of year is full of family and traditions. For some of us that means joy and comfort and togetherness. For others it means a basket full of loneliness and confusion dropped on our door, thank you very much. Whatever it means for you, I have a hunch that every single one of us has some memory of something around time that relates to FOOD.
Take a second and think of one.
It can be anything. Strawberries. Green beans. Lentil soup. McNuggets! Any food that you associate with this time of year…
Got it? Right. We all have at least one food memory. And behind that memory, there's a story.
And behind that story is your family, tradition, culture, friends, or feelings.
And that story deserves to be drawn.
The Queen of The Hand Drawn Recipe
Eight years ago (or was it nine?), I was deep in collaboration with my friend the inimitable cook and writer Samin Nosrat on Salt Fat Acid Heat and up to my elbows drawing flavor charts and Theibaud-inspired smooth soups. My “art eyes” had become extra-attuned to all things food. So it makes sense my friend Sarah Rich (writer, food person, Jewish like me) and I, amidst the tens of thousands of books at the antiquarian book fair we were visiting, would spot a very special, very unique item: a hand-painted cookbook.
I might have walked right by it if the book hadn’t been propped up inside a case, open to a full-spread painting of a giant, bright pink bowl of borscht.
It was the vivid, chalky gouache that caught my eye first. Next, the loosely-gripped love with which it was painted. That ease just floored me. Then there was the deliberate, practiced hand-lettering. It all felt so deeply familiar.
One one hand, the whole thing sort of reminded me of my own work. But not really. It was better. Way more specific and painterly. More like Maira Kalman’s. But also some Ben Shahn. A little early Warhol. This person knew how to draw.
The bookseller told me it was by a woman named Cipe Pineles. I’d never heard of her. A quick google search revealed she’d been the first female art director at VOGUE, the first art director to commission fine artists as illustrators, and the first person to hire a young illustrator by the name of Andy Warhol.
As we turned the pages - each filled with lovingly rendered illustrated recipes of traditional jewish food - we quickly realized that all the artwork in this leatherbound sketchbook was the original painting. Each piece was handpainted with gouache and handlettered with a tiny quill and India ink.
This was her family recipe book. Gorgeous. Intact. Unpublished.
Sarah and I called our friends Maria Popova and Debbie Millman, and together the four of us pooled our money and purchased the book. We spent the next three years researching Cipe, meeting her family, visiting her archives. Sarah even cooked much of her food. And in 2017 Bloomsbury published “Leave Me Alone With the Recipes: The Life, Art & Cookbook of Cipe Pineles.” It contains Cipe’s personal cookbook in its entirety, accompanied by essays on food illustration, design history and jewish food. Maria wrote a thoughtful, thorough piece about our adventure and Cipe’s legacy in The Marginalian.
To help give Cipe’s life and work the attention it deserved felt like a duty to me. To do that through her drawing and food felt like a gift. In the process of learning about Cipe, not only did I get to learn about my own artistic lineage, but Sarah and I - both of us Jewish - got to learn more about our own cultural history as well.
I don’t know what would have happened with Cipe’s book if we hadn’t spotted it that day and put in the time and energy into bringing it back to life.
As artists, much of our job is noticing things other people overlook, and making the time and energy to share what we see with the world. Drawing is a vehicle for doing that. It’s our vehicle for noticing. This is what we artists do. We look. When we see something, we stop. We pay attention. And then we share it.
Here in the GUT, I’m just giving you an opportunity to notice things, too.
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
So this week, let’s use this opportunity to put our attention on some of our own personal food stories. Let’s give our own family food traditions the time and care they deserve. Whatever family means to you. Whatever traditions mean to you!
Because one of the most honest, vulnerable, deeply human ways we can explore and celebrate our culture and traditions is by slowing down, looking closely and drawing them.
SPECIAL NOTE: I’m making this week’s assignment FREE for everyone. I think sharing our personal stories of food, memories and traditions is an easy way for us to discover our similarities, celebrate our differences, and get to know each other better. I think this would be a great assignment for families and classrooms to do, too. So the assignment is FREE for all this week. If you want to join the GUT Art Share, that’s Members only. Subscribe to support The GUT and to join.
Drawing Assignment: Draw a food - any dish, recipe or item - that holds special meaning to you. If you want, include a little text about what it is, how to make it or the story behind it.
Simple as pie! Here are two helpful hints:
It can be anything as long as it has a story behind it. You don’t have to share it unless you want to, but it needs to have a story. Something that holds special memories. Something that gives you FEELINGS. (These can be any feelings! This doesn’t have to be all roses. Nothing really is. You do you!) Your drawing can be as simple as a blind contour or as detailed as photorealistic oil painting. I don’t care what you make your drawing with, as long as you make it with ATTENTION and CARE. You can work from a photo, from memory, from imagination, or from life. You do you. But while you’re doing it, try consciously thinking about the story that goes along with the food while you draw it.
Your drawing should incorporate image and text. Unless you really don’t want it to. No rules in art. But if you want to, look at how Cipe uses lettering and let that be an inspiration. Maybe hand-letter the name somewhere in the composition. It can be across the top, on the bag or jar, burned into the toast. However you want to do it. If you want to write the whole recipe out by hand, awesome. Or include the story behind it, awesome. Up to you.
Illustrated food. Illuminated illustration. Beautiful.
So that’s it, my friends.
Here’s mine - a quickie done from memory! Mom’s Not-Cannonball Matzo Ball Soup. My mom is Jewish and my Dad is Episcopalian, but I was raised secular, which makes me a culturally Jewish Atheist. Which means my religion is Mini-Eggs. Ha!
Give-away: I’m giving one GUT member a copy of Leave Me Alone with the Recipes and an awesome Tote bag featuring Cipe’s famous borscht painting! I’ll randomly select someone who shares their drawing in the Art Share, so get to work on your food drawings, GUTsters. See you in the chat!
Pencils UP! Everything is better when we DrawTogether. xoxo,
Last Week’s Assignment: Chance Drawings
Inspired by the Chance Drawings of Ellsworth Kelly and others, DT GUT members created their own set of instructions to follow to make a drawing, embracing limitations and letting go of decision-making, leaving the final result up to chance! Here are a few random selections from the GUT art share.
Note: I included the instructions members created and used in the captions so you can see how each drawing was made. I’m blown away by this creative group!
Looking for the GUT Chat where we share our drawings every week? Click on the two little overlapping chat bubbles in the navigation bar to your left (if you’re on a desktop/laptop) or at the bottom of our phone (if you’re in the Substack App.) Look for my silly laughing face. If you’re reading this on your phone and you’re not on the Substack App, you’ll have to download the app or wait till you’re on a desktop or laptop computer. Holler in the comments if you still need help! I or some other generous GUT member will help!
A family cookbook is a good thing. My dad and I collaborated on a cookbook a while back -- he gathered the recipes and I did illustrations -- and it couldn’t be more loved by family and friends. Especially now that both of my parents are gone. The grandkids have mastered many of the recipes and we get them out for gatherings and holidays.
What an amazing project!! Clearly, that hand-painted treasure found its way into exactly the right hands :)