Illustrated Recipe: Apple Pie

How I Created an Illustrated Recipe:

For this post, I will be sharing my creative process behind the design and illustration of a recipe for apple pie. I chose this recipe because it is one of my favorites and it also has wide appeal (and because I make a amazing apple pie!).  This was a dual purpose project both for a class on Skillshare taught by Ohn Mar Win and as a submission to be featured on They Draw & Cook, a website devoted to illustrated recipes.

Once I had chosen my recipe, I did some brain storming about what elements are needed to make a pie as well as the ingredients list. I wasn’t sure what I would want to include in the final layout, but having more options to play with is always better than not enough. Items like butter, lemon, a pairing knife and a rolling pin made the list. I considered an old fashioned crank apple peeler, but they are rather complex and wouldn’t work well with the top down view I had in mind. I also toyed with the idea of doing measuring cups and spoons, but too many items would have made the piece busy and cluttered. I made an inspiration board on Pinterest to gather my references and ideas. I find this is the easiest way to collect images from the web all in one place (instead of leaving a million tabs open like I normally do!).

I decided to illustrate this recipe in the sketchy, looser style I have been liking as of late, especially for organic subjects like fruit. All of the items were first drawn lightly using a Berol Turquoise 3H pencil, then I refined the outline using a black Faber-Castell PITT artist pen in size S (this pen, similar to Micron pens, has waterproof ink that is necessary for adding watercolor). These drawings are done quickly to encourage more expressive line-work. The initial pencil is erased and then the piece is finished with several layers of relatively loose (at least for me) watercolor. I am currently using the St. Petersburg White Nights watercolor palette, which has well pigmented and vibrantly hued artist quality paints.

Honeycrisp Apples
A series of four illustrations featuring a Honeycrisp apple from various angles.

Naturally the first thing I illustrated was apples, first whole apples then slices. For this I bought a single Honeycrisp apple (my variety of choice) from the grocery store as a reference. I find that having a real life reference is often far more useful than photo alone (working from life has been a recent game changer for me, directly impacting the quality of my art), chiefly because I can manipulate the subject quickly and easily, placing it however I would like it to look in the finished piece, rather than spending WAY too much time searching the web for the perfect copy-right free reference photo (which is nearly impossible). So for this type of project, if it is at all affordable to do so, I would strongly recommend getting a real life reference.

Apple Slices
A series of four illustrations featuring a Honeycrisp apple cut into slices

A big source of inspiration for this piece was the cookbook from my childhood that my mother and grandmother used, an old copy of Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book with the red and white check pattern on the cover. I wanted to incorporate this pattern into the recipe somehow, so I painted a small section of the pattern in watercolor using a bright red. I measured out equally spaced sections using a ruler, then lightly drew lines in pencil. The final outcome wasn’t perfect, and that is okay, because it had that hand-painted, watercolor feel I was looking for.

Baked Apple Pie
Top down view of an apple pie, fresh out of the oven.

Then of course, I had to paint the apple pie! I could have baked one, just for this project, but instead I used a photo from my iPhone of a pie I had baked around Christmas time. I was still using my own photo and it was authentic to the results of the recipe. I was happily surprised by how well I could render the crust using wet-in-wet watercolor techniques.

At this point, I scanned all of my illustrations into the computer. Then, using Photoshop CC, I removed all of the backgrounds and isolated each item onto its own layer (getting technical here). I then created a new file, built to the specifications provided by They Draw & Cook. From there, all the elements were placed into the new file to be arranged into my design. For inspiration, I spent a fair amount of time browsing They Draw & Cook’s website to see what other artists had done. I took note of what I liked, what I didn’t like and how to work out this very long “book” format.

Knife, Rolling Pin & Cinnamon
Additional illustrated elements featuring a vintage wooden handled pairing knife, red handled rolling pin and cinnamon sticks.

After re-scaling all of the elements and much puttering around, I decided I really liked having the pie hanging off to one side and that I wanted the apples to be the stars of the show. Once I added the text, it felt like things were starting to come together, but there was still something missing and awkward negative spaces that needed to be filled. So I literally “returned to the drawing board” to illustrate some final bits to bring the piece together, this included the cinnamon, pairing knife and rolling pin. For the rolling pin, I used the one I have on hand for reference, however for the cinnamon sticks I turned to my favorite online image resource,, which has thousands of copy-right free images as well as vectors that are free to download (Yay!). The knife was a bit more difficult, as I wanted it to look like the wooden handled one that was my grandmother’s favorite. It took me a while, but finally I found a photo for a vintage knife set on Etsy that was exactly what I wanted.

Illustrated Recipe: Homemade Apple Pie
This is the final full layout that I submitted to They Draw & Cook.

Lastly, I added a wood grain texture to the background and a couple white doilies, a vector that I grabbed off Pixabay. These additional elements really completed the recipe and gave it that old farm house kitchen feel that I was trying to capture. The placement of all of my illustrations is mindful of a central gutter if this recipe were ever to be printed by They Draw & Cook, while also satisfying the requirements for the Skillshare class. Overall I am really happy with how it came out and plan to do more illustrated recipes in the future. If you have any suggestions as to what recipe I should do next, please let me know!


Here is the link to my project on Skillshare:

Here is the link to the class on Skillshare:

Here is the link to the final recipe on They Draw & Cook:

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