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These Soothing Instagram Food Drawings Are Also Raising Funds for Restaurants

Folks are putting pen (or colored pencils) to paper as an outlet for stress and as a way to support the industry

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Natasha Pickowicz

The colors of the strawberries, peach slices, and fresh-flower flourishes on top of the cakes — themselves imperfect circles, and slightly off-kilter — are bright, but also kind of faded, and definitely smudgy. These are not Instagram-perfect bakery shots. Instead, they’re all drawings, done by hand, of what might be a cake but is maybe a flan — or a pie.

Natasha Pickowicz’s artistic handiwork has pivoted these days from pastry to paper. As the pastry chef at Café Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar in NYC, Pickowicz was put on furlough in mid-March due to the novel coronavirus; the hardest transition, she said, “was not being able to make things with my hands anymore.”

“I ached to build cakes, develop spring menus, do the early morning bake off, process fruit,” Pickowicz said in an email. “All of these physical rituals just disappeared overnight.”

She turned to drawing and sharing her work online, and she’s not the only one. In the past few weeks, chefs, cookbook authors, and other restaurant industry loyalists have been sharing their hand-drawn art on Instagram. For some, it’s a stress reliever and outlet for anxiety while stuck at home. It’s also a vehicle for doing good, using artwork to raise much-needed funds for the restaurant industry.

Liz Ryan, a professional illustrator, has always used Instagram as an outlet for her work. Last week, she started posting illustrations specifically of small food businesses, mostly restaurants she personally loves in her Boerum Hill/Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn. She’s been posting one illustration per day, along with a caption about the place and a corresponding relief fund to support it. Then someone who has made a donation or purchase to support that place or fund receives the illustration.

Ryan started by having the first person to DM her with proof of donation — say, a screenshot of a confirmation page, or a receipt for a gift card — receive the artwork; she’s now shifted to make things less of a race, whereby anyone who donates and sends a confirmation within a 24-hour window will be entered in a random drawing for the illustration. So far, each illustration has gotten multiple responses, with the most recent illustration — of East One in Brooklyn — raising $112.

“The project was motivated by the responsibility I felt to take care of and give back to my neighborhood,” Ryan said in an email. And with so many folks at home right now, bonding through screens while social distancing, Instagram has turned into a less curated, gentler vehicle for that.

“I normally feel pressure to prioritize sharing polished content but the internet feels incredibly kind right now,” said Ryan, who said response has been overwhelmingly positive. “In my feeds, social media has shifted from a curated landing page to a tool for documenting and assembling authentically. I’m here for it.”

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Filipino American, woman owned, sustainability-driven @clairesprouse quickly became a woman I admire and with her, @hunkydorybk quickly became my regular spot, a sanctuary and escape from my apartment and the chaotic, outside world. After work, I decompress with a glass of wine (or two) and cave into ordering their french fries (with extra mayo, please). I work remote there, perched at the bar, enjoying @mariebasile’s company, bartender turned dear friend, after she saved me from a terrible first date, “let me know when you want me to kick him out .” (She did, btw). I won’t find another space as special as this. Here, the @diasporaco turmeric-soaked eggs with black peppercorn, original ph: @abhishek14_. @diasporaco is also woman owned, helmed by @sanajaverikadri, who began Diaspora Co. in 2017 to share the complex cultures of India, and share regional spice varieties to the broader public. Diaspora Co. is donating $4 from the sale of every $12 jar of #PragatiTurmeric to their food communities’ employees’ @gofundme. Turmeric is also anti-inflammatory and immunity boosting — perfect to keep you healthy during this crazy time. Both @hunkydorybk and @diasporaco have @gofundme pages, please donate, or purchase this print! ✨ALL✨ proceeds will go back to the illustrated businesses. DM for details. Stay safe out there. #nkpcreate #illustration #digitalart #foodillustration #cherrybombe #bombesquad #procreate #digitalartist #fooddrawing #supportlocalbussiness #buylocal #shoplocal #newyorktimes #nyt #tumeric #eggs #indianfood #indiancuisine #spices #helpourhunkys #timelapse

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Nancy Pappas is also a professional illustrator. Halfway through March, she also pivoted her feeds to focus on spotlighting specific food businesses and restaurants, sometimes featuring multiple businesses within a single illustration (like the turmeric-soaked eggs from Hunky Dory, featuring Diaspora Co. turmeric).

Each illustration is for sale, with Pappas vowing the split the proceeds among the illustrated businesses. As Pappas wrote on Instagram, “While I am self isolating indoors, I’ll be illustrating some of my favorite local businesses. I’m going to try to do as many as I can while we ride this damn thing out.”

As a food writer, Hugh Merwin’s Instagram feed isn’t typically filled with artwork. But last week, after posting a few black-and-white cartoon drawings, he posted a similar project: Send over a food-based drawing request — “your favorite food, your least favorite food, or your favorite imaginary food” — and proof of donation to a nonprofit like Feeding America or Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, or receipt from a local food business, and he will post a custom drawing for you. Since then, Merwin has posted 23 drawings, ranging from a rare New York strip steak to a morel riding a scooter.

Like Merwin, Pickowicz isn’t an illustrator by profession, but has found drawing to be a valuable outlet while out of work. “To help combat my mounting anxiety and stress, I started doodling the layer cakes and pastries that I wished I was making,” she said.

She’s turned to Instagram to post them and sell them as both a personal stress reliever and fundraiser. Her caveats, she said: “Doodles will be mailed out at random with no subject matter requests, please be patient in receiving your drawing, and donate any amount of money you like.”

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Cake calisthenics

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Within 24 hours, she had nearly 100 requests for illustrations and had raised $3,500, with donations ranging from $5 to $100. All of the money is being donated to a GoFundMe set up by Matter House, the hospitality group that owns Café Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar, that specifically benefits their more vulnerable and at-risk employees.

The response, said Pickowicz, “was mind-blowing and so, so moving — people overwhelmingly just wanted to express their support, and suddenly I felt like I had a purpose.

And Instagram followers — sitting at home, scrolling endlessly, wondering what good they can do right now, especially to support an ailing restaurant industry — may feel the same way.

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