Business strategy

An interview with Salli Swindell — illustrator and entrepreneur

By Nicholas Gracilla  ·   September 19, 2019  ·  4 minute read

Topics: Interview

Salli and her brother Nate Padavick manage the the internet's largest collection of food and travel illustration. Find out how these entrepreneurs handle an ever changing marketplace, run business idea experiments, and manage a complex online media empire.

This summer, Nick and Salli sat down to chat about entreprenurship, media trends, and running a business in a changing marketplace.

. . .

Salli S. Swindell is an illustrator, entrepreneur, and cat lover living in a small town outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Salli and her brother Nate Padavick (also an illustrator) are the founders of They Draw & Cook and They Draw & Travel, the internet’s largest collection of food and travel art created by artists all around the world. When Salli is not in her studio she is most likely out hiking one of the beautiful trails that make up Cleveland’s Emerald Necklace.

. . .

[Nick]: One of our guiding star ideas is that They Draw and Cook and They Draw and Travel should really own the category of food and travel illustration online—have the largest collection, the most engaged community, and greatest value for art directors, artists, and people who love illustrations. How’s the conquest for global food and travel illustration online going?

[Salli]: I’m happy to report that it’s really happening and it’s pretty exciting!

Thanks in part to cell phones, we live in a digital photography world — maybe even drowning. From the perspective of art directors, where do you see the trend moving? Is it the sunset or the dawn of illustration?

I think illustration is even more important than ever these days. An illustrator can infuse so much emotion and storytelling into the image they create. Photography has so many limitations — maybe I’m just biased and optimistic! But food and travel illustration has really exploded over the past nine years.

A big effort this summer was migrating to your own login system — creating an option to Facebook’s login, which seemed a fine choice a few years ago. What motivated that change?

Many of our fans and contributors were shutting down their Facebook accounts which meant they could no longer submit their work to our sites. We weren’t seeing the same level of activity on our Facebook sites, so we knew we needed to accommodate this shift. Thanks to your team at Neoteric it was a seamless transition. It’s a relief to not be exclusively connected to Facebook anymore.

On social media

Today’s brands are distributed online — at your website, on Facebook, Instagram, and more. Where do you find the right balance? Where do you see it moving?

Right now I see lots of activity on Instagram. I spend so much time engaging with our TDAC Instagram community and searching out new work to post and share. But we always work to direct attention back to our website — it is really the grand hub of everything! The goal of everything we do is based on our founding principle: showcasing and promoting the work of illustrators all around the world.

On business experiments

Businesses and organizations of all kinds are dealing with an ever changing marketplace — and change seems to be happening faster than ever. How do you experiment with new business ideas and ways of engaging your audience?

Well, you’ve built us such a flexible and easy to manage platform! We try new things all the time. When we launched our HandPicked Design Challenge Series we honestly didn’t know if anyone would even participate. But the first challenge was hugely successful and they just keep getting better and better. This community is amazing! All of the curators did so much more than we initially asked of them. Artists have been featured in magazines and had their work commissioned for greeting cards and calendars. Both art directors and artists have benefitted.

What’s on the horizon?

There is a golden sunrise on the horizon! We are working on next year’s HandPicked guest curators list, getting ready to launch a contest on the travel site, tinkering with a new online gallery idea, and slowly building our own online teaching platform.

I can’t wait to see that. Thanks Salli!