Nancy Pappas is the design director at Cherry Bombe—a biannual magazine celebrating women in the food industry—but at night, the Korean-born artist can be found hunched over her iPad, sketching illustrations of pineapple-crowned tacos al pastor, plump potstickers sprinkled with scallions, and chocolate-dipped crullers, painted like half moons. She posts her illustrations on her Instagram, drawings that are rooted in her passion for food and dining and greatly influenced by her traveling and Korean heritage.
Although she’d long been immersed in art, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Nancy really segued into having her art focus on food. She was struggling to move her Instagram account forward and stumped on what she wanted to showcase.
“I had a friend who was like, you love food and all you do is eat, and all you care about is food, so why don’t you draw food?’” she explains. And so she archived all her posts and switched from posting everything she was creating to merely highlighting one singular niche. “[My Instagram] was truly just born from me loving food.”
But Nancy isn’t merely drawn to food just because it tastes good (though that is, certainly, a benefit). For her, food is simply beautiful. “That’s just something I’m naturally interested in—how [food] evokes feelings and brings joy to people,” she says.
Something unassuming and dark, like a murky brown porchetta she recently drew, can be transformed into something more than just its colors, thanks to the addition of textures and dimensions—and even background colors. Nancy crafts a humble half of an avocado into something you’d want to hang on your wall: an oval of dark green swiped with yellows and teals, a concave pit emerging from its belly like a food baby.
“What I hope people see is that food isn’t just a blob on a plate,” she says. “It can be so much more.”
Nancy gets plenty of creative inspiration thanks to the nature of her work, but her art is also deeply ingrained in and influenced by her Korean heritage. She was born in Korea but raised in the Midwest by her adopted parents. Her parents incorporated her Korean identity into her upbringing—sending her to Korean heritage camp, taking her out to eat Korean food—but it wasn’t until she was older and started to travel that she discovered the immense variety of Korean food, and how much of it she never even knew existed.
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“As an adoptee, I was already rooted in the world that was much larger than the States and the Midwest, and for how much I travel it was just a next segue into realizing my culture’s cuisine is so expansive,” Nancy says, “and that really affects the way I draw.”
On Nancy’s Instagram you can find colorful images of crimson-stained jars of kimchi; tangles of classic banchan (small Korean side dishes), like spicy rice cakes and braised lotus roots; and pajeon, a savory pancake formed out of Korean flour, scallions, chili pepper, and sesame oil—and one of her all-time favorite Korean dishes.
For so long, Nancy had no idea that many of these Korean foods even existed. She compares her openness with food and her passion for travel to the mindset of Anthony Bourdain, that she often feels very humbled to know that she can know nothing about the world until she actually gets to a place. It’s her artwork that she finds helps not only teach her about the world, but also aids in instructing others about how big and diverse the planet actually is.
“I’m excited to get back to travel when it’s safe so that I can start inadvertently educating people [through my illustrations] of the food that’s out there,” she explains.
In the meantime, you can support Nancy’s artwork, and many local restaurants, by purchasing one of Nancy’s prints. Just head to her Instagram account (@nkpcreate) to request a commission, which begins at $150. Or you can shop her COVID-19 prints, priced at $30, with all the proceeds donated back into the restaurants’ COVID relief funds. The prints are of dishes from some of Nancy’s favorite restaurants, like jammy eggs from Hunky Dory, tahini cookies from Seed & Mill, and chocolate bonbons from Stick with Me Sweets. All you’ve got to do is send her a DM and you’ll be rewarded with a print so lifelike that you’ll want to pluck it off the page and pop it into your mouth.
Header image courtesy of Nancy Pappas.