Making Of / 21 July 2022

Cocktail Illustrations

I wanted to write down some of my thoughts and feelings from working on my cocktail illustrations. It was a project that I greatly enjoyed working on, and I may want to revisit in a different form in the future.

I am not an expert in alcohol. It would be a gross exaggeration to call me an amatuer. It would even be generous to call me a dabbler. But I've always liked cocktails. They're so beautiful, the colors of the liquors reflecting through the ice and the glass, the garnishes, the way they light up a table. I don't drink at all, but my eyes always are drawn towards cocktails whenever I pass them by. Over time, I also became fascinated by the history and stories behind cocktails. They can be so much more than an enjoyable drink! They can tell the history of a family, the story of a city, an important historical event. The more I learned, the more my fondness of the art of cocktails grew. 

A strong influence on my fascination with the history behind cocktails is the manga Bartender, written by Araki Joh and illustrated by Kenji Nagatomo. Every chapter introduces a new cocktail, with the bartender using the history or the story of the drink to comfort his customers. I enjoyed reading each chapter, and then researching the drinks on my own to check for alternate histories or stories. It made the series an incredibly engaging read and helped foster my interest in the drinks. 

I knew I wanted to create an illustration series about cocktails, so I gave myself a few parameters:

  • I wanted to make it a monthly challenge, where I drew one cocktail a day. Like inktober but for cocktail illustrations. This helped me stay focused on the project for a long period of time, while also limited the number of drinks I could draw. I could have gone on for a LOT longer 😂
  • The drawings had to be consistent and simple. The end goal was to compile the illustrations into a small zine, so it all had to fit together
  • Each illustration would be accompanied by a short summary or story about the history of the drink. There are hundreds of cocktails out there, but I wanted to focus on the ones that I personally found the most compelling. 

To start, I compiled a list of cocktails that I wanted to illustrate. A great resource that I used was The Essential Cocktail Book, Edited by Megan Krigbaum. It's a wonderful collection of 150 cocktails recipes, with photos and short paragraphs about each drink. I also did some research on drinks that I had read about in Bartender so I could include them. One drink that stands out in particular is the Yukiguni, created by Keiichi Iyama in 1958; an entirely Japanese cocktail that you won't find in most cocktail books. 

After some experimenting, I decided to use a very simple approach for the illustrations, much more graphic than how I normally draw. The glasses would be white lines and the ice would be faded outlines. The drinks themselves would be colorful and the garnishes would be lightly shaded. The glare on the glasses would be a rough paint stroke, and that same brush is used as an overlay in the background to add some texture and glow to the background. The backgrounds would be solid colors that make the color of the drinks stand out, while not repeating colors from day to day. At first I had the text as white against whatever color the background was, but it quickly became difficult to read against brighter colors, so I switched to having a white block on top of the background, and having the text be a darker version of the color. Everything was created in Procreate, on my ipad!

With my style decided and my list of drinks, it was just full steam ahead at that point! I wanted my summaries to be original, so I wrote them after compiling my research. I tried to keep most of them around 3-4 sentences long. For each cocktail I would sketch out how I wanted to draw the drink, then write down the summaries in my sketchbook. After that I would open a template in procreate, write in the summary, then draw the cocktail. Once I got started in earnest, each drink would take a little over a half hour to complete! Here's an example of what my sketchbook looked like for a month.

To keep myself accountable, I shared one drink a day on twitter in a thread. It was fun to come up with even shorter blurbs to attract people's attention to the tweets. 

After I completed my list of cocktails, I compiled them together into a little zine! At this point, some of my color choices were not very smart in hindsight. Those jewel bright colors did not react well to being converted to CMYK. At one point I was converting the colors and my roommate said "I've never heard you make such a sad sound". I was able to bring back some of the colors with some adjustment layers, but I also had to just live with some of the duller colors. At the end of the day, I'm quite pleased with the results!

I also decided to make it into a poster! But since there were 31 cocktails, I had to get rid one so they would fit. Goodbye Moscow Mule, you were the odd one out... but I feel like the poster came out really well! It looks stylish~

I had a wonderful time creating this project. I learned a lot while working on it, and was able to share my fascination of cocktails with people. I'd like to revisit this project at a later date. Maybe instead of cocktails, I can do something about the history of specific alcohols. Japanese Whisky has a very romantic story, and the history of Baijiu is the history of China itself. We'll see what the future has in store for me. Something to look forward to!