Recipes for Self-Love

By Jenny Carless

With her well-regarded collection of empowering and inspirational illustrations, South African artist Alison Rachel has created a celebration of women sharing sentiments of support and political commentary.

For someone who describes herself as “pretty new to illustration,” Alison Rachel has hit the ground running—and in the process, she has captured the imagination of people around the world, with a series called Recipes for Self-Love.

Her work explores concepts of feminism and identity.

“These topics are relevant to me being a woman, as well as to many other people in the world, and I feel quite strongly about them,” Rachel says. “We are told so many lies by the media, and I try to interrogate those lies—and also identify truths that will hopefully be ‘aha moments’ for others and help them in life.” 

Of the many illustrations in the growing body of work, these three are some of Rachel’s favorites. “I think the content in these illustrations is honest and relatable—and I like the colors and the clothes, too,” she says.

The Recipes for Self-Love project came out of Rachel’s personal search for ideas to improve her own state of mind. In looking for guidance, she contacted others who identify as women and asked for their ideas—“recipes” of sorts—for how they made themselves feel better.

She began to develop a collection of illustrations to represent the advice and published them in a series of zines. The majority of the contributions for the first issue came from friends; for the next two, she put out calls for submissions—and received responses from all over the world.

“Practicing self-love, or at least methods for trying to feel good about oneself, is something that all women struggle with at times,” Rachel says. “That's why it has been so easy to get input from women, because they have a lot to contribute on the topic.”

Recipes for Self-Love, the zine

She received submissions in the form of poetry and prose, as well as visual arts.

The illustrations feature women of all body types and of different ethnicities. Rachel describes the style of the series as “cool girls and chill house plants.”

The collection of illustrations includes many affirmations of self-love (“Be kind to yourself today,” “Know your power,” and “Love the way you look,” for example), as the title implies. But it reaches much further, also including commentary on other important social issues—from rape culture, domestic violence, equal rights, and body shaming to Islamophobia, ableism, and LGBTQ-phobia.

Alison is working on turning the Recipes for Self-Love Instagram account into a gift book, with publisher HarperCollins, to be published in early 2019.

“I’m super excited about it; it’s going to be beautiful and really special,” Rachel says.

Her work is also available on Adobe Stock.


Rachel began working digitally only about a year ago.

“I began playing with Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, to make content for my Instagram account, and discovered that I really enjoyed the medium,” she explains.

“I've always dabbled in the arts, and I love drawing, painting, and printmaking,” she adds. “Digital was just another medium that interested me, and when I upgraded my computer, I could run the software with more ease, so that made it pleasant to work with.”

Rachel took a brief desktop publishing course last year, where she learned the basics of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. “But most of it was just playing around and having fun,” she says.

She may be new to illustration, but not to creative endeavors.

“I love art and design, and I studied textile design as a subject in school, where we learned design theory and screenprinting techniques,” she explains. “That’s where my love for design and all things graphic first took root.”

She majored in art history and philosophy at the University of Cape Town but wasn't making much art during that time. Still, she has always strongly felt the call of artistic pursuits.

“I think the connection to art runs very deep in my family,” she says. “My grandfather was a keen amateur painter, and I have lots of other relatives who were artists.”


Rachel feels that her work has improved drastically over the last year, since she first began illustrating.

“That’s from the sheer amount of practice I put in,” she says. “I draw at least one post every day, which has helped me progress quite quickly.”

An illustration can take anywhere from one hour to four or five, depending on its complexity.

“I still don’t feel like an ‘illustrator’ and would love to learn more and improve—which I’m sure I will as I keep working on digital drawing,” she says.

Content drives her work more so than visuals.

“It’s always the most important element that drives whatever communication strategy or project I’m working on,” she says. “It’s easy enough to make something look pretty, so I usually allow the subject matter to inform aesthetics.”


Over the years, Rachel has also worked with textile and embroidery art, printmaking, drawing, and painting.

“I love to work with my hands,” she says.

Some of the invitations, posters, and prints she has designed are on Behance.

The upcoming gift book of her “Recipes for Self-Love” illustrations keeps her busy these days. In addition, she manages her Instagram account and works as a freelance illustrator.

Looking ahead, Rachel would love to do some traveling and work with other artists, illustrators, designers, and agencies on interesting and impactful projects.

Learn more about Alison Rachel via her Instagram account and Behance profile, and also check out the work she has made available on Adobe Stock.

April 14, 2018