How could you miss the stunningly vibrant butterflies and flowers that beautified our site earlier this month?! Yeah, you couldn’t. Thanks to this month’s first* site artist, Sandra Garvey, her cookie work completely dazzled us from May 1 to May 15!
(*Note: As luck would have it, we had two site artists this month. The second one is Kim Damon, whose work is now appearing on the site. You can read Kim's past Close-up here.)
Now, back to Sandra . . .
Currently a hobbyist decorator, Sandra harks from Appleton, Wisconsin USA, where her first exposure to cutout cookies was as a young child decorating alongside her siblings at Christmastime. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that her cookie decorating passion began in earnest. Her sister-in-law (SIL) would bring the yummiest cookies frosted with buttercream to family gatherings, so Sandra thought she would try to ice cookies by using a piping bag just like her SIL did. But, after watching videos from the cookie greats, Sandra embarked on an obsession with royal icing instead. To this day, she is always on the hunt for the newest, most exciting developments in royal icing techniques!
When not working full-time as a supervisor for a retail establishment, Sandra makes cookies about twice a month for family, friends, co-workers, and charities. In 2015, Springbok Puzzles approached Sandra for some of her cookie images for their jigsaw puzzles, and they have since contracted two more of her images for their puzzle lineup.
Today, we’ll learn more about Sandra’s fascination with royal icing and her exciting gig with Springbok, among other things! So let’s get started . . .
JMU: Welcome, Sandra! I have so enjoyed seeing your eye-catching work on the site this month. Thanks for making the contribution and for agreeing to this interview today!
Now, let’s go back to 2012 for a moment. Tell me why you ended up with a fascination for royal icing rather than buttercream on cookies. I would have thought that, with all that wonderful buttercream inspiration from your SIL, you’d have gone the buttercream route instead. What is it about royal icing that makes it your preferred medium for cookie decorating?
SG: I found that, with royal icing, I could utilize a wider variety of decorating techniques: wet-on-wet, embroidery, marbling, quilting, stained glass, and so much more. I love the smooth surface you get with royal icing, which is perfect for printed images, stenciling, stamping, line work, and handpainting.
JMU: You mentioned in your bio in your recent forum introduction that you’re “always on the hunt for the newest, most exciting developments in royal icing”. So, in your opinion, what are those newest, most exciting developments? And have you tackled any of them in your work yet? If you have any pictures that demonstrate those techniques, please share!
SG: Whenever I have free time, I love to use the Internet to see what other cookie decorators around the world are creating. There are so many sites that inspire that I find I can get lost for hours. One of the latest techniques that I really want to try is the crackled glaze effect. I think that this would be a beautiful background for monograms, florals, or rustic shabby chic motifs. I also love to use multi-layered stencils as shown below with the flowered heart.
JMU: I'm partial to multi-layered stencils too! What’s your most favorite royal icing technique, and why? Your least favorite, and why?
SG: My favorite technique is embroidery, or lace. Although it is time-consuming, the result is always worth it to me. My least favorite is doing any kind of character cookie. I never seem to be happy with the outcome. A friend of mine recently asked if I would do turtle cookies for her son’s birthday, and I cringed because I thought she meant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When she said that she wanted sea turtles, I was definitely on board! (See the final result, below!)
JMU: Love those turtles! I'm sure your friend's son did too! I understand that you don’t currently sell your cookies, though I imagine you have plenty of demand for them, seeing as they’re so gorgeous. Why have you chosen not to sell your cookies to this point?
SG: It is currently against the law in Wisconsin to sell home-baked goods.
JMU: In your bio, you suggested that Wisconsin cottage food laws were on the verge of changing and that, if they do, your focus in cookie decorating could change. Could you elaborate on this statement? First, when and how are Wisconsin cottage food laws expected to change?
SG: Currently, Wisconsin is one of only two states that prohibit the sale of home-baked goods. Recently, a bill has been circulating in the State Senate that would allow for the limited sale of home-baked goods. A judge is also deciding whether the current ban is unconstitutional.
JMU: Well, for your sake, I hope the laws become less restrictive very soon! Now, if and when those laws change, how will they impact you? Will you start selling your cookies from home, or from another location? How do you envision “setting up shop”, if you do?
SG: If the ban is lifted, I would like to sell at local events, just to “get my feet wet” and then see where that leads. I’m not certain that I would go into cookie-making full-time. I love decorating as a hobby from home. If I can sell at select art events, farmers' markets, and local festivals, that would be enough for now.
JMU: Tell us a little bit more about the demand for, or interest in, decorated cookies in Wisconsin. Do you believe it’s any more or less developed than in other areas of the US, or the world? Is the Wisconsin “climate” a favorable one for starting a cookie business? Why or why not?
SG: If the ban is lifted, it may open up avenues for home-bakers. However, it has been my experience that people generally feel that they shouldn’t have to pay more than a dollar or two for a cookie in the area where I live. In larger cities like Milwaukee or Madison, I think there is definitely a market for decorated cookies.
JMU: Now, let’s turn to something I’ve been dying to know more about – your Springbok cookie puzzles. The one pictured above is just glorious! Congrats! First, did Springbok find you, and, if so, how? Or did you seek them out, and, if so, how did you sell them on your puzzle concept?
SG: I entered my butterfly assortment cookie picture into a site competition that Springbok Puzzles was running, and I won. A year later, they contacted me and asked if I could bake a variety of Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine cookies for them to photograph for future puzzles. The Halloween cookie puzzle, using some of the Halloween cookies below, is currently for sale on their site, and the Christmas one should be available in the fall.
JMU: Congrats! Your Halloween puzzle looks great! Can you briefly explain the process of developing cookies for puzzle use. Once Springbok sets a broad theme (like Halloween or Christmas), do you have total creative freedom, or do they dictate certain design parameters? How much back-and-forth goes on between you and Springbok before you settle on a cookie set and they approve your designs or cookies? (Or perhaps there isn’t even an approval process?) Then, do you photograph your cookies, or do they?
SG: As I mentioned earlier, the butterfly puzzle was from a photo I submitted. The other puzzles were created from photos Springbok took with actual cookies that I sent them. They told me what shapes they wanted and the colors to be used. The photo and selection process is completely in their hands. In hindsight, not having control over the actual photo chosen for the puzzle was somewhat disappointing. In the Halloween photo they took, I wasn’t too pleased with the cookies they chose to use from the assortment I sent them, and the overall composition.
JMU: Well, we are often our own worst critics. As I said, I think it looks great, and I mean that sincerely! Have you found that you have to decorate cookies for a puzzle any differently than you normally would? For instance, do the individual cookie designs have to be relatively complex, or do you have to make a ton of cookies, so that the puzzle image ends up with sufficient depth and detail to make it challenging for puzzlers? Or do you find that you have to be much more precise and exacting, because the cookies will be viewed at such close range on the box? Or maybe I’m way off target and cookies are cookies no matter where they end up?
SG: Springbok asked if I would incorporate bold colors, lots of sparkle, and as much detail as I could in the cookies I made for them. They wanted something other puzzle companies couldn’t duplicate, and something that would be interesting and fun for the puzzle enthusiast.
JMU: Is it possible to make a decent living making cookies for cookie puzzles? Can you share how one gets compensated for work like this – i.e., do you get paid a flat fee per set of cookies or puzzle, a royalty earned on puzzle revenue, or something else? Does the company advance you any money to come up with the initial cookie designs and cookies, or do you make those for free on speculation that you will make money later once the puzzle sells?
SG: Springbok basically offered to pay for my time, materials, shipping costs, image rights, and eight copies of the puzzle itself. The total compensation package is not lucrative enough to make a living, but is a great way for a cookier to supplement her (or his) income. My large family grew up with Springbok puzzles, and I thought it would be awesome to have one of my photos made into a mass-market puzzle to share with my family.
JMU: What’s the most fun aspect of designing cookies for puzzles? And what’s the least fun aspect, and why?
SG: The nicest thing about making the cookies was that I could take my time and didn’t have to worry about the cookies getting stale, because they weren’t going to eat them. I could use lots of extras like glitter, dragées, sugars, and molded items too. I could really get creative, and I liked that. However, there is a downside to having so much creative freedom. For example, for the Christmas puzzle, they asked for ornaments only, incorporating many sizes, shapes, and colors. They only wanted about two dozen cookies, and I sent them eight dozen (some of which are pictured below) because I couldn’t seem to choose a set of just 24. They are in the process of shooting the photos, and I have no idea which cookies they’ll use and what the end result will look like.
JMU: Well, if it's anything like the Halloween puzzle, it will be awesome! And, now, for my usual parting question: where do you see yourself in relation to cookies in the next three years? What are your cookie dreams and aspirations?
SG: Hopefully, as a hobby baker, I will be able to bake cookies from my home to sell locally.
JMU: I wish you all the best in that endeavor. Thanks again for chatting with us today, and I can't wait to see your Christmas puzzle!
Cookier Close-ups is the place on Cookie Connection where we celebrate the change-makers of the cookie decorating world. Whether forging new enterprises, inventing novel decorating techniques, or consistently charming us with their cookie decorating prowess, each of our featured thought leaders has redefined in his/her distinctive way how we interact, create, or otherwise do business here in cookie space!
If there are other cookiers you'd really like to get to know, please post requests in this forum. We'll do our best to round them up for an upcoming Cookier Close-up! Thanks!