Another Cookier Close-up! Woo hoo! Sorry for the brief hiatus, but I had a super busy December with virtual classes and events, and it took me a little while to re-group after all of that! Anywho, I’m back, and I’m sure you’re going to love reading this up-close-and-personal interview as much as I loved conducting it. It’s with none other than our December 2020 site artist, the supremely talented Ewa Kiszowara, aka @Ewa Kiszowara MOJE PIERNIKI. Ewa, who joined Cookie Connection in January 2017, harks from Poland and has been running the blog Moje Pierniki for six years. Prior to cookies, she worked as a teacher for 35 years. She now draws on that teaching experience by conducting cookie training sessions and workshops on a regular basis. As she mentioned in her earlier forum intro, she and her son also run the Academy of Tradition, which “teaches young people the love of folklore”. I’ve been dying to explore exactly what that means, which Ewa and I will do in this interview, along with delving into her passion for painted cookie portraits, cookie instruction, and more! So, without further ado, on to the questions!
JMU: Hi, Ewa! Thanks again for contributing so frequently to Cookie Connection over the last three years. I always love seeing your finely detailed and very precise work (like the heart above), so it’s high time I featured you this way! Thank you too for indulging my curiosity and agreeing to this interview!
I want to start with a few basics, so readers can better understand where you live and what the cookie decorating environment is like there. So, for my first question, where in Poland do you live? If I were to come visit you there, what would be the first sights or things you would want to show me? In other words, what are your home’s unique attributes or traditions that you think those of us in the US and other countries should know about?
EK: Hi, Julia! I am glad that I can tell you about myself. I was born and live in a small town in the west of Poland, in Zielona Góra. The city has 120,000 inhabitants. It is surrounded by forests on all sides. It is famous for its grape harvest and large number of vineyards. It is worth coming here to see the old town, which is very nice and historic, and to taste the local wine.
JMU: Ooh, I can't wait to visit! Can I stay in your guest room?! Is cookie decorating as popular in your home town or country as it is in the US? Why or why not?
EK: Cookie decorating is becoming more and more popular in Poland. It is, of course, connected with Christmas and the tradition of baking gingerbread. At that time, most Poles bake gingerbread cookies and decorate them.
JMU: Now, let’s turn to you and your work! How and when did you get started in decorated cookies? What or who inspired you to start?
EK: Six years ago, I decided to decorate gingerbread for Christmas for the first time in my life. I baked and decorated gingerbread, but they were eaten very quickly and didn't live to see Christmas! I tried again and tried to decorate them nicely this time. I had the idea that they would be small Christmas presents for the family. Everyone liked the gingerbread. And that's how it started. Decorating has become my passion.
JMU: You mentioned you were a teacher prior to cookies. What did you teach, and why did you decide to leave that job and pursue cookies so passionately? Was that a difficult decision to make?
EK: For 35 years, I worked as a teacher of primary school classes. I have always liked art classes in particular. Two years ago, I retired and finally could do what I like best - decorating gingerbread. This job gives me great satisfaction and pleasure. I wish I could have discovered it a little earlier. I love what I do.
JMU: I know you spend a lot of time teaching cookie decorating, but you are also very involved with the Academy of Tradition. Please tell us more about the academy! How exactly does it teach "the love of folklore” to young people? What subjects are taught there?
EK: Let me back up and provide more background . . . After retirement, I started a company call the Academy of Tradition with my son Michał and his fiancée Karolina. We also funded the association that supports our activity and works on protection and popularization of folklore. My son is a folk dance instructor and leads workshops and concerts of traditional music and dance from various regions of Poland. During the COVID pandemic, he moved his activity to the web; he also makes educational films. Karolina makes handcrafts and teaches kids simple embroidery and weaving. She is also learning computer graphics, so she designs our graphics for the internet. I decorate cookies, sell them, and conduct workshops. For now, we conduct these activities in different organizations and cultural centers, but we dream of opening a real “House of Tradition”, which will be our headquarters.
JMU: So interesting, and I love that it is a family collaboration. Now, tell me, how does your own love of folklore influence your cookie decorating, if at all? Are there typical Polish traditions or methods that you bring to your cookies?
EK: On my cookies, I often make patterns inspired by Polish folk art from various regions of Poland, for example, embroidery from the regions of Kaszuby or Łowicz. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Take a look at these real examples of Kaszuby and Łowicz embroidery. You can clearly see these influences in Ewa’s work, like in the cookies below.]
JMU: You mentioned that you were especially passionate about painting portraits on cookies. Why do you think you are so drawn to painting as a technique?
EK: Painting and visual arts have always been close to my heart. At school, I taught children art and conducted special interest clubs. That's why brushes are my favorite tool. I like to paint on icing. I have been painting portraits for two years. I teach portrait painting on icing using the wet and dry methods. I also conduct training using the one-stroke technique. It’s a very nice, fast, and effective technique, which is most often the way I paint flowers. Painting relaxes me a lot.
JMU: I’m not sure I’m familiar with the dry method of painting (unless you mean dusting?), and the one-stroke technique has always eluded me. Perhaps we can convince you to do a guest tutorial (or two) on Cookie Connection that shows the details of these techniques?!
In the meantime, what are your top tips for non-cookie painters who might want to develop painting skills?
EK: My advice for beginners:
- before you start, very carefully observe what you want to paint;
- proceed cautiously, because what you paint on the icing cannot be easily corrected;
- always paint from the lightest to the darkest color;
- pay attention to the direction/source of light on your image, and create shadows accordingly;
- take care not to make holes in the icing while painting; and
- practice a lot, and don't give up!
JMU: You do so many techniques so wonderfully, from detailed piping to painting. So . . . do you have a cookie Achilles’ heel – meaning a technique that you just can’t seem to master? If so, what is it? And what, if any, strategies do you have for conquering that technique?
EK: I once tried the intricately hand-piped needlepoint technique in color, just like @Teresa Pękul does. Unfortunately, I couldn't do it . . . However, I broke through this year and did some work like that and even liked it. Unfortunately, it is very laborious, and all of those colorful dots gave me a headache! I'll stick to brush painting!
JMU: Let’s turn to the subject of teaching cookie decorating. How long have you been teaching? How were your typical classes structured prior to COVID-19?
EK: I have been teaching cookie decorating for two years. My classes are often individual or in small groups, usually eight hours long. They are divided into three types:
- beginner classes, where I teach how to bake gingerbread cookies, how to make icing, and how to decorate using various techniques;
- painting on icing, such as portraits with 3-D elements; and
- one-stroke painting on icing (as used to make the flowers below).
JMU: How, if at all, has the nature of your teaching or structure of your classes changed since COVID-19? For instance, have you moved classes online? Why or why not?
EK: Unfortunately, during the pandemic, in-person training was suspended. I have prepared my first online training for beginners about decorating Christmas gingerbread. Online training is a good solution for now; however, there is no substitute for live meetings and training.
JMU: As a veteran teacher even prior to starting in cookies, you must be full of tips for wanna-be cookie instructors! What advice would you give to cookiers who have ambitions to teach? What are your top cookie teaching tips?
EK: My top tips for cookie decorating instructors include:
- praise and encourage students;
- emphasize that nothing comes easily (you have to practice a lot);
- show precisely how all stages of the work are done; and
- show easy but effective decorating techniques (they will encourage students to continue to decorate).
JMU: Very practical advice! Thank you! Since I haven’t been traveling as much since COVID, I need to get my fix of learning about other countries’ sweets traditions! What special cookie traditions, recipes, or ingredients do you have in Poland that you think members should know about? Please share!
EK: In Poland, baking and decorating gingerbread is a tradition at Christmas. The custom of baking gingerbread has been established in Poland for a long time. In the past, gingerbread was a luxury product because spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, anise, and cloves were very expensive. Gingerbread was also once sold in pharmacies because it was believed that it helped improve digestion. Since gingerbread cookies have a long shelf life, they were provisions for soldiers at one time too. These things are just some of our historical curiosities.
JMU: Quite fascinating! On to another of my favorite questions! What do you like most about belonging to the online cookie community, and why? And I’m not talking just about Cookie Connection; I’m talking about “community” in the broadest sense of how you experience it everywhere online.
EK: I really like all of the sites where I can admire beautiful cookies from all over the world. They inspire me. You can also learn a lot online, and, of course, I also like to get praise for my work. I've met many people who share my same decorating passion. Various friendships and acquaintances have been made. It's great to have so many sweet friends all over the world. Unfortunately, language differences can be a big barrier for me, which I regret. Someday I'd like to meet all of my online friends in person!
JMU: Me too! Last, my usual parting question! Where would you like to see yourself in the cookie decorating world three years from now? Do you see yourself doing more or less of anything, or taking on any new cookie-related activities, such as teaching in more countries, creating or selling products, or something else? Why would you like to go in this direction?
EK: Since I am not a young person any more, I don't have big dreams of decorating gingerbread. I think I have achieved a lot in this area anyway. I never expected it to be like this. My only dream is to open a real (physical) House of Tradition, where my son and I could conduct our workshops and training sessions.
JMU: Well, I wish you and your son much luck in achieving that dream! Thank you again, Ewa, for taking the time to translate my questions from English to Polish, to answer them in Polish, AND then to translate those answers back into English! I so appreciate the energy and effort that this process required, especially at a busy holiday time. I can't wait to see your next post to Cookie Connection! I am sure it will be stunning, as always!
Cookie and photo credits: Ewa Kiszowara
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!