Hi, everyone! This month, we’ll be getting to know our May 2020 featured site artist @Icingsugarkeks, aka Gabi, a whole lot better! Hurrah! Gabi also happened to be the brainchild and graphic designer behind our current June site art.
Gabi would prefer not to share her headshot or full name, but she’s been more than willing to disclose just about everything else. Moreover, she’s sharing in English when German is her native tongue. I’m not only impressed with her dexterity to move between languages, I’m also incredibly grateful – there’s no way I could even begin to write this interview in German. So, to start, a big thank-you to Gabi!
As you may know, Gabi has been an active challenge participant ever since joining Cookie Connection in early January 2019. She typically enters a single challenge not once . . . not twice . . . not three times . . . but multiple times! Her work, both for challenges and as regularly posted to the site, is quite varied, but often characterized by the use of colorful printed images (as in her May site art) or, by contrast, exposed, organic cookie surfaces. We’ll talk further about her different style choices, her favorite (and least favorite) challenges, and more as we get into this interview.
So let’s get to it, shall we?!
JMU: Hi, Gabi! Thanks again for agreeing to this interview in English, for your May site art contribution, and for your many other wonderful contributions since joining Cookie Connection in 2019! [Note: ISK stands for “Icingsugarkeks”! ]
ISK: Aww . . . Thanks for the nice introduction. I have to thank you, as I feel really very honored, dear Julia. If someone had said to me a year ago that I would appear here in the Cookier Close-up, I would only have waved them away. Therefore, I would like to try - even with a language barrier - to answer your questions as best as possible.
JMU: Thanks again for making all the necessary translations in order to answer! Much appreciated! In your forum intro in early May, you said you work as a media and graphic designer in your gorgeous homeland of Thüringen, Germany (pictured below) doing a broad range of things, such as image processing, film cutting, television programming, and website design and programming. Phew, I’m tired just re-typing that list! You also said you’re a cookie hobbyist . . . but what do you mean by that? Do you make cookies for the pure challenge and artistic satisfaction? Do you give them to family and friends? Do you also sell them? Can you briefly explain how you currently participate in cookies?
ISK: Yes, Julia, I call myself a cookie hobbyist because I do not sell my cookies. I really have a lot of hobbies, but cookies are a hobby that has intensified for me in recent years. I need them to balance everyday life. Decorating makes me calm down. I enjoy it for myself! I only make cookies for my family and very close friends and acquaintances, especially at Christmas and for birthdays. So that I can enjoy my results, I take pictures of my cookies, put the pictures on my cookie website, and create photo books from time to time. Since I discovered Pinterest and Instagram, I've shared my pictures there too. And, now that I’m a member of this site, I am proud to share them here as well!
JMU: Do you have any aspirations to ever sell your cookies? Why or why not?
ISK: No, I will never sell my cookies. The stress level is just too high for me! Due to illness, I could never guarantee that the cookies would be ready at the appointed time.
JMU: Oh, I am so sorry to hear about your illness; I hope it is not too serious . . . So, with your health issues, two children, and such a busy job, involving so many different tasks, how do you ever find time to decorate cookies? Do you work full-time or part-time in your design job? On average, how much time do you spend each week cookie decorating or doing cookie-related activities? How many cookies do you decorate in a typical week, and for what purposes?
ISK: LOL – I’ve wanted to ask you those last two questions so often! (I mean it! How funny!) Now, back to the question; I don't want to be too cheeky . . .
My two sons have grown up and have their own households with their girlfriends. (They still insist on their cookies – LOL!) Unfortunately, I no longer do my job. I loved it so very much because it was so incredibly varied! As you may know, I was in the hospital for a really very, very long time. This stay was followed by rehab and retirement. I now have all the time in the world, but this is so not true because I have to expect "failing" at any time. But I don't want to complain – it’s okay and now I can handle it. I have become a very withdrawn person, but this absolutely wonderful site, as well as Instagram and Pinterest, are the gateways to the outside world for me. There are people here with the same hobbies and interests! And I have already found some very lovely cookie friends on this site!
I absolutely cannot say how many cookies I decorate per week. Sometimes none at all for weeks! If birthdays, holidays, or Christmas are coming up, I have to get started early so I can get all the cookies done.
JMU: Oh no! I wasn't aware of the seriousness of your illness. I am all the more in admiration of you because of the joy and cheerfulness you bring to this site on a daily basis. Thank you!
Like @Kanch J, our April site artist, you are one prolific Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge participant! Congrats for testing your limits month in and month out! Which of our challenges was your favorite, and why?
ISK: My favorite so far has been Practice Bakes Perfect Challenge #37 (Water) in which water had to be represented in different ways. (See my entries below.) I always liked when I saw cookies from other artists that represented water in some way. Water brings a cookie to life, I think. If the water on the cookie stands still, you still have the feeling that it is moving because that is its nature. And what also appealed to me about that challenge is that water is transparent - that you can see things behind or underneath it. I loved that challenge!
JMU: And I loved both of your entries! Well done! Which of our challenges proved most difficult for you, and why? Which challenge entry of yours was your least favorite, and why? And, now looking back with more knowledge, what would you have done differently to improve that entry?
ISK: Oh, Julia, I haven't had a least preferred challenge yet. I have found them all incredibly inspiring! However, my worst contribution was to Challenge #32 (Monochrome). As the title suggests, monochrome cookies had to be created. Everything on the cookie(s) had to be one color, and different techniques had to be used to “breathe life” into the design. I long considered whether I would post my entry at all. My icing completely failed (too much air)! I wanted to put little hair on the hamster, but there were holes in it instead! In retrospect, I should just have done it all over again, but I no longer had the time. In Challenge #34 (Inside the Box), I was satisfied with the result, and the cookie only deteriorated after a few days. The goal was to create a cookie box. I designed two aquariums. I made the front windows out of gelatin. In one aquarium (see photo below), the front dried out so much that it pulled away from the edges of the aquarium. It was annoying, but also a lesson.
JMU: I’m going to ask you the same question that I asked Kanch J in our last Cookier Close-up . . . As you know, @Sweet Prodigy just joined us as our new challenge host. Since you are a veteran challenge entrant, what tips would you give her about constructing a “good” challenge? What factors make a challenge a “good” one for you? And what topics would you like to see covered in future challenges, and why?
ISK: First, congratulations to Christine Dutcher (aka Sweet Prodigy) for taking on the challenges! As it turned out for me and certainly also for other cookie friends, she mastered her first challenge. It was flawless! I was there with all my heart! I really liked the topic of food (both solid and liquid). I had wanted to make cookies on this subject for so long and had never done so . . . until that challlenge. So again, congratulations!
Sweet Prodigy is a great cookie artist, so I think she has enough ideas of her own for future challenges, and I'm really looking forward to them! I also think that the factors that make for a good challenge are well known to her. Though it’s interesting to see people create such different works of art from the same specifications, and that makes a challenge good for me.
However, I’ve sometimes forgotten to photograph my process of creation when making my entries . . . I guess my "cookie fever" got in the way! LOL!
I would also like to thank Christine Donnelly (aka @Bakerloo Station) again for her many imaginative challenges and tips over the years. I wish her all the best! Her cookies are so unique too! Thanks, Christine!
JMU: Okay, we’ve talked plenty about our challenges. Let’s move on to your path into cookies. You have such an extensive Cookie Connection portfolio already, in just one year on the site. But, when did you actually start decorating cookies and what turned you on to them? Also, how did you go about acquiring your cookie decorating skills so fast – were there certain resources or tools you found particularly helpful?
ISK: Well, the cookies I have posted here consist of both current designs and ones from the past ten years. If you were just to look at those cookies made recently, it's not so many.
The question of when I started cookie decorating keeps "chasing" me! (Dotty, aka @SugarDotCookies, asks this question too in her surveys!) Honestly, I have to say that I don't know quite what to write. I have actually had four stages of cookie decorating . . .
Stage 1: As a child, I was always allowed to decorate the Christmas cookies my mother had baked. Of course, in a childish way.
Stage 2: Decorating was done with my own children. First, I decorated together with our sons. They loved it! What child wouldn’t? My mom baked a gingerbread house for our sons every year. I loved that! I definitely inherited cookie intuition and creativity from my dear mom! (Thanks, mom!) When our children got older, I started decorating again around 1995. But, at that time, I only knew frosting (no royal icing), and I made simple decorated cookies with sprinkles. I went on like this for many years, and ONLY decorating for Christmas! Then came 2010 and . . .
Stage 3: I had an idea that I couldn't let go of. I wanted to bring my graphic design and cookies together somehow! I googled for days and ended up buying a food printer (for edible papers). I was totally thrilled with the results! I was able to create my own “cookies made to measure” on my PC to match my cutters! After that I started working on 3-D printing of cutters. I did this for another few years.
Stage 4: This stage started with my stay in the hospital. I had a lot of time there, and so I got to know Pinterest and Instagram and found the first cookie pictures from Cookie Connection. These cookies never let go of me! From then on, about four years ago, I started decorating all year round, on all birthdays and with different methods.
What would you say, dear Julia? How long have I been decorating cookies? (LOL - I don't know; sometimes an outsider can judge better.)
During all this time, I didn't have any special resources or tools for my cookies, with the exception of the edible paper and 3-D printers. I just had a lot of my own ideas. I just did what I liked. To my great shame, I have to admit that I have only recently looked for a tutorial! That's why I found your recent Saturday Spotlight, which featured the site’s tutorials, really awesome! The site’s tutorials are always surprising and creative! And, now that I know almost every cookie clip on the site, I can see that the tutorials must follow! I'm really looking forward to getting into them. I have known about the tutorials since 2019, of course. Each one is more beautiful than the other! I especially love very realistic flower representations. The tutorial of your snowdrops, for example, made me completely euphoric!
P.S. You can see my cookies at some of these life stages below, starting with Stage 2 (circa 1997) in the first photo, and then up 'til about 2015 in the second photo. The third photo is of a very recent set.
JMU: Aww, shucks! Thanks so much for the kind words about my snowdrop tutorial. The photos of your cookie journey are great, and demonstrate such an evolution! Thanks for sharing those too! And to answer your question about how long you’ve been decorating, it sounds to me as if it’s been a lifetime! I love how the cookie making tradition was passed along in your family – I had a similar experience in mine.
What’s been the most rewarding moment in your cookie decorating history, and why?
ISK: For me, all moments are worthwhile when I give away my cookies and see the shining eyes of the recipients! These are the moments that are the greatest reward for me!
JMU: Yes, it’s so gratifying to see people’s eyes light up, isn’t it?
If you don’t mind me asking, what’s been your most trying or challenging moment in your cookie decorating history, and how did you get past it?
ISK: I am saddened if I fail to get cookies ready in time (despite the time available). Unfortunately, this can happen due to my illness. I still haven't managed to overcome this.
JMU: I am sorry to hear this, but your positivity clearly prevails. As I said earlier, your presence on this site has been nothing short of uplifting!
Your cookie decorating style varies widely – from edible paper-covered cookies to cookies with hardly any icing on them. What are you favorite decorating styles or techniques, and why? Which styles or techniques are you most interested in mastering and how do you plan to go about doing that?
ISK: Yes, you're right, Julia! I use a variety of techniques. I most like cookies in which several techniques play together. I also love animals and flowers. For instance, a cookie with hand-drawn plant tendrils, an icing rose for a 3-D effect, and maybe a ladybug positioned in the right place – I’d love that! But I also like water effects and glitter on cookies. My taste is very playful, I would say . . .
Planning is not possible. If I have an idea, I type it into my cell phone so that I don't lose it. If I want to implement the idea, I look at what I need to do it. Do I need a new cutter, or maybe a mold? And how quickly do I need it? If the time for a 3-D cutter is too long for me, I can quickly create an “emergency cutter” (LOL), made usually of cardboard, thin plastic, or aluminum, and only for one-time use. I also often make molds myself. I use food-grade silicone for this: a liquid form for fine details such as lace and a knead-able silicone for figures. For the latter, I form plasticine into the object I want to mold, and I let the plasticine solidify. Then I press the plasticine part into the knead-able silicone. My mold is ready! When I have everything together, I can start . . .
JMU: That’s quite the involved creative process, but your care shows in your unique work!
Now, let's talk a bit about your homeland of Thüringen, Germany! I always love to learn more about other cookie cultures! So . . . is cookie decorating as popular in Germany as it is now in the US? Is interest in it growing or waning, and what market or other factors lead you to say this?
ISK: I would like to say that decorating cookies of this kind is still in the starting blocks here in Germany. I hardly know any German cookie artists. There is no such thing as cookie decorating here in our small town and surroundings. But I think the interest is growing, because, little by little, more and more decorative items for cakes AND cookies are coming to the shops. I've seen people look at such articles and wonder what they are for!
JMU: Do you have any special cookie traditions, recipes, or ingredients in your area of Germany that you think members should know about? If so, please describe them.
ISK: Yes, Julia, Thuringia is known for its sheet cake and cookies - mostly shortbread biscuits, which are shaped in different ways. Really delicious! I have two books that specifically contain Thuringian recipes: the baking book Neue Thüringer Festtagskuchen & Mehr and the cookie book Feines Gebäck in Thüringer Art. They are both by the Thuringian baker Gudrun Dietze and published by Buchverlag Fuer Die Frau.
JMU: Both books look and sound delicious! I’ll have to check them out more fully in my spare time during quarantine.
What’s your favorite part of 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.
ISK: Oh, how big the online cookie world is! I've known it for about four years now, and I totally love it! The world is full of the greatest cookie artists! I like the work of almost all of them! But, like so many things, the online cookie world has its advantages and disadvantages. And I think we all know them . . . In short form . . .
- The advantage for artists: They quickly become famous.
- The advantage for imitators: They get ideas quickly delivered for free.
- Advantages for everyone: You are not tied down to any business or time for doing business; the online world is open for everything and everyone around the clock!
JMU: That latter point may not be an advantage to business owners though - LOL! I've gotten so many messages from people who have expected (or actually requested) urgent responses, even on weekends and holidays . . .
Now, for the converse of the previous question . . . What’s your least favorite part of the online cookie community? Or what part(s) would you most like to see change, and why?
ISK: I like least – actually, not at all - the high theft of data and ideas! Not to mention hacked accounts and the like! Honor to whom honor is due! I believe that the name of the creator/artist should appear on EVERY photo, but this is often not the case. Many people, especially photographers, go without their name or logo because it “destroys” the image. I do not agree with that. A good logo does not destroy a picture; it makes it recognizable! A simple name can also be displayed, small and faint, on a photo’s edge so you can hardly see it - but it is there. I am all for that; logos would make it easier for people to protect their work.
JMU: True, but I still get lazy and only watermark a very small portion of my photos. I figure, if the cookie thief really wants to steal the work, s/he will find a way to remove my logo. Maybe I am just too jaded . . .
Now, for my predictable last 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, creating or selling products, or something else? Why would you like to go in this direction?
ISK: Sorry, Julia, I have to laugh . . . My very first thought was that, in three years, I will hopefully have watched all the tutorials here! But fun aside . . . I'm curious myself . . . I look forward to new cookies and new ideas here on the site, and also my own.
At this point, I would very much like to offer my help to all Cookie Connection members who might like to submit artwork (for monthly posting in the site’s banner and backdrop), but have difficulties with the implementation. I am really, really happy to help, of course free of charge!
I would also like to give courage to the members who are currently facing the future with great concerns. I think you should consider everything new as an opportunity and make the best of it. Be true to the motto: “When it rains, we dance in the rain!”
Oh, I notice that I'm digressing from the theme, but I would like to say one more thing, please . . .
Dear Julia, I know you have a busy schedule! Sometimes I wonder if are you sleeping at all? I hope that the current world situation will (forcibly) calm you down a bit! Even the strongest body can’t work any more if it only works. Julia, I think I speak for everyone here, we need you! Please take care of yourself! I would like to thank you once again for giving me this great opportunity!
. . . and, for everyone else here on this wonderful site, here’s one of my favorite quotes. Maybe it will help those who think they are not good enough to decorate cookies . . .
Don't let what you absolutely want to do stop you. If there is love and inspiration, it cannot go wrong.
- Ella Fitzgerald –
JMU: Aww, dear Gabi, thanks for the concern. Have no fear - I am fine and intend to stay that way for a long while! I will be the first to acknowledge, though, that the pandemic has had a silver lining: I am getting more sleep and spending more time puttering around my house with my wonderful husband. However, be careful what you hope for: my house and my husband are pretty darn special, and they may distract me from cookie decorating even after the quarantine is over.
Last but not least, thank YOU for all the time you spent so fully answering these questions, and for the very generous offer to help members who want to submit site art. I hope some people will take you up on that offer, as the June montage you created of our contributors’ work is really very special and thoughtful. Thank you again; it was a true joy getting to know you better!
To learn more about Gabi and her work, please visit her Cookie Connection portfolio or her website. (Note: To enter Gabi's site, use the following username and password: Gabi, 14Sommer_#.)
Cookie and photo credits: Icingsugarkeks
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!