Yes, after a long hiatus, I’m finally back with another Cookier Close-up, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to get to know our September 2023 site artist, @TAMMY HOLMES, a whole lot better. I've long admired the colorful, texture-rich, almost mystical cookies that she’s posted to this site since first joining in October 2013.
As we learned in her and is perhaps best known for her floral snake cookies and intricately decorated skull cookies. Tammy’s aesthetic often involves lots of layers and many media. Watercolor, embossed fondant, wafer paper . . . it’s all about excessive layering with her designs! She also has a predilection for edible crystals, as you can see on , where she’s amassed a rather impressive collection of both videos and followers!in September, Tammy resides in Chicago, Illinois, USA
In this interview, I aim to learn more about how Tammy developed her distinctive style, how she spends her time when not making TikTok videos, and what she envisions for her cookie future! Onward, shall we?
JMU: Hi, Tammy! It’s wonderful to finally catch up with you here. Let’s start at the very beginning of your cookie journey. Can you tell us when and why you got started in cookie decorating, and what/who some of your early influences were?
TH: Hi, Julia! I loved decorating Christmas cookies when I was a child. It was one of my favorite things to do with my family during the holidays. I hadn’t done it in many years and then, as an adult, I started making treats for my dog and that’s what inspired me to decorate cookies again. The dog treats were so pretty that people kept asking me if I could make them for humans.
JMU: They say dogs are man's best friend, and yours certainly was in this case! I'm so glad s/he got you back into cookie decorating! I know you spend some of your time cultivating your TikTok following, but how else are you spending your time in cookie-space? Do you sell your cookies? Do you teach classes? Please give us an idea of your typical cookie week.
TH: I still sell cookies, but I’m not taking as many orders as in the past. Unfortunately, because I often make one-of-a-kind designs and because they’re also labor-intensive, I would have to sell them at an astronomical price to make a viable profit. So, now I just create cookies for fun and only take orders that spark my creative interest. I spend most of my days playing around with ideas, making cookies and candy, and filling orders. I’m also slowly getting into YouTube. At some point, I would love to do tutorials, but I’m currently just showing how I make things. Not quite tutorials; a bit more like relaxing behind-the scenes takes on elaborate cookie decorating.
JMU: Of all the things you do in cookie-space, what are your favorite cookie activities, and why? Your least favorite, and why?
TH: My favorite is the idea stage . . . getting all excited about an idea, planning the designs, the color scheme, etc., and also the final product . . . when the idea finally comes to life. Least favorite . . . to be honest, a lot, LOL. The baking, the mess, the cleaning, the packaging . . . basically all of the non-creative activities. If I didn't have to ever roll out and bake a cookie again, I probably would accept more orders, LOL.
JMU: I hear you - I hate all of the prep and cleanup work too. I wish I could afford to hire someone to do those tasks, so all I had to do was create!
So let’s talk social media for a bit. Is it fair to say that TikTok is your preferred social media platform? Why, or why not? What makes TikTok so attractive to you vis a vis Instagram? Facebook?
TH: Ahhh, the Tiktok! It's definitely my fave social media platform, next to YouTube. It’s just more straightforward and easier to get more eyes on your content, which is the whole purpose of sharing on social media. When it comes to promoting your small business on social media, you’re at the mercy of the algorithms. In my experience, Facebook and Instagram are very stingy with showing your content. Even if you pay them. They want you to post daily and then post in a specific way that will be more financially profitable for their platform. For instance, Instagram currently wants you to post reels . . . but the thing is, when you’re running your own business and doing most of it yourself and creating a product that’s time-consuming, you don’t have time to create, edit, and post content every day. Tiktok just seems to favor the creator, which is why I think it’s loved so much.
JMU: I would have to agree that Instagram and Facebook have gotten more and more stingy over the years. I finally hired a social media team to offload some of that work from me (which often amounts to three or more hours a day), but I am not convinced I'm seeing any payback from that investment just yet.
On the subject of payback . . . Have you found TikTok to be a useful platform for growing your cookie business and generating revenue, or is it mostly a vehicle for displaying your work and entertaining followers? If the former, can you describe some of the ways it has most benefitted your business? I ask, because I’ve always found it challenging to monetize Facebook and Instagram, which was one of the reasons I elected not to jump on yet another social media platform when TikTok first started up.
TH: TikTok has literally taken my side business to a full-time business. It generates a huge part of my revenue. I would recommend it to you or anyone who wants to either grow their cookie business or share their creative cookie content. It can definitely take some time to grow a following, but I believe it’s the best way to introduce new people to your creations without having to pay for advertising. What made a difference was that Tiktok was showing my work to people who are interested in my products, not others who were in the same business as me. A large portion of my following on Instagram is other people who make cookies, not people who buy cookies. TikTok is showing my work to potential customers, which is obviously important. Like you, I was hesitant about another social media platform. My nieces actually talked me into it, and I’m so happy they did! And now I’m going to talk you into it. Julia, you are very well known in the cookie community, but the Tiktok world needs to see some Julia Usher creations!
JMU: Well, I am not entirely swayed - at least not yet. I sell classes and products, not cookies, so my customer base is mostly cookie decorators or those aspiring to be. I'm not sure that reaching non-decorators would impact my business as much as it has yours! But I congratulate you on finding the best marketing channel for your business! Tiktok sounds like it's been huge for you! That said, what tips would you give to readers who are interested in growing their presence on TikTok, or other social media platforms?
TH: Share consistently and as often as possible. (Not posting enough is my biggest downfall, and I’m working on it!) Don’t feel like you need to copy others to be successful. I did my own style of content, and it got me noticed and generated a lot of interest in my work. Don’t feel like your content needs to be perfect; it doesn’t! People want real and authentic. It’s okay to make mistakes. My first video that went viral had a glitch, and I mispronounced things . . . lots of issues, in fact. But it also sold out my shop and paid my bills for months.
JMU: Great tips, and what a wonderful success story! Back to cookies! Your style, even since your very beginning, has been marked by the use of texture, in particular lots of molded florals. How did you happen upon this style? Was it a conscious decision to cultivate it, or did it evolve more organically?
TH: It was an accumulation of things that had stuck in my head over the years. But they weren’t things I had seen on other desserts; it was from looking at flowers, fashion, and art. I had never seen a flower on a cookie before or knew of anyone using silicone molds. I don’t remember the moment specifically, but I do remember having the idea and then thinking I wanted to put flowers on every cookie design. Around the same time, I also discovered silicone molds at the craft store. They were light blue molds . . . and, I just thought to myself, "What if I used these for cookies?" There began my signature style.
JMU: Your latest kick seems to be edible crystals like those pictured above. Is this statement a fair one? Why or why not? What drew you to crystals, how do you make them, and do you have any special tips for making them look as magical as yours?
TH: My imagination cannot be contained to just cookies! I was making a few other things, including gorgeous candy rings, but was looking for an easier recipe when I stumbled upon kohakuto, which is the name for the Japanese candy from which I make my edible crystals. What drew me to them was how quickly I could make gorgeous pieces (in comparison to decorated cookies) and how different they were from anything I had ever seen. They don’t look edible at all, but they are, which makes them extra fun. My tip would be to just use your imagination. When I first started making them, I wasn’t aware of anyone selling them in the USA, and most of the designs I saw were basic shapes and colors. I created my own designs that included edible glitter and gold. My designs have been copied a lot and, while I appreciate that people like my style, I don’t think people realize that if they used their imagination, they could create their own amazingly unique pieces. Play around, and create freely. It’s far more exciting to create your own designs than it is to copy someone else’s.
JMU: I agree wholeheartedly with your last statement! Bravo for making it so clearly! What do you think your next great cookie decorating element or medium will be, and why?
TH: Oh, ya know, I’ve actually thought about this question a lot recently. I think I use almost everything that’s currently out there . . . with the exception of a cookie printer. I’ve printed on edible papers, but not directly onto cookies. That looks pretty cool, but those printers are not cheap and require regular maintenance, so I don’t see myself getting one anytime soon. Maybe something with clear sheets? I’ve seen some cool designs with printed edible acetate.
JMU: Yeah, I've recently been playing a bit with cello sheets, because they are super clear and thin, and very cool in that respect. But I'm finding them to be rather humidity-sensitive, which might be fine in certain applications but not in my last project, LOL! Let me know if you uncover any tips for keeping them from misshaping with humidity!
Over the many years you’ve been cookie decorating, what have been some of your most challenging points, either as an artist or for your business? How have you worked to overcome those challenges?
TH: Working hard to create cookie collections to sell, and then no one seeing them due to the social media algorithms. That’s how much of the world sees your work now (not a lot), and when it comes to specialty luxury products, you need a lot of eyes on your work for the right ones to find you. So that's been challenging . . . and being copied a lot, which, I feel, devalues my work. I don’t mind at all when my work is copied just for hobby purposes and I’m credited. But, I’ve had my designs copied, my content copied, and my website plagiarized, all by people in the same business who don’t have the creativity. So they just take mine and make money off of me. I love supporting women in my business and helping whenever I can, but it can be a difficult thing when you’re basically being stolen from and it affects your business financially. It’s the bane of any artist who has an original style. I do my best to keep positive, knowing in my heart that things will work out, and I just keep creating. I have the imagination, so I will always have another idea.
JMU: I think your last point is exactly right. Just stay one step ahead of the copiers, which your imagination will allow you to do, and all will be fine. No one ever gets ahead by following others, IMO.
And the converse of my previous question . . . What have been the highest points for you as an artist, or for your business, and to what do you attribute those successes?
TH: As an artist . . . it would be people telling me that I inspire them to create. I mean, what an enormous compliment! Creation is one of the most beautiful things a human can do. Everything that we have in our lives (besides anything that comes from the earth) is created from someone’s imagination. I believe that’s what our purpose on earth is. For my business, I would say it’s that I’m able to do it full time. And that this thing that I do full time is something I created from my own imagination - that's insane to me. On the bad days, I remind myself of that. Pushing forward through all of the fear and obstacles (there are a lot of them) is what I attribute those successes to. If I hadn’t pushed forward over and over, my whole body of work wouldn’t exist.
JMU: Last but not least, my usual parting question . . . Where would you like to be in the cookie world in the next three years? Are there particular goals you’d like to achieve? Or are there certain activities you’d like to be doing more or less of? And why?
TH: I would like to do more sharing of how I make my creations. A lot of negative entertainment exists, and I would like to contribute some content that’s entertaining, but in a positive way and in a way that people can learn something from, and which will hopefully inspire them to create. On a personal level, I would love to spend more time with other cookiers in real life. I’ve met up with my online cookie friends a few times, and it was so much fun getting to know them in person. Cookie decorating is usually something I do alone, so it’s nice to spend time with others who share the same interest.
JMU: I echo your last sentiment! Cookie friends are some of the very best! Tammy, thanks for sharing so fully in this interview, and for posting such magical creations here on Cookie Connection over the years. It's been a true pleasure getting to know you better! I eagerly await the next great medium that you bring to your cookies!
Cookie photo credits: Tammy Holmes
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!