Almost every cookie decorator I know loves to sit back and browse through the thousands of great cookie photos online. Whether you are checking out pages on Facebook, looking at favorite cookie blogs, or visiting Cookie Connection, it is all about sharing your cookie art with others. It is addictive and you can surf through countless cookies in your pajamas while drinking a cup of coffee. Ahhh, bliss . . . Occasionally though, I come across a photo of a cookie that makes me sit up straight and push away my donuts, eh . . . veggie smoothie. It is unique and perfect. I am not even sure what techniques or superhuman cookie powers were used to create it. All I want to know is: “How DID you do that?”
This happened recently when a friend of mine on Facebook shared a photo of an amazing cookie. It was ridiculously good, so of course I had to go check out the person’s page and see if this was just a momentary stroke of genius. Turns out it was a stroke of genius, but not momentary as was confirmed in photo after photo of the cookier's beautiful, edible works of art. One cookie after another raised more questions about her techniques. I needed to know answers. So, I asked her - because I know you want to know, too.
Meet Mallory Mae Chiavacci of ButterWinks
First I’m going to tell you that Mallory recently turned 23 and she decorated her first cookie in January 2012. This will give you some perspective on how gifted she is - and if you are a little like me, will allow you to mumble, “It’s just not fair!” while you read this and look at her cookies. Mallory is completely self-taught, unless you count Winn Dixie Supermarket. She didn’t like being a cashier and talked her way into decorating cakes in their bakery. She discovered she was pretty awesome with a piping bag. After Florida passed their Cottage Food Law, Mallory decided to start a business with her mom. Mom makes all the dough and icing while Mallory designs and decorates. And that is how ButterWinks came to be, but let’s get to the good stuff - Mallory’s answers.
KA: You created a beautiful reproduction of The Loneliness of Autumn painting by Leonid Afremov (www.afremov.com) on a cookie (original, far left; ButterWinks' version, right). How did you achieve such perfect blending of colors and recreate such a complicated piece of art on a cookie?
MC: I think the most challenging part was making sure I had everything laid out properly so I could be as true to the original as possible. Seeing where certain colors were and placing them precisely, figuring which ones to omit and which spots I wanted to make sure I captured. I didn't have to work any faster than I normally do, but I definitely had to map out sections to do all together before I walked away to let it dry.
KA: Did you trace the image or use a KopyKake (KK) projector?
MC: Oh no, not at all. All of my cookies are completely freehand. I didn't even know what a KK was until a few weeks ago.
KA: Do you use a food marker to freehand-draw the image first?
MC: Yep! For this I did. For most all of my other stuff it's just freehand icing straight to the cookie.
KA: It looks like it is a large cookie. Do you find it easier to work with a larger canvas?
MC: Yep, a 10 inch by about 8 1/2 or 9 inch. I think it definitely depends on what you're approaching. I wanted to do something big and do this painting justice. Obviously, with something like that you get to include more details on a bigger canvas. Had I done it smaller I would have had to omit a lot.
KA: How long did the Afremov cookie take?
MC: I went back and forth throughout the day on the Afremov, but collectively I would have to say an hour and a half.
KA: I am in awe of the vividness of your colors. The tattoo cookies almost glow with brightness and clarity. As I went back into your beginning cookie photos, I saw the colors didn't pop as much as they do now. Has this changed as you developed your style?
MC: This could be attributed to a couple of things: 1. I had NO idea what I was doing in the beginning with picture editing, taking pictures, etc. 2. As we got busier, we started getting nicer materials like Americolors. Now I take photos of my cookies on a white board in natural sunlight and make sure to edit them so they ring true to what they look like in real life.
KA: Do you think using black to outline your cookies helps to highlight the colors and make them pop?
MC: Definitely! A cookie isn't done until it's outlined, in my book.
KA: You obviously do not outline each color first and fill in like most cookie decorators. What are the advantages of doing it your way?
MC: I never really knew I was doing something so different. This is the only way I've ever approached doing cookies. As far as advantage . . . I imagine time savings. People are blown away at how quickly I do my cookies. I can sketch on a cookie much faster and more loosely. It’s a lot less effort.
KA: I am so impressed by the great shading and color-contouring you create with your icing, especially in the face of Thor. How do you achieve that?
MC: I do all of my colors in one sitting and let them dry together.
KA: So, the brown tone icing contouring the features on the face is all wet on wet?
MC: Yep, most everything I do is wet on wet (which I've only just learned the term for). I do all of the different colors in one sitting, and outlining the next day.
KA: What tools do you use when you pipe? How do you swirl your contours and shading?
MC: [With] the icing tip. If I'm doing butterflies, I’ll use a skewer or a spatula. Whatever I have close by. But, for shading I just use the tip.
KA: No toothpicks or boo-boo sticks?
MC: LOL! What are boo-boo sticks?
KA: Ha! Something you don't need! It's a yellow plastic tool like a big toothpick with a flat end.
KA: So, how long did the Thor face cookie take to decorate start to finish?
MC: Collectively I'd say 2 to 3 minutes. Outlining literally takes seconds, the colors are usually what dictates a longer/shorter cookie.
KA: People always want to know what icing other decorators use on their cookies.
MC: It’s just a standard royal icing recipe. We found one that worked, tweaked it as needed, and have been using it ever since.
KA: Since you mostly do wet on wet work, what consistency icing do you use?
MC: I use (I think) a 20 count icing. I use it for everything unless I'm doing intricate lettering. And when I do use thickened icing, I just put an extra spoonful of powdered sugar into the color I'm making.
KA: I love that you sketch out your cookies in detail and exact size before you start the cookie. How long have you been drawing?
MC: I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. I can't recall a time that drawing hasn't been a huge part of my life. I mostly just sketch in my sketchbook for fun . . . pencils, markers. Doing cookies has been the most fun and rewarding experience with applying my artistic abilities for sure.
KA: So, why ButterWinks?
MC: We flipped through all of my mom’s antique recipe books looking for something we wanted to make our "signature." "Cherry Winks" caught our eye and I said . . . "What's in EVERYthing?! Butter!" and we kept saying "ButterWinks!" over and over until we said, “ Yeah, BUTTERWINKS!!” Luckily, we carved our niche in butter cookies and it fell into place!
KA: What would your advice be to a newbie cookie decorator?
MC: Constantly keep playing and never throw in the towel, because growth is limitless.
Photo Credits: All photos by Mallory Chiavacci
Karen Anderson is a home cookie decorator just outside of New Orleans, LA. She's excited to get Sugardeaux ready for business this August when Louisiana's Cottage Food Law becomes law. She discovered cookie art three years ago while surfing online for inspiration for a cake. Now cakes take a back seat to creating edible art with cookies. Visit Karen at www.facebook.com/sugardeaux and follow her here on Cookie Connection.
Photo credit: Karen Anderson
Note: How DID You Do That? is a regular Cookie Connection blog feature, written by Karen Anderson, which reveals the inside scoop behind inspiring cookie designs. Its content expresses the views of the author and interviewee, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees.