Two weeks may have passed, but my jaw is still scraping the floor in amazement over the winning entries in my 3-D Cookie Art Competition™ that took place at the Show Me Sweets show on July 13 and 14. In a few months, you'll get a more complete recap once the documentary about the competition airs on Food Network. (YES, FOOD NETWORK, people! Woo hoo!) Of course, I don't want to leave you hanging 'til then (that just wouldn't be fair, right?!), so this week's Spotlight features the winning entries and their creators. Lucky us!
Just as a reminder, those winners were . . .
Okay, okay, hoist that jaw up off the floor and follow along with me, will you?
So . . . as with my Oklahoma State Sugart Art Show (OSSAS) competitions of years past, I asked each of our winners to answer a series of questions about themselves, their entries, and the challenges they encountered along the way in getting their piece from design concept to show floor. And that's what I'm sharing here today! I've strung each person's answers into one longer narrative about his/her competition journey, with the hopes of inspiring more of you to compete in the future, and to learn and grow through that experience.
But before I get to those narratives, just one regret: I wasn't able to track down Timbo Sullivan, the competition's third-place winner and creator of the carved baby dinosaur entry, in time for this post. Though, I promise, if I can corner him in time for next week's post (the 2-D Cookie Art Competition™ recap), I'll be sure to include his story and brilliant entry there.
With that being said, let's say congrats and hello to the competition's second-place winner . . .
Leslie Marchio, Four Peas and a Dog, Robbinsville, New Jersey, USA
First, here's a beauty shot of Leslie's winning entry:
It was impossible to appreciate this entry from just one direction, as there were so many interesting facets to it . . .
The 360-degree view-ability of this piece, its very personal and original interpretation of the competition's theme (Dream Adventure), and its impeccable piping and drawing are some of the reasons the judges cited for loving this entry.
Now, let's hear what Leslie had to say about her creation and the experience of participating in a televised competition.
"I began decorating cookies seven years ago at the suggestion of a friend, The Sugared Owl. I watched online videos and took some local classes, and I was off and running as a full-time businesswoman creating custom orders and teaching classes for both adults and children. I hold a master’s degree in architecture and utilize my background to see my designs before they take shape. I understand structure and model building and layering and rendering techniques, and when paired with a meticulously clean aesthetic, the results, I think, speak for themselves.
I’ve been asked about cake orders in the past, but I always turn them down; I stick to cookies. The size and playful shapes are the perfect medium for my art . . . and quite frankly cakes scare me.
I’ve only just begun to enter competitions. Julia M. Usher’s 3-D Cookie Art Competition™ was my first major entry (at least of those with professional judging and strict criteria and guidelines). Prior to this event, I had entered two CookieCon Sugar Shows. In 2017, I received Angela Niño’s Instructor’s Choice Award and, in 2019, I received two first-place awards in the arts/music category, including the popular vote as well as the prize from the juried panel.
Leading into 2019, I had played assistant to the very talented Stephanie Kappel, aka The Hungry Hippopotamus, on Food Network’s Holiday Gingerbread Showdown, so I was somewhat indoctrinated into the pressures and posturing required for TV. Despite my prior experience in the spotlight, I was still quite nervous, especially since I was no longer simply assisting. My concerns were eased when I learned the same production team I had met on the prior set, 7Beyond, would be producing once again.
The process still came with significant challenges. As my design unfolded, David Bowie, the inspiration for my entry, became a source of struggle for me due to copyright restrictions. I always seek out approvals and give recognition when incorporating the ideas or images of others, but getting approval from a major artist, and their estate, is a whole different animal. With all the logistics and nuance, there were a lot of elements that had to be reworked and the conceptual design took months to finalize, but I was passionate about what I wanted to create so there was no giving up on my concept. I dove into the visual artistry of the man himself - his makeup, his fashion, and his essence - and reflected upon my own memories of his most impactful moments. I drew upon my knowledge of Cymatics, the scientific study of translating sound into visual art, and all of a sudden, the dots connected. I believe, in the end, the limitations allowed me to create a better design with deeper, more significant abstraction.
The end result featured twelve main cookies, eight isomalt panels (some pictured above), and several dozen edible fastening elements which held the 3-D composition together. As perhaps the most inspirational artist of his era, David Bowie was like a cymatic phenomenon, existing at the juncture of the visual, the auditory, and the emotional. My project reimagines the adventure of my childhood with important visual connections to the music of my youth and results in a physical space that I would love to visit. A dream of my memories.
Looking back, I’m not sure I would have changed anything about my design, but I would perhaps have further studied the construction of the structure itself, and made efforts to minimize variation and increase the quality control parameters of the end product.
For those contemplating this competition in the future, I would encourage you all to go for it. Push yourselves outside the two-dimensional comfort zone and approach the project as a new challenge without baggage or expectation. A line on a piece of paper might be simple and beautiful, but until you see it three-dimensionally, you may never know how deep it goes.
I find that recently my designs tend to revolve around music, a source of great inspiration for me. I’m passionate about music, and I’m beginning to wonder if such a niche exists where my designs can inspire those who inspire me. Someday, I would love to be known as the “go-to” cookie artist for the music industry." ~ Leslie Marchio
Before we move on to welcome the first-place winner, here are a few more in-process shots of Leslie's winning entry. Really remarkable!
And, now, the first-place winner . . .
Thomas Blake Hogan, Thomas Blake's Cakes, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Here's a close-up of Thomas' magical piece, entitled "Antiquities of Mexico", which depicts an archeologist's tools and findings . . .
The judges admired this piece for many reasons, not the least of which included the complex 3-D cookie construction (especially the toucan), the intricate cookie carving (i.e., hieroglyphics), and the impeccable coating and covering of every element.
As for what Thomas had to say about his beginnings in cookies and this competition, read on!
"I began involvement with competitive sugar arts almost 15 years ago. I decorated my first cookie at the age of 18. For the moment, my involvement with baking and sugar arts is only a hobby. Since graduating with my musical theatre degree, I have tried to enter as many sugar art competitions as I can, whenever my demanding schedule as a professional entertainer allows it. I have most recently been performing on board Disney Cruise Line.
I started dabbling in cookies in the early stages of my competition years. They quickly grew to be one of my favorite mediums to work with. I think a lot of people have a limited view of what cookies can do. Cookies have an untapped artistic potential that I love getting to explore. They can incorporate many techniques used in cake decorating and other sugar arts. Yet cookies are still entirely unique and quite challenging to work with, particularly when building and constructing with them.
From my 'beginner' days to now, I have made 11 cookie/gingerbread competition pieces, and have been fortunate to watch my results improve each time I compete. I have won quite a few awards, but the accolades I am most proud of are winning Best in Show at the 2018 Frosting Creators Sugar Art Showcase, Best in Show at 2019 SoFlo Cake & Candy Expo, and first place in Julia M. Usher’s Cookie Art Competition™ in 2017.
I was so excited to learn Julia’s competition was finding a new home after the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show. When I also found out it would be televised this year, I knew this could do a lot to promote the cookie art community on a national level. With the added pressure of being on television, I knew I needed to go bigger and more intricate than ever before. I hope by being on this TV special that I can inspire younger generations and more men to get involved with cookies.
I wish I could keep track of the amount of hours I work on a competition piece, because I’m sure it is several hundred hours, but my process is so irregular and sometimes unproductive, it is hard to tell. From start to finish, I worked on my entry for eight weeks. All of the 3-D constructions in the display contained close to 50 cookies in total, not including all the scrap pieces I crushed up into dirt crumbs. LOL!
I had the idea of creating an archaeologist's dig site almost two years ago while I was visiting an art museum. I wanted to create a scene very much like a set designer and props master would in theatre. I loved the idea of getting to tell a narrative simply based on several objects lying around. The “Dream Adventure” theme this year lent itself beautifully to this concept. Learning about long lost ancient cultures has always fascinated me. How adventurous it must have been to be an explorer in an exotic land discovering and learning such things for the first time. I decided to depict an archaeologist recording his finding of an ancient Mayan artifact - and the local wildlife in the Yucatan Peninsula that is curious about this strange new adventurer!
The toucan was the most complex piece of my design. It was made up of nine cookies that had to be contoured and filed to fit together. It was a very trial-and-error process.
A big flaw in my display that I wish I had time to re-do before the competition was a cookie compass that had an isomalt glass window. The humidity got to the isomalt and completely clouded it by the end of the weekend. I needed to do a better job of letting the isomalt fully dry out and sealing it with glaze spray before attaching it to the cookie, because it basically trapped all the humid air once I attached it, which is always disastrous for sugar.
I’m still in the process of figuring out what goals I want to achieve with cookies and sugar art. I have been asked several times, “When are you going to teach a class?!” That is something I would like to coordinate eventually. Yet I will still continue to compete whenever I can. I enjoy it far too much!
I know competition seems scary and daunting, but seriously just DO IT! The more you do it, the more you learn, and it becomes addicting. When I started competing, I was not instantly winning awards. It took time to figure out what aspects judges looked for and appreciated. It was exciting to learn innovative tips from fellow competitors. Each time I entered my work, it would get better and better because I was growing as an artist, and my results started to reflect that. I get so excited by competition because it gives me a chance to try something new and to push my abilities to a new level. If you are remotely considering entering Julia’s Cookie Art Competition™, I wouldn’t hesitate. This competition gives you the chance to set yourself apart and be truly unique with what we are all passionate about . . . COOKIES!" ~ Thomas Blake Hogan
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you, Thomas, for plugging my show and the benefits of competing. Everyone else, I promise I didn't bribe Thomas to say any part of that! ]
I leave you all now with a bigger view of Timbo's third-place 3-D entry and a promise to share his story (I hope!) and those of the 2-D category winners next weekend. Congrats again to the winners of my 3-D Cookie Art Competition™. Your work was truly remarkable, and the judges were completely wowed!
ADDENDUM - AUGUST 10, 2019
Read about more of the winners in my 2-D and 3-D competitions here!