Skip to main content

Chat with Stephanie Kappel of The Hungry Hippopotamus

Hi, Stephanie! It's so great to have you with us today! I hope all of your Easter cookie decorating is done!
Before we get started, just a few housekeeping notes for newbies to our chats: questions are answered in the order received, but they will not post to the public/viewable area of the chat until Stephanie reads and answers them. We'll work through questions that were logged in advance first; then start working on questions asked live during the chat. That said, please be patient and do not re-post the same question. It may take some time to answer your question, depending on where it sits in the queue. But I will personally make sure every question gets answered before we're through!
Thanks for having me, Julia!
We have a small group right now, but hopefully others will join us soon. Lots of questions in the queue though!
Also, please ask just one question at a time. It's easier/quicker for the guest to answer that way, and easier for those reading the transcript later to follow the flow. THANKS!
Onto the questions in the queue!
Hi Stephanie! I read on your website that you began decorating cookies in 2011. Can you tell me what decorating style or techniques you used when you were new to cookie decorating and how you have developed your decorating style into the wonderfully detailed cookies you have on your site today?
Hi Dorana, When I started decorating I read just about everything I could get my hands on. I began following the blogs of Sugarbelle and Sweetopia - they taught me the fundamentals. In the beginning, royal icing transfers and marbling were two techniques that I used the most - they are both so versatile. Once I decided to get a projector, I feel like the cookie world opened up for me. I was able to pipe more complex images more precisely. As far as developing my decorating style, it's been an exercise in practice, experimentation, practice, experimentation, practice...
Do you need to get permission to use copyrighted character images such as when you draw Disney, Calvin and Hobbes, American Dad, among others in your cookie art? Your work is beyond amazing, by the way. The above copyright owners should be so honored that you use their characters in your artwork.
Good question! We touched on this in our last chat with Arty McGoo.
Hi Jakeanna, Thanks for your kind words. When I started decorating cookies, I saw character cookies everywhere and I was excited to try my hand at them. I made them for friends and family for fun. The more I made, the more I was contacted to make them for others. Even the marketing team for Disney contacted me to make some for them  I am currently seeking further legal advice on the topic of license and derivative work.
Let us know what you discover. This subject would make a great, more in-depth and informed blog post here.
Aside from talent and, as the young 'uns might say, mad skillz,  do you have any tips on how to get such close-to-the-real-thing results with your characters? Thanks in advance for your reply.
@Jakeanna, Two things have really helped – practice and many years of drawing and painting (as a hobbyist). When I discovered cookie decorating, I was pleasantly surprised how similar it was to both! I’ve taken a few art courses and I have to say that they’ve really helped me better understand the nuances of figures. With characters, the smallest details can make the biggest difference. TIP: Focus your attention on the eyes – if they look right you can fake almost anything else 
If it's not too intrusive or naive of a query, may I ask how you get corporate orders? Do you market your brand to these organizations/ companies?
Amendment to previous post/ question (sorry, Ms. Usher)---- What advise do you have for cookiepreneurs looking to establish a business relationship with corporate clients such as you have with Easter Seals, St. Jude's Hospital, among the many featured in your portfolio? Thank you in advance for your reply.
@Jakeanna, I’ve been very lucky in that all the corporate work in my portfolio has been as a result of them finding me. Some cookies were for corporate events and others were for fundraisers. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with organizations like Nomadic Agency, Morton’s Steakhouse, and Ernst & Young, among others and am currently a preferred vendor for Project Nursery.
Onto live questions now!
Are you ready, Stephanie? Anyone got a question?
I'm ready
While I'm waiting for others to chime in, I have a question . . .
You mentioned in a previous answer that getting the eyes right on character cookies is key . . .
So how do you do that? Can you give us a few sentence tutorial?
Hmm. I've been experimenting with different ways of doing the eyes, and honestly can't say that I've found "my favorite" yet...
What's the way you're doing them most often?
Typically I'll do a black outline first to act as the eyelashes and then flood the white
Sorry I'm a slow typer
Next I'll add the iris and have been painting the pupil on last
then adding the highlight
That's fine. I can't tell on this end if you're typing or not. So I may interrupt your typing every now and then.
and finally the eyelashes
No problem
Stephanie - HOW do you get your icing SO close to the lines - Your icing is so smooth, and then there are no gaps - you fill the tiniest spaces to perfection and I never see cratering or bubbles.
I've been wondering how you achieve this perfection too!
Thanks for the question Laura!
The key for me is the consistency of the icing.
Instead of flooding with a flood consistency I use more of a 20 second icing.
I work slowly and use my tip to manipulate the icing until it is smooth
And do you use any quick-drying techniques, like a fan or dehydrator, to prevent cratering?
It's no the most efficient, but I get the results I want
How do you come up with a concept when you're given a topic to do.  How do you design your cookie sets?
I use a heater fan to try to dry the icing as soon as possible
Oops. I posted Laura's question before you answered mine. Sorry!
I also have a dehumidifier running 24/7
She's typing!
For designing cookie sets I do a lot of image research and try to get as much information from the client as possible
I try to have at least 3-4 designs per set
What do you mean by "image research" exactly?
Complimentary shapes and colors if possible
By image research I basically mean googling images
Ahh, it sounded so scientific!
Just love your work. You are right about the eyes. I look at your characters and my attention goes right to the eyes.
Where do you want to go with your cookie decorating?  Are you a hobbyist?  Do you sell?
If someone tells me they want a boat, for example, I will look up different kinds of boats, colors, etc. to make sure that my designs are pretty true to real life
Thanks, Michelle
Good question, Laura!
I am offering cookie art classes now and I love it! I have been lucky enough to be invited to teach in Italy, with the very talented Julia, in November and I am beyond excited!
I'm super excited about Italy too. I have more questions for you about that trip, but Laura has another one for you first!
I know that you have a young one at home.  How do you fit such perfect cookie decorating in with the demands of a household and toddler?
I would love to continue teaching as well as fill custom orders for clients
LOL, I try my best and I drink a LOT of coffee!
I work a lot around nap times and at night!
Oh my goodness!  Italy!  Um, amending my question (sorry Julia) How do you plan THAT with a husband, household and baby.  Hats off to you!!
I'm a night owl, so it works for me
I'm very lucky that I have a profession where I can do both!
Here's a link to the event in Italy:
Decorating is truly a passion of mine! I eat, sleep, and breath cookies...
When I'm not making cookies, I'm thinking about cookies
So let's talk about teaching cookie decorating while we wait for questions from others . . .
Several people were asking on site last week about how one goes about structuring a class.
I'm also a planner so that helps a LOT
What are your best tips for designing a class, i.e., figuring out the content, size, price, etc.?
I try to think like a student when it comes to classes...
What techniques would I like to learn? What would make taking a class worth my time and money?
I choose a the topics and techniques I want to cover and try to structure the timetable accordingly.
I do a mix of demo, hands-on instruction, and q&a
How long is your typical class, and can I ask how much you typically charge?
I offer two classes right now, a beginner class and an intermediate class. The beginner class is 4 hours, $120 and the intermediate is 8 hours, $265 (which includes lunch).
How do you store your completed cookies and for how long do they keep?
I'm offering two intermediate classes this May
I'd love to attend one. So much always to learn.
My completed cookies sit on cookie sheets on my bun rack no more than a night.
Then they are shipped the next day (I ship over 95%) of my cookies
I'd love for you to attend a class, Julia!
Cookies are best consumed one week from receipt.
So if you get a super large order, how do you handle all the decorating in one day? Your cookies look super labor intensive. Do you have helpers? Or do you limit order size?
I decorate over several days, but try to complete all the decorating in no more than four days.
Ahh, so there's at least four days from baking to customer then?
I try to keep from going crazy by keeping a fairly light schedule, now that I have a little guy running around.
Laura has a question similar to mine, but not all of it was answered above, so I'm posting it now.
I don't have any helpers - I'm kind of a control freak...
Julia - kind of my questions too.  How did you research topics, preparations (what to have on hand, where to get the stuff, etc.) and how did you decide how much to charge?  Do you think this is something most of us with some experience could do in our home communities?
Laura, do meaning in researching starting a business in your local community?
I think she was referring to starting/setting up classes.
Ah, I see.
In my past life I did event planning in the educational space, so as far as logistics, I knew the ropes.
Mmm - both I think, yes.  You had to do initial research.  How did you start?  Who did you ask?  Where do you look for those answers when you've never done it.  And, if you've done it where you live, how do you make those initial contacts.
As for the topics I decided on them based on some techniques that were easily executable but could be taken to the next level as well.
For the price, I referenced others that were offering classes and priced accordingly.
I knew that I was looking for a venue outside of my home bc due to zoning regulations I cannot host them here in my workspace.
Ready for the next question?
I called a LOT of places and checked prices.
You conduct classes in a local hotel, right?
Once I identified places within what I was looking to spend, I visited the location to make sure it was a good fit.
Yes, I work with the Director of Catering at the Sheraton Hotel.
Hotel event staff are super friendly and helpful.
Do you have to schlep in your tools with each class, or is there storage there that you can use? The schlepping is what kills me.
The thing to be sure it that they have the space you need and proper facilities (easy access to a restroom, food, etc.)
Schlepping is the worst, but it's a must for me!
Ok, Vicki has a question, which I believe was addressed earlier. But posting it now in case you have anything to add.
Hi, Steph!  You know you are one of my favorite people on the planet!  How do you work around a toddler?  Do you work late at night?
There isn't a place to store my materials at the hotel (cheaply)
Hi Vicki - thank you!
I work LOTS of late nights and plan plan plan.
Ooh, next one could be tough . . .
I work any free time I can get.
Hi, can you plz give me the recipe for making eggless cookie and royal icing?
Hmm. I know there are some cookie bakers out there doing recipes for those with diet restrictions, but I'm not up on them. Julia are you aware of any resources?
Shortbread is always a great egg-free cookie that can be rolled. I have several flavor variations in my books.
The nice thing about royal is how quickly it dries, and this is in large part because of the protein in the egg whites or meringue powder.
Sorry I can't be of more help here...
You can, of course, omit the eggs and make a confectioners' icing (aka glaze) but just be aware that it will dry less quickly and is more prone to colors bleeding.
You mentioned that you use 20 second icing.  Do you have a favorite recipe?  Yours seems so 'workable' :-)  (I mean that you can share!)
LOL, Laura! I do share my icing recipe and it is basically Wilton's recipe!
Is there a link to it on your site? Or do people have to email you for the recipe?
It's not on my site, I use the same recipe as Sugarbelle has posted on her site though
When you're doing a set that has creative license (i.e., the customer gives you leave to do 'whatever' or you're just playing around) - what is your favorite 'style' of decorating?
When I'm given artistic license I find I actually have a harder time...
I get bogged down with too many ideas, lol
I can't say that I have a favorite...
What size are your classes? How many student do you usually teach at a time?
My classes are 6 students. That size allows my to give lots of individual attention!!
Have you ever decorated cookies using buttercream icing?
I have not...
I am a terrible cake maker
At least the few times I've tried!
Out of all the cookie sets you have designed and decorated, do you have a favorite set that keeps coming to mind?
BTW, Stephanie has been interviewed for the site, and she'll be revealing this cookie in that interview.
Hmm. Picking one is hard, but I love the Drowning Girl cookie
oops! I let the cat out of the bag!
Hoping to post the interview on Monday or Tuesday, so you can see the pic then if you're not already familiar with it!
Do you find any 'cross-over' from the actual painting you do and the cookie-art you do?
I like switching up my medium from time to time, but the actions are pretty similar. When I decorate cookies I feel like I'm drawing, just with a piping bag instead of a pencil...
BTW, thanks for all the great questions, Laura!
what kind of projector do you use?
My art background helps...
in having a general knowledge of shading, color, etc.
I am one of the few renegade decorators out there using a digital projector instead of a KK.
I use a pico projector from a company called AAXA
Time check: We have about 10 minutes left in the chat, so if you've got a question you're dying to ask, don't be shy. Get 'em in!
OK, I'm still intrigued because you're such an artist!  I'm thinking of the dot work you've done (the comic strip character is who I'm thinking of) and the self-portrait you did of yourself.  How did you conceive of these?  (Maybe better leave the dots alone...)
The portrait was inspired by a piece of art that a friend of mine did back in high school, actually
I try to think in Sugarbelle's cookie-think
What will look good as a cookie - not everything or every idea will work (well)
I'll give credit to Lichtenstein on the dots!
Was Lichtenstein girl projected?
Yes, it was projected
Here's a question related to Laura's most recent . . .
Hi - joining in late but I've sort of caught up... my question is, I'm not very artistic in the sense of "how to" use artistic techniques.  Are there specific courses you would recommend for someone who wants to learn more basics that can then be used when cookie decorating - I'm particularly bad with perspective and even the concepts of water color.  It doesn't always translate to a cookie when I watch a Youtube tutorial! (and I see a previous similar question popping up now).
I used a dot image to do the dots
If you want to learn the basics, I would take an intro to drawing class at a local community college
They teach about perspective and shading - both really helpful concepts in cookie decorating!
I added a little more time to the chat to make sure we get through the last three questions in the queue.
Oops, 5 now!
How do you marketing for your classes... I offer them currently at my local ac moore, VERY low price point (10$ for a 2 hour class) but hadly anyone ever signs up - my enrollment for cake classes is also low as I am the local wilton instructor....
that's a great idea - I never thought of the community college type of course.  Thank you!
No problem!
I am so sorry, just got back from Midnight Easter celebration - so glad I got in even at the last minute. Welcome Stephanie, Hello Julia! Happy Easter to all!
For marketing, I do almost all my marketing through social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc.)
Hmmm - did I miss it?  Julia & Stephanie, did you talk more about the Italy trip?  When is it again?  What and who are you teaching?  Is your family going along?  Any sight-seeing opportunities?  :-)  (If you've answered and I missed it - sorry!)
We did not!
No you didn't miss answers here. Stephanie, why don't you answer first.
The event is Nov. 14, 15 and 16 in Genoa, Italy
I'll be teaching 5 hands-on classes (all different projects)
Each class is two hours
I'm teaching a bunch of demos, not hands-on classes. Likely multi-component 3-D cookies, which is why they are not hands-on.
I hope I get to see that, Julia!!
I don't think the venue wanted to prep all of the cookies I would need to run these as hands-on classes. I haven't settled on projects yet though.
Won't until I return from my first trip to Italy, which is in about a week.
For the ideas that work or don't - voice of experience talking here? ;-) (Yes, Lichtenstein is who I was thinking of.)
Above refers to a reference you made earlier about designs that work well on cookies, and those that do not. I'm curious if there are rules of thumb for you here too.
I'll have to try that... I have yet to take advantage of the twitter and Pinterest... I'll also try to push harder on the facebook.... Don't seem to have much reach on facebook, but will have to work harder on getting more likes... Thanks for the ideas!
I hope to be there. It will be the time of my life!
Hmm. I'll try to think of something that wouldn't translate well...
Looking forward to meeting you!
I guess I was thinking mainly about portraits...
Hi, Jenni. Facebook reach is not what it once was for anyone. I'm not sure if investing in Facebook makes so much sense anymore.
You mean, some portraits work well and others don't??
Some pictures are just better suited to cookie than others - where the shading produces the right balance of light and dark.,,
Do you know what differences there are between the digital projector and the kopykake? Or why you like the digital projector?
There's one more question in the queue after this one. We'll take that one and call it a wrap, since we
The digital projector uses digital information and images, whereas the KK uses printed images and a mirror to project them
Oops! Misfire! . . . since we've already gone over time.
I like using the digital projector bc it can hold LOTS of images and I can manipulate them (make them bigger, smaller, lighter, darker, etc.) with the push of a button.
Related question: Do you find the projection quality is also better with the digital image. MY KK Images are so grainy and I find it hard to focus.
Oops = "digital image" = "digital projector"
I have never used a KK, so I'm not sure but the digital image is very clear (depending on the resolution of the original image)
What level decorator are your Italy classes geared for - I'm assuming Not a beginner?
I have projects for all decorating levels
That was the last question! Thanks so much for joining us today, Stephanie!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.  Love these chats!
It was a pleasure speaking with everyone!!
Stay tuned for her in-depth interview coming soon to the site!
It's been a pleasure chatting with you Stephanie! Thanks so much for your very helpful answers!
Thank you!
Thanks so much, Julia for hosting me and I hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday
Thanks, everyone, for the awesome questions too! Happy Easter!
Happy Decorating
Thank you so much! Both of you!
Thanks Stephanie!
My pleasure!
Closing the chat now!
This chat has ended.
Link copied to your clipboard.