Live Chat with Autumn Carpenter, CookieCon 2018 Instructor
Hi, all! I’ve got another awesome live chat for you! It’s the second installment in our 2018 CookieCon instructors series, and we’ll be chatting with none other than the über-talented Autumn Carpenter.
Autumn is pretty much a household name when it comes to cookie decorating, so it’s no surprise that she’ll be teaching at CookieCon in the fall. She owns Country Kitchen SweetArt (the sponsor of our wonderful challenge prize this month!). She has multiple books under her belt. She designs products. She teaches classes . . . heck, she’s a regular cookie renaissance woman! As such, her chat topics will likely run the gamut from book writing and decorating methods to product development and curriculum design.
Whatever your cookie conundrum might be, chances are good that Autumn has a great answer! So don’t hold back!
(1) Please feel free to enter advance questions now by following the instructions at the top of this chat page. (As always, it's super helpful for questions to be logged early, so our guests are able to prepare answers beforehand and to field more questions during live chat time.) To help inform your questions, please review Autumn’s bio (below).
(2) Please note that any advance questions will reveal one at a time, in the order received, only after the chat goes live. Do not expect questions or answers to appear immediately.
(3) Last but not least, as with all of these chats, you have a special opportunity to see inside the minds of some extremely talented decorators, so I encourage you to do your homework before jumping on the chat. Again, please review Autumn's bio and her various website links below.
Autumn Carpenter is an internationally known confectionery artist, demonstrator, and author of seven books. Autumn has been around cakes, candies, and cookies her entire life. In addition to owning a retail confectionery supply store, Country Kitchen SweetArt, Autumn has a line of cookie and cake decorating tools that is distributed throughout the world and available on autumncarpenter.com and sweetelitetools.com. Autumn travels regularly throughout the United States, sharing her love of cookie decorating and other confectionery arts. If you miss her on her travels, no worries. You can always catch her online cookie decorating class on craftsy.com!
Welcome, Autumn! I am thrilled to have you with us today. As a woman who "plays" in so many ways in the cookie world (from author to creator to shop owner), you are a true inspiration to many! I am looking forward to learning a lot today!
Good morning to everyone joining us as well! I encourage everyone to jump in with questions. These chats are for you - and are always more fun and informative when people don't hang back on the sidelines!
But before we dive into Q&A, 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 Autumn 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.
So, as you all are formulating your questions for Autumn, I am going to post some of her cookie work as food for thought (and stimulus for questions! ) Here's the first, which is in the chat banner image too. I just love these cookies!
So, I have a question or two, Autumn. As I mentioned at the outset and as noted in your bio (BTW, everyone, Autumn's bio can be found under the blue "i" icon at the top left of this chat room), you do a wide range of things in the cookie world. So wide, in fact, it's tough to envision your typical day. Can you describe it? Or tell us, on average over a week or more, how much of your time is spent working at Country Kitchen SweetArt, your decorating supplies business, versus doing other things like developing new products for Sweet Elite Tools (your other business), writing books, teaching classes, decorating cookies, etc.?
JULIA: My daily schedule has changed drastically over the past few months. My sister (who did the accounting and day-to-day business operations) and her husband Todd (who managed the shipping department) sold their share of Country Kitchen in 2016 to pursue their own dreams. Therefore, I have taken on both of their responsibilities. In the past, I was able to work on books, teaching, and projects in the kitchen. Lately I’ve had to take a break from those to focus more of the managing side of the business. I’m fortunate to have a great team of employees who understand my vision and goals for the business, and are key in helping me reach those goals! So . . . to answer your question, I would say currently about 80% of my day is put into Country Kitchen, 15% Sweet Elite, and 5% classes, teaching or decorating. Of course that may vary from week to week, especially when events like CookieCon come along. I really start to miss when I am away from the kitchen too long (decorating, not cooking!), so I try to make time every week to get in the kitchen and work on projects.
As a follow-up to my last question, how on earth are you able to juggle all of these things? I know you have employees who support Country Kitchen SweetArt (as I shop there often!!), but what about support for all of the other tasks/jobs that you do?
JULIA: Yes! I get excited when the gals in the back tell me you ordered! Thank you for supporting us! As far as juggling, I am fortunate to have a fabulous team of employees that I can trust, rely on, and brainstorm with. My husband is also key for support. We work well together targeting areas that need improvement within Country Kitchen SweetArt, and then implementing change. He also manages Sweet Elite Tools, programs and develops all the websites, and works at a “normal” full-time job as a computer programmer.
JULIA: As far as the business end, my favorite is easily developing products. It is exciting to watch a product come to fruition from start to finish. When it comes to being in the kitchen, there is no question that it is cookie decorating! I do love to decorate cakes and make candies as well, but cookies are my true passion. And then there is teaching . . . whether it is through classes or books, it is hard to beat the gratification of hearing students tell me of their success and that they’ve learned lots or picked up tips from my books or classes.
Turning to Sweet Elite Tools and product development for a bit . . . how do you come up with new ideas for that business line? What does the typical product development process entail, i.e., from concept to release and marketing?
JULIA: I usually come up with ideas when I’m working on a project in the kitchen and I think, “I wish I had a tool or cutter for this.” I also partner with decorators who may not have the resources to manufacture and distribute their own products. I have a lot of friends in the industry who know I manufacture products, and they will say, “I want a tool or design that does this; you should make it!” That is how Sweet Elite was born. I wanted to give credit to the fabulous creators of the tools. I like to have my hands in every step of the development process. Once the product is thought up, the next step is to do a bit of research to see if I think there is truly a market for the product. If I feel good about it, the next step is to find a manufacturer. Then the samples come and then I design the packaging. A few months later, the product arrives and promoting begins! Marketing is where I really struggle. It is definitely not my strength!
Julia: I think cookies are my passion because they are smaller projects that can be attained fairly quick. With cakes, you have to bake and ice (not my favorite part!) before the fun decorating begins. I hear a lot of cake decorators tell me “I don’t have the patience for cookie decorating” and I just smile and think the same about cake decorating!
Hi Autumn, I am always curious when I meet super humans ( Julia, you are one too)! It is rare to meet people that are not only creative, artistic and intelligent, but also have a great business sense, wonderful personality and are constantly envisioning the next project . Do you feel that this is something that is part of your genetics, or what do you attribute your motivation and drive to?
Reposting Mona's last question in case Autumn did not see it, or others missed it: Hi Autumn, I am always curious when I meet super humans ( Julia, you are one too)! It is rare to meet people that are not only creative, artistic and intelligent, but also have a great business sense, wonderful personality and are constantly envisioning the next project . Do you feel that this is something that is part of your genetics, or what do you attribute your motivation and drive to?
Mona: Thanks so much for the kind words! Is this the Mona Walker that has the retail shop? I do feel genetics definitely play a part, as I am a third generation decorator and entrepreneur. But I do feel that the motivation and excitement is within. I don’t always feel that motivation, but when I’m having a “down” day as a business woman, decorating or even browsing cookies on great sites like this helps lift my spirits! It’s true!
Hi Autumn! I am a strictly fondant designer but would like to try royal icing largely for the ability to write. Do you have tips for writing tutorials? My regular handwriting is super cute/whimsical. I am terrified of royal icing!
Lindy: Wow! Thanks for following me for so long! The nice thing about cute/whimsical style (which is what I would call my style as well), is that if it isn’t perfect, you can sometimes fake like it was supposed to be like that! Lol. But, with that said, writing is scary! When you have a beautifully decorated cookie, it can be ruined with sloppy writing! I like to use a projector, but if I am without a projector, I’ll print off the writing I want (from the computer) and then transfer it onto a cookie by going over the back of the text with a non-toxic pencil, and then placing the paper with the printed text on the top, then scribble over the top of the font and it gives a faint pencil transfer of the writing.
Julia: Yes, those pattern sheets are what SugarChat is speaking of. SugarChat: Working with customers is a huge source of inspiration. For example, with the royal icing pattern sheets, customers would come in and scowl at the price of pre-made royal icing pieces. When I would explain how to do their own royal icing pieces, they would look frustrated and I could see in their eyes “too much work to find a design, and then have to create it!” So I try to think how it can be made easier for the average home maker. One thing I pride myself on is making sure the packaging is informative with instructions for any level of decorator.
Mona: Ah… the gold dust controversy. We sell all “edible levels” of gold dusts and I always explain the difference. I recommend using FDA approved on any cookie that I would be selling to a customer. If it is for my daughter, I may use a gold that is non-toxic with a vibrant sheen. If it is on a cake, I use the strong non-edible metallic and make sure that metallic layer is Styrofoam. I wish there was a gold with an outstanding sheen. They do seem to get better as the years go by! We’ll keep watching 😊
Julia: For walk-in customers we have neon green stickers on the top of the label that says "non-edible, for decorative use only". They are also separated on the shelf from the FDA-approved items. For our online customers, we try and make it clear in the description if it is a non-edible, non-toxic, FDA approved, etc.
However, call me a skeptic, but I wonder if many manufacturers go to the great lengths and costs of getting their products FDA-approved. When I queried one company about it's "edible" lace a few years back, I got the runaround and no clear answer on the approvals they said they had.
Julia: I agree! I’ve been approached by a few manufactures about carrying some dusts in my Sweet Elite line, but I really don’t even want to mess with all that! Too many scary legal things that I don't want to think about! I’ll stick with what I know, which is non-food items!
I like Satin Ice for making elements that need to dry and hold their shape, because it dries firm and fast. But I always had some trouble wrapping cakes with it (back in the days of my shop). Because it's relatively stiff, I got more elephant skin-cracking at sharp corners . . .
I have Cookie Countess and Artfully Designed airbrushes and compressors. They way they function is slightly different, but they both seem to work similarly. You’re right Julia, I haven’t tried yours! However, I’m looking forward in trying it next! I typically have not done a lot of stenciling on cookies. But, I love how they have really boomed over the past couple years. (Julia- really think yours are cool with the layering concept. So smart!) It’s on my list of techniques to improve upon.
I do want to mention,especially since SugarChat was in here...I’m excited to be here with SugarChat as she will be teaching at Country Kitchen right after CookieCon! I just met her a couple years ago and instantly saw amazing talent and a great personality! Where are others here from?
That being said, let me close this chat with a huge thank you to Autumn for taking time out of her weekend to chat with us. I hope to follow-up this chat with a more detailed written interview with Autumn too, if she's still up for that!
When you block a person, they can no longer invite you to a private message or post to your profile wall. Replies and comments they make will be collapsed/hidden by default. Finally, you'll never receive email notifications about content they create or likes they designate for your content.
Note: if you proceed, you will no longer be following .