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Live Chat with Autumn Carpenter, CookieCon 2018 Instructor

We've started!
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!
Thanks for having me!
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!
Excited to talk to others who are as passionate about cookies as me!!
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.
Also, please ask just one question at a time (per post); it's easier for our guests to keep up and others to read the chat transcript if they're not hit with too many questions at once. Thanks!
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!
And some more, showing Autumn's range of style . . .
square jungle
Another . . .
And another . . .
Just one more, and we'll move onto questions . . .
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.
I hear you - as I've taken on more products, my life has become more administrative. It's tough to balance the creative stuff.
Good Morning ladies!
Good morning, Sugar Chat! Glad to have you here!
Hey lady! Nice to "see" and chat with you here!
People, we're still handling advance questions, but please start queuing up your own questions. Most of the advance questions are from me . . .
And I would prefer to hear from you!
Loove those flower pots!!
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.
Sugarchat: Thank you! Painting on cookies is what started my passion of decorating cookies.
It's great to have a spouse who can support the biz, and wants to.
P.S. To those not familiar with Country Kitchen SweetArt . . .
It is a treasure trove of decorating supplies!
I shop there often, because the service is also GREAT!
They make me happy just looking at them! Sooo pretty and festive!
Julia: Yes, it is great having a spouse who supports. Sometimes it's not always a want, lol. Especially on days like today where we want to play outside!
Another question from me . . .
Which of all of the things that you do is your favorite, and why?
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!
Do you actually manufacture any of the products, or do you mostly work with other manufacturers once you design a new tool or product?
Okay, gang, we are out of my advance questions and onto live ones now. So answering may take Autumn a little more time, as she will be typing live.
It's also your turn to ask questions!
Julia: We don’t have the equipment to manufacture, so I work with other manufacturers.
Once questions are entered, they go into my moderation queue . . . and I'll post them one at a time. Questions are entered at the end of the chat area.
Okay, I've got another one . ..
You mentioned that cookies were your passion, above cakes and candies. Why is that? What is it about cookies that attracts you?
People, please send questions. I do not want to dominate this chat. Thanks!
You must log in to the site to enter questions.
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!
Thanks, Mona! Your question was received and is up next!
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?
( Thanks, Mona! So sweet!)
Julia: As far as candies, I would eat too many! In fact, when I was writing my candy book, my husband gained 12 pounds! But I do make candy throughout the year and especially around Christmas.
Lindy, got your question too. It's up next.
My husband doesn't like sweets, so he was not the best recipe-tester for my books. As a result, I gained most the pounds in our house!
BTW, I love your whimsical flower pot cookies in the photo above.
Mona - We all do!
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!
While Autumn is answering Lindy's question, here's a link to Country Kitchen SweetArt:
And another to Sweet Elite Tools:
Btw ive been following you for years! You were my first cookie book purchase.
Lindy - Having cute handwriting to start is definitely a good thing!
Yes, I am!!!!!!
Mona, what retail shop do you own?
SugarChat, your question is up next after Lindy's on handwriting.
Sugar Cookies
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.
Autumn, how do you come up with new ideas? For example, the RI (royal icing) transfer sheet sets? Brilliant!
Everyone, I think these are the transfer sheets to which SugarChat is referring:
But correct me if I am wrong. They do look pretty cool!
Did I miss something new, Autumn?
Awesome, thank you!! 😍
Oh, yes. So clever an idea and a very useful tool!!!
I'll definitely order them.
Lindy, also, here's link to a forum post on Cookie Connection about how to improve your writing on cookies. It may also be helpful: https://cookieconnection.julia...improve-your-writing
Mona - Your question about gold luster is up next.
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.
Great idea! You've got a unique vantage point of being close to the customer every day; that's got to be a huge source of inspiration!
Thank you! I love them!
What are your thoughts on using non-toxic gold dust on cookies?
Mona - We've had lots of forum posts on Cookie Connection about the edibility of various luster dusts. You may also want to check out this forum search on the topic that I just pulled up: https://cookieconnection.julia...agination.sort=SCORE
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 😊
I love reading what others say about the gold dust. I'll definitely check out that forum! Julia- what is your thought about the gold?
Autumn - While on this topic, what do you do as a reseller to ensure that products that say they are FDA-approved really are FDA-approved?
although i'm sure you'll cover it there!
My feeling is similar to yours - I don't serve the public any more, so I am more liberal in my use of non-toxic dusts. But when I had my shop, I only like to use FDA-approved stuff.
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.
What is your favorite brand of fondant to use on cookies?
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!
Some Rolkem products were recently recalled, BTW . . . so, I advise everyone to read labels carefully!
Mona- I have been using Satin Ice for many years, but Renshaw has become more popular these days, so I’ve been using that as well.
Autumn - What differences do you see between those two brands?
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 . . .
Autumn and Julia, thank you very much for taking the time this morning for the live chat. As always, I enjoy seeing and or speaking with you. I must leave the chat for an appointment. Thank you again.
Julia- totally agree about Satin Ice for making accents. I've struggled getting some pieces out of molds with Renshaw. But I love Renshaw for covering cakes.
Have a great day, Mona! Thanks for joining us and asking so many good questions.
Nice chatting with you Mona! Hope to see you at a show again sometime soon!
Mona - There's still one more question from you, which you can read the answer to by revisiting this link after the chat is over. Here comes that question, Autumn . . .
What is your favorite brand of airbrush?
I'll be interested to hear the answer to this one! (I don't think Autumn has tried my new one.)
I'm sure there is a technique to make it easier to get Renshaw out of molds. I just need to do a little research, or ask Nicholas Lodge!
Have you tried freezing it briefly, or does that not work?
Yes, Nicholas is the expert on it, I think!
Hi, still here. Freezing works great.
Yes, I do freeze and that does help. I think it depends on the brand of mold as well.
Ahhh . . .
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.
Thanks - I wanted to introduce some more elaborate stencils, that would be easy enough for beginners to use yet allow them to get distinctive, less cookie-cutter results . . .
Love them!
By mixing and matching and moving around the layered elements in my sets, people can get a lot of designs out of one set. But enough of my sales pitch!
Any more questions from others?
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?
I have another one related to something you said earlier about what you do when your enthusiasm for business tasks runs low . . .
Maybe Mona mentioned where her shop was above? Lindy, how about you?
Your stencils are fabulous, Julia. I belong to your stencil club.
Thanks, Mona!
Cool! Not too far from me.
Yes, SugarChat is fab! She does wonderful work, and has also been my right hand woman at several shows, most recently at So Flo. I couldn't ask for a better partner.
I know! I need to get over there!
Send me a PM if you do so i can be sure to meet you in person!
Okay, so we're down to a couple of people so I'll ask my last question. What do you do to fend off decorating/creativity slumps? I find that looking at others' work doesn't help me in the least!
I ask, because I am having so much trouble juggling everything right now. It's hard to sit down and decorate without having a lot of dedicated free time, which I just don't have.
I will, thank you! That would be awesome!
I love browsing crafts stores for inspiration. Especially the scrap booking section. I always leave inspired after seeing layered scrap booking stickers and fun patterned papers.
Lindy, do you have any last questions? We've got a couple of minutes left and could take another.
Time is the key! Trade shows also give me a lot of inspiration. I don't go to a lot, but when I do I feel rejuvenated!
I think I need to just prioritize and lop some other things off my to-do list. But I do like envisioning how tools used in other crafts can be applied to cookies.
I like getting out to trade shows and classes too - mostly to meet people. I get too tied up in my own head (and worries) if I work in isolation too long.
No, I don't. Thank you so much, this has been fun!
Lists are key for me. I get such gratification crossing tasks off my list! \
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!
Absolutely! Thanks for having me, and Julia, perhaps I’ll see you in St. Louis at Show Me Sweets!
List-writing is a blessing and a curse for me. I always feel more organized after writing my lists, but . . .
I almost never get everything crossed off my daily lists, so I feel I'm always running behind. :0
lol. that is true about a blessing and a curse! Your list must be huge with all you do!
Yes, I will be at Show Me Sweets, so I definitely look forward to seeing you then!
It's mostly long because I am an obsessive-compulsive list writer. I have lists of my lists!
Have a great rest of the weekend, everyone! And thanks again to all who joined us today!
You too! Nice chatting with everyone!
This chat has ended.
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