Sweet Sharing with Natasa Belic of Art & Honey

I warmly welcome Natasha to our second Sweet sharing chat for 2016. I have had the pleasure of meeting with her in Greece during her vacations. She is a warm, gentle and creative soul. I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to share your secrets with us in transitioning from an active baker (with orders into the thousands) into teaching!
Sorry for the delay a bit of teck difficulty!
Hi, Natasa! I just wanted to extend a personal thank you for doing this Sweet Sharing chat! So - THANK YOU! I regret that I can't attend it, as I will be teaching on China that day! But I have a few questions for you that I will log in advance.
Hello Tina. Thank you for inviting me to Sweet Sharing Live Chat. It is my pleasure to spend some time chatting here. I am happy to share my experience with the members of CC and welcome to everyone who is here.
Julia, I am so sorry you will not be able to join us. I am sure your time in China will be amazing! Thank you once again for trusting me to moderate these chats.
JULIA M. USHER 3/10/163:55 PM Hi ,Julia. Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my experience with my cookie friends from the Cookie Connection. Good luck with your classes in China!
Thank you Natasa for sharing such valuable information with us! This forum is so invaluable to all of us wanting to learn more and more every day.
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/165:56 PM Hi, Cookie Celebration. Thanks for joining the chat.
Hi Natasa, I too love your beautiful cookies, fun, festive designs make all who see them happy, I'm sure. Best wishes for success in your teaching.
Before we jump 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 Natasha 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!
Hi Teri. It is great to see you here. Thank you for the compliments. I also love your cookies and you are an inspiration to me.
Teri it is so nice that you stopped by! Thank you so much!
Please also ask just one question at a time - it's easier for our guests to keep track of questions and for others to follow the dialogue this way. Grab your coffee or tea and let's get started!
Can you talk a little bit about the various pricing models that one can use when structuring a class, and which you prefer and why? For instance, do you get paid a certain fixed fee per student by the venue? Or do you get a per diem or per hour teaching fee regardless of the number of students in attendance?
JULIA M. USHER 3/10/163:57 PM So far, I have implemented two ways of organizing workshops and developed appropriate pricing models. The first one considers the classes taking place in my workshop and a fixed fee per class is paid directly to my account individually by each participant. These classes can be group or individual (with a higher fee for the latter) and follow a programme I designed in advance. However, if students wish to set the program of their individual workshop themselves, then they are charged by the hour. When workshops are held at outside venues, such as culinary schools or companies, the deals differ. For example, the venue may ask for a certain percentage of my earnings.
How much support do you require of venues, particularly when you are not teaching in your own country and must travel to get there? For instance, does the venue make all of your cookies and icing in advance? Do they supply all or a portion of the tools that students will need to use?
JULIA M. USHERMODERATOR3/10/163:58 PM Since my workshops so far have all been at the beginner level, I teach baking cookies and making icing and therefore I have to make it all on the spot. I also use only my tools and ingredients.
What, in your opinion, is the ideal class size for a hands-on class, to ensure that students get the one-on-one attention they might need, but that you/the venue also make ample profit from the class?
JULIA M. USHERMODERATOR3/10/163:59 PM For me, the ideal class size is between 7 and 8 students.
Do you think you would have transitioned to teaching if someone hadn't approached you to teach a class; was the urge to teach inherent in your nature and it just had to be tapped?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/165:56 PM There is a bit of both. A person from Athens, Greece asked me to teach her a couple of years ago. Although I hadn’t planned teaching when I started making cookies, she inspired me to do so. However, since both of my parents were teachers, it probably runs in the family.
When you were asked to teach, did the requestor assist you in setting up a format for the teaching or did you setup your own idea of how the class was to be structured?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/165:57 PM Yes, the requestor had a specific idea of what she wanted to learn. She showed me a few cookie designs she wanted to learn to achieve and I made a programme based on that.
Do you have help teaching or assembling the packages for your participants?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/165:58 PM I do all the teaching myself, as well as the workshop preparation. When workshops take place in other cities, the venue is prepared by the hosts.
Hello from Greece! When you first started teaching, how did you communicate the services you offer to new audiences/customers? Did you approach them directly? Or through social media? Thanks!
How do you "advertise" for your classes? Especially for ones that are not local for you , or even out-of-country?
Hi, Bakerloo Station. My main advertising outlet is Facebook where I have over 25,000 followers. Lately, I have been paying ads on Facebook in order to promote my classes even more. I have also been featured in some magazines, TV shows and websites.
Welcome Efi and Bakerloo! Two similar questions!
EFI3/15/165:38 PM When I first started teaching, I already had some people on a waiting list. Namely, those were people who were familiar with my work and asked me if I was willing to teach workshops and when I decided to start teaching, I called them to inform them about the classes. After the first class, I published photos from it on my Facebook page and many people saw them and showed interest. At first, I didn’t really know who my target group was. I expected it to be the people who were interested in selling cookies. However, with time I discovered that various motives drive people to my classes. My students include young and future mothers who want to make decorative cookies only for their kids and friends, women with administrative jobs who need a creative outlet and socializing, people with other artistic hobbies such as silk painting, weaving or decoupage who want to learn something new, companies which use the workshops for teambuilding and pastry chefs (self-employed or sent by their employers to learn new techniques) who wish to broaden their assortment. Now, I usually advertise the classes on Facebook. Also, my classes are sometimes recommended to friends by my former students.
Hi Tina! Hi Natasa!
Do you find that paying for ads on Facebook is helpful? I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about that?
Hi! Thank you for joining us.
My experience has showed it to be useful. Lately, Facebook displayed my posts to a quite small number of people (up to 500) and after boosting them the numbers reach up to 20,000. It depends also on how much I pay for the ad.
If I am slow to respond ladies it's my connection. Awful! Please have patience with me. Hello Chritsine.
What is your average cost on FB?
5 dollars
That does't seem like a lot!
Natasa, how did YOU originally start decorating cookies? Did you take a class? Watch video tutorials? Trial and error? And, do you have any sort of art background?
How did you start out making cookies and do you have a creative and/or teaching background?
I first saw decorative cookies online and I had never before taken such classes. I learned everything from various blogs, such as Sugarbelles, LilaLoa, SweetAmb's, Jill FCS, etc. At that time (3 and a half years ago) there weren't many video tutorials as is the case now. I studied design and architecture and it helps me a lot when decorating cookies.
There are a fair amount of architects in cookieland, it seems! I think that sort of background must definitely help.
I cannot believe you have only been decorating cookies for 3 years!
Yes, I remember the exact date I started because it was my mom's birthday, 8th September 2012
Assuming you do not bake at the class. so pre-baking is necessary . . . How do you pack and transfer the supplies? Ship, carry with you? A bit of both?
More questions/answers from the que!
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/165:59 PM When it is possible, I bring the baked cookies with me and when this isn’t a possibility, I arrive earlier and do the baking at the venue.
How do you decide what to charge for the classes?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/165:59 PM Various factors influence the price of the workshop. First of all, I consider the living standard in Serbia when setting the fee. Other factors include the difficulty of the workshop and the number of participants. Group workshops are cheaper than individual ones.
How many hours is a typical class?
7 hours with a lunch break.
Do you include a cost for each piece of the project from baking supplies to electricity, packaging, traveling costs, etc., and then tally that up and come up with a per person charge for the class.
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:01 PM Yes, in order for the workshops to be feasible, I have to include all those costs.
Do the people requesting you teach a class (sponsors?) pay for part of the costs?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:01 PM Of course, the organization differs depending on the sponsor. For instance, some sponsors provide accommodation, refreshments and cover my travel expenses, while others only provide the venue.
Hello Natasha. I owned a store front bake shop for 6 years. We sold our shop to move to another city closer to our granddaughter. I am really missing the creativity that I put into my store, so I am thinking of teaching my skills of cookie decorating and sugarwork. I am thinking of doing this out of my home. The way my home is set up I believe it would work. My concern is whether or not people would actually come to a home for these lessons versus a business location and how to get people to come.
Hi, Supermom701. When I started teaching, I only held classes at home and people from all over Serbia (my country) came to my town to attend the workshops. Since I don't live in the capital city, it was an issue for some of them, but they still came. My first students were people who were familiar with my work and asked me to teach them. Now I also advertise my classes on my Facebook page.
Welcome Supermom and thank you for being patient and waiting for me to fit your question in. The que questions are still full.
Do you have any classes scheduled in the U.S? Preferably in the Chicago area? (wink wink)
Welcome Joanie. That would be fabulous! A trip to the States!
Thank you Natashia and Tina
I would love to come to the US. Especially since my niece is doing her PhD there. I don't have any real plans yet, but if given an opportunity, I would try to organize some classes in the US.
I love all of your work, but I am particularly drawn to the cookies that are of the style of your profile picture. Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
Thank you. I am glad you like my cookies. Inspiration is actually all around us. I love colours and I am often inspired by Indian and Native American cultures, as well as ethnic motives in general. Though, I also love minimalistic design without many details. Sometimes, I also dream of a design and then use it later (unless I forget the dream)
Baby cookies
Paisley cookies
Mandala cookies
Beautiful work! Huh ladies!
Thank you Tina
Do you actually like teaching more than you like decorating cookies? In essence, I guess I am asking, was your segue into teaching an attempt to make your business profitable on a larger scale? More so than you could obtain from making and selling cookies?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:03 PM I adore decorating cookies and teaching doesn’t mean I can’t go on doing that. Last year, I broke my arm and because of that, I had to rely more on teaching as I wasn’t able to decorate cookies as much. During that period, I noticed that a large number of people is showing interest in my workshops, so I decided to balance the teaching and the decorating.
Beautiful cookies. How did you get those lines on the yellow bow ties?
When I start icing I apply stronger pressure on the bag and then lower it slowly to make the lines. Finally I finetune them with a needle.
What is your preference for icing ... royal? glaze? combo?
I only use royal
Have you ever taught any other types of classes? That is, do you have any prior teaching experience?
My parents were both teachers so it does run in the family. I had never really taught earlier, but when I worked as a manager, I often had to present products which is kind of similar to teaching.
What is your format when teaching? Do you use a projector to display larger photos of each step of the cookie creation process? Do you stand at the front of the class or go from student to student along the way? What percentage of the cookie is complete prior to starting the class? (Is the cookie baked and the icing made and bagged, etc?)
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:07 PM I actually demonstrate the baking and decorating process at the workshop and I bring some pre-baked cookies for the participants to practice decorating. I also bring some of the icing and I prepare more during the class in order to show them how it’s made. The first part of the class, I stand in front and tell them the theoretical part regarding baking, dough characteristics, flour, spices and other ingredients. The second part is practical. I first show the decorating process and then when the students start doing their own decorating I go from student to student to check how they are doing and help them if necessary.
Do you make your colors and fill your piping bags ahead of time and just do an example of making RI and coloring and consistencies on the spot? Or do you do it all step by step with the students?
I usually prepare a part in advance and the rest is made while showing the students step by step how to make it.
Do you have practice sheets that allow your students to get used to drawing lines, using pressure, piping dots etc?
I haven't done that yet, but I plan to implement it in my advanced classes for more complicated designs. For now, my students try to do the basic designs directly on the cookies
Do you have a particular technique for holding your piping bag that you try to get your students to copy or do you allow everyone to hold the bag the way they feel the most comfortable with.
I show them the classical way of holding the bag like pastry chefs do (the way I use), but I let them adjust the way of holding as it suits them. I always emphasize that the classical way is the best though.
Tips or tipless?
Do you use metal tips in bags or do you just use the parchment paper cones and cut off the tips?
I am used to working with tips, but I am trying to introduce tipless for my bigger classes.
Both similar questions.
Do you use mostly wet-on-wet techniques in class. I have used fans to help with drying but have found it difficult to do anything else unless I do it beforehand.
At the beginner level I usually show only wet-on-wet. However, I bring along two dehydrators in which cookies are dried during the class. Anyway, for more complicated designs, cookies have to be, at least partially, prepared in advance.
do you sell any of the equipment to your students that they use. Or do you offer a package that includes items used that students can take home with them?
At first I hadn’t considered selling equipment, but over time my students asked me if they could buy it from me. Then I managed to get a reduction from some retailers and have started selling some basic equipment at my workshops. My goal was to help my students to quickly get their equipment so they could start baking right away and they are very grateful for that.
And what sort of packaging do you use so that students can transport their not-quite-dried cookies home?
I use pizza boxes to pack the cookies for the students. I tried different boxes, but those showed the best results. They are lined with aluminium foil and they are wide enough to fit all the cookies from the class
Do you feel you have a certain style that people look to learn or you teach a variety of techniques?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:08 PM What I think makes my cookies stand out is great precision and colour combinations and this is likely what attracts people to attend my classes.
What frustrates you most about teaching? What do you love the most?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:03 PM What annoys me most about teaching is preparing the workshop and doing the packing. On the other hand, I really enjoy watching my students decorate cookies with great excitement and pleasure and seeing their happy faces at the end of the class.
What dictates the size of your classes? Logistics? Income necessary to make it profitable? Ability to assist each student?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:05 PM The size of the venue is what usually dictates the size of the class. The venue in Belgrade, Serbia I usually use allows for 10 students to participate, which is also optimal for me to devote enough attention to them individually. As I already stated, the minimum number of participants to make a class profitable is 5. And when the workshops take place in my own space, any number of participants is profitable.
Pizza boxes! That is brilliant.
So you sell things like food colouring, icing tips, cookie cutters, piping bags, food colouring.
Pizza boxes are a great idea! New, Of course!
Since colours aren’t always available in my country and are hard to get, I am not able to sell them. I do sell tips and icing bags and also a board I invented for rolling the dough. Cookie cutters are also difficult to get here. I make my own and explain how I do it during class.
Which countries have you taught in? And have/will you ever come the the US?
I'd like to see that cookie board you invented? What material is it?
Actually, I haven't taught abroad, but I have had students from Italy, Greece, Poland, Australia, Croatia, Singapore,etc. here in Serbia. I am teaching a couple of individual classes in the coming months in the UK and Singapore.
Hi, Natasha. As a student who learned form you i must praise the way you teach and share your knowledge. Many thanks for inspiring me to dive in this world of design and creativity. Your designs always amaze me.
As I already said, I would love to come to the States, but I don't ave any concrete plans yet.
Do you have a photo of the cookie board?
What's a cookie board?
Wait a second, just give me a few seconds to find the picture
Christine, Natasha said she created her own cookie board and we are curious to see her invention.
Are you teaching those foreign classes as part of a larger cookie gathering, where multiple artists gather in the same venue?
Here is the cookie board. It has a 5mm high border to ensure the dough is equally thick on all cookies
That is awesome!
No, the foreign classes scheduled in the UK in April are individual and held privately.
What mishaps have you had during your teaching process that others can avoid? Lost supplies? Rooms not available when you arrive? Crushed cookies upon arrival? AND...do you always have a backup plan in place in case events like these occur - an oven to use in an emergency, a local supplier ahead of time, etc.?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:12 PM In one instance the organizers failed to provide enough tables for the workshop and I found that experience very stressful. Since then, I always carry an extra folding table with myself in case of an emergency when travelling around Serbia. I also had a case when some of my cookies were crushed. Since this is probably the most likely problem to occur, I always make a few extra cookies and pack them extra carefully.
Assuming everyone enjoys their fair share of sugar during the class , do you have any other food items/drinks that you serve during your classes?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:09 PM Of course. During the break I serve refreshments and both sweet and savoury snacks.
Thank you Lidija (Tufna nikad ne ide sama). You were a great and talented student and thank you so much for your help with the classes when my arm was broken.
Thank you Lidija for joining us!
What are the top three traits you feel a person needs to have in order to be successful in this teaching business?
COOKIE CELEBRATION3/10/166:09 PM You first of all have to love what you do, which is cookie decorating. Next, you have to have an honest intention to show the students everything you know. And finally, you have to be eloquent and communicative to maintain the participants’ focus throughout the workshop and make it interesting for them.
So it's a board with raised sides that are 5mm high.
I've seen those boards. Someone here in the states sells them. They look great.
That's fantastic!
Do you do any painting on cookies? That seems very popular right now. I'm wondering what types of medium you like working with.
I tried various rolling pins with rings on the sides, but it didn't suit me, so I came up with the idea for this board and my husband made it for me.
I think it's a great idea and one that I will be requesting from my husband!
I love painted cookies and I tried it a couple of times. It turned out quite ok. Last fall, I was lucky to be in Milan and I used the opportunity to meet Evelin Decora and attend her short class of painting on cookies. It was a wonderful experience
Unfortunately mine is ore musically inclined not a carpenter.
I know you love making/decorating cookies. But do you like baking other sweets?
My husband is a taxman, but he is quite handy. He also keeps bees and makes hives so he is used to working with wood.
I like baking in general, but I try to avoid making too many sweets because of my weight
Lucky you! I see many of the husbands being helpful. Very nice.
How long do the cookies that you put in the dehydrator take to dry?
Could you use an oven on a low temperature to dry the cookies as well, or a warming drawer in
I dry them for 2 hours during classes. It depends on the size of the cookies, of course. But 2 hours should be fine in the dehydrator.
One of the first group workshops in 2013. Belgrade. The Culinary school "Il Primo"
I used to use the oven earlier, before I got the dehydrator, but you can't fit as many cookies at once in the oven.
Can you tell us what you are doing here? Is this a private home class?
No, this one was actually held in a culinary school Il Primo in Belgrade. I am showing my students how to roll the dough
Workshop 23.02.2016. Novi Sad
Workshop in Belgrade 17.01.2016.
Workshop 30.01.2016. Kragujevac
These are from the workshops from different cities I visited. None of these are at my place. You can see my students focused on their cookies.
Looks like so much fun, your classes!
If you were drying in the oven, what temperature would you use?
Yes, the atmosphere is always amazing at the workshops. And I enjoy them as much as my students
I used to dry them at 50 degrees Celsius
Recently you had a marvelous experience in Milan as a cake judge. Can you tell us about your judging experience in the Cake Designer Championship? Did this help at all with your teaching?
This one is from a team building workshop
This one, too
Team building?
From Championship in Milan
Became a member of FIPCG (Federazione Italiana di Pasticceria Gelateria e Cioccolateria)
Yes, I took part at the Cake Designer Championships 2015 in Milan in October as a judge. It was unbelievable. I met Neli Josefsen and Aniko Vargane Orban, two great cookiers who were also jury members.
Next to president of jury
Wonderful experience. I spent a week with Aniko. Lovely talented woman. Did this help you with regards to teaching?
Yes, a company wanted their workers to make decorative cookies by themselves to give as Christmas presents to their business partners and had a team building workshop where I helped them make those.
What a great idea. The men didn't mind?
How do you price a workshop like that?
I don't know if it helped me with teaching per se, but I think it helped my image and presented me to the public
The women were the only ones taking part. The men came in the end to take pictures
How did you become a cake judge?
I price such workshops differently from my typical classes. I have to take both the material and my work into account
I was invited to participate as a part of the Serbian team at the Championship. Each team had one competitor and one coach, who also served as a judge.
I saw the pic of you as a cake judge on your FB page and wondered how you got to do that. That's why I asked if you liked baking other things.
Hi Natasha!!! I just came back home on time to pass by and say hello ❤️
I was wondering if Evelin would come, thank you my dear! Always wonderful having your support.
Do you work with stencils and airbrushing? I'm still figuring out my airbrush and I think I'm becoming addicted. Although it is another thing to pull out and set up.
Yes, I only make decorative cookies, but based on my biography, they accepted me as a judge at the Cake Championship
Hi Evelin!!! I am glad you joined. I just mentioned you a few minutes ago
How did you get on the Serbian team in the first place?
I do use both, stencil and airbrush. I like both, although I agree with you about the airbrush. It takes a lot of cleaning
A Serbian girl who lives in Italy wanted me to participate with her as a team at the Championship, she came to Serbia to meet me ad asked me this in person after seeing my work on Facebook.
I still don't have an air brush. Missing out. Christine. This is an international Chat!
Really Natasha? I didn't have time yet to read the whole chat, I'll do it later for sure. I still smile remembering the afternoon we have spent together in October, both sick and exahusted
Still another question in the que although I think it has been covered.
Yes, Evelin, we were really both sick and exhausted and the time we spent together was short, but enough for me to see what an amazing person and fantastic artist you are
What types of social media do you use to post your cookie pics as well as advertise classes?
And you really deserve the Cookier of the Year award that you got
As I already said earlier, I use Facebook to post my work and advertise.
Yes a warm congratulations on that. All the nominees were amazing. That was a tough judging!
I am very happy for you about your teaching experience, you are a great artist and you will discover the beauty of sharing your art with other persons! Teaching is the part I love the most of this magical work!!!
Is there any other questions from you wonderful ladies?
We have a few moments left.
Baby cookies
Beautiful. I have a hard time getting such nice pastels.
Thank you both Tina and Natasha for your kind works! ❤️ I send you a big hug!!! Bye bye ^^
Thank you It is very important to start with a very small amount of colour.
Thank you Evelin for dropping by to say hi!
Thank you Evelin. Ladies I once again appoligize I am having some tech difficulty.
I want to thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to be here with us today and share your knowledge. I wish you continued success with both baking and teaching and hope to see you once again, my friend, in 2016!
And thank all of you that supported this chat. I wish you all a beautiful sweet day.
I want to thank everyone who participated in the chat and Tina for great moderating. And of course to Julia who made this possible. I hope you are having a great time in China.
And you too! Thank you all!
This chat has ended.