Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Most Important Thing I Learned At CookieCon

I was going to call this post "The Best Thing About CookieCon" but then I realized that was the wrong title. The BEST thing about CookieCon was by far the PEOPLE. I think that every single person that attended the convention would likely agree on that. You get 450 people together that work and play in sugar and believe me, they are the SWEETEST people you could ever meet! No doubt about it. So instead I'm calling this "The Most Important Thing I Learned At CookieCon". So lets see if you can figure it out before I tell you at the end (and in the meantime I'm sharing many of the tips I learned from the instructors)...

As you probably know, I was afraid of going to CookieCon. Why you ask? One reason is that I have trouble meeting the people I idolize. I get nervous and self-conscious. Another reason is because I don't use royal icing. I've always felt a bit like the "odd duck" in the cookie world. Thankfully there are Pam of CookieCrazie and Anita of Sweet Hope Cookies that are odd duck glaze girls like me. And another reason I was so nervous is because I couldn't visualize what it was going to be like. And I thought I would feel left out since everyone had attended CookieCon before and it was my first time.

Thankfully, one of my cookie cutter customers, Kate, invited me to join her at CookieCon. She said we would room together and she would look out for me and if I found it too overwhelming, I could retreat to our room (hide). She took me under her wing and boy, was I grateful. It was just the olive branch that I needed. She talked me down from the ledge a few times before the convention date actually arrived too. Looking back now, I see how silly (actually ridiculous) that I almost let my nerves get the better of me. Within 1 hour of my plane landing, I was on the bike, working out the jumbled details of the full convention in my head. This is what became clear to me.

My first class was with Anne of Flour Box Bakery. I've always felt a kinship with Anne. She is happy and positive, kind and she loves PINK! Her cookies are amazing and creative and colorful and often have a lot of pink. I can relate to her ;-)
Anne talked about consistency in royal icing, letting one section dry then continuing, wet on wet technique and bags vs bottles. She also talked about outlining and then outlining again to thicken before flooding. She mentioned that she never lets her icing tip touch the cookie and she holds the tip far enough away to guide the icing where she wants it to go for her design.

My 2nd class was with Amber of SweetAmbs. Amber is like the "elite" cookie decorator. Where my cookies might equal to a fun and colorful purse from Target, Amber's cookies are equal to Louis Vuitton or Coach. Amber is young (my daughter is almost Amber's age) and adorable and her cookies stand out. I can always tell a SweetAmbs cookie with its intricate details.
 Amber talked about consistency that works best for her with royal icing and she taught us brush embroidery and how to do her beautiful monogram cookie and how to make a filigree cookie (wow!). Some tools that she used were a scribe and the side of a small paint brush. Amber came up to me later and asked if she could get a picture with me. Let me tell you, if SweetAmbs asks you for a picture, you DIE. Seriously. I decided she must have me confused with someone else!

My 3rd class was with Myriam of Chapix Cookies. I have to be honest. I have a MAJOR cookie CRUSH on Myriam. Her cookies are just the cutest things ever. They have these adorable little faces on each cookie. Even though I don't use royal icing, I honestly drool over her beautiful cookies and I get so excited every time she posts a new cookie on her page.
Myriam talked about royal icing transfers. She also talked about consistency and craters and environment. She also said that she drags the icing tip on her cookie and uses her icing tip to get any air bubbles out. She said she uses Adobe Illustrator to draw out her designs for her royal icing transfers. She uses a paintbrush and luster dust to do her cute cheeks on her cookies and she adds a simple white dot on the cheek to finish it off. I assume that is with a rainbow dust pen. She also shared that she uses Antonio #74 for her royal icing recipe, but she uses vision to get the consistency, not counting. She showed us by holding her royal icing upside down on a spatula. I love visuals. Then she demonstrated making the most adorable girl with pony tails (reminded me of my little granddaughter, Abigail) on a cookie with a yellow sunflower. I was transfixed. I was wishing they would have auctioned off the cookie with proceeds going to the Go Bo Foundation. I would have paid highly for it!

My 4th class was with Susan of The Painted Cookie. Susan was my very first ever cookie gal. She is the first cookier I found online and she put up with ALL my questions. I've loved her from the very beginning when I started decorating cookies on January 23, 2011 and I've learned so much from her. I seriously love this girl.
Susan talked to us about her journey from home baker to a brick and mortar building bakery. She taught us about cost analysis to make sure we're pricing our cookies correctly. She talked to us about the products needed for her business and employees and gave various tips on running efficiently and also provided two lists of various places to get specific products. I loved seeing how her shop has come together in the short amount of time since her grand opening. She was just as much fun in person as all our conversations on Facebook and messaging.

My 5th class was with Georgeanne of LilaLoa. Everyone knows the amazing and beautiful Georgeanne because she shares ALL her tips and tutorials and even her amazing chocolate cookie recipe. She is due to deliver her 4th baby in just a couple weeks and she still was willing to be on her feet all day presenting to us that were so thankful for her time and knowledge. By the time of this picture, I had seen everyone that was on my bucket list, except for Georgeanne. I was getting very bummed that I hadn't found her yet. Then I was walking through the vendor booths and she was sitting with a couple of the girls at one of the booths. Her eyes lit up like we were long lost friends (which we are in my little dreamy world) and immediately my nose started burning from trying to hold back tears. I LOVE Georgeanne. She even sent me some royal icing eyes all the way from Korea because my daughter and I couldn't figure out how to make eyes (glaze girls you know). She's a sweetheart for sure.
In all my other classes, I had one full sheet of note taking. In Georgeanne's class I had 3 1/2 pages of scribbling as fast as I could. She mostly talked about making colors and figuring out what colors go together, which was enlightening to say the least. But she also talked about every tip you could think of. Things like *using a zester to shave off a cookie edge for sizing, *vinegar will help clean out butter from your mixer, *if icing is sticky, it has been over-mixed because of the protein from egg whites has broken down, *colors darken the next day (glaze pulls the color immediately btw), *cut new nylon squares and put over your coupler then tip on top of that to help get rid of clogs in icing (I had heard about this, but the visual sealed the deal), *binder clip/bag clip for locking icing bags, *how to get letters to not run together (don't close the letter til the first layer has dried like an A or e - brilliant), *put your cookie on a lined sheet to help make perfect lines (brillaint again), *airbrush (which I don't do yet) put cling wrap on the parts of the stencil you don't want to use, *when making a royal icing transfer, take the paper off, not the transfer off, *put plastic wrap on the top of a cookie platter before putting cookies on to keep them from sliding, *use a paint program to help decide what colors go together best, *and add a little of the dominant color to other colors to help them match. Phew. Can you imagine how tired she must have been sharing all that information and being very pregnant. LOVE her.

And my last class was with Angela of Oh, Sugar! Events. Angela cranks out the most amazing cookies and she does tons of them and every single one is gorgeous and perfect. I contacted her one time to ask if I could use her design for my dog's birthday and she was so very kind and very exuberantly said "ABSOLUTELY". She is a very giving, sweet gal and I was so excited to finally meet her.
Angela had a great presentation that included lots of tips. I loved her wording of "No Money, No Honey" meaning that we should always make sure to get money up front for cookie orders. She also said "be kind to yourself (see the beauty in your work since we are always our worst critic), get some sleep (do cookie decorators actually sleep?) and connect with your family (priorities). One great tip was "You are the boss - guide your customers to what will work on a cookie". We've all had those requests where someone will send you an elaborate drawing or clipart with incredible details and ask you to replicate that on a cookie with ICING. Ha! Or they will ask for 15 cookies with 15 different designs and 15 different colors. We are the boss and we can guide them and say, I think "this" might be a better set of cookies. And she said that if you have a customer that sends 45 emails (or 74) on one set of cookies, that they have just earned themselves on a NO BAKE list ;-) and she talked about character cookies and how to (KISS) Keep It Simple Stupid and  like me, Angela has an airbrush for the last 2 years that is still in the box ;-)

And our keynote speaker that started the entire convention off was the absolutely amazingly talented and beautiful Liz of Arty McGoo. I couldn't possibly love her more. She even made me a cookie with my Cristin's Cookies logo on it!
I finally got to meet Pam of CookieCrazie. I have adored her for such a long time and she's a glaze gal like me. She was just as nice in person as all our many conversations.
Krista of Cookies with Character designed the shirt I'm wearing in this picture. She's one of those that you think you're too scared to meet and she's an absolute and complete DOLL. I'm so excited that I made myself have the courage to talk to her. She made me feel completely welcome.
And the absolutely amazing Julia Usher. I have one of her books and just drool over her amazing work. Talk about talent. And she's completely personable and shares her talent and ideas.
 Did I tell you that my boyfriend was there too? You know, Ryan Gosling, my boyfriend ;-)
Okay so if you haven't figured it out yet, here is the MOST IMPORTANT THING I LEARNED AT COOKIECON...
I'm different than these cookie girls and their cookie styles, but they are too. And that's OK.

Honestly, I think there should be an entire presentation about this topic. It was so enlightening for me to come to this realization and it took meeting these amazing women for me to understand.
Here's the progression as I see it... you see a cookie you like, you stalk that cookie decorator, you enjoy watching tutorials and learning, you then mimic that cookie decorator and make a cookie as close to the one as possible and you love it and it's all so very exciting, then down the road if you keep at it and you become obsessed with cookies, you see something you want to change about the design (make it your own), then you start seeing cookies in everything you see (cookie think from the amazing Callye at Sugarbelle's) in cards and stickers and books and clothing and yes, even your dreams. You practice and practice and thankfully have kids close by to help eat the evidence ;-) and eventually you have your own style, but you didn't even realize it happened.

As a glaze girl, I've always felt like the odd duck. I use black outlines to show the designs on my cookies and I like bright, fun colors. I get very jealous over the beautiful dimension and detail that is possible for the royal icing gals. I thought I would feel so uncomfortable at the convention being the odd duck. But what I found is that WE ALL HAVE OUR OWN STYLE and our own way of decorating a cookie and that's okay. Hearing Anne say how to hold the icing bag and not let the icing tip hit the cookie and Myriam saying the exact opposite in her presentation and seeing how Amber holds the icing bag and only keeps a small amount of icing in her palm to have better control over her decorating and hearing the different ways that people get the consistency they want in their icing, this all showed that we're all very unique in our own way.

Instead of being the odd duck, I received an incredibly warm welcome. There were times that someone would run at me and hug my neck and tell me that my cookies and tutorials have helped them to become a better cookie decorator. Wow! I had phones pushed into my face to show me cookies that they made with my cookie cutters (my favorite part). People took pictures with me. These people that I stalk and admire and they knew me and my cookies. I spent more time brushing away tears than I can tell you. On the first day, I got a cut inside my mouth from smiling so much with my teeth hitting the back of my mouth. I told my hubby that I was having the time of my life. He was a bit offended by that ;-)

Thank you to Karen and Mike of Karen's Cookies (and all the purple apron people) for putting together the convention. It was such an amazing experience that will not be forgotten! Thank you to Kate for being my buddy and convincing me to face my fear and get out of my own way. Thank you to all the cookie friends and cookie cutter customers that went out of your way to meet me and help me to feel welcome. I feel so very blessed by your welcome.

This is a good representation of how I felt all weekend. Love you Pixie Girl Tami!

I have lots more pictures and the Sugar Show entries that you can see by clicking here. And I just want to say that I really, really missed meeting Jill of Jill FCS and you were in my thoughts and prayers all weekend and I missed seeing Callye of Sugarbelle's and that little bundle of joy she will be delivering soon.

Flower blog background for today: