Decorate Like A Pro: Expert Q&A -- Best Advice For Beginners | LilaLoa: Decorate Like A Pro: Expert Q&A -- Best Advice For Beginners

Decorate Like A Pro: Expert Q&A -- Best Advice For Beginners


What do you need to know before you ever start decorating cookies? TWELVE expert decorators tell you what THEY WISH THEY HAD KNOWN!! 

Cookie decorating advice for beginners


They say that wisdom comes with experience. But they also say that you don't have to touch the fire to know that it is hot. There is so much to learn when you first start decorating cookies. It can be completely overwhelming. It's hard to know what went wrong...or what went right. Like most new skills, cookie decorating is best learned in person, in your own kitchen, and maybe with chocolate. But don't worry if you aren't lucky enough to have a best friend to get you over the beginner hurdles... you've got the Super Team!


Sometimes people ask me a cookie decorating question and I actually feel like I am doing them a disservice by answering...because I don't want them to think that there is only ONE RIGHT WAY to do everything. I decided to put together a Super Team of expert decorators to help answer some of the common questions that I get asked all the time. So that YOU can see that there are many methods and opinions for decorating cookies and that ALL OF THEM ARE VALID. What works for one person, may not be a solution for another person. But it might!

Today I asked my Super Team the following question:

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?


Amber Spiegel -- Sweet Ambs

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself not to compare my work (or any aspect of my life, for that matter) to what I see on the internet. Even now I forget that everything we show online is just a snippet of real life, so I still have to remind myself of this very thing. You'd think I would know by now especially since I'm one of the culprits! Whenever I take a picture, there is a giant mess just outside of the frame. It's hard to keep that in mind when there's a constant flow of perfection coming at us on social media!




Visit SweetAmbs to learn more about Amber Spiegel and see her gorgeous tutorials. 


Lisa Snyder -- The Bearfoot Baker

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

That is a great question. It’s also a hard question because there is so much to learn when it comes to starting a new hobby or career. I honestly never dreamed cookie decorating would teach me so much and introduce me to so many new friends.

I’d say that if I had to give myself one piece of advice it would be patients. If you’re patient, you can practice and make your dreams come true. This works in the cookie world and in the everyday life world.

So that’s it. Be patient and practice and you can do anything!

Visit The Bearfoot Baker to learn more about Lisa Snyder and check out her comprehensive tutorials.


Anne Yorks -- Flour Box Bakery 


If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

When it comes to enjoying life as a cookie decorator, I would tell myself to just chill the heck out and actually enjoy the decorating. In the beginning, I worried about so much silly stuff. Actually cried over bad projects and worked way tooooo late making stupid overcomplicated designs. Compared my work to others. No no no no. That is not the way to enjoy cookie decorating.

When it comes to the technical side of the job, there is a lot I would want to tell myself about icing consistencies and color mixing and designing cookies, BUT part of making those mistakes, trying new ideas, and going through that process was helpful in finding the way that makes sense to me and my workflow.

I would also give myself permission to say no to projects that didn’t feel right to me. Like for example, I would tell myself not to do those green army men cookies. I didn’t want to do them. They were the worst. I should have refunded the customer – they were THAT bad. Live and learn. You don’t need to say yes to every order.

Visit Flour Box Bakery to learn more about Anne Yorks and see all of her great tutorials and fantastic products.






Pam Sneed -- Cookie Crazie


If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

So you've found something that you absolutely love to do and enjoy every second of its process (except for maybe the dishes 😉). Run with it and enjoy the journey! But remember that the passion for what you do is the fuel for refining your skill. And without passion, it just becomes a job. Rather than looking at how poorly you think you decorate or comparing yourself to others' abilities, focus on the love of the art.

Challenge yourself by practicing continually and always working to improve your skills and creativity. The end goal is to enjoy what you do and do it very well. And with that goal you can make a difference in those around you. Don't get sidetracked with negativity or comparison. Take the creativity and passion that God has knit within you to a new level on every occasion and you will be amazed at how it can impact your world!

Visit Cookie Crazie to learn more about Pam Sneed and to see her incredible tutorials using glaze icing. 


Hani Bacova -- Haniela's


If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself? 

When I was starting with cookies I had no previous experience with any kind of decorating and online cookie decorating tutorials were pretty much non-existent and with very limited book resources on the subject I learned just by by trail and error. If I could go back in time I wish I had taken a decorating class, I think it would have been very helpful.

Visit Haniela's to learn more about Hani, see her great tutorials and check out her delicious recipes! 



Jill Wettstein -- Jill FCS

 
If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Perfectly imperfect is where happy accidents allow your creativity to shine!


Visit Jill FCS to learn more about Jill Wettstein and to see her incredibly unique style in action! 


 Mike Tamplin -- Semi Sweet

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Looking back, one piece of advice I would give the younger, new-to-cookie-decorating me is to not sweat the small stuff. With cookie decorating, it's so easy to become your own worst critic. In reality, your customers, and anybody outside of the cookie world, don't really notice the small imperfections of your cookies. I used to stress over icing craters and butter bleed. But believe me, your customers won't even notice and will be thrilled with your edible works of art.

In the early stages, it's easy to be overly critical of your skills. However, if you need cookie cheerleaders to help guide and support you on your developing cookie journey, I recommend joining a Facebook cookie decorating group. There are many groups, each with over thousands of members, to help cheer you on and give you advice & feedback. If I had known that early on I would probably still have my hair. :)

Visit Semi Sweet to learn more about Mike, grab some of his fantastic cutters and see his great tutorials! 
 



 Hillary Ramos -- The Cookie Countess

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

When I started decorating cookies in 2011, I felt like a traveler in a strange land, on a quest to find information. There weren't FB cookie groups. There were very few cookie blogs (thank you Callye!) and even fewer how-to videos on YouTube. Instagram wasn't invented yet. Say what!?!!? Flickr was the only place you could connect with other cookiers.

Finding cool cookie cutters was actually hard!! And the Baking section at Michael's was about 2ft long. It was a different time and experience than cookie decorating now! In some ways I think it was good because it forced me to do a lot of my own experimentation to figure out what worked and what didn't.

But the one thing I wished I had more info on was how to price my cookies when I started selling them. $25 a dozen just doesn't cut it. Didn't then and it doesn't now. The amount of time of research and correspondence that goes into the ordering of a custom set of cookies is barely covered by that $25 in my opinion. And you haven't even made the cookies yet!

The advice I would have given myself, and what I give to cookie makers today who are thinking of selling their cookies, is really sit down and add up your expenses. Time how long it takes you to make a dozen cookies. Figure out what you think your time is worth per hour and truly look at what the price of those cookies should be.

A lot of people say - Well, I'm just starting out and don't have the skills to charge a lot yet. But what if you do have the skills in 6 months? And then you feel funny about raising your prices? Maybe your goal should be - what do $50 per dozen cookies look like? What do $75 per dozen cookies look like? Or $100 per dozen - yes there are some people charging that much. And how can I get my skills there? Then start charging for your work. Don't sell yourself and your time short. At $25 per dozen you'll be flooded (pun intended) with orders and you'll be excited, but you also may burn out fast. Cookier burn out is a real thing! And nobody likes burnt cookies or cookiers. 😉

Visit The Cookie Countess to learn more about Hillary and see all her amazing stencils and products!


Julia Usher -- Recipes for A Sweet Life and Cookie Connection


If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

I’d say, (1) “Don’t let perfectionism consume you” and, as a corollary to that, (2) “Know your worth and expect it in return for your work”. Okay, okay, so that’s two bits of advice, but I’m not known for my brevity! ;) Plus, after 20-some years in the business, I still have to remind myself of both of these things . . .

On the first point, most cookie decorators are perfectionists. I think we can all agree on that. There’s something about fine detail work that attracts us to cookies like bees to honey. One very sage newcomer to the business wrote me recently and said that being a perfectionist prevented her from putting her hand to decorating, for fear of failure. I imagine that’s the case with many beginners, which is a shame. Cookie decorating shouldn’t be about fear; it should be about fun and exploration.

For me, though, perfectionism manifests itself in a different way. It’s my blessing, and it’s my curse. It often drives me to do my best work, but it also controls me in ways I wish it didn’t. It’s what compels me to work at a relentless pace; it’s what prevents me from sleeping as well as I should; and it’s what makes me the world’s worst critic of my work. When my perfectionism takes over, I play that tape recording in my head that says it’s okay not to be “on” 100-percent of every day, and it’s okay to step away from cookies to recharge. Time off can fuel more creativity, stave off burnout, and feed your soul and business over the long haul.

All of this brings me to my second point. That same sage newcomer also said this, “Many cookiers I've come to know are such talented women but too often undervalue themselves for a sale, which saddens me.” I agree completely, but would take this further and say that, because we’re perfectionists, and our work often doesn’t meet our own insanely high standards, we undervalue ourselves, period. Not just for a sale, but in most things. At least this has been the case for me.

Back in 1997, I was surprised and flattered when a well-known national bridal magazine asked me to give them a free cake with the promise of “great exposure”, and so I gave them two or three instead. (I used to make cakes before cookies, BTW.) A few years later, I was just as surprised and flattered when I was invited to do a high-profile bridal fair. The organizer said participation was conditional on giving out hundreds of free samples, again with the promise of “great exposure”. I agreed and outdid myself by bringing more than requested, in multiple flavors and styles. (No fame or fortune ever came from these acts of generosity, I might add.)

More recently, I was surprised and flattered when asked to collaborate on a new product. Me, really?! I decided to return the goodwill by tossing in my consulting time. What I thought would be a few free hours of tapping my brain mushroomed into weeks and months, and I ended up resenting my partner and myself for not charging upfront.

To this day, I still need to do a better job of reminding myself of the true value of my work, and making sure I get fairly compensated for what I do. But I have learned (the hard way) that saying “no” when terms aren’t fair is one of the most empowering and liberating things one can do. The next time someone wants a $10 cookie for $2, please remind yourself of this too! 🙂

Visit Recipes for A Sweet Life or Cookie Connection to learn more about Julia and see her incredibly detailed tutorials!


Amy Clough -- Clough'D 9 Cookies

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

If I could go back in time to when I first started decorating cookies, I would tell myself to not feel pressured to purchase all the newfangled cutters and gadgets available to cookiers. The amount of available cookie supplies has easily tripled over the past few years, which must be so overwhelming to new decorators. I would advise myself to focus on the tools that are absolutely necessary for decorating, and master those basic decorating skills. Then add a new widget to my decorating arsenal when I'm ready.

Visit Clough'D 9 Cookies to learn more about Amy and see her very clever tutorials!


Callye Alvarado -- Sweet Sugarbelle

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Only one piece? Well, if you insist…my #1 piece of advice would be NOT to buy all the things. I moved three times in the past two years, and each time, I got rid of more stuff.

People would be horrified if they knew how many boxes of unidentifiable cutters I've dropped at Goodwill. Turns out, I’m a creature of habit. I use the same old things, over and over again. Digging through my stuff for each project used to be so overwhelming. Now, I challenge myself to use what I have. It’s been super rewarding, and forces me to be more creative.


Visit Sweet Sugarbelle to learn more about Callye and get more cookie decorating tutorials than you even knew existed!!


Georganne Bell -- LilaLoa (That's me!)


If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Don't rush the basics. I **may** be a tad impulsive. Okay... I'm totally impulsive and completely without regard for things like "patience" and "thinking ahead". And it took me a long time to learn (the hard way) that you need to take the time to get the basics right.

DO NOT rush when you are checking the icing consistency. 30 seconds of patience will change EVERYTHING.

Practice piping straight lines and curves and corners before you outline your first cookie.

DON'T GIVE UP too soon when mixing colors. "Good enough" at the very beginning is never ever really going to be "good enough" at the end.

If your cookie designs are consistently NOT coming out like the visions in your head...spend a few minutes to trace the cutter and sketch the design on paper first.

Cookie decorating is fantastic. It's creative and delicious and therapeutic all in one sugar filled package. And it's suuuuuuuuper tempting to jump ahead and make something awesome right away. But let me tell you a secret -- once you master the basics...the rest is just details. All those "crazy" designs you see were made just one step at a time. Learn the basic steps first. MASTER THEM and everything else will start falling into place.



It's YOUR TURN -- What do you think? 

If you could go back in time to when you first started decorating cookies -- what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

Join the discussion in the comments below or on the LilaLoa Facebook page.