WINNER: Blue Ribbon
2017 Denver County Fair
Amy Warden's Rustic Soap Challenge appears deceptively simple: Create a soap with texture, incorporating some form of the Hot Process (HP) soap-making technique. To mix it up a bit from past soap challenges, the soap wrapping would be relevant - a package deal (get it?).
#trueconfession: I'm a Cold Process (CP) Snob for a reason: CP has more potential for controlling the trace (viscosity) of raw soap, hence endless potential for fancy-schmancy-ness. HP soap's oatmeal-like consistency offers more limited design choices. I'm in it for the art, friends - we know this.
Yet HP intrigued me. One big plus? The HP process "cooks" out moisture, hence, needs a much shorter cure time. Cure refers to the typical 4 - 6 week period required for excess water evaporation from Cold Process soap, which hardens/finishes off the bars. This is why you'll find racks of soap perpetually airing in my space (unsurprisingly, my space smells very nice).
Another plus: HP requires far less quantities of essential oils than CP, as scents aren't added to HP soap until after "cook" (the period of heating/stirring which causes excess moisture to evaporate, resulting in the aforementioned oatmeal consistency). As essential oils tend toward the pricier end of ingredients - and I don't use synthetic fragrance for scenting my products - the savings for a bulk soap maker can be significant.
The REAL challenge for me - beyond an unfamiliar technique - was making my soap interesting without relying on a hoopla of swirls, bulls eyes, and obsessive flourishes. The design parameters required took me in a different direction, conceptually.
The result is Ogres Have Layers: I'll first explain the background/influences behind the concept, as well as my process.
Background: These last few months since the election have found me wearying of the prevailing, media-fanned vibe around the divide between "us" and "them." This was my head space as I viewed Amy's demo videos for this challenge. I was struck at her combination of CP/HP techniques in her soap design to create interesting layers. CP + HP together? Whoa - the possibilities of us all getting along!
This led to pondering the whole concept of "layers," which then, naturally led to the "Ogres Have Layers" line from the original Shrek movie (or is this just how my mind works)? Shrek was judged on the outside as being rough and abrasive - an "other" - yet after getting to know him more deeply throughout the movie, it became obvious that on the inside, he was a softy. An easy trap - judging each other on our outside identities, politics, social class, education, ethnic backgrounds, and preferences of CP over HP. But inside we've more in common than we don't. We all have layers.
Process: I imagined this soap as a character, inspired by the idea of viewing others that we find "different" as Ogres. Ogres Have Layers reminds us that we're all complex - some parts of us seem more abrasive, others are smoother and softer. Since I viewed this soap as a character, I wanted a vertical soap, so adapted a small box for the purpose.
I used a base oil mix of coconut, olive oil, lard + avocado oils, scented with an herbal/ woodsy mix of cedarwood, lavender, cypress, and ylang ylang essential oils (EOs).
The bottom, "abrasive" layer (character's pants) was colored with cocoa powder mixed with ground coffee. I used some soap chips for the belt, to give some variety to the top edge of the layer, then covered the chips with the remaining brown soap.
The second layer - also CP - was the uncolored base soap with added calendula petals - this represented the shirt as well as a "softer" layer - calendula is known for skin soothing properties (more symbolic than therapeutic).
The HP layer would be third, colored with nettle-leaf powder before being cooked in the microwave. This layer contained no added botanicals or exfoliants as the HP process itself would provide enough texture for a rustic look.
Amy's video helpfully demonstrated the microwave HP process, but for those of us accustomed to CP techniques, it was an odd way to work. There are numerous stages of the HP cook - first, an alarming, separating "applesauce" stage (R), progressing toward a more unified "mashed potato" stage, then finally resulting in the "oatmeal" texture as the soap continued to evaporate moisture. The food analogies helped me visualize the stages, though at no point was I tempted to eat this.
After a whole lot of stirring and stick blending until the soap simply became too thick, I judged it ready to add to the mold. I wasn't concerned about having this soap break through the lighter layer (appearing as a ragged, rustic shirt collar), but the raw soap itself was so...gloppy...that I wasn't sure if I'd end up with air pocket holes in the green layer.
Thankfully, it seemed to work out OK. Here's what the un-molded soap ended up looking like (L)
Here's the soap cut into bars. Whew - no gaping air holes!
Since the design was meant to imply an ogre-like figure, I used a plain stamp to suggest a face, then added mica to the stamp to stand out more. You can compare them to the unstamped bar (L).
Next came the second part of the challenge - the rustic packaging. The requirements stated that the soap design had to be as visible as possible, so no covering more of the soap than was necessary.
Ultimately, small pieces of leftover material and cord got fashioned into a little "vest," while the label grew out of leftover art paper from other product wrappers. I attached the label w/twine to the side of the vest.
While the creative process was great fun in this challenge, I'm on the fence re: Hot Process soap making - my hand was sore for days from all the stirring. Yes, I'm a stirring wimp. I say this without shame.
Ironically, I still have to wait for this soap to cure for a couple of weeks before I can try it - remember, the bottom two layers are still CP - only the green section is HP. Yep - back to cure time. In soap, as in life, we must make allowances for each other. This is part of getting along. We accept our layers.
Still - who knew that I'd have such fun dressing up soap bars in little vests?!?
What 'cha think? Would love feedback on this project, general questions/comments or, if you're part of this month's challenge, let me know what your entry was in the comments (below).
Big thanks, Amy, for inspiring me to once again stretch my technique knowledge - Great fun!
Peace out -
(Update: Ogres Have Layers won the first place Blue Ribbon in July, 2017 at the Denver County Fair, Soaps and Lotions category)