Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Twenty Questions with Sue of Not For Spot!

I discovered today's Twenty Question's interviewee with the Etsy pounce tool and I know you'll get a kick out of her incredible cookie art too. Sue makes beautiful confectionery versions of 70 breeds of dogs. Each "litter" arrives beautifully packaged in a cellophane bag with a ribbon bow. Let's find out more about her love of cookies and canines and how she combined the two with Not for Spot!

Miss B: First off, tell us a little about you! What is the best thing about life in your part of New York?

Sue: I am a happy sugar artist, which combines my love of sweet things and my need to express myself artistically. My work pretty much reflects my realistic nature. I try to recreate what my eyes see as honestly as possible. The "wow" factor I strive for is for people to say "she nailed it!" or "the colors are perfect!". At times it is a bit challenging on a small cookie, but I work hard to try to get it all right.

Buffalo is known for long, brutal winters and bleak, gray skies, but I have an opportunity to set the record straight! Western New York does have some cold weather, that's for sure, but we do enjoy four distinct seasons here. I love driving into northern Niagara county, where there is an abundance of fruit orchards-- offering apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries and grapes. The geography and weather is wonderful for grape growing, which in turn is great for wine-producing. How did I not mention Niagara Falls? The beauty and power of that place is majestic. I can be at the water's edge in minutes and get a refreshed perspective in my life.

Miss B: Do you have dogs of your own?

Sue: I do have a dog. He was born in a barn on a dairy farm, and although we were told he was part Border Collie, it's pretty hard to see that breed in him. He is speckled and mottled in black, white and gray, and he has ice-blue eyes. His name is Murf.

Miss B: Have you always been artistic?

Sue: Yes, I have always needed to express myself. As a child I drew a lot of pictures, and wrote stories. I hid most of my work though, never feeling anything was good enough. At 19 I went to a photography school in New York City, and began a life in that direction. Although I had a good eye for composition, my lack of confidence kept me from pursuing a career in that field. After many years of colorful jobs, I picked up a pastry bag. I was instantly reinvented.

Miss B: Which is your first love, pastry artistry or pooches?

Sue: My first love is definitely pooches! I have always been a dog lover. I am of the "Lassie" generation. I will even publicly admit that there was a time in my life when I wanted to BE a dog! When my little cousins came to visit and we played "house", I sat in the corner and panted, barked, and ALWAYS begged for the part of the dog.

As I got older, when all the girls in my neighborhood were dressing their Barbie dolls, I was studying "The Big Book of Dogs", my most treasured possession. I knew every breed, and actually assumed everyone did. "Come on, it's a Shipperke! ...You, know, black, with pointy ears and no tail!...How can you not know that?" I would get so frustrated with the lack of knowledge around me.

Miss B: Your website describes fourteen years of experience as a pastry artist and cake designer! Tell us about the creations you make. What was your most elaborate confection?

Sue: I am still currently working in a very creative, upscale bakery. My cake-pals are amazing people, and their dedication is very inspiring. Several of my favorite projects included recreating a window from Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin house on a wedding cake, and a Taj Mahal birthday cake. My most elaborate confection was a birthday cake for the curator of the Albright Knox Art Gallery, a very realistic portrayal of the 1890 building, which is a beautiful landmark.

Miss B: What inspired you to begin Not for Spot?

Sue: I have always enjoyed making cut-out cookies, first with my mother when I was a child, in preparation for the Christmas season, and then as a mother myself, with my own children. I became bored with the usual holiday shapes, so I added several animal cutters to our repertoire. The dog cookies seemed to be favorites, so I began trying to find different cutters to add to our holiday mix. A simple wish, "wouldn't it be cool to JUST make dog cookies?", spoken to my cousin, Guy, and here I am now! A dog-lover himself, Guy became my business partner, and he has turned my whimsical wish into my new life.

Miss B: Your shop says you can make a cookie version of 70 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. (There are more than 150 different kinds of dogs recognized by the AKC!) Are there any breeds you haven’t done yet?

Sue: At the present, I can do about 70 breeds. I have a few more in the works, but until I figure out the lines and colors that define the breed I'm trying to refine, those cookies are just snacks for my family! Sometimes I think they are super critical just so they can eat them...

Miss B: Which breed is your best seller?

Sue: I am very surprised at the popularity of the Chihuahua! A close second is the Beagle. Although they are not popular by most standards, I can do the Dandie Dinmont Terrier and the Bouvier des Flanders as well.

Miss B: Walk us through the process of making these little tiny works of art.

Sue: After the dough is made and chilled, I roll it out using my mother's wooden rolling pin. It is at least fifty years old. That is a personal, nostalgic comfort for me, every time. After baking, each cookie is iced by hand with a pastry brush and a warmed vanilla dip icing. After setting for an hour, each cookie is "cleaned"; that is, gone over with a small knife, to remove any drips. Then, some are airbrushed to give realistic detail, like the black saddle pattern on the Beagle or the brown/black colors on the Alaskan Malamute. Next come the eyes, for I can't bring myself to work on my pups without their faces looking at me! I add lines, texture, and features with warmed colored icing in a pastry bag, and then they are set aside to rest and dry.

Miss B: Do you begin with sketches? Do you create your own cookie cutters?

Sue: Sketches? No way! My little sugar cookie is my canvas! As I mentioned earlier, my family likes to eat what I deem unacceptable. If I squeezed the pastry bag a little too hard and a Bichon Frise's nose comes out as a black blob, he is consumed by my son or daughter. So far, I haven't ventured into the arena of cookie cutter making, but I know that is next, for what is available on the market is somewhat limiting.

Miss B: Do you participate in fairs or shows? If so, what is your favorite part of the experience?

Sue: We have participated in several local dog shows as vendors. There is great anticipation and excitement in being around hundreds and hundreds of dog people at once. The compliments are very flattering, and constructive criticism is sometimes helpful as well. I always bring my camera, and my favorite part of the dog show experience is getting wonderful photos in the ring, and candid shots of the dogs acting like regular pets as they are led around, outside of the ring. It's all good to me, and I get to study some breeds that I usually only see in books.

Miss B: What do you wish you had known before you got started? What advice do you have to people starting their own creative small businesses?

Sue: I wish I would have known the length of time it really takes to get a business off the ground. Long hours and sleepless nights don't really have anything to do with success. I am proud of my little cookies, and despite the time it has taken to get everything in order, there were no compromises that needed to be made. My advice to people wanting to create their own businesses is this: LOVE what you do, or don't do it. Your product needs to fit into your life without being work. Many folks may offer advice and have helpful ideas, but stay on your path and be true to yourself. I believe people can recognize what is created with love. Money is secondary to sharing something you've created with your hands.

Thank you so much Sue for taking us behind the scenes. I love your whimsical treats- and I can attest that they taste as wonderful as they look!


n a t s u m i said...

I love dogs!! These are so adorable and beautiful!

ps. I've tagged you! Please check it out! ox

Ellen said...

As a veterinarian's wife who sits up until all hours of the morning watching the big dog shows on TV, I have to say that I'm blown away by the personality that comes through Sue's little doggie cookies. I don't think I could ever sink my teeth into any of them however, I'd just line them up on my kitchen window sill where I could love them every day! Ellen

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