Here's my entry for the GreatCakes May Soap Challenge:
I really entered the GreatCakes Challenge just for, well....the challenge! I realized that if I am to continue to be happy with the soaps I produce, I was going to have to learn and grow in many areas: in working with soap colors and the colorants that produce them, understanding batter behavior, becoming acquainted with fragrances, and so much more. I needed to learn how to set a goal, how to plan each step in reaching the goal, and then follow through by not being afraid to try (and fail!)
My biggest challenge was, and probably always will be, color. Like most people, I know what I like when I see it. Duh! But I really don't have a clue about how to reproduce the colors in a design I like by mixing them, let alone how to put them into the soap batter when (if!) I've accidentally mixed a color that looks right.
But I had to start somewhere, and this is what I saw that I liked:
Yep, that's right, it's a log! From our woodpile, no less. It had all the colors I wanted to try to get into the soap. And I wanted the teardrop to give the impression of what it looks like when a branch on a tree trunk "drops in" from the side to form a knot. Here's a very rough and ragged example of that from another log from the woodpile:
Also, for the sidepours of the teardrop, I wanted to incorporate all the lighter colors in a swirl to at least give the feeling --- if not the actual appearance---of the swirls of a wood burl, like this:
So here's my sketchup of the plan:
As you can see, I had my color wheel out, and was beginning to study on how to achieve the colors I wanted. It would have been nice, I thought, if I could figure out how to make the side pours in layers like the sketch, but I knew that the batter wouldn't behave that way as it poured. So I compromised with trying for a mottled burl effect.
The first thing I discovered when I went to my stash of mostly sample colorants was that I had no dark brown at all, and was going to have to improvise by mixing reds and yellows and black. Oh no.
I couldn't face the prospect of mixing colorants, so my first attempt at the soap was a great big fail, because I tried to make finely ground coffee crystals work. They make such a lovely rich brown when mixed in a tiny amount of water! But alas, they also had the effect of immediately turning Amy's fine slow-moving batter recipe into a thick pudding. It plopped onto the poured teardrop base in thick droplets that refused to spread out when the other colors got poured on top of it. I won't bore you with pictures!
So I regrouped, went back to the micas that were patiently waiting for me to discover them, and went to work. Here's the result of a little mixing and finger-painting:
I finally felt that I had something to work with, and so I went ahead and prepared another batch of Amy's slow-mover (which is so forgiving, if you take your time to find the "goldilocks" point). I chose essential oils of bergamot, tea tree and litsea to try to avoid acceleration, while also giving a fresh, somewhat manly scent. This time I also made quite a bit of extra batter so I wouldn't feel constrained by amounts as I mixed the different batches of color.
One dilemma that I knew was coming, was how to get that "burl" effect into the side pours. This had me stumped, but I decided my best hope for it was to pour them on top of each other into the two pouring cups and swirl them a little bit with a skewer.
I didn't get actual pictures as I was pouring the loaf, because I was way too focused to stop and think that maybe that would be a good idea! But I will tell you that I thanked Amy a thousand times over for her wonderful recipe that gave me so much latitude as I poured. The base and side pours required that I pour with little circular motions to keep the swirled batter from going in as straight horizontal lines, which would have been lost in the cut. Also, those circular motions had to be ever-so-slight on the side pour so as not to distort the teardrop.
The micas I used for the darkest brown did cause the batter to start to thicken up, and it was the first color I chose for the teardrop, which is key, if you want that first color to spread out and border the whole teardrop.
What the thickened dark brown did allow, however, was for me to put a dark layer on top and texture it to simulate bark. Before I spooned that on, I spooned a layer of reddish brown, which is just under the outer layer of bark in many trees (you can just barely see it in the rough log above). The dark brown itself was quite heavy, and I could tell it was sinking into the layer below more than I would have liked.
Here's the finished soap in the mold. I accidentally pulled up some of the reddish brown as I was texturing the top, decided that I liked it, and then added it into more of the bark top:
The next morning, my loaf was hard enough to cut, and after releasing it from the mold, the endpiece looked promising:
But the rest of the bars were somewhat disappointing, as you can see from my entry photo. I would have like for the top of the teardrop to have extended all the way up into the bark, and for the top two solid layers to be more even across. But what a nice surprise to have achieved the colors that I wanted! And I am not at all disappointed in the mottled burl effect of the side pours. This, for me, was the happy result of the challenge: gaining the confidence to work with colorants, and the benefit of taking the time to experiment with them.
Thank you Amy for the great tool this monthly challenge is to us all! And the recipe you suggested is a huge bonus. It provided plenty of time to work with, it sets up fast without additives or fiddling, and it lathers up nicely, even fresh from the cut.
Happy soaping, everyone!