Monday, October 29, 2007

Interview with Soap Maker, Paula Kates AND a FREE soap giveaway!!!

I recently interviewed Paula Kates from I’ve personally seen Paula’s work and sampled the end product. Without reservation, I recommend her soaps as gifts for holiday gift giving. In fact, I’ll be placing my holiday order with her very soon.

I hope you take time to read the interview as it provides some great soaping tips.

Also, be sure to register for GoPlanetEarth’s FREE soap giveaway (a $42.00 value AND we pay shipping). One lucky winner will receive (6) decorative and deliciously fragranced soaps handcrafted by Paula using Mold Market molds. Winner’s name will be posted November 15, 2007 on Denise’s Yadda Yadda blog.

*CLICK HERE to register for the soap giveaway (no purchase necessary).


Denise: What prompted your interest in melt and pour soap making?

Paula: My partner Jan has always been a lover of the highest quality exotic soaps from around the world (which is pretty neat since he competes in strongman competitions, you know where they pull airplanes, carry refrigerators and lift cars etc.) So up until 2003 we were buying fancy soaps from a bunch of different places. Then one of my best friends who I play scrabble with almost daily told me how he was going to make M&P soaps for holiday gifts! It didn't phase me at first because I thought, right, he's an astrophysicist; I'm sure it won't seem difficult for him. Well after he showed me a picture of his first batch and I had to ask him all about it. He said it couldn't be easier and the clincher for me was when he said "clean up's a breeze!" I found that I could completely control the ingredients, fragrance and look of the soap. I was ready to sample and test bases, colorants and fragrances until I found ingredients that matched my desire to remain as close to nature as possible and for overall excellence.

Denise: When you make a bar of soap, it looks like a work of art. It’s truly amazing. How long did it take you to develop the technique you use for multiple colored pours?

Paula: I started just making plain slabs of solid colored quality soap with amazing fragrances then stamping a design on the top of each bar. Then every night I went to bed I'd think "I bet I could do x, y & z" then the next morning I'd try something like layering a soap with 3 colors. Then I'd go to be thinking if I can lay down 3 layers I could do 2 clear layers and anything I want in the middle (like I could stamp out soaps with cookie cutters and put a bear and a tree in the middle of clear layers). I always wanted the best so I wanted the image to last which embedding is perfect for. Then I started to find chocolate molds that I could paint and embed in the soap. At first, I tried soap paints but they were so frustrating to work with and the whole pot would turn to rock after 2-3 uses, anyway that wasn't the kind of stuff I really wanted to be putting in my soap. So I thought I'm using these basic pigments, mica's and clays to color the soap, why not try painting the soap embeds with a straight concentrated form of the pigments. Well it worked perfectly, however you need to lay down 3 layers of each color and dry for 3 days. LOTS of work, but really worth it for things like the Designer Easter egg embeds.

I then remembered seeing some super beautiful soap molds, the surface of which was 3D and if I could get colored soap in those depressions rather than a light coat of pigment on the surface they might hold their image longer. So I started experimenting with small little batches of colored & scented soaps (those that would compliment each other) and the real trick came in trying to figure out how to get the hair of a woman to be distinct from the color of her face. As soon as I knew it was possible I wasn't gonna stop 'til I'd found or made all the right tools to master this technique.

Denise: I know you teach workshops on advanced soap making skills. Are you willing to share a tip or two about working with multiple color pours?

Paula: Sure. I actually have a basic hand out I give to my students so they can avoid most of the disasters I've encountered through the years. For example: never pour a layer of M&P on a 2nd layer until it is fully set (hardened), then sprits the surface with rubbing alcohol or the layers will NOT bond (and who wants to spend hours making an American flag that falls apart when you pick it up)? If you are pouring a mold with a 3D surface, start filling in your colors the lowest depression. If you want a top color to look gold and you have darker colors to be poured on top of that gold, you must first add a thin layer of white to cover the gold after it's set or your gold will come out looking green. This is a rule anytime you want to retain a true color and keep it distinct from the additional layers.

Denise: Mold Market is a major USA mold producer. This company showcases many of your finished soaps. What top 3 Mold Market molds would you recommend for someone just learning melt and pour?

Paula: Good Question....GoPlanetEarth actually stocks the new
Starfish Mold. That would be ideal for just training the brain to pour one color carefully into the starfish (without over pouring) and then spritzing with alcohol immediately before the next layer/color is added. It's also good for learning how to clean up any over pours. If you've filled the starfish too full, don't worry, just let it harden and hold it to the light and trim any excess soap away from the starfish. It will look as good as if you never did the over pour.

Another mold that's good for beginners is the snowflake. The indentations for the snowflake aren't very deep so it requires learning another trick or two. Before you try to give the etchings of the snowflake their distinct color, spritz with alcohol. When you're using that little bit of soap you want to keep it free flowing into the crevices so spritz pour enough to fill the crevices of the design. Wait 'til those harden then take a plastic scraping tool (spatula) and gently scrape away until any over pour is cleaned up; spritz with alcohol and pour in the base color. Make sure your base color isn't too hot as to melt the thin layer of snowflake (I dip my pinkie into the base and if it's not too warm to hold my finger in there for 4 seconds it's not too warm to pour.)

The Water Conch would be my next suggestion. Those etchings are deeper but they are also at an angle so pouring the contrasting color into the edge design must be done with greater control. Over the years I've discovered and developed the perfect tools for doing all of this with the least amount of overflow and cleanup between layers. The kit is available on my web site.

Denise: What business advice and encouragement can you offer to someone just starting out in the soap making business?

Paula: Wow, if your aim is to make money and put food on the table. I can't suggest doing what I do. It can take hours just to make a dozen soaps. Don't get me wrong I LOVE it and would never do it any other way, but I also want the best ingredients and they cost and arm and a leg. You can make money making soap and you can do it with great ingredients, but then you're talking about being able to make batches of 2100 in a day rather than 18 in a day (which is about the most I can make in a day). Look into CP soap making and make sure you wouldn't rather do that and make a living. If you decide you want to do your soap PJ Soaps style, you can pay for your supplies but there isn't a lot left over. I know if I land a few B&B's as a base for regular income I will be able to do this for a living. But as of now, for me it's a beloved art driven by the will to master the art & craft.

Denise: You seem diligent about working with inorganic pigments such as mineral/oxides and ultramarines. What’s your voice about color choices?

Paula: I regard them as "closer to nature" in that they either originate from rock, minerals or clays or they are created to mimic same (although they have all been processed to remove impurities such as lead and other heavy metals). They also do NOT bleed which is essential for what I do. They don't stain hands, clothing or surfaces they all rinse off with water. They do have a drawback and that is you get a limited range of colors.

Denise: How long does it take you to handcraft a bar of soap… for example, the Christmas Candle Stick or Star Santa molds from the Mold Market collection?

Paula: With the proper tools I could make a batch of each (3&3) of the details in 2 hours, at which point they need to sit unmoved for another two hours and move to a cool place 'til they are ready to unmold 4ish hours later or often over night.

Denise: You recently took 1st place for the most artistic soap at the 2007 ISOCAN convention (Illinois soap and candle conference) using the Mold Market Bass mold. What a great honor. What are your thoughts on winning?

Paula: It really meant the world to me to be judged by people who actually make soap themselves and to win. M&P soaping hasn't really gotten a lot of respect over the years and understandably so, given how easy and almost fool-proof it is. But finding a top of the line soap base, colorants and FO's or EO's and then making an art of it is really fairly new. So my guess is that got me the award more than anything, bringing something new to the process.

Denise: Soap making is becoming increasingly competitive. What “how-to” suggestions or advice can you offer to new soap makers on marketing their business?

Paula: If you love and believe in your product and the ingredients you put in them, and would bathe your own sensitive skin baby in it with confidence, the sky is the limit. Seriously. I am not afraid to contact 5 star hotels or sell soaps to people with sensitive skin. All they have to do is try the product and it simply sells itself. Sometimes just the look or smell of the bar sells it, but that's the great irony. The quality of the soap is so high that it would a crime to have it sit there forever looking pretty and not be used. My suggestion to the shops I sell at is to tell customers to do what I do. I put a fancy bar on my sink for a few days until it stops looking fancy then it goes into the shower for the best shower EVER. I also remind the shops that the soaps have about a 1 year shelf life before they will start to lose their look. My soaps are very high in glycerine so they are very soft and can sweat in humidity. Just be upfront about all of it and try not to get lazy about posting positive feedback on your site. (I got busy and skipped a few months and have to go back and fill those in) .


Dave C said...

Wow, I never knew what time and detail it took to make these wonderful soaps.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I just stumbled upon your blog and read your interview with PJ. I read her posts on Southern Soapers all the time but never knew how long the soap took and how she started. :) Thanks so much for interviewing her. :)

Dawn M.