For more questions about being a soapmaker.....
Carol, The Soapmaker
How did you start making soap?
I was inspired to try making soap back in the early 1990's when someone I once knew ordered some "handmade soap" for me through a magazine article and it ended up being the first soap I'd used that did not cause my skin problems! It was a "ta-da" moment! I pursued making soap to accommodate my own very sensitive skin needs. As I studied and unveiled "back-to-basics" simplicity, I learned why modern day soaps ("detergent bars") caused me unexplainable and seemingly untreatable skin problems for years. I thought my skin problems were genetic, but it turned out the REAL problem was products I was using ON my skin!
How do you know what you're making is really better for your skin?
From personal experience and customer feedback. I always was terribly confused trying to read soap wrappers from products labeled "natural" or "pure", or even recommended by dermatologists, but they had either no ingredients listed, partial ingredients listed, or had complicated chemical mumbo-jumbo names that I didn't know the meaning of. When I did some research and found out exactly what those names translated to, I was pretty surprised that manufacturers get away with labeling their soap "all-natural" or "pure" when it's often not nearly at all! I wondered why stuff like ethanol alcohol was needed in soap. I tend to come from the school-of-thought that "things needn't be so complicated"...closest to "as found in nature" is best. You need to be a self-educated sleuth (or make soap yourself) to find true purity! And no...chemicals and harsh additives are not needed to get clean. If it took me learning to make soap myself to control what went into what I used on my skin, then I was ready to go that route!
Anyway, I knew I needed simple, knew I needed pure. I also knew I couldn't be alone.....
How does one embark into making soap?
Soapmaking was not always an easy craft to learn though! When I began my study of it in the early '90's, the internet was just coming into existence and not nearly as chockful of soapmaking info. as it is now. Finding soapmaking books then was like searching for the Holy Grail! I had to special-order How-To books from Europe! And if I was lucky enough to find another soapmaker whose brain I tried to pick, I quickly learned that asking another soapmaker for their recipe is the same as asking for the Holy Grail...a big no-no! So I realized then and there that lots of trial and error was going to be involved in this little chemistry project I was taking on!
Initially, I spent over a year, studying, experimenting, and perfecting soap recipes, ...recipes that met my own picky criteria for: 1) being soothing, 2) creamy texture, 3) incredible lather, 4) rinsing CLEAN, 5) not making me itch or break-out, 6) staying firm to the last sliver, 7) and smelling divine! My background in nursing, a love of herbal gardening and art, a fascination with and desire to use natural plant ingredients, as well as a return to simple methods reminiscent of the ancients....I found myself combining all of my skills and instinctively turning to Wise Woman ways to create soap that worked for my skin. Initially I made so many trial batches that I had to give soap away because my family and I couldn't possibly use it all! Our house looked like a soap farm--it was EVERYWHERE! People we gave it to beginning one Christmas after I'd been making soap over a year, kept coming back, asking to "buy" more! Voila, a business was born! But I never wish to minimize or make a business seem THAT easy to start. It's a lot of hard work and important to be a good business person as well as a good soapmaker!
(And by the way, it's much easier nowadays to obtain soapmaking info. and books! A simple online search for "soapmaking" will yield you a wealth of information and soapmaking online communities! But one thing hasn't changed---usually no book, and no soapmaker worth their salt will just "give" you their hard-earned "best" recipe. But most published recipes are great starting points to begin at! I also never recommend any new soapmaker begin "selling" their soap until they have at least a year of solid soapmaking experience under their belt.)
What's your set-up like and how did it become a business?
Simply Soap is green manufactured just ten steps out our backdoor, where we use many organic botanicals we grow ourselves. I live and work here with my husband (my three children are grown and off on their own now or in college). I'm pleased and proud to be crafting a cruelty-free, Earth-friendly product. Bathing rituals are an opportunity to reconnect with the beauty and simplicity of nature, luxuriate & re-center your mind. Hence, the message I put on all of my soap labels:
"May you never lose the sense of harmony obtainable through rituals as simple as bathing. Make the ordinary extraordinary; add richness to everyday traditions!
So that's how the soap company evolved! I continually experiment, seeking out new ingredients and special purpose formulas based on customer feedback and requests. I love making soap...it's a passion! A "great day" to me is one where I can spend it experimenting with my many jars and bottles of oils, herbs, and botanicals, concocting to my heart's content! My family affectionately refers to me as either "The Mad Scientist" or "The Soap Witch"!...(I'm probably a bit of both!) We sell Simply Soap to retail and wholesale clients globally via our website, meeting the most interesting folks from all walks of life! We all seem to have at least two things in common; we like to be clean ...simply clean, and re-connect with nature!
Can I come tour your workshop or buy from you there?
Sorry, no. As a home-based business, we are not zoned for, nor insured for commercial traffic; our web site IS our storefront, so all orders are shipped out from us.
We are NOT able to accommodate drop-by shopping or tours.
Crafting premium handmade soaps for you is my business, but it's first my pleasure! I really have fun going to work every day! I invite YOU to try Simply Soap! Come feel the immediate difference & enjoy a pleasurable experience with YOUR bathing rituals! We always appreciate feedback and suggestions!
Carol, The Artist
Things move me...ideas, visions, imagination, flashes in the corner of my eye...and I feel compelled to transcribe them onto paper. I guess you could say I see paintbrushes as magic wands! When discussing something with me that perhaps makes no sense to you, it's expectable that you'll hear me say "Well, in MY world that's how it is!" And so it is. Art is something I "feel" first, and try to technically implement second. While some actively question the usefulness of fantasy, to me it's as real a thing I feel & need to do, as a doctor needs to heal others, a carpenter needs to build, a writer needs to write, or a pilot needs to fly. It just *is*.
My magic-of-choice is watercolor, acrylics, pen & ink, colored pencils and pastels . Self-taught in art, I've dabbled in several genres since childhood. With a lifelong fascination with legend, myth, nature, and the whimsical, when asked "Why fantasy art?", I instinctually connect with things enchanted, and deep forest-y places...I've also never really grown up. So it's my closest compulsion to paint enchanted realms & beings, and if it happens to charm you too, then I've shared a bit of magic that I hope puts a sparkle in your eye, recalls your own childhood, or places of possibility!
Did you go to school for art?
As for the technical part of art, I've always been the kind of student who learns best by actually doing it, not just being lectured or instructed. Most of what I've learned is through simply mimicing what I've seen in real life, trying to capture things like the sun filtering through leaves in as close a manner as I can, through *my eye*. I've also learned art through studying art books or YouTube tutorials, analyzing art through it's many steps to build-up back to forward, and as a child, first began first trying to re-create beautiful picture book illustrations, even selling them at our lemonade stands. Then later, I did many pastel still lifes & landscapes, ... pencil drawings of horses became a focus when I owned my own....my muses changing over the years. I consider my art a work-in-progress, but can't imagine ever being fully satisfied with my skill level. But one must be brave enough to start somewhere to know how far you've come later, rrright?
What inspires you?
As for fantasy art, an early childhood memory of mine, is glimpsing a faery, crrrazy as it sounds! I spied it near my dream-spot, a blossoming cherry tree ...proof positive (to me)--tHeY DO eXiSt! Never to give up the hunt, I returned to that tree, pickle jar in-hand, hell-bent on recapturing that meeting. And I DID.....at least in drawings! This cherished memory would later re-visit...
I was born in Rochester (upstate) New York, near Lake Ontario, a couple of blocks from the beach. My parents believed in making the most of weekends, so our family of six grew up doing a lot of camping, visiting all the beautiful natural wonders of the area -- especially The Thousand Islands, St. Lawrence & Hudson River areas, Finger Lakes; I'm sure that's how my affinity for forests and places where enchanted folk live, began. I well-remember losing myself in the woods and acting out Little Red Riding Hood, or Hansel & Gretel. For me, the forest literally reverberated with voices & whispers...and called to me in a "you belong here" sort of way. This same "calling" has existed my entire life....as well as a desire to paint what I see.
Anne Sudworth, Brian Froud, and Alan Lee are artist influences. The fantasy art-bug reawakened in me while reading Anne's beautiful book "Enchanted World", ...and Brian and Alan's much-loved book collaboration, "Faeries", with my own children. My faery-sighting memory returned with striking clarity conjuring up all the magical feelings that carried me through childhood. In 1994, drawing a subsequent sketch of my tiny daughter, it became *POOF!* a faery portrait! An art spell apparently bewitched me and I've been painting fantasy ever since with a focus on the faery realm--fairies as you'd catch them in their own natural, wild habitats!
How & why did you start selling art?
I'd always been just a paint-for-my-own-enjoyment artist, didn't even attempt to sell my art until 2004, at the ripe old age of 46. It moreless came about at the encouragement of soap clients of mine for whom I'd created some custom-painted soap labels with a very favorable response ...and ...with my own brain-stormy entrepreneurship-tendencies, and fully aware of the wonders of the internet through success I'd already had in my soap business .....I decided ...Why not? I'll put up a website, post a few art pieces, and see what happens! I've been selling art ever since, my art has appeared in several magazines, two books, and involved in some licensing projects. I hope to devote more time to art in the future!
Carol, The Fiber Artist:
I grew up in a family with women who all seemed to know some or all textile arts, whether it was sewing, quilting, embroidering, knitting, crocheting, etc. I learned them all and it was very natural for me to have some project always going. As I got older and began working a lot, I stopped doing some of these things as much, but then came back to it again later on, as well as learned to handspin yarn.
What's your everyday life like?
I live with my guitarist and contractor business-owner husband who makes me laugh incredibly hard every day, and a large pet-family, in San Diego, in a cottage surrounded by fairy-filled gardens. My three children are grown and we remain a very close family! Our oldest son Christopher lives in the Seattle area and is a paralegal for Microsoft and is also attending night school to become a graphic artist. Middle child Nick works as a carpenter and is also guitarist in his own band. And baby-of-the-family, Stephanie, is a professional soccer player, playing in the NWSL during the USA women's soccer season, and for Australia in the off-season. I feel very lucky to have both a soap workshop and an art studio to play in, so I can conjure & work from home. I welcome you to visit our virtual photo tour of both!
Do you give back to the community?
I very much DO believe in giving-back, if one can afford to do so and enjoys any measure of success. I choose to support local charities/organizations (soap donations) that assist battered women, the homeless, the military, ...and a favorite project (with art) is creating and donating coloring sheets for young patients at a local children's hospital to color and "be an artist" while they cope with their illness & recovery. I encourage other artists to explore ways to give, if you can! Check out this link to find a Children's Hospital near you...nothing in this world, of course, is brighter or more beautiful than a child's smile or laugh!
I receive a LOT of requests each day for charitable donations...but unfortunately cannot contribute to all (sorry!). I have chosen to remain loyal to the local charities I can maintain an on-going verifiable relationship with...so thanks for your requests, and I wish you well, but I'm presently at my contribution limit.
I've always been personally fascinated with people's "creative spaces", where they go to unleash their imaginings! And apparently I'm not alone, because many have asked me what my studio looks like....so here it is below! I'm just as likely to be found on my back patio, curled up in an old rocker, or at the picnic table sketching ideas, or spinning fiber.
Thanks for visiting! ~Carol