Thursday, February 28, 2013

Finding Inspiration Everywhere

Inspiration is a complicated creature. It can be striking, flighty, or seemingly gone.

When inspired, you may experience the light, happy feeling of creative spark. Or you may be thunderstruck by an idea and unable to concentrate on much else.

When uninspired, you may feel anxious and search restlessly for something to set your imagination afire. Or you may feel sad and empty, hoping that the muse finds you soon.

Sometimes inspiration is fleeting, like something you can feel brushing your palm but can never quite grasp. Sometimes inspiration seems nowhere to be found.

Other times inspiration is so abundant that it is difficult to take it all in. You may find yourself overwhelmed with ideas and scribbling furiously in a notebook to keep track of all of the brilliance unfolding around you. Such inspiration is beautiful, but rare.

Sometimes inspiration surprises you. Sometimes you have to go looking for it.

Inspiration is everywhere. That's the great news. If you look for it, you'll see it in a guest bedroom, on a store shelf, and even on the floor.

For the past few weeks, I've been taking photos of objects here and there that I think can inspire my soapmaking. I saw a cluster of candles on the nightstand at my mom and dad's house and thought, "I wonder if I could recreate those layers for a pretty autumn soap?" I saw vases, jars, storage boxes, and potholders while I was out shopping and the designs made me think of gradient layers, spoon swirls, and impressionist swirls. One night I happened to look down at the carpet of a casino and was struck by the thought that its pattern would look gorgeous as droplet swirls.

Here are those photos of everyday items that have inspired me:

Inspiration for layered soaps ...

Gradient layers ...

Spoon swirls ...

Impressionist swirls ...

... And droplet (or teardrop) swirls.
If I find myself needing an idea for a new project, I can refer back to these photos and hopefully feel a surge of creativity.

So make it a point to seek out inspiration wherever you go. Write it down when you find it. Or take photos. Sometimes it is difficult to capture inspiration in a photograph. Sometimes a photo will reveal much more than you remember seeing. Other times you'll just look like a weirdo snapping pictures of the floor. But it's always good to look for beauty in the world.

Where do you find inspiration, my soapy friends?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Soap: Roses and Champagne

My Valentine's Day soap
Happy Valentine's Day!

When I was little, Valentine's Day meant classroom parties where we all gave each other cards, made heart-shaped arts and crafts, played games, and ate cupcakes that someone's mom brought in. Everybody was in on the fun and nobody was left out. We were like tiny hippies - peace, love, and candy for everybody! And if your crush was in your class, you got a Valentine from them since everybody gave Valentines to everybody. I remember in fifth grade the guy I liked was in my class and I cherished the Valentine from him, even though everyone else in the classroom probably got the same card. Those were good times. And my mom and dad always got me a box of Valentine's candy, too. I'm talking a Whitman's double-decker or a sampler from the candy/nut shop in the mall. You know, the good stuff.

As I got older, Valentine's Day became increasingly disappointing, as many things do. Once I got to middle school, there were no more classroom parties. No more Valentines from your crush just because he was in your class. No more love for all, all for love. It was suddenly a dog-eat-dog world, and only couples were in on the Valentine's Day fun. Single and want a Valentine's cupcake? You'd better bake it yourself because nobody's momma was gonna show up and give you one. Want a long-stemmed rose or even just a Valentine's card? Better find yourself a boyfriend or girlfriend. Want someone to serenade you? Well, the glee club sold singing telegrams, but chances were good that you weren't going to get one unless you sent one to yourself, which would be very sad.

High school was more of the same. It seemed that the Valentine's Day festivities ended in elementary school.

I quickly became cynical beyond my years, which probably didn't help my chances of getting a singing telegram. I told myself that I didn't care, that the whole Valentine's thing was stupid. That it was a scam, just a corporate gimmick to make people spend money. Although part of me did still wish that what's-his-name would finally come to his senses and give me a stuffed gorilla holding a heart that said "Hot Stuff" on it or something. Thank goodness I could count on my folks for a box of candy. That I did care about.

Once I became an adult and finally found a significant other, I liked Valentine's Day a lot more. Now it means roses, some sweet treats, a nice dinner, and spending time with my sweetie. It means taking to time to reflect on the love you share with someone else, although I think it's good to do that everyday anyway.

Melt-and-pour heart embeds, made with a silicone ice cube tray.
When I started thinking about making a Valentine's Day soap, I thought of roses.I had originally planned to use a Sensuous Black Rose fragrance oil on its own, but then I remembered that I had a bottle of Champagne fragrance oil, too. Why not put them together? After all, roses and champagne go together like soap and water.

And because this is a special soap made with love, I got a little ambitious. It had been a very long time since I had played with melt-and-pour soap (almost two years!), so I decided to make some cute little M&P hearts to embed on the top of my loaf. And then it occurred to be that I could also add a mica line. And then it occurred to me that I could add TWO mica lines! And I would also try to master textured tops, which has been my Achilles heel in cold process soapmaking.

Here is a video of the making of my "Roses & Champagne" Valentine's Day soap:

I started out by making my heart embeds by melting some clear M&P soap base in the microwave. (It's best to chop up the soap into chunks so that it melts faster and more evenly. Also, take care not to scorch the soap - nuke it in short 30-second bursts until just melted.) Bramble Berry's Merlot sparkle mica gave my hearts a perfect deep, shimmery red. I mixed the mica with a bit of rubbing alcohol to break up any clumps and then I added it to my melted soap base. For my mold, I used a cute silicone ice cube tray that I found in the dollar bins at Target. After pouring the soap into the molds, I spritzed it with rubbing alcohol to burst any air bubbles, and then popped the soap into the fridge to set up.

Then I moved on to making my cold process soap. For this batch, I used olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, castor oil, and cocoa butter. Because I was planning to put M&P embeds on top of my soap, I wanted to avoid gel phase. During gel phase, the soap heats up and becomes gelatinous as it saponifies. I was afraid that that kind of heat could melt my M&P hearts, so I decided to avoid gel phase for this particular batch. I kept my temps cool, partly to keep the soap from heating up too quickly and partly because I was using a new floral fragrance oil and wanted to avoid any acceleration issues. (Florals are notorious for accelerating and seizing. I am happy to report that the rose fragrance oil did very well. I used only half of what I normally would have, since I mixed it with equal parts Champagne FO, and I did use full water. The soap traced quickly, but never became unmanageable. I brought it to a medium-thick trace and it remained very workable for the entire soaping session.) I usually soap around 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, but I let my oils and lye cool to about 90 degrees this time.

I added my fragrance oil combination to my cooled oils along with some sodium lactate (1 Tbsp for 32 oz. oils) and titanium dioxide. The sodium lactate helps create a harder bar, and the titanium dioxide whitens the soap. I stickblended to evenly disperse the titanium dioxide and then added my lye water. It didn't take long for the soap to reach trace, and once it did, I poured off 1 1/2 cups of soap, colored it with ultramarine pink oxide, and set it aside for later.

For my mica lines, I used some more of the Merlot sparkle mica. I poured about half of my white soap into my plastic loaf mold (which I had placed in the freezer beforehand) once the soap reached medium-thick trace. Then I used a tea strainer to tap out a line of mica that just barely covered the surface of the soap. (Too thick of a mica dusting may cause the soap to separate, so be careful not to overdo it. And remember to wipe the sides of your mold clean after dusting a mica line.) I had seen this video by Soaping101 and loved how Catherine made a double mica line in her soap. I wanted to try that, too. So I spooned some of my pink soap on top of the first mica line (being careful not to disturb it), keeping the pink soap on one side of the mold and reserving a small amount for later. Then I dusted a second mica line over just the pink soap, and then spooned the rest of my white soap on top of that. I drizzled the remaining pink soap on top of the white and texturized the tops. (To make texturizing easier, I popped the soap into the fridge for about 10-15 minutes to let it set up a bit.) Finally, I stuck my M&P heart embeds into the soap and then placed the mold in the freezer overnight.

I unmolded the soap the next day and let it sit for about four days before cutting it. The soap did sweat a little bit the first day or so due to condensation, but it dried out as it sat.

A couple of things to remember: Ungelled soap can zap for a few days longer than gelled soap because the saponification process is slowed. Ungelled soap can also be soft initially, too. When I cut the soap, it was still soft and my mica lines dragged a bit, even though I turned the soap onto its side to cut it. Fortunately, I was able to smooth away the mica smudges with my finger. A few days later, the bars were starting to harden up nicely.

The scent is lovely and perfect for Valentine's Day - a bit flowery, a bit bubbly. Definitely celebratory!

So happy Valentine's Day, everybody! I wish you all a lovely day of roses, champagne, and soap!