The Challenge

I haven’t posted anything in ages, but this has been an interesting process for me that I wanted to share. I recently joined the Soap Challenge Club, which is a monthly group contest that hopefully improves the participants’ soaping skills. That’s right. Soaping skills. A lot goes into making a bar of handmade soap, and many of the people who make soap are artists who use soap as a medium. I’m no artist. But I do take pride in a job well-done so would very much like to improve my skills. 

This month’s challenge is to create a landscape design using layers. I’m familiar with this concept and have used layers before, but not to create a landscape design. There are many designs out there with boats on water, a moon in the night sky, etc. and I wanted to try to do something different. 

I didn’t have any ideas. I really didn’t want anything too complex, since this will be the first time I’m participating in the monthly challenge, but nothing came to mind. I was sitting in the recliner watching TV in the evening with my husband, stewing over the fact that I wasn’t having any creative ideas. Over our TV on the wall is a series of three prints, and this is the middle one.

I’ve always liked this picture and it reminds me of the fun time I had out in San Francisco, biking across the bridge with my son, and my brother and his husband. Of course I decided that this was what I had to do for the challenge. Of course I couldn’t choose any other, easier, more doable design.

This is the picture that I drew of what I wanted the soap to look like. I knew it wouldn’t be easy because there would be multiple pours and I’d have to start with….THE BRIDGE. 

Since the bridge would have to be done ahead of time and would have to run through the entire loaf of soap, I started with that. I made a 2 pound loaf of orange red soap so that I’d have plenty to play with and covered it to gel overnight, hoping to get some really saturated color. The next day, I unwrapped and cut it.

I had decided I’d make another 2 pound loaf for the soap because any more would be too unwieldy. And I didn’t want to make it smaller. What if a one pound mold wasn’t enough and I couldn’t even get one good bar out of it? 2 pound mold for the win! 

I measured my oils and my lye water and let them sit for awhile to cool while I mixed the colors I had decided upon. The water, which was the bottom ⅕ of the loaf, would be Caribbean Blue mica mixed with just a smidge black oxide, with some bits and pieces of chopped soap that I had on hand. This would give the water a little texture and provide color variation. I had some purple, coral and white pieces that I mixed in last minute before pouring. I also added about ⅕ of the scent I used, which is Caribbean Day Spa by Rustic Escentuals. It was the closest scent I have to that wind and water feel I remember having at the bridge.

This was a pretty easy layer to pour since it was the first. I knew I was going to leave it alone for awhile to give it plenty of time to set because the towers of the bridge would have to be set on/in it. While the water was setting up, I took ⅖ of the oils and ⅖ of the lye water and mixed two batches separately, stick blending until they emulsified. For the mountain, I mixed green mica with some mint julep mica, and separately mixed some dark green so that I could do an in the pot swirl. For the sky, I used blue and added titanium dioxide, hoping for a saturated blue for the “lower” sky.

This was very tricky to pour, and I had issues. I probably should have tilted the mold and poured the green first, but that’s not what I did, and the blue and green mixed together in the middle. I corrected then, and tilted the mold and hope that this resolved the issue. We shall see. There are no pictures of the pours because I made a colossal mess of the entire workspace and it was really difficult for me.

Once I got the first little bit of sky and mountain poured, I had to lay the roadway. It’s not really a bridge if you can’t get across it, right? This was also really tricky, because I couldn’t measure the roadway width until after I had placed the towers. I had measured, but needed to make adjustments at this point (read: I had to take off some of the width of the roadway because I had forgotten to account for the width of the towers.) I also found that it was very difficult to lay the pieces flat on the soap batter because they were skinny and the loaf was long enough that the two sides pieces of roadway wanted to sink into the soap batter. I panicked a little but managed to dig them out, give them a wipe and lay them out. Took me three tries with one of the narrow side pieces. No pictures of this part either. It was too darned difficult to deal with. Here’s a good pic of what the roadway looked like when it didn’t line up.

Then I took a break because I have a tendency to hold my breath when I’m doing something that requires acute concentration. I truly needed a “breather”. 

Now came the most difficult part and the one that may sink my entry because I never could figure out how to do it……adding the cables. I had taken some very thin slices of the orange bridge color and molded them around a broomstick, hoping to have them stay curved. I thought this went really well and was hopeful that it would help me during this step in the process. I knew I had to pour more sky and mountain, but the way the cables worked is that I had to pour sky and mountain into the mold and then set the cables on top, making sure I had no hollow areas under the curves of the cables. No experience here, so not sure how this is going to go. And here are a couple of examples that show what was so difficult about this part. In one of these, I can see right through the holes in the soap, but don’t have the photography skills to share that here.

At this point, I mixed my final ⅖ of oils with the final ⅖ of lye water for the rest of the sky. Here’s where I ran into another issue. I intended for my sky to lighten as it went up the soap, but I think I added so much more TD to my blue for this final pour that it might look like two separate layers. This was unintended. I had hoped to have a gentle lightening of the sky. Oh well.

Now it’s the next day and I can’t wait to unmold the soap. I’m hoping to have at least one bar that truly represents the Golden Gate Bridge with water, mountain and sky. I’d love to have multiple bars, but I would be happy enough with one. This was a really difficult challenge for me, but really, it’s my own fault. I could have started with something much easier. It’s just that once I thought of this, I couldn’t not try it. After all, I’m doing this to improve my skills!

Fast forward post the unmolding! I’m really pretty jazzed at how well it turned out. I mean, I know how taxing it was and how much I sweated during the pours around those cables! But the rest of you don’t. Some pieces came out better than others. There were several that had some holes caused by the issue with the curved cable pieces, as you saw in the pictures above. Below is the photo I entered of the best bar.

I’m not an artist. My jam isn’t making works of art like Clyde, Zahida or other amazing artists out there who use soap as a medium for their art. I like to make soap that is pleasant smelling, pretty and very useful. But I do believe I expanded my skills during this challenge and I’ll do another landscape soap sometime just because. 

3 thoughts on “The Challenge”

  1. This is really cool, Anita!! I’m so glad you documented your process and came out with at least one excellent bar you can be proud of! Definitely NOT an easy design, but I’m so glad you attempted it and succeeded! Congratulations!!

  2. Wow, what an effort. Bridges are so hard, you didn’t pick an easy topic. I think they’re definitely one of those things that seem like a good idea when you plan them, then reality hits an how hard they are to do. Such a good effort.

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