Anna is proficient at soap making, particularly sculpting soap that looks like food and other objects.
Sculpt Cold Process Soap to Look Like Food
Why on Earth make soap that looks like food? Because it can be done! Fooling the eye is a challenge for artists such as myself. Finding the right techniques for this takes time, practice and experience with other materials as well.
Why soap? Because cold process soap is easy to use, and the end result turns out rather pretty and looks like the real thing. Also, not a lot of people use soap in this way, and I like the idea of making things from unconventional materials.
Is soap versatile enough to carve and paint? Yes it is! From all the years I have spent working with different materials, I can say that soap is better than plaster and wax. It absorbs color during the soap making process as well as after, when it is painted on top. It is very forgiving and allows retouches to be done to it.
How to Make Food Soap
In this article, we'll look at:
- What to Know Before You Begin
- How to Make Savory Food Soaps, Including:
- Shrimp Soap
- Lamb Chop Soap
- Chicken Wing Soap
- Baked Potato Soap
- Stuffed Lobster Soap
- Soap Sculpting FAQs
Tips Before You Begin
For the purposes of this guide, I'm assuming that anyone who is looking to try sculpting soap already knows the basics of cold process soap making. To make these, one must use soap scraps from past pours or leftovers from past projects.
How to begin:
- Choose what food you want to recreate.
- Get a good picture reference to copy.
- Prepare all your tools and scrap soap.
- Use the same soap dye or pigments used during the cold process soap making to paint the top of the carved piece. You just need to dilute the pigment with vodka or alcohol.
- Prepare your accessories, like plates or forks or napkins. If you are going to convince people what you have made is real, it's easier if it's styled like real food.
- Prepare an orderly, neat and clean workstation.
- I suggest wearing headphones and listening to some relaxing music.
- Have lots of patience. Remember, practice makes perfect!
If Sculpting the Soap Is Hard, You Can Also Use Molds
You can also try a mold if sculpting becomes a challenge. Instead of chicken wings, how about chicken legs? I have tons of molds in my workshop—everything from basic shapes like spheres to loaves—but sculpting soap is still my go-to. I still find creating soap shapes by hand to be easier for me. But some prefer to use a mold with different shapes to make the process easier and less time-consuming. Plus, it's guaranteed that the shape they need is what will come out. You take the guesswork out by doing this.
There are countless molds out there: shrimp, vegetables, cartoon characters, cars, landmarks, savory food and sweet desserts. Personally, I try to stay away from metal molds, as it is very hard to get the soap out. So, silicone molds are the best thing to buy. There are some molds that almost create the entire shape, which is quite helpful. One good tip when buying molds online: Make sure to read the description very well. Look at the size because most often, when the molds are delivered, they are smaller or bigger than expected.
Whenever I pour anything, I also break out all my molds and line them up in a row. Even if I do not need a particular shape, I just pour it just in case I have a need for it in the future. It is always good to have a stash of shapes for your future projects. Just make sure that the soap has rested enough and has totally cooled before removing it from the mold. I usually give it 24 hours.
Note: I would also advise people not to use these molds interchangeably with chocolate or anything edible. If you are using the mold for soap or wax, just use it for that. It is not a good idea to use it one day for soap and the next day for chocolate. Mark your molds so you don't mix them up.
Savory Shrimp Soap
It's easy to sculpt soap into any shape. With this piece, I decided to make some shrimp. This required small pieces of junk soap. I chose leftover soap that had been colored a dark yellow to begin with—the same soap I used to make peach slices for my fruit pies.
- I carved out the basic shape of the shrimp, which was round.
- I cut out the center leaving a bit of a "tail" shape.
- I carved rings around the length of the body.
- Using a small piece of old stockings (tights or pantyhose), I smoothed out the body, made the rings a bit deeper and rounded off any sharp edge.
- Using my scalpel, I carved out the tail.
- I painted each shrimp with a bit of orange and red pigment mixed with alcohol. I did not need to use yellow since the body of the shrimp was already dyed yellow from the beginning. I also painted a bit of black pigment on to the creases of the tail and a little bit along the spine.
- Before placing it on the plate, I placed a few drops of pigment onto the plate to make it look like sauce and then arranged the shrimps on top.
- I cut small pieces of soap to simulate garnish and placed them on the center of each shrimp.
- After everything dried, I painted a little bit of alcohol to the top of each shrimp with garnish—very delicately, with a very small soft brush.
And that is how you make soap look like a real savory dish.
Lamb Chop Soap
To make this lamb chop soap dish:
- I started by carving out a chop shape from a rather big leftover piece of soap. I slowly carved out the basic shape of the meat with the bone. With my reference picture in front of me, I carved out the meat portion, taking note that meat does not have sharp edges.
- I used a piece of stocking to round the edges, and I also smoothed the top and made small indentations to make it resemble meat a bit more.
- I carved the bone that was sticking out.
- I painted the top of the meat with brown, black and red pigments. This is where a bit of creativity comes in. Try to imagine where the meat is supposed to be seared and paint those areas a bit darker.
- For the bone, I mixed white and yellow pigment with alcohol and painted some red and black streaks to make it more realistic.
- I set them aside to make the vegetables.
- The peas are just small pieces of soap that I rolled on my palm and painted green and yellow (the base color was already green).
- For the asparagus, I rolled the same green leftover soap and sculpted the end into a bulb shape. Then I painted it again with pigment.
- I arranged the lamb chops—I made two pieces so it would look fuller. I arranged the vegetables on to the plate as well.
- Once those were on the plate, I shaved small bits of green soap to make it look like scallions and spritzed the whole thing with alcohol to give it a sheen.
- The "sauce" at the bottom of the plate is just a few drops of the pigment.
Chicken Wing Soap
Chicken wings were the easiest or mimic. The shape is quite simple and I was able to really use the distorted soaps I had.
Here's how it was made:
- Using a scalpel, I made lots of ridges and scraped the back of each piece. It gave the soap a bit of "chicken skin" surface.
- Using my fingernail, I wrapped a small piece of stocking and rubbed the surface to smoothen it out.
- Once I was satisfied with the shapes, I prepared to paint them with orange, red and black pigment. The base soap color was a dark yellow so I didn't need to paint it too much. Just a few dabs specially along the creases.
- I placed the wings on a plate and spritzed them with alcohol to give it a shine. The white "sauce" is just my leftover white paint pigment from another project. It looked like ranch dressing to me, so I poured it in a small bowl and placed it in the middle. You can see that there is a bit of a run-off of alcohol/pigment at the bottom of the plate, which actually made the piece look a bit more real.
Baked Potato Soap
For this piece, I needed to carve scrap soap and then pour new cold process soap on top of the carved piece to give it that runny, cheese-looking topping.
Here's how it was made:
- I carved a piece of scrap soap that was previously colored light brown during the cold process soap making. I carved it into a potato shape.
- For half of the "potato", I just carved a few nicks into it to made it look like a real potato with a few pits. For the other half, I took out chunks of soap, leaving behind uneven shapes. Using a poking tool, I poked a few areas to make small craters. I tried to make them look like broccoli.
- Once I smoothed the bottom potato with a piece of stocking, I mixed some cold process soap (about 1 oz.) that I let it thicken up a bit before I poured it on top of the potato.
- With my finger and scalpel, I guided the almost-solid soap in place.
- When the entire thing hardened, I painted the new pour with yellow pigment and green for the "broccoli".
- Then I spritzed a bit of alcohol on the whole piece, and this is the end result: a gooey, yummy-looking baked potato with broccoli.
Stuffed Lobster Soap
Making this piece required me to sculpt different pieces and place them all together in the end.
- First, I created the body of the lobster. I carved a long and tubular piece of soap. This piece was leftover from one of my projects where I poured soap into acetate tubes.
- I carved the piece so that it would go from stout on one end to tapered off at the other.
- To simulate the shell of the lobster, I carved out rings around the body and then carved out scallop shapes on both sides.
- When everything looked just right, I set it aside.
- To make the tail, I had to carve that piece separately: first the top flap, which was almost a heart shape, and then the main tail, which had a few tiny hairs at the bottom.
- After carving and then smoothing with a piece of stocking, I placed the body and tail together.
- For the stuffing, I took smaller pieces of soap, chopped them up into tiny pieces and arranged them onto the top of the lobster. These bits were all different colors from brown, yellow and green. For the small green pieces, I scraped them off into small rolls to look like scallions.
- Then I painted the whole piece. I used orange, brown and black. The body of the lobster was already a dark yellow color to begin with so coloring it was a little bit easy.
- I colored the scalloped shell with black to make it look like it had been seared. I dropped a few drops of pigment onto the stuffing and painted a bit of brown and black on top as well.
- I took some yellow and brown pigment, mixed it and poured a little bit onto the plate to make it look like a bit of sauce or cooked-down butter.
Remember: Use Scrap Soap
Scrap soap is the go-to material for any carved piece. Use what I call the "soap graveyard" and never throw away any scrap soap. Every soap maker has their bucket of scrap soap—sometimes from mistakes made in the past or just leftover soap. I usually pour my extra soap onto several molds like old disposable cake containers. I save all these and just place them in a bucket for future use. Do not wait too long to use these, though, as they tend to dry out. It will make the soap hard and will make it harder to carve.
Soap Sculpting FAQs
Can store-bought soap be used to make these carved pieces?
Yes, there are a lot of people who take store-bought soaps and make them into baskets or swans or reptiles or any shape they can think of. My answer is why not—although, I do not know if they can be colored the same way.
In my case, I had developed a four-oil mixture that I use for my cold process soap making. As I learned from trial and error, this mixture gives me just the right hardness or softness, depending how you see it. The recipe I use gives me an end product that is easy to carve and easy to paint because it absorbs paint really well. I use canola, coconut, olive and jojoba oils.
Have you tried bathing using your art soap?
Yes! I made a bucket of fried chicken (same size as regular chicken). Because of the coconut oil in my mixture, my soap gets very bubbly, but I gave up on using the drumstick; instead, I would recommend using the thigh, since it is easier shape to to hold.
Do the soap art pieces dry out, or do they still look the same after several months?
They dry out. The soap loses a bit more moisture over time, and the sheen dulls but the soap retains its shape. If I were to repaint or spray it again with alcohol, it would look like the original again.
Does each piece have to smell like the food it is trying to mimic?
No, definitely not. My soaps all smell different since I use scraps. The stuffed lobster smells like strawberry.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.