WALNUT CREEK -- Even though she's dedicated her life to decorating cookies and cakes, Jan Loomis' work is anything but "cookie cutter."
Her designs can't be found in the average bakery because each cookie, Loomis said is a work of art. With each cookie and cake she decorates, Loomis has been fulfilling a lifelong dream of being an artist. And with a grandfather who was a chef and a mother who owned a gourmet shop, Loomis said she was destined to follow the family's culinary legacy.
Coming from five generations of a fishing family in Monterey, Loomis said she wished to be a potter or jeweler, and that her family infused art into everything they did -- a trait she inherited from them.
"Growing up I always wanted to do something in the arts," she said.
But real life beckoned a more practical career, so Loomis worked in emergency medicine administration with the hankering to create still in her blood. A cousin got her a cake decorating kit and she decorated her daughter's first-birthday cake. Since then, Loomis has been creating cakes using her signature realistic but edible flower petals and leaves for 38 years.
"I was creating cakes for family members and made the cake for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and my mom's 82nd birthday," said Loomis, who taught cake and cookie decorating classes through Walnut Creek Recreation.
She established www.sugargardencakes.com and has been creating artistic cakes and cookies at home because they're unique and can't be found in typical bakeries, she said.
While Loomis was a longtime cake decorator, she took up cookie decorating just eight years ago, when she joined a cookie club. She was encouraged to do that by a friend who's also a cake decorator.
"I found creating cookies to be more convenient than cakes because they're easy to transport," she said.
At a cookie club event, she found people who collected all kinds of cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes.
"You also get to sample cookies and there's a cookie exchange all day long," Loomis said. "It's hysterical. There's even a cookie cutter museum."
While she may create cookies and cakes by order and caters to the style requests of clients, Loomis said she enjoys thinking of innovative styles for her cookies. For instance, during the Artists Market at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 1 at the Civic Arts Education, Shadelands campus, she will demonstrate a decorating technique on holiday cookies.
These aren't your average Santa Claus and Snowman cookies, she said.
"I don't look at these cookies as food. I look at them as, 'What kind of art am I going to create?'
"I approach each cookie as a canvas which happens to be edible," she said. "There are a lot of steps to get ready to prepare the canvas."
One of the steps includes sketching a design before she decorates the cookie. Most of her cookies are three-dimensional designs which means they're not always the typical flat cookies. She has a cookie cutter that turns ordinary pieces of cookie dough into little dresses and pinafores giving each cookie more dimension and extra surfaces to color and decorate.
"Each cookie has texture and personality and, as small works of art, each tells a story," she said.
Loomis uses a sugar cookie recipe taken from an old Baltimore church cookbook.http://www.sugargardencakes.com/images/209cookieslarge/Bear-with-suitcase.jpg Anyone can learn to apply Loomis' unusual approach to cookie making, by attending the demonstration at Shadelands Art Center on Dec. 1 or by taking cookie decorating lessons with Loomis.
Loomis' longtime friend Martha S. Dunning said the first cake Loomis made was for Dunning's baby shower cake 28 years ago.
"It took me a long time before I was able to eat her adorable cookies," Dunning said. "Then I realized I was missing out how great they taste."
Loomis plans to demonstrate her decorating technique on the cookies that look like dresses.
"It's hard for people to wrap their minds around the fact that you can eat these cookie dresses," she said.
The beauty of the Monterey Peninsula remains an inspiration to Loomis whether she's working on her cakes, cookies or her paintings.
"My style of cookie and cake design is very organic, as I reflect my Monterey background and that's what I identify with very strongly," said Loomis, whose ocean-themed cookies won her awards. "The cookies can resemble spruce or redwood trees, the clean look of nature."