I have written a very detailed step by step recipe for the brown sugar cookie base and royal icing decoration in this post so I shall not repeat it here. I will instead highlight how I created gradual tones or shades in two ways: using royal icing and using edible marker. People often remark how life-like my iced cookies are. Besides paying attention to details like adding highlights to the eyes of the characters, using gradual shades of a colour (instead of a single solid colour) helps to liven up the character.
Let me just reiterate that I have been using the same recipe for a few years because I always get rave reviews for these cookies in terms of taste. They have excellent shelf life of about 1.5 months at tropical room temperature when sealed so you can make these way ahead of time.
Just to share some photos of the process...
Cutting out cookie dough using homemade template. You may find out how to make and use your own templates over here.
Tracing outline of Charity using edible marker.
It is advisable at this point to let the cookies rest for a day between baking sheets to absorb excess oil from the cookie surface before icing.
I have unorthodox way of icing cookies. I create 3D noses by first letting a layer of icing harden where the nose is before flooding another layer of icing over it
Day 1 of icing! I could have continued but I needed to do other stuff
Creating gradual shade using royal icing
1. Prepare the lightest and darkest shade of royal icing that you need. Consistency should be of flooding consistency whereby any peaks should disappear within 3 seconds. Add more icing sugar to stiffen the icing. Add more water to make the icing more runny.
2. Pipe the two shades one after another immediately. I am using the right sleeve as an example here.
3. Use a toothpick to make little swirls to merge the two shades. Add the required shade a drop at a time before swirling with toothpick again in areas where you need a little more of a particular shade. Work quickly before the icing starts to harden.
Creating gradual shade using edible marker
1. Ice the subject with the lightest shade of the colour that you need. Make sure the icing is completely dry before using edible marker on it. Preferably do this one day after letting the icing harden.
2. Draw or colour the area where you want the darkest shade to be using an edible marker.
3. Use a small, soft brush dipped in vodka or any other colourless, odourless alcohol to spread the ink.
4. Wash the brush in alcohol and repeat spreading of the ink away from the coloured portion.
See the difference between hair with and without shading
I hope these tips have been helpful! I know not everyone has the patience to work on brown sugar cookies like I do but you may be curious about the techniques I use ;).