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Karen Thi uses sugar cookies as canvas for artistic content, drawing large online following

COURTESY PHOTO: FOOD NETWORK - Karen Thi mixes cookie dough during filming of a the Christmas Cookie Challenge show premiering Nov. 25 on the Food Network.Karen Thi doesn't call herself a baker. The 28-year-old has thousands of social media followers and a sleek, professional online presence, where she showcases artfully decorated, highly detailed sugar cookies.

The "cookier," as she refers to herself, might be at the top of her game when it comes to eye-catching sweet treats, and on Thursday, Nov. 25, viewers can tune in to the Food Network's competition show, "Christmas Cookie Challenge," to find out if she took home the prize for best cookie.

Thi was a contestant on the show, which aired on Thanksgiving evening.

The recent California transplant grew up in San Jose and now lives in Portland's South Waterfront neighborhood. She's been dazzling people with her culinary and decorating skills for years. Using a simple sugar cookie as a canvas, Thi painstakingly adds fine details using food-grade dyes, pens and watercolor brushes.

With years of practice under her belt, she's able to capture texture, shape and artistic detail on a piece of four-inch dough.

"I see cookies as a medium just to express my creativity. I don't want to just make cookies, I want to be able to tell stories with them," the cookie artist and content creator said.

In 2013, she started an Etsy page while in college to sell her treats in bulk. These days, she bakes for the clicks. Thi admits the cookies she makes and photographs are for entertainment more than eating. She no longer sells the treats she churns out and said she tried her hand at the baking business and quickly got burned out.

COURTESY PHOTO: FOOD NETWORK - Karen Thi competed on the Food Networks Christmas Cookie Challenge show. The network scouted her out through her online cookie content accounts. "I had orders here and there," Thi recalls. "Christmas was always super busy. I feel like my passion for cookies started to get lost when I started selling them. Working alone, trying to make 10 dozen cookies in a weekend was so stressful."

Return on investment also proved feeble. It takes time and meticulous attention to detail to create the one-of-a-kind cookies, but the market rates don't reflect that.

"My mom is always (asking) 'why don't you open a storefront?'" Thi said. "I don't have the passion for it where I can take the beating of going to a storefront every morning and baking for way too long, selling something for $5."

When a friend of hers took to the web to suggest the high-art cookies should cost about $10 each to recoup time and labor, people bristled.

"It created this whole controversy online," Thi said.

The former social media manager quit her job last year and has been doing content creation on her own.

Thi has been able to leverage her social media savvy and top-notch frosting piping into paid partnerships with brands, whose products take on a new life when recreated as thin, vanilla sugar cookies.

In addition to amassing over 9,300 followers on Instagram with her Bakersmann cookiesaccount and getting enough views on TikTok to be paid, Thi also recently launched a podcast, "Cookies and Crime." Each show segment highlights infamous murders and horror mysteries, which she illustrates in videos with cookies for YouTube followers.

Her social media presence is largely what earned her a spot on the Christmas Cookie Challenge show. The Food Network flew her out to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the baking competition was filmed in April. Thi wouldn't give away any details about who won the $10,000 grand prize, but instead urged fans and Portlanders to tune in.

While she's best known for her work at the oven, Thi said her dream is to be behind the camera.

"End goal, I'd love to be a travel and nature photographer, but I'm not mad that I get to have all these great experiences."

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