Do you get stuck when trying to design a cake? Just not inspired, not much direction from your customer, or just lacking cakey mojo? I hear ya. It happens. I talk about my process with this creative phenomenon here.
But many people try to break this hang up by following some magic flow or organization that they think is “standard” for successful cake designers. Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t exist.
Sorry for going cow tipping with your sacred cows.
I’m play blog hostess to some people whose work I hold in very, very high regard (That was rather highfalutin’ sounding, huh? Pinkies in the air peeps!) and asked them to let us into their creative cake brains.
Without further ado, Part One of How They Design Cakes!
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“I don’t always stick exactly to the sketch when I’m pulling a cake together. I like to have a little design freedom as I’m building the cake; some techniques just look different on paper than in reality.”
When I am designing a cake for a special event, I love to use details for personalized touches. I ask my clients to send me a picture of their invitations, dress details, color combinations, jewelry, flowers, venue or any special memento they would like to be incorporated into their design. I try to gather as much information as possible so I can get an idea of what they are envisioning for their event. I ask a lot of questions so I know approximately how many tiers I’ll need to design and get an overall feeling for where the event will be taking place. After I gather the information, I sketch out my designs with an old fashioned pencil and sketch pad.
Sketching helps me specifically in 2 ways – to organize my thoughts for the design I am currently working on and it stirs the creative juices for designs in the future. I have several sketch books around the house, when an idea pops into my mind, I can jot it down before I forget it. Most of my sketches are not detailed and I’m certainly not the best artist! I visualize the design in my head and the sketch serves as a bookmark in my mind for details of cakes. If I have a good grasp on the direction I want to go with a cake, I just do a very basic rough sketch (I mean really rough – stick figures, lines and wavy circles for flowers) so I can see if the design is heavy on one side or for placement of flowers or toppers. If I’m having a hard time visualizing a design, that’s when I get into more detailed drawings. I’ll sketch out the details so I can see if they are going to fit together, sometimes it is several separate sketches I end up combining and pulling together a final design. I might like tier #1 on this sketch and tier #4 on another sketch, so I work with those 2 tiers and design the remaining tiers, flowers and details around those elements. Very rarely do I actually color in a design – only if I’m not sure if a color combination is going to work or if I’m having a hard time visualizing before I start. I don’t always stick exactly to the sketch when I’m pulling a cake together. I like to have a little design freedom as I’m building the cake; some techniques just look different on paper than in reality. There are times I’ll decide I need to make some changes here and there for the betterment of the design but usually, they are minor changes. I generally don’t start a client cake until I have a good visual of the direction I want to go. Display cakes and cakes for collaborations, I sometimes build tier by tier. Once it’s in 3D form, it’s easy to see if accent colors or pieces need to be added, taken away or changed altogether.
For me, the design process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days and on that thankfully rare, brain-bursting occasion, a few weeks. Some cakes just give me a cake block and it takes a lot longer to figure out how to pull different elements together to get it to flow into a cohesive design. I can’t sleep well, I dream of cake (yes, there is a sketch pad beside my bed) until I figure out a design. When I feel stuck, I turn to the things that inspire me to get past the limbo and get the creativity going again!
I am inspired by art, architecture, nature, fashion, jewelry, textures – all of those things stir my soul and help get the creative juices flowing. I love looking at beautiful cakes, but not for inspiration for my own designs. Once I see a completed cake, it is hard for me to see a design differently and actually hinders my design process! I leave the cake stalking just for the love of looking at beautiful cakes and interacting with other designers but leave it out of my personal design process. I also flip back through old sketch books, sometimes I’ll see a certain technique I’ve either created before or have wanted to try and it will spark the start of a design. As my confidence has grown as a designer, I try to listen to my instincts. Usually my first inclination ends up being the one I come back to even if I’ve gone through several different designs. Everyone has a process; it’s just a matter of finding THE process that best works for you!
“Everyone has a process; it’s just a matter of finding THE process that best works for you!”
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“I try every way to start sketching on paper… but it has always ended up with just having the outline of number of tier and color of it. The rest of the design will be me lying on my bed and start sketching in my head. “
For birthday cakes, especially for children cakes, email correspondence is the best way to communicate. Customers just need to provide me a theme character and I will just work from there. Sometimes, customers will provide me a picture of invite cards, all I do is to pick up character, color and recreate a cake for them. Unlike wedding cakes, I always arranged meeting with customers to understand their needs. I love meeting couples and it feels so romantic by listening to their story. This gives me a better understanding of them and would allow me to create a customized dream wedding cake just for them.
Seriously, I try every way to start sketching on paper, and sometimes on Photoshop, but it has always ended up with just having the outline of number of tier and color of it. The rest of the design will be me lying on my bed and start sketching in my head. There’s never a fix design, my design will keep changing until the day I deliver my cake. But I am very thankful to have understanding customers who allow me to have free reign when it comes to designing a cake.
I love having some abstract art element on my cakes. As such, I am always changing every time I work on it. Yes, I am a freaker minded person when it comes to design. My mind is always thinking of another design when I am already working on one!
I will get very lost if I don’t have these 5 few things on my work desk. They are pasta machine, ball tool, frilling tool, flower cutters and gold dust. Sugar flowers are my number one love! Gold dust my second! Ruffles my third! All my cakes will be incomplete if there is neither one on it. (To tell you a little secret, I have 10 different sizes balling tool sitting in my drawer! I know I just need two or three different sizes, but I just don’t know why?)
“Sugar flowers are my number one love! Gold dust my second! Ruffles my third! All my cakes will be incomplete if there is neither one on it.”
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“One way or another I keep a mental list of all the beautiful things I see, in everyday life, that trigger me.”
First of all, there is no such thing as a magic trick for me, it all starts with the assignment, which determines how much you can do with it.
Occasionally it happens that the design of the cake is completely specified by the client. In such an event, we go over the design to check if everything can be made the way they want it to be. Likewise, if there are any requirements in terms of materials used. Sometimes clients prefer marzipan over fondant, but it has an impact on the things you can do with it. Perfection in the execution of the cake is the only thing left to do with these kinds of assignments.
Whenever photos are used to outline what the client is looking for, then there is more space to maneuver. The photo(s) is/are the source of inspiration, being the color, the shape or the embellishments. But it is not limited to these tangible things; I’m also looking at the impact of the photo itself. Is it a strong image or more of a sweet, lovely image? What message did the artist try convey with his photo? The end result is a combination of the factual things and my interpretation of the photo. If I believe that my design drifts off too much I’ll check with the client to see if it is allowed. This is all of course highly subjective, but whenever this occurs I have a very strong reason to do so and normally I am able to convince the client. In the end the client’s opinion is all that really matters to me.
The assignments I really adore are the ones with the most freedom, for example the theme based assignments. In these assignments I can use one or more the items of my wish list. Wish list, what’s that? One way or another I keep a mental list of all the beautiful things I see, in everyday life, that trigger me. Design patterns and color combinations of dresses, curtains, postcards, and pillows, basically just everything. Or simply the impressions I get when I surf the internet. It is a continuous process for me. Just to illustrate, my husband and I were doing some grocery shopping once, when we were queuing up in a mall. Just in front of us was a lady with a beautiful greenish dress with a white minimalistic pattern, simply stunning. I immediately whispered, take a picture of the dress“. The sources of inspiration are non-stop all around us; it is a matter of seeing it, being open to it.
What does my cake decorating process look like? Is there a magic trick or how do I operate? I definitely work with the same approach over and over aging, but I don’t think that it s a methodology. I use the principle of a high-level design, which is followed by a detail design. Especially the detail design is iteratively refined, while I’m actually producing the cake itself. I’ve got no objective criteria; the iterations are all done very intuitively. The design is finished when I’m satisfied.
I first start with determining the shape of the cake followed by the colors I’m going to use on the different layers. Sometimes I’ve got a very clear picture in my head with respect to the shape, but so many other times I play around for a while with dummies. I simply stack them on top of each other to discover what makes me tick, what’s the best fit with the assignment? If possible I always try to do something I haven’t done before. Naturally this statement is not limited to the shape only, it’s applicable on every aspect/element of the cake.
Once the shape is finalized I continue with the coloring. Which colors I’m going to use where, what will be the main color and what combination will I use? If needed I put the high-level design on paper for discussion with the client or to check my initial thoughts with others. Currently I don’t use the special cake decorating software yet, but it seems like a handy tool. Who knows, maybe one day I make the switch.
If applicable I continue with the flowers and major style elements, like ruffles, after the coloring is done. A whole bunch of flowers or just one or two? Again all decisions, all I can say that the majority of my design decisions are based on my intuition or my personal preference. The shape, the color, major style elements and the flowers is what I include in the high-level design, the remaining element, like the pattern, if any, and other embellishments, I decide upon during the cake decorating process.
It is easier for me to decide on these things if you have a cake in front of you. I keep on modifying and adjusting the detail design till it feels right. Like many of you I also love to apply new techniques or new lace molds on the cake, but only if it fits the design. We now or less touch upon a very personal thing, your style. Everybody has got his own style, my work is frequently categorized as grand, bold, elegant, modern, classy and chic. My own classification is “beauty by simplicity“, that’s what I try to achieve with every cake since it’s simply what I like.
The very last step is the photo, never to underestimate the importance of the photo! I personally spend a lot of time trying to make a stunning photo. I experiment with lighting, different backgrounds and different setups to emphasize the key elements of the cake in the correct manner. Food photography is a different area of expertise and if you have the opportunity to do a course, then I would advise to do so.
“Hey you cake decorators out there! Be creative and blow my mind! Good luck to all of you.”