How do we design cakes?
Well, I can’t speak for every cake designer out there, but I’m pretty much an expert on how I design my cakes. (Well, someone has to be an expert on me, right?) It has been a journey, a learning process about identifying what my design habits have been and what they yielded: paying attention to what my designs and ideas turned into once they became cake versus what I was satisfied with.
If you want to streamline your designing and stop struggling with questions like: “What should I make? What would look right? What would be unique and original?”, then start paying attention to how you design a cake from the time you first speak with a client. Take note of what things you do when searching for inspiration.
Here. Let me explain by showing you one of my earlier cakes (just please forgive the photography!)…
Even looking at this cake now I can appreciate the straight lines, nice fondant, color scheme, and clean execution. But there was always something that kept me from truly liking this cake: it wasn’t original. You could browse through any Google image search for “It’s A Girl Cake” and see hundreds similar to this one. Celebration cakes for girls were just as similar. The color scheme is pleasing but at that time it was on sooooooooo many cakes.
My design was heavily influenced by what I directly exposed my creative mind to as I was planning this cake. It can be hard to shake the images from your minds eye once you’ve spent time with them. When I researched other cakes to help design my own, my designs began looking like every other cake out there. I was just recreating versions of what I had been seeing, with slight differences.
That left me unsettled and unsatisfied. My clients loved this cake design– they were ecstatic! But I wasn’t.
How I changed my design habits…
Let’s start at the end with this cake and then I’ll explain how I got there:
Spring, Stones, and Chocolate Ganache
This cake made a huge splash with everyone. It made it’s way to the Daily Top 3 on CakesDecor.com as well as being Editor’s Choice, and it was featured in the Cake Central Gazette’s Friday Faves. I hadn’t aimed for those reactions when designing it, though. I liked the cake, but considered it a stepping stone (pun intended! hehe) in having worked out some new techniques while making it.
The biggest and by far the most common response from the masses was “It’s so original!” So I stepped back and asked myself why it was getting that reaction. Then it struck me: there wasn’t anything else quite like it out there. (Duh! Right?!?) I asked my self how I created something so original when I hadn’t really set out to do that. The answer was simple: I didn’t look at any other cakes. None at all. My inspiration wasn’t cake; it was this visually interesting pin on Pinterest…
I loved the color, the fossilized look of the imprints, the shape of the stones… The entire image just captured me and made me want to dive in! This image is still pure eye candy for me 🙂
I knew that I wanted to translate this into cake somehow, so I had to plan a few things first: what would the stones be made of (modeling chocolate was chosen); how would I get those fantastic little fossilized imprints (stamps from the local craft store); and what shape/how big should the cake be to make them feel the way they do in this image? I decided on a 6 inch round double barrel. I knew it would take a lot of stones to fill any cake, but two short tiers would look too stout and squatty (is that even a word?) for me, which made tall and narrow the ideal shape.
Next, I looked at my color pallet. There are a number of stone colors as well as detail colors in this image and it would have been far too much to replicate all of them. So I pulled the image into Photoshop to mix and match color swatches and to narrow them down based on this image.
I began color sampling and decided on 6 base stone colors and 7 detail colors. I laid the detail colors over the stone color just to see what combinations would look right. I knew I would be dusting/airbrushing around the edges to make them look distressed and aged so I added a dark gray gradient from the bottom up to see the different shade of each base stone color.
*Side note: the emerald green background on the color swatch board was what my cake was originally supposed to be covered in, in honor of Pantone’s color of the year last year… after a number of SNAFUs I left it as chocolate ganache and was exceedingly happier with the result! Sometimes you have to let the Cake Gods guide you through what you think are disasters 🙂
Next I had to have some idea of how many individual stones I would need to cover the size cake so I sketched out a template by hand:
The lines (that you can’t really see in this pic) were the height of the cake by the circumference of the cake. Using that template as a guide I knew that I had created enough stones and that they were laid out in a random and visually appealing way. After this step I added the dust, airbrushing and hand painted details. The flowers were also part of the design process, and while the colors were very intentionally chosen to add a bright “pop” to the cake, the variety of flowers were based on new tutorials I had watched and wanted to practice.
Where to find inspiration if not other cakes?
Oh Heavens! There are so many places to look! I’m going to tell you that Pinterest is a fantastic source for inspiration, but I can’t be held responsible if you spend all of your work day browsing the great pins there 🙂 I find inspiration in fabrics when I’m shopping, shapes when I take the kiddos to the playground, my kids drawings, pictures of far away places that I can only dream of visiting… Even pictures of food (not cake!) can illuminate that light bulb we each have over our heads! I mentioned on Instagram a while back that I spent about 20 minutes just staring at the spikes on my new cactus and considering their very interesting repeated patterns. Check out romanesco and tell me the produce section at the grocery store can’t ignite some creativity! (Talk about awesome fractals!)
It’s everywhere. Inspiration, all around you. You don’t need to look to other cakes to come up with an idea. It might be unnerving to throw old habits to the wind, but it’ll be worth it!
Now go design an original cake! (And when you do, please share it with me on my Facebook page! I would love to see how you’ve interpreted my thoughts!)