While I do have a background in fine art which I’ve found to be terribly useful as a cake decorator, it is certainly not necessary to spend years of your life honing your art skills just to be able to paint a scene on a cake. Craftsy, as well as offering cake classes, has an impressive array of art courses which range from rank amateur to intermediate craftsman. You don’t even have to do the projects to benefit (though why not? You might enjoy it…).
The class that caught my eye first was Mixed Media: Pen, Ink and Watercolor. I use these mediums myself as an artist and have found that the skill set associated with this type of drawing serves me well as a professional cake decorator. Teacher Matt Rota discusses line quality, composition and planning. While you would never use a dip pen on gum paste, he does cover inking with a brush and adding color to a black and white drawing.
Tip: To adapt this to gum paste or fondant, add this class to Kate Sullivan’s Painted Cakes course.
You may notice while making your way through the classes that cake decorators and artists use many of the same methods — Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Rota both do carbon appliqué when transferring a design from scratch paper to the surface they plan to be their final version. While there is no way to make indelible lines on sugar, the principals are the same and there is a lot to take away from Mr. Rota’s class that can be applied to your next cake design. For instance, he encourages the student to accept the imperfection of the medium, to even appreciate it. The nature of sugar work requires a technician who can adapt to circumstances, and Mr. Rota encourages just that.
While I can’t emphasize enough how often being able to draw saves me in the workplace, there is a lot more to it than simply being able to create a watercolor style painting on the side of a cake. We use edible printers and wafer paper sheets in the shop on a regular basis (See Joanne's review for more info on wafer paper). Often enough there are circumstances that call for a hand painted design, but what if it’s for twenty mini-cakes? Or three hundred cookies? With basic computer skills, I can draw more or less what I require and print out as needed for the project. I’m frequently asked to create presentable cake sketches in full color. Again, being able to draw, paint or work with different mediums speeds me to completion and reduces the time I might spend wrestling with unfamiliar tasks. It’s ambitious, but if you want to expand your skills in that respect, you can add Drawing With Colored Pencils to the Matt Rota class. Colored pencils are a great tool to have in your arsenal. They don’t dry up if you don’t use them (like paint), they are mess free, and if you know what you are doing, give pleasing results. Lisa Dinhofer walks us through the basics and well into detailed, finished pieces. I might mention that both Ms. Dinhofer and Mr. Rota discuss color theory which is worth learning even if you never set pencil or pen to paper.
To tie everything else together, a better understanding of water color technique will streamline your art-to-cake skills. Mary Murphy’s Watercolor Flower Bouquet is an extensive lesson in painting flowers. Again, while some of these methods work with sugar, you cannot paint exactly this way on fondant and gum paste. But we’re all about adapting, right?
If you want to narrow it down, Mr. Rota’s class will give you the broadest range of skill, though the emphasis on flowers and nature in the other two classes are a great bonus.
Just as an example, I often sketch in ink and color in watercolor:
And also paint on cakes with food colors:
Let me know what you do with your classic arts techniques on your cakes!
Anna is a classically trained sculptor and illustrator who started her career in cake decorating with Ron Ben Israel in 2000. Since then she has worked for a number of well known cake studios in the New York area doing complex sugar work and design. Her specialties include freehand painting,...
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