The Business of Cake Decorating Part 2
Increasing Your Skills
by Earlene Moore
In part one of this series we discussed the pros and cons of having a cake decorating business in your home. The mess it makes, the commitment and support it will require from your family , the possibility of changes that might be needed in your physical house and the self disciplne that you will need to make this a growing business. You have considered all of that and now you need to know more about how to increase your skill level.
Good Housekeeping had published a cake decorating article in their magazine in 1955 showing how to make royal icing leaves on the back of greased (outside surface) rounded mixing bowls. Hycyinths on Marshmallows on a skewer with the star tip and a cake shaped like a window flower box. That was the first instructions I had seen on any cake decorating techniques. My mom had a plunger type cake decorating tool and I made a royal mess out of her kitchen. Little did I know where that experience would take me. It was several years later before I tried my hand at this again. My sisters wedding cake was the next project. In 1964 (yes 53 years ago) when my youngest sister Barbara decided to get married there were no classes and those who had cake decorating skills were not willing to share their knowledge or expertise. Therefore I learned how to do her wedding cake the trial and error method. That was my first experience at making a wedding cake. Learning to make roses with no instructions was not fun. My first roses laid flat on the top of a large mouth canning jar lid. Very sad indeed. You see there were no classes available - no one to ask What am I doing wrong? Now you have available wonderful classes in the craft shops such as Michaels, Crafts Etc.and Hobby Lobby. Lucky people even have local cake decorating shops that will teach you how to do in a few weeks what it took me 5 years to learn on my own. Oh and then all those Craftsy classes and individuals who have web sites with lessons - oh my the things that are available now are very impressive.
1. Taking classes
If you are really serious about this as a business you must first educate yourself. Trial and error are good teachers but that is the slow way to learn. Most places that teach basic cake decorating offer a series of three class sessions. Each class teaches you more advanced skills. Many of your cake shop owners teach more advanced classes and can give you real practical helps and hints. In addition to these classes there are many people who will come into an area and teach specialized classes. If you have opportunities to attend advanced classes sit next to the most talented person you can find in the class. A class gives you opportunity to learn from the teacher but you can also learn from the people around you. Do the best you can in class but keep your eyes and ears open and look and listen for those little ideas, hints and suggestions all around you. Then after class comes the Practice - Practice - Practice
2. Cake Clubs
Form or join a cake club in your local area. This will give you opportunity to network with others who have the same interest in the sugar arts. Our local cake club only has about 12 members and we meet once a quarter . Each meeting one person in the club does a demonstration on some technique that she has tried or has just wanted to play with. Sometimes we are told to bring a few pieces of equipment and it is a hands on demo with everyone contributing. We might all be asked to bring a tip number 76 and some buttercream icing. At the meeting then we might be told see just how many different borders and decorations we each can do with that one tip. That way we all learn. Then after the meeting you go home and Practice - Practice - Practice
3. Cake Shows & Conventions
Some areas have a local show every year. For instance the Austin, TX - area has a wonderful show in February. This gives local sugar artist / cake decorators opportunity to refine their skills and educate the public about the many things that can be done from sugar. The ribbons and prizes in the shows are nice but they should not be the priority. If the public does not know the beautiful things that can be done in sugar they will never be willing to pay you for them. Educating the public and learning new things yourself should be the priority. Even if you are a new decorator there should be a division for you and others with similar experience and skills. Take the opportunity and contribute to the cake shows. You will increase your skills by trying extra hard to be neat and precise in your work, stretch your skills, be creative and just do the best you can for your peers. You will give other decorators encouragement by entering and sharing your ideas with them. Cake Shows always seem to need some extra manpower and volunteering to help man the tables and talking to the public will give you opportunity to learn also. Even if you get asked questions you dont know - you can ask other cake decorators who are there. It is an all around learning experience.
ICES - You say what is ICES - ICES stands for International Cake Exploration Societe or our motto is Icing, Caring, Everyone Sharing. ICES was started in 1976 in Monroe, Michigan. 41 years ago and has now grown to around 4,000 members from approximately 40 countries in the world. Approximately a third of the members attend the yearly convention held each July/August. These conventions are hosted by state ICES organizations and move from place to place in the United States. The Conventions are a mixture of many demonstrations, hundreds of pieces of sugar art to view, retail vendors to buy from, a business meeting, a saturday night banquet and as a closing on Sunday night - a very special sharing time. It is a non stop weekend of learning. There are always new techniques to learn, new equipment available and new books hot off the press. The other thing ICES makes available to you is its newsletter. This newsletter is approximately 24 pages each month with how to articles, recipes, hints, 4 pages of colored pictures from the sugar art at the previous convention, a listing of classes and shows coming up, upcoming ICES show information, some cake decorating equipment ads and organizational information. Check out the web site at www.ices.org
Days of Sharing in the states
Most of the state ICES groups organize Days of Sharing in their respective states. These special days allow state members to become better acquainted while learning from demos. They also have opportunity to share information and have a good time with others who have a common interest in the sugar arts. One of the added benefits of this organization is the networking of information about shows and classes. Many of the Days of Sharing are followed by a couple days of special classes taught by someone outside of the state area who has been asked to come in for the special weekend. Then we can go back home and Practice - Practice - Practice all the new things we have learned.
Books are a constant resource for us. I personally have around 100 cake decorating books in my collection and that certainly isnt all that is available. If I were starting cake decorating now these are the books I want to begin with. The most readily available to all of us in the United States are;
A. Wilton Publications
1. Yearbooks The yearbooks are a constant source for new cute cake ideas, essential and new equipment and basic instruction
2. Encyclopedia (tip & uses) # 3 This book out of all of the many books that Wiltons has published is an absolute storehouse of basic information. It goes through the tip groups one by one and shows you the many things that can be done with each type of tip. For a beginner to a master cake decorator this is a wonderful referral source. As your skills grow then the addition of other Wilton publications to your library will become a good source of ideas for you.
B. Other book sources
1. Roland Winbecklers Books - Roland is a talented bakery decorator who has written and published several small books. His books give you buttercream flowers, figure piping and other cake decorating tecniques from a different perspective. Beautiful work in a style that is very nice but quick to do for those intrested in production speed. He has two different types of books.
1. How-To booksFigure Piping Ideas, 3-D Cake Cartooning, Cake Sculpture, Buttercream Flowers, Cone Figures$10.95 ea. plus $2.00 S&H for first book and $1.00 for ea. additional book. He also has Hand Molded Figures$8.95. Prices probably have changed since this article was written.
2. Black and White drawings in his Pattern Books (available in 8 1/2 x 11 or 5 x 6 (for projectors) $4.95 ea. plus $2.00 S&H for first book and $1.00 for each additional. each book. These books can be obtained in your local cake shops or visit their web site at www.winbeckler.com
A. American Cake Decorating Magazine This magazine is a dream come true for many of us.The sugar art world has a number of very talented people with lots of imagination and creative ideas. American Cake Decorators who are willing to share their time and expertise with you have been sought out by the Editor of this magazine for your enjoyment and instruction. Check out the subscription information so you wont miss a future issue. Some past issues are also available for purchase http://www.americancakedecorating.com is their web site.
B. Mail Box News This magazine for cake decorators has been around a long time and each issue is full of cake pictures sent in from people just like you and I. You will find at least one how to article per issue and receipes for you to try.
C. From England - The Sugarcraft magazine is expensive but has lots of good information
The cakes and articles are probably a little advanced for beginner decorators in the USA.
The rolled fondant techniques are considered beginner work over there. Buttercream work is limited in this magazine
D. Other magazines and books are now being published specifically for cake decorators. There is always new things to learn.
Increasing numbers of Video's are becoming available as teaching tools. Travel and lodging is expensive plus the time involved in being away from your business and home. So increasing numbers are finding that the video lessons fill that teaching void. With the popularity of this teaching tool I am sure many more subjects will be covered in the near future.
Gumpaste Flowers video's are available from
Nicholas Lodge (International Sugar Art), Margaret Ford (Cel Cakes),
Wilton's has basic decorating video's available
DVD's - Online Classes - Craftsy - Live FB classes
New learning sources are popping up daily.
Increasing your skills still comes down to just one thing. Practice - Practice - Practice That is the first consideration for speed, skill and uniforimity in your cake decorating skills. You can take classes, watch demos and read all of the books but it still takes Practice - Practice - Practice.
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