The Answer is in the Shoes

You put your heart and soul into your competition cake. Your family says it is your best work ever. Your friends swear you should have your own tv show – you are better than Buddy. You proudly set your cake out for judging. You surreptitiously watch the judges as they evaluate your cake. You check out your competition and are sure that you have won. You can point out the flaws in every other cake. You are, simply, the best.

The next day, you show up at the cake show, ready to revel in the glory of your win, only to discover that you placed lower than you expected…if you placed at all. Why didn’t you win? Why did those imperfect cakes beat yours?

I have a PowerPoint presentation that I give on What Judges Look For that I give at Days of Sharing. I will also be giving this talk at the ICES Convention in Reno. I will be posting my tips, but not the PowerPoint on my web page soon ( In the meantime, I want to share with you a story from one of my dear friends, Scott Ewing, from ISAC.

Scott is a talented, award winning photographer, among many other skills. He entered a lot of photography competitions and could not seem to get the requisite score to move onto the national level of the competition. As he expressed his frustration to a friend in the industry, his friend said, “It’s no wonder, look at the judges’ shoes. There’s the answer”. Scott scopes out the shoes and tries to figure out where this is going. Finally, he shakes his head and tells his friend that he doesn’t understand. “One is in loafers, one in tennis shoes and one in dress shoes – what does that show me?”. “Simple,” says his friend. “If they cannot agree on the type of footwear that is best, what makes you think they are all going to agree on something as subjective as a piece of art?”.

From that day forward, Scott kept in mind that he was shooting the photos first and foremost for himself. There was simply no way to guarantee that any group of people will react to the piece of art the same way as you. On any given day, you could win or you could lose. Create the art for yourself, for the joy of seeing your dream come to life.

The next time you attend the cake show competition, steal a glance at the judge’s shoes and remind yourself that art is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The joy isn’t just in a win; the joy is in the journey.

(Oh, and my shoes are almost always cute when I judge!)


13 thoughts on “The Answer is in the Shoes

  1. So true Ruth, as always! Once I started doing Competition cakes for Me and not for what I thought the judges would like/want to see, I “mysteriously” started doing better work and placing higher. Who knew? I’ve also noticed that by doing the cake for Me, I put my heart into it more and care more about the finished product.

  2. This was really a great article. We as sugar artists sometimes forget that art is a subjective medium (one mans junk is another’s treasure). If we keep trying to please everyone we lose the joy of creating. So next project I promise to just let the creative spirit take me!

  3. Such great advice! The very first competition I entered, I cared about ribbons. And I got two of them: third place (of three entries) in both categories I entered. After that I decided that competition was a place to push myself to do better work than I thought I could do and/or to try something new that I wouldn’t get a chance to do on a cake for a customer. In other words, I started competing with myself and myself alone, and the ribbons and tropies started to pile up. They’re great, and I’m proud of them, but I don’t display them — for me the biggest trophy is the sense of accomplishment I get from making a cake I think is worthy of entering.

    Oh, and my judging shoes are boring. By definition, nothing in a size 14 is cute. 😦

  4. LOL! Ruth, as cute as you are, who would expect less. THanks for the heads up. I have only entered one cake for charity here at home and won, but then I had more exprience than the others. One day….. Maybe I will enter and keep that in mind.

  5. Thank you, Ruth, this was a very comforting message for me! I have been working on a piece for Cake Fest. Last week they announced who the judges were for each category, and my heart sunk! The judges are people I admire but their signature styles are very different from the piece I was planning. I considered not finishing and not entering. But I decided to finish what I started because it was the piece I wanted to do! Thank you for the validation and encouragement!

    • Please finish your piece! I have to say that I was surprised when they announced who was judging what category. Most shows will not do that because they don’t want to influence your design.

  6. totally agree. No one should ever enter competition with the goal of winning. It takes the fun out of it. I tell my students that winning ribbons is just a side effect of competition. I view the opportunity as the chance to get that cake out of my head that I want to do so bad, but no one has ever ordered it. And, to push myself to the next level, make myself think outside of the box, and bring myself out of my comfort zone. I appreciate it when the judges give constructive criticism because it helps me up my game for the next go around. What I am finding, now in my 5th year as a competitor, is that competition also helps me up my game with my clients, and with my students. I appreciate the opportunity to share what I learn and help the next set of potential competitors.

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