I was an English major in college and was a voracious reader. They could assign
mr a mountain of books and I would dive right in. I wanted to EXPERIENCE each
story, each plot line, each character. I quickly learned that my reaction was
not uniform. Some folks wanted a good grade, but didn’t want to read the book.
Some folks would buy Cliff Notes and use that to get by. And they mostly did.
Recently, my friend Scott Russell posted a query on his Facebook
page asking whether anyone else was bothered by the newer decorators who want a
step by step tutorial on every single cake they attempt. The reactions were
strong. Before Facebook and YouTube became such prolific things, a decorator
trying to figure out how to do something had to take a class or open a book or –
can you imagine….experiment on their own! By and large, the decorators that
you see posting pictures of amazing work are able to create that because they
Many jobs require experience before they will hire you.
Anyone can say “I am a cake decorator” and start taking orders. Some customers
might demand that you be experienced, but most probably just assume you know how
to make their cake.
I was at convention and overheard a young decorator
asking one of my friends how to build a structure for a dragon cake with open
wings. My friend had not created a cake like that before and said she would have
to think about it to work out the proper structure. The young decorator said she
would keep asking around because the order was due the next week. My question
is: what on earth was she doing taking an order like that when she had no clue
how to create it? What pushes us as decorators to say “sure, I can make that”
when we really don’t know how to do it? Are we afraid they will think less of
I used to be guilty of this too. I would take orders that scared the dickens out of me. Sometimes I had mentors that I could ask for advice, but
mostly I spent time doing things the right way and the wrong way and gaining
experience. That experience gave me the confidence to turn down orders that I
did not think were realistic for me to do. It allowed me to tell the customer I
wanted to do some research first before committing. That experience also made me
a better decorator. I learned lots of ways NOT to do things. That saved me time
down the road, as I knew not to repeat those mistakes.
In this crazy, fast paced life, we all seem to be looking for a shortcut. We want to be famous
NOW. We want to do cakes like we see on tv NOW. We want to be the best, but we
don’t want to put in the work it takes to get there. You know who I respect?
The people who decide that they are going to keep at something until they master
it. I had a student in a modeling class who was unhappy with the eyes she drew
on her figure. The next day, she came into class and showed me the entire page
of eyes she had drawn working on the process. How cool is that?!!
One of the people on Scott’s page said that someone asked them what would happen if
the mixed two colors of candy melts. The person told the decorator that they
should mix one of each together and SEE what happens! Research and
experimentation are the keys to becoming a stronger, more skilled decorator.
While I strongly believe that we “older” decorators have an obligation to share
and teach, I do not think we help anyone out by handing everything over on a
silver platter. We can start them on the right path or give them some direction,
but we should not be writing step by step tutorials for other people on cake
orders they took. They must accept some responsibility and let go of the cliff
Get dirty. Get messy. Screw up. Fix the cake. Learn. Grow as a
decorator. Experience the learning process. Don’t settle for being a shortcut
decorator. Please note that I am not saying to never ask questions or to never
ask for help…but don’t be afraid to give something a try first before you ask
for help. Enjoy the journey.