Tag Archive | teacher

Video Killed the Radio Star

I remember the 80s when MTV debuted. It was huge. People sat for hours on couches watching videos. We didn’t turn on our radios. We didn’t play our albums. We got sucked into the video world. Radio began to feel the pinch. Advertisers switched to video channels. We put aside our imaginations about what a song should mean and we took the given video version of a song as gospel. A great video could make a bad song a hit. A bad video or (gasp) no video for a song meant that it did not make money.

Lately, I have been receiving a lot of messages about the online world of cake decorating. Some sing praises. Some hate it. Some think that people are being led astray. As with most things, there is truth in all of it.

Theory: online classes are hurting in person classes
Reality: true.

The advent of classes by Craftsy and all of the other online classes has been greeted with open pocketbooks and joy from decorators world wide. The simple truth is that many young decorators could not afford to take in person classes, nor could they afford the time and expense of traveling to do so. The online classes let someone gain exposure to techniques, instructors and methods that they would not receive without such courses.

Meanwhile, some folks who normally would travel to take a class now decide to stay home and “study”. They cannot justify taking a class with the big name instructor when they can get that person’s knowledge on their iPad for $20 or so. Can you blame them? It is this group of folks who are not taking in person classes.

There is a group of decorators with a huge stash of online classes, who also take all the in person classes they can. Every time a teacher posts pictures from class, I count how many folks attended. The numbers, for all teachers, have been steadily dropping. The teachers blame the video groups. The students blame the rising costs of the classes. The truth is, both. Some classes are probably priced too high. Some online sales are impacting the in person classes.

For my own experience, I have not filmed with any of the online schools. If you want to study with me, you must do it in person right now. While I have experienced low numbers in some places, I am finding that my student counts are climbing. Why? Because I have held my prices. Because I supply everything. Because I constantly come up with new classes. In short, because I am doing my job as a teacher. I am seeing numbers start to climb for other teachers, too. It doesn’t seem to matter if they have videos nearly as much as it does if they give a good price on a new or different project.

Theory: free tutorials and videos are worthless
Reality: sometimes

Oh, how I cringe when I see someone advertise a free or nearly free tutorial for something that is, quite bluntly, done wrong. It would not pass muster at a cake show and would be blasted at certification testing. Unfortunately, there are no restrictions for someone to put out a tutorial or video. Anyone can do it. Many “anyone”s are. I want so badly to tell people not to believe everything they see. Not to pay. Not to follow these folks. But I say nothing.

Why? Because I honestly think that people will think it is sour grapes…that I am afraid of losing students or something. I worry that I will get pulled into one of those online drama battles I see too frequently. No, thank you.

In this instance, I think it should be Buyer Beware. If you get something for free, you should expect that value to be worth just that. While sometimes it will be like Liz Marek’s recipes and be worth more than you can imagine…I think those instances are rare. Some of the bloggers out there legitimately want to help their fellow decorators. I find those easy to spot. Some are simply trying to gain fame. I find most of those equally easy to spot.

In a recent blog, I talked about folks who watch decorator Darla’s online class or attend her class, then make their own tutorial for sale based on Decorator Darla’s work. A new decorator asked how the newbies can know who to trust. What an excellent and perplexing question. I forget that you guys haven’t been doing this as long as me. I forget that you don’t know the folks on the teaching circuit. I recommend that you take a look at the ICES Approved Teachers list. Here you will find the well respected, internationally known and proven teachers. The list doesn’t cover everyone, but it is an excellent place to start.

Do a little research on those names. You will be impressed with what many of these people have done. They are the foundation of our industry. Then look to see who teaches at the major mini class events in the US. There is a strict screening process for those. If someone teaches there, you KNOW they know their stuff.

Does this mean that new folks cannot be trusted? Of course not. It only means that you need to do your OWN research on them. They have not been vetted by ICES or Cake Camp or whomever. There are some newer decorators that I think are outstanding teachers and demonstrators. There are some who are great artists, but have not learned how to TEACH effectively yet. Teaching is a developed skill just like decorating. One does not beget the other.

Theory: online classes teach as well as in person classes
Reality: false

I wish this could be true, but it just cannot be. The online instructor is speaking to a camera and a producer. They cannot see you furrow your brow when you do not understand. They cannot see you hold the piping bag at the wrong angle. They cannot talk you out of beating yourself up when your first attempt doesn’t look like theirs.

They can be excellent sources of information. I think of them like a documentary, explaining and showing all the process behind a project or technique. You can chat with someone, through the chat portal, but it will never replace live interaction with that teacher.

They are not, however, bad. The videos serve a valuable purpose for our industry. They expose people to numerous aspects of sugar art. It is likely that you might not try something but for that video. They help the person miles from classes learn…just not to the full potential possible. I am glad that people have this resource, but want everyone to understand that watching something is not the same as doing it.

Watching the Emmys the other night, Seth Meyers said that tv was like the late night booty call whereas movies were the dates. What?? He said that tv was available any hour. Movies, you had to plan to get to the theater at a certain time. They are very different experiences.

Online cake videos certainly are the late night booty call of decorating. You can be in your pjs at 3 am, stuck on a technique and can visit your friendly decorator through their online class or YouTube tutorial. How glorious ! The videos don’t judge you for being a procrastibaker. They just give you information.

Final Thoughts

Online classes are not a bad thing. While they are impacting in person classes today, I think that their use will fade over time and people will go back to studying with live teachers.

I think we are blessed in this industry to have so many options for learning. I think that the cream of the teachers will rise to the top and they will survive every new challenge. A great teacher is a great teacher, whether in an article , in a video, in a book or in person.

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I Walk the Line

Recently a student and a teacher had a disagreement. The student had taken a class from an ICES approved teacher, using an ICES scholarship they had been awarded. Part of the ICES scholarship rules say that you have to share one of the classes you take by demonstrating it at a Day of Sharing. The student did just that. The teacher was upset, because demonstrating the class meant that no one there would ever take that class. It was as though money was taken from the teacher’s pocket. The student felt they were only doing what was required. The teacher was hurt.

Recently a supply shop owner/teacher hosted a guest teacher, who taught several classes. The supply shop owner/teacher took every class. The supply shop owner then started teaching the guest teacher’s classes just months after the guest teacher visited. The exact classes. The guest teacher is aware of it and is hurt, but has not addressed the issue.

So where is the line? If you take a class, what are you allowed to do with that knowledge? If you are a teacher, what should you expect from your students? I’m not really sure I know, but I am going to try to answer. As always, this will just be my opinions, but I hope that they will have reason behind them.

The first question for me is whether the class is a technique class or a project class. No one can prevent someone else from demonstrating or teaching a specific technique. For example, if a class covers brush embroidery, that is a well known technique. Numerous people teach it. Many books cover it. If you take a class with me on brush embroidery, would it be ok for you to demo that?

My opinion is that you have free reign to demo or teach the technique itself. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, you have to come up with your own project, notes and instructions. You cannot copy the handouts from your teacher. You cannot use their pattern. You cannot demo or teach the exact project you learned. You need to put yourself into the technique. You need to design your own project and write your own handout. This is my opinion for how to handle long established, well known techniques.

So, what if it is a project class making a specific figure or something? The class may involve the use of numerous techniques in the creation of the project. Does that mean that the student can recreate it as a demo or in a class they teach? My opinion is that they cannot. Take, for example, Mike McCarey’s Big Bird class. If you take that class, you are not free to go demo his Big Bird. You are not free to teach his Big Bird. You are free to be INSPIRED and to teach a different project that YOU come up with, using the skills and techniques you learned.

What if the teacher is teaching a new technique or a new combination of techniques? If the teacher has come up with something totally new, I really don’t think you have any business demonstrating or teaching that. Are there new techniques? I’m not sure, but I see creative genius in my teacher and manufacturer friends all the time. I would tread most carefully here because this is something that everyone will identify with one particular person. If you try to teach it or demo it, you will look like a thief to people. If you name your class exactly what the teacher named theirs, it really looks bad.

A student recorded a class, then filmed a YouTube video repeating the class verbatim. A student copied a teacher’s entire handout and put their own name on it. If I asked enough teachers, I am sure I would hear of even more frightening things. Students need to remember that every time they share their class notes, demo a class they took or teach a project they learned, they have essentially just stolen from their teacher.

Some students will argue that it is ok because the teachers make tons of money on a class. (Isn’t this exactly what your customers think about your cake prices?). Most teachers I know barely get by teaching. Almost all supplement their income by doing cake orders, selling products, or working for manufacturers.

Some students will say that the people they teach wouldn’t have taken a class with that teacher anyway. Maybe not. But what about the folks THEY end up sharing with? This is almost like that ripple in the water in that it just keeps spreading. A student who then teaches the same exact class is going to affect the number of available students. Maybe the teacher had planned to do a DVD of the class or a paid tutorial. You stole part of that market.

Teachers expect you to take what they share and then recreate it for your customers, friends and family. Teachers expect you to make money from the class – just not from teaching it!

If you are asked to demo what you learned, just remember that you can show the technique but that you need to apply it to your own project. Be inspired. Make it your own. Be an original. And be kind to your teachers when you walk the line.

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Putting the Teacher in Detention

Recently, I attended a cake Guild meeting in Canada, following the Cake Love mini class event.  One of the things that I loved that they do, is they discuss what they liked and did not like about the classes they took.  If only all of us teachers could hear what people REALLY thought of their time with us, perhaps we would all be stronger teachers.  I was told of some things that people did that truly upset their students.  It made me wonder…what else are we teachers not being told?

I sent out a request on Facebook for people to let me know what aspects of classes they had not liked in the past.  Oh my goodness.  I opened a can of worms!  My Facebook inbox filled up quickly.  Some named names (but I won’t here).  I even received calls about this.  People pay good money for classes and do not take that lightly.  If they pay you to learn something, you need to TEACH it and you need to NOT do some of the things that I am about to list.  I don’t care how long you’ve been teaching, there is really good information here for all of us.  To make it easier, I’m going to divide the causes for putting a teacher into detention into little topic areas.  Some of the worst of us may fall into more than one of these categories.  Hopefully, some of us fit into none of them.  Regardless, we can all do better.

I Wanna Talk About Me, Me, Me

I love this song by Toby Keith, but we need to remember that this song pokes fun at someone who only seems to focus on themselves.  Students tell me that there are some teachers out there who spend a considerable portion of the class time “introducing” themselves, or telling the class why they are the perfect person to teach them or who give their entire sugar art history.  If the class is two hours long and the teacher spends 10-20 minutes listing all their qualifications, the class has been shortchanged on what they could have been learning.  I’m going to be blunt here.  If people have signed up for your class, they either A) already know about you and don’t need to listen to you prattle on about how great you are or B) they are there for the project and could care LESS who you are – just teach!  I personally find that I often forget to even say who I am at the start of a class!

I believe that some of the folks who overexplain their qualifications are simply people who are a bit insecure.  They might believe in themselves, but they aren’t sure you will.  Or they truly might be worried that you don’t think they are worthy to teach.  They want to lay a foundation so that you BELIEVE in them and their right to be there as a teacher.  And this just isn’t necessary.  If the students have shown up, they clearly believe that you have something to offer them…so just get to the subject matter.  This isn’t the time or place to work on your self esteem issues.

Bad-Mouther

All decorators have a brand of fondant they prefer, a brand of gumpaste they prefer, a brand of EVERYTHING they prefer.  That is normal.  It is perfectly fine as a teacher to say “I prefer to use Brand X”.  What is NOT ok is to tell your students that Brand Y is “crap”, or something even worse!  You should never, ever waste class time telling people how bad other products are.  Instead, you need to remember that these people might only be able to get Brand Y where they are….so you need to teach them how to work with whatever brand they have.  I always say that I prefer Brand X fondant, but that if they use Brand Y, they need to do a,b,c to achieve the same results we will get in class.

Some folks love to start telling students that their product is the best and that others are not food approved or are made in awful facilities or some other crazy story.  You cannot build yourself (or your product) up by tearing someone else down.  You’ve left all your students with a bad taste in their mouth.  Doubt me?  They wrote to me about how much they hated it!  A bunch of students complained about this!  You only make yourself look bad and people are LESS likely to become loyal to your brand, and, consequently, to YOU as a teacher or demonstrator.

The SoapBox

Teachers get into disputes with other teachers about the right way and the wrong way to do something.  Fine.  It happens.  But that is something for those teachers to discuss between themselves, not to get up on a soapbox and preach about during class.  I don’t care if you think teacher X is crazy to say you can’t support a cake that way or you think person Y is a *itch and you hate them personally.  Your private grievances are not to come out during class time.  A surprising number of students wrote in to complain about teachers who complain about other teachers and sugar artists.  This is one of the big pet peeves out there!!

I need to be even more clear…Facebook is not the place to air these grievances, either.  It doesn’t do good for anyone if you go on Facebook and bad mouth another teacher or decorator.  It reminds me of one of those sayings I had on my notebook in high school:  “Confuscious says ‘He who throws mud, loses ground'”.  It may sound funny, but it is the truth.  If you go negative, people will start to think that way of you.  Studies have shown that people associate YOU with the things that you say about others.  So, if you talk about how sweet and talented someone is, the person who hears you will imprint those traits into their thoughts about you.  And if you talk badly about someone, people will think those things about you.  Frightening, huh?  Maybe there was a reason we were told not to say anything if we couldn’t say anything nice.

The Superior One

I had several people write about instructors who talk down to the students, yell at them and are impatient with them.  I keep picturing Hell’s Kitchen and Gordon Ramsey.  Oddly enough, most of these stories from students arose from studies in culinary programs.  I tend to believe that this type of instructor is motivated by one of two things.  Either the instructor is insecure and tears the students down to build themselves up, or they are poor communicators and, as such, unsuccessful in teaching easily.  If you struggle to explain your technique to your students, they won’t get it and you might get impatient and feel like they are stupid….when the source of the problem is actually your ability to reach the students.

You’re The Best, And You…And You

This one surprised me.  People want you to actually tell them how to improve if you see them doing it “wrong”, or to give pointers on how they can do it better.  They are smart enough to know that not everyone in class is the best at something.  If you praise everyone without any true feedback, they feel like you are not genuine as a teacher.  This is not permission to start criticizing everything your students do (more on that in a minute).  If someone asks how they did on something, please honor that question with a realistic appraisal of their work.  Tell them what they did well and what they could change or work on next time.

OverPromiser

People like to write great class descriptions.  They like to tell you they will give you the sun and the moon and only in two hours or whatever.  I touched on this in the blog about what class organizers hate…and here it is again.  If you say you are teaching an advanced airbrush class, they need to learn advanced techniques.  If you say they will finish a three tier cake in class, they should not walk out with half decorated cakes.  If you say all supplies are included, don’t make 10 students share one tool.  You need to be realistic about what you are going to show them and what they will leave with at the end of class.  I started trying to make sure that I put this in class descriptions now…”students will leave with x and instructions for x,y,z”.

The Bully

This is similar to The Superior One, except this person is mean.  And publicly abusive about your work in class.  This person takes joy in making someone start over, re-do something or scrape something off.  This teacher will make people feel bad if they don’t already know how to cover a cake with fondant or use a ball tool or whatever.  I heard stories of famous teachers and less famous doing this.  This person is a bit of a tyrant and believes it is their way or the highway!  I am sad to say that I know some of the bullies I was told about, and that the surprising thing is that these are incredibly sweet folks.  It makes me wonder what causes the meanness in class?  I wonder again if it stems from insecurity or the inability to teach as well as they wish.

The MultiTasker

You might think that someone who could multitask would be great, but not this one!  This is the person who is constantly on their phone instead of teaching.  They are texting, emailing, checking facebook, returning calls and doing all aspects of business while they are supposed to be teaching you!  If your face is in your phone, you aren’t seeing what your students are doing and might miss when they go off track.  We are a very media oriented society and I know how hard it is to step away from that connection in class.  If the students have to put their phone on silent, then the teacher does too.  Remember…the students PAID you to be there for them.  Put down the phone and engage.

The Fake Out

You sign up for a class, only to find that the teacher demos one or two things and tells you to play.  It is almost a bait and switch.  Demos are traditionally less expensive than a hands on class.  While it is ok to allow students some freedom in the design process, a proper teacher should be guiding the students at various stages in the process.  If you say you are going to teach, say, airbrushing, you cannot spend the entire class time working only with those who purchase your airbrush or fixing everyone’s airbrush.  You need to take those variables out of the class so that the time is spent with the students actually getting to airbrush.  It is fine to demo some things that won’t be finished in class, but make sure that people know that ahead of time!  Make sure that all hands on classes are truly hands on and that the students walk away feeling like they’ve participated fully.  One of the first signs that you are doing a fake out is if you don’t have any class instructions to give your students…that tells me that you didn’t pass on technique or project knowledge for them to take home.

The “Feeler”

I know, you’re thinking this one is something naughty.  Nope.  This is the teacher that is feeling out a market for a product or class idea and offers a class.  While there is nothing wrong with this, per se, you have to tell people ahead of time that this is a test market class if that is what it is.  You might tell them once they show up, but you need to have told them before they paid their money!  I do know folks who have publicly said they were doing classes at a reduced price as a test.  That is absolutely the way to go!  If they cannot buy the product or you are not sharing your recipe in the class (forcing them to buy your book to get it), then students must be told this ahead of time!

The Time Waster

This one takes a couple forms.  A bunch of the teachers out there have people cover their cakes in class.  Day 1 of a 3 day class might be totally taken up just covering cakes.  A four or five hour class might lose 30 minutes to an hour to this.  Students wrote to tell me that this is NOT something they want to be part of their classes…unless it is a class about covering cakes successfully.  They asked to be able to bring in the cakes covered themselves or for the teacher to have them covered ahead of time.  I have to tell you, I am one of the people that covers the cakes for my students, but teachers have criticized me for it.  I felt a bit better after reading comments from students.

Another form of the time waster is the teacher that cannot stay focused, so class gets off track.  Unfortunately, I heard this most about celebrity teachers.  I don’t know if it happens because of the “fan” students who are there more to rub shoulders with the famous person and engage them about their time on shows and things, pulling them and the class away from why everyone is there.  Teachers have to be organized and must know how to “run” the class, guiding people back onto the time frame so that they finish.

Censor Warning

I was really surprised by this one!  Some teachers make socially inappropriate comments (a little racy or sexual) and while the bulk of the class may laugh, you could easily have a couple of folks cringing as they work.  I know that sometimes we take political correctness too far, but there is probably no real reason to be making sexual laced comments in a class or allowing that to become the theme of the class.  I heard a number of complaints from students about teachers cussing in class.  These students weren’t talking about an occasional bad word, but classes that become dominated by F Bombs and the language becomes the entertainment and focus of the class more than the project they are there to learn.  The people who wrote me about this are not prim, propper, prissy folks.  They cuss.  They enjoy sexual innuendo.  Not in classes that they paid for.  Not when the language and behavior of a few in class becomes the dominate aspect of the class.  Remember, these folks paid good money to learn a project or technique.  You must be sure you are sharing your focus with everyone and not just a couple that are joining in your laughter.

The Price Gouger

I was surprised at how few people mentioned this.  I hope that means that most teachers do a good job of setting prices for their classes.  I did receive a few complaints about charging high fees for classes AND having a long supply list for the students to bring.  People especially hate bringing things that they never even use in class!  I’ve had to do that before and still have some of those items new in package…untouched to this day.  That is a real rip off.  I know that most teachers don’t make a lot of money, but some do and some charge prices that the classes feel are too high.  Maybe they didn’t think that going in, but they sure did on the way out of class.  I would so much rather have people walk away thinking they would have paid MORE for a class than wishing they would have paid LESS.

The “Do It For You”

Sometimes, students don’t get the technique right away.  Sometimes, the teacher has to show them or explain it again.  Unfortunately, sometimes the teacher takes it from the student, makes the object or does it for them and hands it back.  What did the student learn there?  The student has to take away the knowledge to do it themselves.  One of the toughest things for me is to show someone, then scrunch up the ball of paste to make them do it.  You want your students to be successful and, I think, that makes some of us “overhelp”.  We have to remember that we are not helping when we do that!  I had one person say that they hated when a teacher put their hands on their hand to show them how to pipe.  I know that I am guilty of doing that, as some people learn from touch and others from words, depending on whether they are right or left brained.  I now know that I should ask if it is ok before grabbing someone to show them how to position their hands.  There are some times that you NEED the teacher to demonstrate pressure and angles and students have to be open to that fact.

Chained to the Desk

This one I heard quite often!  If you are staying at your desk or the front of the classroom the entire time, do you really know how your students are doing?  If you pack in 20 people into a room that should hold 12 and then never move around, how valuable is that class?  I’ve taken these classes before and discussed this in earlier blogs.  I cannot believe that people are still doing it, but it has got to stop!!  The students are speaking out!!  Part of being a teacher is being engaged with your students!  You have got to get up and go see how they are doing as they work on what you’ve taught.

Survival of the Fittest

Sometimes, folks just cannot move as quickly as others in class.  While we cannot hold up an entire class for one person, we do need to be sure that we are cognizant of people who need a little more time.  We need to adapt the “no man left behind” mentality.  Students said that once they fell behind, the teacher just ignored them and went on with the rest of the class.  The students had to rely on other students to help them get caught up.  I am certain we can all do better on this and we need to remember how we would feel if it was us!

Closing Thoughts

I know that being a teacher is an incredibly hard job.  Most of the teachers I know are riddled with doubts about whether they are good enough to teach, whether students like them and whether we are worth what we charge.  I am not writing this to make any of us have more doubts.  I’m sharing this because the students’ complaints were valuable insights into what they NEED from those of us who teach.  I’m sharing because some of these things were mentioned about multiple teachers, so it isn’t a one person issue.  My only fear is that some of the people who need to take heed of this advice, will not think that I am talking to them.  I know that I learned lessons that I will take forward as I teach.  I hope others do, too.

I would like to end with a Thank You to the students who trusted me to tell their stories.

Zen and the Art of Sugarcraft Demonstrating

I have attended quite a few Days of Sharing and cake club meetings. I had a media coordinator for one of the large groups write and ask if I would tackle the dos and don’ts of demonstrating. I read her notes and thought about how right she is! As sugar artists, we rarely have trained for doing presentations before a group. There are definite things that must be taken into consideration and those things differ depending on whether the demonstration is being shown on a big screen or not.

Just as being a talented decorator does not mean you can teach, being a talented artist does not mean you have the gift for live presentations. I am lucky because my drama training, disc jockey days and courtroom experience give me a comfort level in front of crowds that others might not have. I hope that sharing my tips with you will make you more inclined to demo for your next event OR will make you a stronger, more confident demonstrator.

Be Prepared.
Know what you are going to present. Have handouts for the attendees. Be rested. Be dressed professionally. Be early for your presentation.

Involve the Audience.
Confucius said it best. “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. “. Whenever possible, have items to pass around the room. If people touch the thickness of the gum paste, they will better understand how thin to roll it. Let them handle as much as possible. They will be able to take close up photos and to really “get” what you are showing them.

Be Ready for Questions.
I will promise you right now that people will want to ask you questions. The questions may not be on the subject you are demonstrating! That happens all the time. Be ready to share your knowledge as time allows.

Be Honest with the Audience.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Someone else in the audience may know the answer. This happened to me at the Houston Weekend of Sharing. I didn’t know the answer, but another demonstrator did and we all gained by me being honest.

Don’t just be an Advertisement.
Even if you are promoting or sharing a product, you don’t want your demo to feel like an infomercial. I may prefer a certain gum paste or fondant, and I may tell you what I am using. I will also tell you what you need to do to work with other brands. People turn off if they feel like you are just trying to make a sale. You are there to show how to do a project or a technique. Never forget that your motivation should be inspiration and education, not commerce.

Know the Pitfalls.
You need to have enough experience with your demo subject that you can tell or warn them about common errors and explain how to avoid them. Sharing your stories or those of others makes the subject relatable and helps them recognize when something is going wrong.

Don’t Overwhelm the Audience.
Some people feel the need to explain every little thing and, in some respects, show how knowledgable they are about a subject. If you get into technical properties, you may start losing people – not because it is over their head, but because it is not what they came for. When you test drive a car, you want to see how it handles. You learn how to program the radio and what tire pressure you need on your own time. You cannot show how easy your project is if you make it seem complicated or intimidating.

Share Stories and Be Spontaneous.
Do NOT read from a script. Do not speak in a monotone. Be excited about your product or technique and plan to share your enthusiasm. If you are by nature funny, be funny. If you are goofy, be goofy. Be yourself – that is who was asked to demo…not a robotic, serious version of you! Women mostly drive by landmarks and they retain knowledge by the stories that explain what you are doing more than by a dry reading of steps to follow. When someone is at home later, they will remember that story or joke that explained a step and will more likely be successful in their attempt to recreate your item.

Be Ready for Your Closeup.
If there is a camera shooting your demo for display on the big screen, you must demo to the camera. Allow me to repeat, demo to the camera, not to the audience. Keep your hands and your work in a tight zone so that it can be seen on the big screen. Explain your step, do that step, pause and let the camera focus on that step. Do not raise the item up trying to show the audience. The only ones who can see that are possibly the people on the front row, and even then, they might not really see it well. The camera is there to be their eyes. Use it. It may be on your left side or right side. Adapt your presentation so that your hands get out of the way as much as possible.

Work Bigger.
It is incredibly hard for most of the cameras to pick up the really small things. Sometimes the camera is just set at a certain place and no one is running it. If it cannot zoom in to show your work, you need to create bigger pieces, if possible so that the camera can pick it up. For instance, if I am showing how to make fingers on a hand for a small figurine, I generally make a ginormous hand so that each of the steps is easier to see.

Work Bolder.
I know that traditional royal icing work is white on white. I understand that you might like working in pastels. Here is the problem: the camera has trouble showing those subtle color differences. A friend of mine was demonstrating something white against a very pale background. It was all a white blur on camera. For demonstrating, you need to put aside personal preferences and go bold so that the camera can pick up what you are doing. I was teaching dusting recently and selected bold lily colors so that the audience could see them, but I forgot that because my petal was white and I was dusting on a white napkin, they could not see how I started each time. Luckily, someone got me a dark surface to work on so that the beginning stages could be seen.

Think About Your Outfit on Camera.
Have you ever watched a newscast and had the tie on the anchor make you dizzy? Some patterns wreak havoc with a camera. Some color tones are too deep and pull the camera focus. A mid range color is great, with a larger pattern accents if you want those.

No Camera? No Problem.
Some groups are smaller and they do not have a camera setup. You need to think about how you can show people in the back of the room what you are doing. For these demos, I generally stand. If you cannot see the audience, there is no way they can see what you are doing. Even if I am doing a flower, I will roll it out on the table, then lift it and show each stage to the audience. I try to have enough stages of my project pre made so that as I finish each one, I pass that stage around the room.

Demo Out.
Some people are amazing at what they do, but they work tightly to themselves and no one can see what they do. You have to train yourself to do your project in an open fashion so that people can see. I spoke to someone who watched a demo where the lady almost turned her body to hide what she was doing, then would show the finished step and say, “then do this”. Really? I often joke that I am better doing figures upside down and backwards than I am with them facing me. It is true. I often forget when working alone that I can actually look at what I am doing! If I am teaching piping, I am on the floor at the front of the table so that everyone can see around my head and hands to learn the motion.

Leave Them With a Great Story(board).
If your project allows it, have a display prepared that shows all the parts (like for a flower), or shows each major stage (like for a figurine). This way, the audience can come up and capture your presentation in one easy shot.

The single biggest piece of advice that I can give you is to believe in yourself and your role as a demonstrator. You were chosen because people want to learn from you. You are good enough. Demonstrating and sharing is vital for our industry. I attend as many Days of Sharing or cake club meetings as I can. I feel it is my duty to give back, but it also renews my love for sugarart. I feed off of the group’s energy and receive just as much as I give. It is one of the great joys of my life!

The Grass is Always Greener

Have you ever been driving along and you can sense that the car next to you
wants to be where you are…they covet your lane and want to be in your spot?
Maybe you are the person driving and you want to be in that other lane – the
road just looks better there or it will give you access to whatever it is you
are driving towards. It is tough to not feel envious sometimes.

I find myself getting these little pangs now and then. Why didn’t I get picked to teach at that event or judge at that show or whatever. I find myself wishing that I
was walking in other people’s shoes. Then I catch myself and remember that there is probably someone looking at my life wishing they were in my shoes. And you know what?  That is true for most of us. We look ahead to where we want to be and forget that where we ARE was once our goal. We forget that others are
working to achieve whatever we have achieved.

I caught my husband  getting irritated with a driver the other day…the person was in the lane that  he wanted to be in so he could make the next turn. I said, “How would that driver know that you wanted over?  You did not signal. “. After he forgave me for pointing this out, we started discussing that wishing for something to  happen simply wasn’t enough. He said that moving in the new direction required Patience, Persistence and Perception.

No one gets to their desired success level overnight. You have to be patient and have a plan. I think that a lot of people give up on dreams when they were SO CLOSE to realizing them. It can feel like forever while you are waiting for it to be your turn. But wait you must.

It’s funny. So many people think that the highly successful people
in this world never experienced failure or rejection. If you look into their
stories, however, you discover that they simply were persistent until they
achieved success. J.K. Rowling was turned down around a dozen times before
someone took a chance on Harry Potter. I have been turned down spots as an
instructor – or worse, not even been acknowledged several times. I could let
that shake my confidence, or I can tell myself that they simply do not know me.
I have to force myself to stay at it to be able to teach at my desired
locations.

Perception is the one we usually forget about. Just like Rob forgetting to signal the other night, we have to think about what signals we are sending into the universe. Does anyone know about our goals?  Do we have something to show the world what we want?  Just like when I wrote Cake Camp many years ago, you have to help people have the right perception of you. I put together a cd of photos of my work, a resume of classes I wanted to teach and a list of references from their other instructors. I signaled where I wanted to be.

As a baby lawyer, they used to tell us that if it walked like a duck and quacked like a duck and looked like a duck, then it is probably a duck. What they were telling us was to dress for the job we wanted, act like people act in that job, be like those people and everyone would assume we were that. If you want to be on tv, observe those who are and work on those traits. If you want to teach, comport yourself like the instructors you see. If you want the birthday cakes, be like those who get the orders. In other words, send out the perception you want others to have.

I want to add one more “P” to Rob’s list and that is Please. You must
ask. If you sit at home having a pity party because no one asked you to be on
that tv show or compete in that live challenge or whatever, you have only
yourself to blame. Many months ago I was seeing a friend pop up teaching all
over the US. I kept thinking I was doing a bad job as a teacher because I wasn’t
being invited to all these places. She and I were talking one day and I asked
her how these shops heard about her. She laughed and said, “I wrote them and
introduced myself and asked if they would have any interest in me teaching
there.”   You could have knocked me over with a feather. She asked. I kept
thinking what an idiot I had been to just assume that people had hunted her down and I sucked. She put the fourth P into action. Once I started to ask for the
opportunities I wanted, I started to get more of them. That does not mean that I
always get a yes…in fact I can list several recent nos. I know in my heart,
however, that I go more places because I ask.

My final thought for you today, is to try to stem your jealousy or insecurity.  You are seeing what others CHOOSE to show you.  They are probably only showing their successes, not their failures or doubts.  Lord knows I’ve had my share of those, but I have committed to happy posts on Facebook most of the time, so people don’t hear about those things.  I saw this quote and think it sums it all up beautifully.

So my advice for today is to put the 4 P’s into play in your life.  Signal where you want to go.  Don’t judge your life by someone else’s highlights.  Don’t let the green eyed monster of jealousy get to you and don’t let failure be forever.  Your best days are ahead.

Mine. Mine. MINE!!!

One of my favorite scenes in Finding Nemo is when the seagulls all chime in “Mine. Mine. Mine!!”. It reminds me of toddlers fighting over a toy. I hold it, therefore it is mine. I want it, therefore it is mine. I saw it, therefore it is mine. I played with it yesterday, it is still mine.

There have been battles lately over credit on cake design and classes. Some of the battles have been public. Some private. In the end, some friendships have been strained or lost. Some business relationships have been severed. I have had a lot of decorators and teachers ask for a blog on this tricky subject. And I do think it is tricky. I don’t think there is a cut and dried answer that fits every situation. I am going to try to walk in to the minefield and hope that I will be able to walk out the other side. As with all my blogs, remember that this is just my opinion and experience. I am not saying I am right…only that I am explaining my thoughts on the subject.

If you design a cake and publish it on the world wide web, there is a possibility that you will find someone copy or reproduce your cake. We have all had customers bring in cakes from magazines or web pages asking us to make that cake for them. I have never heard Wendy Kromer, who designs many of the Martha Stewart cakes, freak out because decorators all over the country are doing her designs. Every week, someone brought me a picture from The Pink Cake Box to recreate. Again, I have never seen Anne Heap start complaining on Facebook that everyone is copying her expectant mom cake.

I think that if you put your cakes into the public forum, you should expect to be copied. If you don’t want anyone doing cakes like yours, have a photo album at your shop for your customers and make them come in to view your work. I think about the person that designed the first hamburger cake. Will we ever even know who that was?!! How many times have people done variations on that cake? Some subjects, especially food ones, seem to be done everywhere.

When I was a lawyer, we learned that one of the hardest things to prove was a non-event. In other words, to prove that you did not cheat. I remember working on cakes for the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show years ago. I would sketch a design, finish my cake, then get in my cake magazine from England only to see something very similar in the magazine! I worried everyone would think I copied my design, even though I had done my cake before I saw the magazine. How could I prove that? In the end, I just entered my cake and let people think whatever they were going to think.

A lot of artists say they just want credit if you copy or are inspired by their work. Fine. I think if we know who designed it, then we can do that. We need to remember that before Facebook, this wasn’t as large an issue. It was harder to go to hundreds of web pages to view photo galleries to see who has done cakes similar to yours. New etiquette rules seem to be called for in today’s digital age. If you are Facebook friends with the person who did the cake you copied or were inspired by, then please give credit to that person. If you are not Facebook friends, but know who did the cake, give the person credit.

At my shop, we had a line in our brochure that said we did not mind the customer bringing in a photo, but that we would adapt the cake to fit them…so that it was not a straight copy. Most of the time, we could talk the customer into putting a little of themselves or their personality into the cake.

If you copy PHOTOS from other decorators and put them on your Facebook or web page and act like you did those cakes, I believe that is stealing. You stole that photo. I had to fire an employee who set up a competing business with mine, while working for me, using pictures that I took with my camera of cakes done at my shop on her web page. She did not qualify for unemployment benefits because she had stolen from her employer. Cake designs might be tough to copyright and claim ownership on (this is outside my knowledge), but stealing your photograph is easier to prove. I saw one instance where the alleged thief had photoshopped a different color background to try to claim the photo as theirs. Craziness.

Why spend all that time taking photos from someone else instead of using that time to do your own piece? If people worked as hard at cake decorating as they do at building false profiles of their work, the world would be a much sweeter place.

If you take a class from someone, can you then teach that same subject? What if you attend a demo? Most teachers I know teach a class that was inspired by a cake they saw, demo they attended or class they took. Once again, there are no hard and fast rules, but I will share my approach. I am sure it is not perfect, but I can sleep at night.

First and foremost, no one owns the exclusive right to teach a certain technique or medium. I can think of at least three dozen gum paste teachers. Nearly all of them teach a peony. Who is copying whom? They each put their own spin on the creation of the flower. There are dozens of shoe classes out there now. No one has exclusive rights to teach royal icing work. Or sugar. Or sculptures. If you ask me not to teach on a certain subject that interests me, I will decline. This is a huge world and there is room for multiple teachers on the same techniques. Just like one bakery cannot do all the cakes, one teacher cannot teach all the classes. There is room for all of us. When I was asked to teach a shoe class, I contacted Wayne Steinkopf, since I had taken his class. He laughed and told me that he didn’t own the shoe class. It is true. While some teachers may be known for teaching certain things, they cannot keep anyone else from teaching that subject with their unique spin on the class.

If you take a demo from someone, you should not go teach that exact class. You should be INSPIRED by that demo to find your own variations. For example, I took a demo from the talented Dahlia Weinman at ICES one year. She did a demo on Zari Embroidery. I was fascinated by her approach and by all things Indian at the time. I started researching that field of embroidery. In doing so, I found a unique approach to that art form and designed a class based upon a cake entered at That Takes The Cake Show in Austin. If you have ever read my class description or handouts for the class, I tell everyone that Dahlia inspired the class. I made it my own, but paid homage to a very talented cake decorator.

Sometimes, decorators don’t teach a class anymore. Maybe they are too old to go on the road to teach it. Maybe they are bored silly by that class. Maybe they have passed away. Some things I teach stem from this category. I worry greatly about us losing the old techniques and instructions. I want the next generation to know about the amazing sugar artists who taught and inspired me. In each of these instances, I talk about the person who taught me…I want people to know these names…not just the techniques. I try to include those names in my class descriptions or handouts. Kathy Lange teaches Lambeth techniques, as taught to her by the late Betty Newman May. She tells every class about Betty, so that Betty’s legacy will live on. I think this is perfectly acceptable.

I know that many of my students use what I teach them to, in turn, teach people at culinary school, or teach teens, or teach senior citizens or whatever. I have not been bothered by this. They are good about telling people where they learned the techniques. I often see their students in my future classes because of their recommendations. In the end, I have to hope that my reputation as a teacher will speak for itself. I have not ever written anyone saying “That class is mine”. Someone has to teach the teachers.

I have heard of someone who took a class from a famous artist, then copied his entire handout and teaches the class exactly the same. This person did not change anything. This person teaches a total copy of the famous person’s class. I believe this to be wrong.

I heard of another person who attended a class with a dear friend of mine, surreptitiously video taped it, then went home and created a video tutorial for the technique -word for word matching my friend’s class. I believe this to be wrong.

I witnessed a Facebook battle after someone gave a free tutorial to a stranger. The stranger then designed a class based upon that tutorial. The cakes were virtually identical. The person who wanted to teach that class should have either asked permission to teach the class OR made the cake their own. There were numerous things the person could have changed to put their spin on the cake. I believe teaching an exact replica of someone’s tutorial is wrong.

I have seen people ask friends on Facebook to give them a copy of class notes from a certain class. Those notes belong to those who pay for them. If you give those notes out, it is the same as taking money from that teacher. I have a friend who thinks that the line should be based upon whether you paid for the notes. If you attended a demo, she feels it is ok to share. This really reminds me of the Napster controversy. People went online and shared their music library to everyone on the Internet. They thought no one was being hurt. But it turned out that it was harming the entire music industry, not just the wealthy musician. We must be careful to not put the cake industry into that situation. The teachers are just getting by financially and do it more for love than money. Please don’t give away their livelihood. If you continue to do so, one day the good teachers will all be unwilling or unable to continue teaching.

I think the real key to all of this is…don’t be fake. Don’t pretend to do cakes you didn’t do. Don’t teach an exact copy of someone else’s work; put your spin on it. Don’t give away someone’s livelihood. Follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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The Cake Guru

In every career I have had, I have been blessed to have someone that was always ready to offer advice and guidance when I needed it. These mentors have spent time with me and shared with me the benefit of their experience. Many times, they saved me hours of heartache when I would have been doing something twenty times if not for their well timed information rescue. Sometimes, they helped me to focus my energies on the right task or in the right direction. Occasionally, they told me I wasn’t ready for something. In every case, I was better off for having them in my life.

I am writing today to encourage you to find one or more mentors. Look around your cake club or city and see if there is someone who can be your guide. It is possible that you will have one or more Facebook friends who act as mentors. There is no right or wrong person to use as a mentor. The person does not have to be older than you…they just need different or more experience than you on the subject.

You may not even need a mentor from the cake world. If your friend is great at using social media, let him advise you on ways to improve your use of that form of advertising. If a friend is a great writer, see if they will help you rewrite your web pages for better impact. If your friend is great at numbers, ask for their help with your budget.

The perfect mentor for me might not work for you. Think about who you can speak honestly with, who you can trust and who offers realistic encouragement. Remember that if everyone of you seeks out Mike McCarey ( who is a great mentor, btw) or someone “famous”, know that they might be pretty busy and unable to get you quick answers. I know I get questions a lot and try to always answer each to the best of my knowledge, but I am rarely instantaneous about it these days. The best mentors are going to be people who see you regularly and know your situation.

I almost wish that there was a cake guru at the top of a multi-tiered cake mountain somewhere who had the answers to every cake question, but I am realistic enough to know that no one in this industry knows it all (although some act like they do!). We all have strengths and weaknesses. Find the balance for your weakness by finding your mentor.

How do you get a mentor? Remember when I said that you needed someone with whom you could be honest? This is part of why. You need to feel comfortable asking your questions and, more importantly, in asking for help. Be brave and reach out. I promise you that there are mentors all around you right now. Who will be your cake guru?

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