CI entry - your thoughts please

Hi all,

So, there’s something I didn’t tell you. I entered a cake into CI last weekend – I didn’t say anything before because it was all a bit new and I tend to introvert when going through something challenging. To my friends on here, I hope you’re not offended I couldn’t say hello to you (actually, I didn’t see any faces I recognised from people here anyway) or arrange to meet, as I’m still not too comfortable with people yet, and felt it was a bit much. As some of you know I’ve only been decorating cakes properly since May 2014, this entry was my third stacked fondant cake, which I think is pretty good going for progress :) As this was the second cake show I’ve been to and the first time I’ve entered, I’ve collected a few thoughts on the experience here. I’d love to know how you feel about them, as a competitor or just someone who attended the show (or saw photos later).

The first thing I noticed was the very large variation in theme, complexity, detail and appearance between the wedding cake entries. I wasn’t sure how it would be possible to compare a very simple, almost blank small 3 tier cake with a few accents to a very large, ornate 7-tier number with a great deal of detail, modelling, multiple techniques, moving parts etc. When getting feedback from the judge it seemed that the grading was heavily inclined towards millimetre-perfect technical accuracy in whatever method is used (regardless of it’s simplicity). So a simple covering that was without flaws would score higher than a more complex technique which had, say, a few flakes of paint which fell off, or a millimetre’s gap between adjacent elements. It seemed almost like unless you could deliver a technique flawlessly, you would be penalised for attempting it, which I was surprised by. Complexity of design seemed to be used to differentiate between pieces only once they’d already been awarded top marks in technical accuracy, such as the difference between gold and 1st place gold. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it seemed like quite a clinical way to judge a piece of art.

Which brings me on to my next observation. I somehow thought that artistic vision, style, colour and overall aesthetic would be a major consideration. I know that beauty, rather than pure technical accuracy, is a much greater influence on me when I come to view a cake… A few days before the competition I discussed this on fb, on a status by a page I follow (forgotten which one!) about what makes a great cake. There were two schools of thought; most people stated technical and design aspects such as clean lines, accurate work and such, but one lady I agreed with most said simply “any cake made with love”. I agreed with that answer, but in my comment extended the idea further – there are some cakes that have a “presence” about them. Some charisma or charm, some design element or style that speaks to you. You can see they aren’t made with the highest technical accuracy and probably wouldn’t do well if judged on such – but they are most definitely beautiful. There are several cakers I follow who fit this bill, they have some creative spirit which shines through their pieces that makes me love them, even when I can see the air bubbles in their fondant or the slight unevenness of their design. Of course there are many who have both style and technical excellence, which perhaps are the cream of the caking world and the type that wins first place as well as gold, but for me if I had to sacrifice one side it would definitely not be the part of a cake that speaks to my heart. For me, this is what all art really is – an expression of the beauty and emotion in the deepest parts of us, a reflection of the spirit within the creator which connects with the viewer through the piece. How did it make you feel? Did you gasp? did it make you sigh and dream, or smile, or laugh? For me, a cake is a love affair – to be admired for all it’s beauty, both artistic and technical – and not judged solely on it’s lack of flaws. But when I went to the office I happened to glimpse some guidelines for judging left on a chair beside me (I don’t know if i was supposed to but it was just there when I looked down by chance lol) which made reference only to the level of technical skill and noticeability of flaws. I wonder how other competitions in the art world are judged?

So those were my thoughts, this was my entry. I got a merit, which according to the list I accidentally glimpsed was “basic skills, noticeable flaws”. I was initially disappointed with the result before I spoke to the judge, but felt much happier after she told me she liked the design and that the technical accuracy was all that could have stopped the same cake getting a gold. (she also said she would expect me to enter later this year at Birmingham and get silver or gold in that one lol, we’ll see). Other feedback I had showed a misunderstanding about my design inspiration – I was told the rosette ruffles should have been more open, but I specifically opted for a less conventional tightly packed design; and the pleated tier should have been more uniform, where I had purposely made them slightly irregular to look like real gathering and express the “fabric and jewellery” theme of the cake. Perhaps next time I’ll put a little written description next to the cake to explain that more, if that’s allowed. I was also told the silver lustre was flaking off slightly (it was :) ), there was a slight gap between the pleating and the tiers above and below, the gaps between jewels in the statement jewelled tier were too large, and the backs of the almond shaped jewels could have been neater, none of which occurred to me as being that important in the grand scheme of things. From this I understood that my cake had not been judged on what I consider most important, which let me be at peace with the result, as well as learning small ways in which I could improve my art :)

It also allowed me not to mind so much when they got my name wrong on the entry, putting Sawsen as my last name (lol), then correcting it in the office only to spell Sawsen wrong (lol!). I didn’t bother telling them to print it again, although I could have very easily – because the experience, making the cake, meeting the judge, and what I learned were what I value about this event, and not my name – or somebody else’s! – on a piece of paper with some other words :) I would make 1000 blinged out cakes with tight ruffles and flaky paint before I’d make one piece I didn’t believe in purely to get a result, and I’m very happy like that.

I also have a lot more respect now for the millimetre-accuracy and skill (as well as creativity) that goes into making a show-stopping cake. So many heartfelt congratulations to all the winners :)

I hope you’re having a lovely day. Best wishes & love,

*following this discussion, it might be worth saying I haven’t touched up any of the photos (I don’t actually have software to do that). the only editing was brightness, exposure, etc and adding a watermark. I’ll be adding them soon to cakes and will post the link here afterwards, if you’d like to see.

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Well Sawsen, I cannot weigh in on the subject as I’ve never entered a competition. They are sorely lacking here in Canada. There’s one in Sept, @ Canada’s Sweets & Baking show, it’s so so. It’s only been around 3-4 yrs.,so it’s in its infancy. One very small competition , at a local cake decorating shop about a hour from me, in Nov, one in another Province I’d have to fly to….prohibitive at almost $1000 a plane ticket to do so. And one where you have to be a member @ $50 a year to have the “privilege” to compete. I could go to ICES in USA, but also prohibitive financially. I would kill to attend your CI, just for the fun of looking at all the amazing entries.
Perhaps you will get more feedback on this topic from some more seasoned decorators who’ve entered cake completions.

Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God. Clarky's Cakes 😎

Thanks for your reply June… I’m surprised they don’t have competitions near you, having to pay 1000 to enter one is insane! We’re very blessed we have CI here with all the locations pretty much driveable within a few hours from most people. I really did enjoy attending and the experience of participation. Perhaps you should petition the organisers to start one where you are too!

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I love the cake Sawsen, it’s a dream. I have never been in a competition or know what they are all about but somehow it seems they pointed out a lot of things on your cake while I have seen a lot of cakes that were not that great and won before.. I think I need to learn a bit more about it and the requirements. As said you are still my big inspiration, your cakes are amazing!!

Selma S. ~ Little Apple Cakes

Selma you’re just one of the loveliest people ever. Yes, the grading was a bit of a mystery to me before I participated this year, I remember being surprised for similar reasons as you say when I attended my first CI in 2014. It has opened my eyes to technical aspects which I didn’t consider before, which is good, and helped me better appreciate the perfect work I see from others here and in fb. But part of me would love to see recognition for the creative, design and artistic elements as well… Perhaps in classes other than wedding cakes this is more the case already x

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What an articulate and thoughtful article Sawsen. I attended CI on Saturday, would have loved to have seen you to say hello, but I also went incognito. Your cake was amazing, and I must admit I find the whole judging criteria very baffling, that would explain why I can’t understand why you didn’t get a gold for such a stunning cake. I had toyed with the idea of entering, but as a full time primary teacher I haven’t the time required to devote to competition entry. However, I think I may now just shelve the idea and get on with making cakes for friends and family made, as you said, “with love”.

Roo's Little Cake Parlour

Thank you Roo. After the judge explained what they’re looking for I could indeed see the small things she referred to – I made sure to snap enough close ups to show them if anyone wanted to see and those attending could have seen them from all angles. The only problem was that I don’t really agree this is the highest criteria a cake (or piece of art) can be judged by. There were many pieces I fell in love with which earnt gold, but the technical accuracy of the work (while impressive) wasn’t what made me love them. Hope you had a great time, and I would love to see you enter – for yourself, and others like me who will see the beauty in your work and not the imperfections xx

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I was a first time entrant and in wedding cakes I am sure the judge more harshly in this category! Because everyone wants their wedding cake flawless, I got a silver award for my Harry Potter cake but they only pointed out the imperfections that I knew about already, I’m a full time teacher too Roo and it was a lot of work so I was happy with the result but I don’t see why your cake was only a merit, there were a few decisions that surprised me, I had been told to avoid cutters and moulds where possible and not to use cake lace in its naked form…. So I piped it by hand and eye, I modelled by hand… And then some of the golds and Indeed rosette winners were cutters and moulds!! It’s a
L a bit baffling but I enjoyed the experience, my husband also competed and got silver with his green dragon sculpted and our autistic 8 year old son got a bronze for his Dr whooves tardis rainforest cake. Don’t give up, use it as valuable feedback and know where to improve in future, that is where the feedback squarely lies for me. For the record I loved ur cake x


Thank you! I agree that I couldn’t figure out how some wedding cakes with ragged edges on their fondant cut-outs and dents in their covering scored higher, but very early on I decided not to compare myself to them, even if the judging really was inconsistent. I think a big influence on grade was their expectation that the pleats should be exactly symmetrical and evenly spaced and rounded, and the ruffles were tightly packed, it seems they decided on first sight those were inaccuracies instead of considering they might be deliberate features of the cake. The judge certainly seemed surprised when I told her I looked at a lot of rosettes and decided tight was prettiest, and that I didn’t try to get the pleats even or I would have cut even strips for each individual one instead of ruching a larger piece several times. I feel if there was an opportunity to stand next to the cake as it was judged and introduce it’s inspiration and features and answer questions it would have been a different story, because to be honest the only “flaws” that could be truly considered “noticeable” according to what they pointed out in the feedback would be those x

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Sawsen, your cake is beautiful, as I said on your cake post, first time in comp work is scary and I did not tell anyone either because I was led to believe by a certain person that I’d never be able to get it all done and was phsyced down. but I rallied in there anyway and like you, told no one, other than my family.
I could talk a lot on this subject, but all I want to say is each person entering a competition has their own agendas as to why they are doing it… And as far as I’m concerned it’s a good thing to challenge yourself and see how far you can push your own boundaries and I’m sure you do. Ive exhibited five times for Cakes International, but two were groups, the other three were comp pieces. One bronze and two silvers of which I cherish and feel a great sense of achievement. But my biggest achievment was a personal one as I had stepped out of a comfort zone and felt the fear and did it anyway… And I’m so pleased I did, and I’m sure you must be too… I really hope you will keep on entering… Talk to the judges, their comments and feedback I always find invaluable. I learn something each time. Sorry I did not see you in Manchester and hope to see you at the next one… Please feel free to message me anytime xx big big hugs and congratulations … XXXX

You must never limit your challenges, instead you must challenge your limits