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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