I often find myself struggling with being able to express my own style because people who order cakes always come with some pictures they found on Pinterest and ask me to copy the cake for them. It really makes me so sad when this happens.
Sound familiar? Last week I wrote about how I broke the rules and found my own style, and how one needs to step away from imitation at some point in order to do this. I've received a number of comments & messages about how hard it can be to step away from imitation when most client comes with a picture of someone else's work that they'd like replicated. Yep, I totally get this as I've been there many a times.
Over the years, I've tested many tactics and strategies in attempts to tackle this issue and these are what I found to have been helpful. I hope they help you too.
1. Don't give the client too much credit.
That is, don't assume they know what they want because most often they don't. The reality probably is that they need a cake, typed 'wedding cake' into Google/Pinterest/Instagram and collected a few pics that they are drawn to. That's about it.
2. Don't assume - really find out what it is that your client wants.
When someone sends a picture of a cake whether it be yours or someone else's, never jump straight to assuming that they want that cake. Ask them specifically what it is about that picture/cake that they like i.e. is it colour scheme, the shape, the flowers, mood etc? Chances are they don't know the answer, and this forces them to actually think about what they really want. Sometimes you'd be surprised to find out that all they like about that picture was the filter or the table styling, nothing to do with the cake.
3. Establish a mutual understanding of the brief.
Only when you have asked the right questions and have gotten your answers can you both establish a mutual understanding of the brief - meaning there are no assumptions regarding the size, shape, colour scheme, theme, feel etc of the cake. After this point, start thinking about the design. Don't do this any earlier. Depending on your confidence you may want to suggest something completely different and out there, or just one or a few changes to the designs they've sent through. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to communicate. The worst thing you could do is assume.
4. Don't be afraid to let the client know that you don't do replicas.
Don't hesitate to let the client know that even though the cake in the picture they've sent is lovely, it is someone else' work and replicating others' work isn't something that you do. However, you would be more than happy to work with them to come up with something that will meet their requirements while being more unique to their event.
In the 5 years that I have been making custom cakes, I have not had one person argue with this. As long as you show the client a willingness to work together with them, they will show you the same. And if they are adamant that they only want a replica, then it is up to you to decide whether you are really a good fit as their cake maker.
5. You cannot be original with EVERY SINGLE CAKE.
If you're making cakes for a living, then remember it is a business. You cannot be original with EVERY single cake you make. This is just simply not viable from a business point of view as it takes up way too much time. So be ok with making existing designs as long as you credit the original designer. It's also ok to just make one small change or tweak to the cake to put your personal spin on it. Again, if you've used someone else's work as inspiration don't hesitate to credit them.
6. Give yourself time.
The road to finding your own style and being able to express it is looong so be patient with yourself. Your skills will improve, your confidence will grow, your experience will become richer and your style will change. So, go with it at your own pace.
Left: a Katherine Sabbath inspired cake, 2015 | Right: an original DTC watercolour cake, 2019.
Remember, the most important in the process of finding your own style is acquiring the correct skillset and building the right foundation. Without this, you will not have the confidence to venture out of the box and experiment. So, get your cake decorating basics right first, and then embark on the journey to find your style as a cake artist.
There are a lot more to the client consultation / design process, but I will dive into that another time. For now, I hope that remembering you are in control and allowing yourself some patience is enough to help you set sail on your own journey in finding your voice as a cake artist.
If you need help with getting the correct cake decorating skillset and building the right foundation, don't hesitate to check out our Buttercream Cake Mastery online course or get in touch with me via email or our social media channels any time.
Til next week.