Saturday, January 31, 2015

Painted Magnolia Wedding Cake

This was a display cake that I made for a business that has a stained glass window with the browns and greens in it in their building. It has wafer paper images that I painted like the cake I posted about last week, and gumpaste branches and flowers that I also painted. The paint was made from royal icing.

I like the effect of the "paint" on the gumpaste flowers and leaves...It makes them look kind of cartoony up close.

The gumpaste leaves and dimension in the printed images also gives it some depth even though it's a flat surface. It's a little confusing, just the way I like it.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond, VA.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Using Printed Images To Paint

Painted cakes are very trendy right now, although I haven't had many customers ask for them. So let's say that they're trendy with other cake decorators.

But what do you do if you stink at drawing? When I was in college my best friend told me that she couldn't draw. Me being me, I told her that of course she could, she just needed to practice, but she insisted that no, she could not. I took it upon myself to try to teach her, and after a while I admitted that not everyone could draw or learn how to draw or be taught to draw. That's right, Amy, you broke me.

I don't have any trouble painting cakes, but I know a lot of people who say that they can't draw and they need a template for everything. I've seen tutorials of people showing how to do painted cakes who are using stencils and tracing, so you're not alone if you're freehand drawing-impaired. 

Customers Don't Care How You Do It

Copying and using stencils isn't drawing in my opinion, but the point with cakes is that people don't care how you get to the final product, they just want it to look pretty. So if you need to use a crutch go right ahead. It's what you do with the crutch that makes it creative.

Here's a crutch that people can use if you want to do a painted cake and don't draw well. Take printed images on wafer paper or icing sheets, put them on gumpaste or on the cake directly, then paint those.

I've always found the paintings that are really a photograph that have been painted to be really creepy. They're too realistic to be a painting, and the surface is usually flat even though they have paint on them, so they just creep me out. Again, me being me, I decided to use that idea to do a couple of cakes, and it took on a life of its own after the first one.

Here's the first one:

For this one I cut out printed wafer paper flowers (available in my Etsy shop), cut them out, stuck them to the cake, then overpiped them. I was going to brush embroider them but doing that covered the picture up too much, so I decided to outline them to allow the colors to show through more.

The next one was more painterly in that I covered up most of the images with the "paint". 

For this one I took a photo of a flower that I'd taken and printed it in several different sizes, then stuck it to the cake. That by itself was a nice, bold pattern, but I wanted to try painting on it too. I used royal icing thinned out with food color to match the original colors of the images and painted the flowers to look like an oil painting so that there are textures and depth to the pictures. I added some painted leaves and I painted the gumpaste flower on top to match. I left some parts of the images showing through but for the most part they're completely covered up, which is different from the first cake.

So these didn't start out as an "I can't draw" project, but I realized that it would be a way for people who really can't paint to do it. And it's an interesting look.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond, VA

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Craftsy Class Review: Over The Top Modeling Chocolate

CraftsyThis review contains affiliate links, but the opinions are 100% my own, especially the part about sucking on floral tape.

Over The Top Modeling Chocolate was taught by Kate Sullivan, who also did the Painted Cakes class. She owns Cake Power in New York and does a lot of bright, contemporary styles of cake designs. This class goes into how to use modeling chocolate to make some flowers and some figures with armatures.

What I liked about this class is that she shows how to make a simple armature for a standing figure that uses common materials decorators tend to have around anyway. Instead of making a trip to the hardware store for special structural material, you can use your floral wire and tape, which is pretty much all you need for most figures.

She goes over how to make a standing elephant holding a balloon in its trunk, a dog that looks like it's seated for the poker-playing dogs cake, and adds some modeling chocolate flowers including a peony, hydrangea and narcissus.

I like modeling chocolate much more then gumpaste, fondant, or any combination of those for making figures because it's just more malleable. It's like modeling clay and it's a lot easier to smooth out and work with. As long as you keep it cool enough it's very simple to manage.

That's the one thing I'd warn people who haven't used modeling chocolate doesn't like heat and humidity. I don't even bother trying to use it in the summers here. Even in my air-conditioned kitchen it doesn't behave well. It's like it KNOWS that there's a hot, humid day outside and it refuses to be fooled. So be careful with that and don't wait to test it out for the first time in the middle of the summer.

Actually, the cake that made me coin the term "monkey-iced" had modeling chocolate roses on it. I say HAD them, because after someone had left it out in the heat and they had all melted, they weren't roses anymore. So it's not the perfect medium for all weather.

But this class was good for basics of how to sculpt figures using it, and as long as your weather isn't like being hit in the face with damp sauna air when you walk outside, you should be all right.

My final review:

Skill level: Beginner to intermediate
Equipment you have to have: Floral wire and tape, some flower cutters etc
Sleep-inducing level: Not too bad but I was drinking a delicious caffeinated beverage while watching it.
What it assumes you already know: How to make the modeling chocolate...The recipe is included, but if you don't know how to make it watch my video here: 
Unnecessary Difficulty Level Of Methods Demonstrated: Nothing much
Annoying Host Habits: Nothing, but I'm really starting to get annoyed at the number of questions about whether everything in every Craftsy class is "food safe." Yes, you don't want to eat lead paint, but having a fit because someone uses a sharpie and not food coloring is worrying too much. Go suck on a roll of floral tape for a while and see if you're still here tomorrow, I bet you will be. And if you're that worried about the chemicals that might brush off on a tiny piece of fondant because it touches a dowel, I hope you're not eating cake mix, because that has a heck of a lot more junk in it.
Level of Helpful Hints Learned: The biggest thing here is how to keep it simple, which sometimes seems to be a lost art. Her tips are all pretty straightforward and don't require a bunch of weird cutters and tools.

Go here for the class: Over The Top Modeling Chocolate

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA, and is  a Craftsy affiliate.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Painted Gumpaste Wedding Cake

This cake has painted flowers on it, and I decided to paint the gumpaste peony to match it. This was one of the peonies I made by using the petals from a peony in my yard as a pattern, so it had a lot of smaller individual petals. I painted them with the same colors that I used on the flowers so they would mimic the flat flowers. I plan on doing more of that because I just like how it looks.

The other interesting thing about this cake was the way that I did the painted flowers. I'll be putting a tutorial up about it next week on the blog ;)

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond, VA.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wedding Reviews--- Nobody's Minding The Shop.

The following is my opinion based on my own experiences and the experiences of people I know. Your experience may vary depending on how willing you are to ignore BS.

Have you ever said to yourself "how can that jerk still be in business, they're horrible. But they get good reviews on Wedding Wire, I just don't get it." Well guess what? They're probably writing their own reviews.

I've been stewing about this for a while, but after seeing this awesome article I decided to go ahead and write about it. This is the story of how a photographer tested the Wedding Wire system to see who's minding the shop and handing out those "top 5% of wedding professionals" awards. The answer, apparently, is nobody. Click here: Why I Killed Wedding Wire.

Review Sites Exist To Make Money, Duh.

Now after that you might be wondering whether the online wedding review system might possible be broken just a little bit. Of course it is. Review sites don't give a crap about whether the reviews are real or not. They're there to sell you advertising and to bury your bad reviews if you pay them to. This is detrimental to brides and to vendors, but I doubt that review sites care as long as they're making their $$$.

Let me first say that I'm picking on Wedding Wire today because I've had so many people gripe about it, and I've seen how the dispute process works firsthand. I've had really rude messages left on my answering machine from WW reps when I wouldn't return their calls to buy advertising, and they are SUPER persistent and annoying about trying to get you to pay them money. Other sites are the same, but they tend to send you a million emails instead of trying to corner you on the phone.

So why would you "upgrade your listing" with them? Because they will manipulate your reviews Yelp-style when you do.

I've heard several wedding professionals say things about their lowest-rated reviews disappearing completely from WW after they bought advertising from them. What a strange coincidence!

How Can You Dispute A Review If You Don't Get Any Input?

The answer is, you can't. I know people who have had anonymous reviews posted that they couldn't verify based on the fact that they WEREN'T WORKING THE WEEKEND THE REVIEWER SAYS THEY GOT MARRIED. This might be a tiny clue that the review is fake, but you still have to go through their dispute process to have it removed. (And based on the dispute system, it might not end up being removed at all.)

I also know people, myself included, who have had totally distorted versions of the truth posted as a review because the customer was mad and threatened feedback extortion if they didn't get a refund. Remember my client who was mad that I delivered exactly what she ordered, then said "the contract doesn't matter" when I pointed that out? In a strange coincidence, several fake reviews were posted on WW soon after she called to yell at me for providing what she had ordered.

So I've been through the WW dispute system, and I can tell you that it's total crap. Anyone can post an anonymous review, good or bad, and the "verification" process that WW goes through is specious at best. They require one of two things to "verify" a review. One is proof of payment to the vendor, and one is a signed contract.

You Can't Say Something Is Verified If You're Not Letting Both Parties See The "Proof"

Thing is, THEY DON'T FURNISH THE INFORMATION TO THE VENDOR SO THAT WE CAN VERIFY IT. So that vendor who wasn't working the weekend the reviewer says they hired her? All the anonymous reviewer would need to do is find a contract online, fill it out, sign everyone's names, and send it to WW as "proof."  WW then writes to the vendor and says yep, we got proof, the review is staying.

They don't let the vendor see the contract or the proof of payment. So let's say I sold someone a bunch of silicone molds through my website store. They could go online and leave a review of the wedding cake they didn't get from me, and if I dispute it they could send the credit card receipt with the payment to my website as proof of payment. Since WW doesn't verify with the vendor that the payment was for what the reviewer says it was for, I don't have the chance to say that it wasn't for wedding services at all. They'll just "verify" the review and you're SOL.

And if the review is from an actual customer who basically misrepresents the situation, they won't remove the review either. WW says that they don't verify the truth of a review based on the contract, they just look to see if the reviewer can produce a contract. Even Paypal does a better job than that, and that's saying a lot.

And I'm not making this up...I have emails from Wedding Wire explaining their system to me when I wrote to question their methods. I invite them to step up and actually be accountable to the vendors, but they'll cry "privacy issues" and won't do that.

WW isn't the only one, either. Yelp is known for being full of BS, and went to court for the right to be able to manipulate their reviews. I've been told that The Knot removes too many reviews from the same IP address...So go use a proxy and you'll be fine there.

The Only "Integrity" Involved Is An Internal Thing. And Some People Have None.

The basic issue is that you don't know who's posting what and wedding websites aren't there for the vendors OR the brides. They're a business, and they're there to sell you advertising. If someone is packing their own reviews with fake ones, nobody's going to take them down. If there's no dispute then they're not going to be looked at twice. The fakery goes both ways, and is only stopped by someone's internal sense of right and wrong, which review websites don't care about. They're not there to be your friend, they're there to make money for their business.

I know a few people in my area who will read this and go give themselves good reviews. Because they suck. The brides are none the wiser, but we vendors know who's honest and who sucks. If you're a bride, read this: Checking Up On Your Wedding Professionals

So the next time you wonder how a caterer who gives people food poisoning on a regular basis, or a photographer who never delivers albums, or a baker who consistently delivers monkey-iced cakes get so many good reviews online, look no further than their friends and family. Or themselves, for that matter. If someone has time to make a bunch of fake email accounts and post some fake reviews, even the worst vendor will look like a gem online.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond, VA, and has been involved in the wedding industry long enough to know all the dirty tricks people use to make themselves look better. And is really irritated by them.