Monday, June 25, 2012
I have been doing cakes so long I used to write inscriptions in hieroglyphics (snare drum, ba dum bum!) but seriously folks...Back then if I had an idea about something I wanted to do, I had to use the only resource available: my brain.The same goes for any art project. Much trial and error , probably way more error, and you develop a wealth of skills, kind of a tool kit.Being of little means as a child also meant that if I wanted to make something , I needed to be extra creative.I would draw on paper towels if there was no paper to be found. A sketchbook was a special treat for me.At that time I was also really into miniatures. My brother Randy worked in furniture production during that period and he made me a tiny chair.I decided I needed to also make a chair. Being 8 years old- ish and having no carpentry skills did not seem like it should be a deterrent to me.I worked all day long on that chair using tools plucked from my dad's shop, all the while repeating the phrase: "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again".I don't even remember now if at the end of the day I had managed to produce a mini chair, but to this day I still think about that effort and my mantra,"try and try again".
I don't know when mass market craft stores hit the scene but almost overnight,instead of shopping for art supplies , stores filled themselves with "kits". I'm sure they were designed for convenience, but what they successfully actually did is create a society that was robbed of that "try and try again" experience. Taking the guesswork, the failure out of a project also insures that you will also be without the experience of truly LEARNING something.I have learned far more from my countless mistakes than from my successes.You may be able to make one project well , per the instructions but what about the next project? Will you need a kit or tutorial for every project? I'm betting that these Big Box craft stores are counting on that.
I once read on a forum, a person had taken 3 cake projects on and needed tutorials for all 3!This is a thinking I simply cannot understand, but I will try.Perhaps this tutorial culture that is fostered by Youtube and cake forums, etc... is so pervasive because of fear of failure.I'll be honest, failure is scary. It's stressful. It will give you grey hair.I'm never happy when a cake cracks or some thing falls off, but I analyze the situation, I correct it, I LEARN from it, and you know what? the next cake is better for that experience.My work is so diverse, I almost never make the same cake twice, so honestly, every week I utter the words "I have no idea how to do____________". But that's my fear talking. I do know, and I know because I DO.I make a lot of work, I make a lot of mistakes. I'm building my tool kit.When I have to make, for example, a Marlin fish, maybe I have never done one before, but I have done other fish, which at one time I had never done before, but I just went for it. I did it, I tried things out, I made mistakes, I LEARNED from them.
I am not saying you should never take a class or read a book or watch a tutorial, but they should only be tools that supplement your own tool kit.Don't be afraid to try something new, create your own techniques, even have a few cake disasters.I promise you you will be a better artist because of them.
*Health check on that golden goose from earlier: still alive and honking!*
Sunday, April 15, 2012
....and why you're only as good as your last cake.
Body dysmorphic disorder is defined as a mental illness that causes the sufferer to obsess over minor flaws or defects that no one else can see.This is the condition most often seen in those with eating disorders , causing the affected to see themselves as fat while others witness a body wasting away. It's a disorder of a skewed perception.Cake dysmorphic disorder is a newly recognized condition (recognized by me )characterized by an individual cake maker's inability to accurately perceive their own work.With CDD ,as it will hereafter be referred to, instead of a body wasting away, opportunities to improve are what is wasted.
Every cake you make is a chance to learn.All of us are in different stages of development of our craft. A side effect of CDD is arrested development.We all yearn for praise, it's only natural.The healthy can accept this much needed praise with an open mind.Yes, your loyal friends and family will tell you how you need to go on Cake Boss (which , btw, I was unaware was some sort of show that had guest cake decorators) and that's great, that's what friends are for.But,in order to be free of CDD you must always be aware of your own flaws.I don't beat myself up for making mistakes or having imperfections on my cakes, but I do try to never make the same mistake twice. I'm not always successful, but I am always striving to be better.CDD robs you of that chance. Those who have lost the ability to see their cake's flaws will clap their hands together declaring it a job well done.The next cake will have the same flaws, and the next,ad nauseum.Sufferers with the most advanced cases of CDD will go on to declare themselves invincible, able to do "anything you can imagine".Wow! A bold claim to be sure, clearly one only someone with this affliction could dare to promise.Lately,there is evidence it may be contagious.Warning signs might be self proclaiming "masterpieces" or "fabulousness". While there is no known cure at this time there are a few things you can do to avoid being afflicted.
1.Try to remember, no matter how successful last your cake was, that has no bearing on the next one.After you have basked in the glow of hundreds of comments and accolades, put them aside.The next customer doesn't care how great THAT cake was, they are only concerned about their cake.
2.Keep your skill set fresh. OK, great you "invented" a cake technique back in 1985. What have you done lately? Even Thomas Edison didn't rest on his laurels after "discovering" electricity.
3.Look with fresh eyes.I recently revisited a cake theme I had not tackled for 5 years. Instead of referring to my previous work, I started anew. I'd rather not be influenced by my past work and past mistakes, but hopefully I can approach each design whether a new or old one with a fresh approach , one rich with the experience and lessons I have hopefully gained over the years.
4.The delete button is your friend.As we are all hopefully on a journey to be the best we can be, undoubtedly , if you have not yet been stricken with CDD , you will become embarrassed by your own work.This is actually a sign of growth! Routinely prune your portfolio as your skills improve.A healthy cake maker should do this often, otherwise you're stagnating.Of course, keep private photos of all stages of your own progress.You can still learn from these images, but not everyone needs to see them. Your public portfolio is only as good as your worst piece.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
In a dream world, I'd post this want ad on Craigslist and in every newspaper in the area. In this age of the internet, it seems there are an infinite number of places customers can post their ad hoc reviews about services. These posts are never complete,never truly accurate, but always powerful.When you have a mainly web based business like mine, word of mouth is incredibly important.I have been quite fortunate to be the recipient of many great reviews and literally thousands of positive comments from customers on sites like Yelp, Facebook and Flickr, to name a few.For this I am truly grateful.....however.....where are the sites that empower those small businesses? Namely: where can I review the customer? Now, don't get me wrong, I know which side of my cake gets buttercreamed and without customers I'd just be a chubby girl sitting around with unsold cake, but.....every now and again I feel that I need to speak out about my experiences with a customer.Apparently there is some unspoken rule that says , in order to be in business, you must bend over backwards, change your policies, oh hell, just drop EVERYTHING to please the customer. I do not know who wrote this but I say it's time to burn that rulebook.
First let me tell you a little something about being an artist and small business owner.Let this serve as a guide on how to be a great/ informed customer.
Number 1. : I'm NOT getting rich. I have even had people joke to me, wow! that cake was $$$$? You must be getting really rich! Um, no. Your idea of a bakery might be those production facilities that churn out sheet cakes.As someone who had 15-16 years working in production bakeries, I can tell you that the only thing those "factories" and a custom cake design studio have in common is the word "cake".It was entirely common to have 50-60 cakes a weekend in the production bakeries.Add in answering phones and waiting on walk in customers, cleaning, etc... that left about 20 minutes max to produce each cake.Compare that to the number of cakes I can do per week.On a busy week I can do 6-8, and that is pushing it. Why? Because I devote entire days, sometimes several days to each cake. This is not because I'm incredibly slow or have a broken arm or something, it's because QUALITY takes time. So back to that getting rich thing? again, no.
Number 2. "I'm the customer and you have to do everything I say". Guess what? Nope.Being self employed ,I sacrifice a lot. Weekends, vacations, health insurance those are all just fading memories to me. One of the only perks I have as a result is being able to decide what I will and will not do. I don't willy nilly make up policies as I go along, mind you. I try to make it very clear on all my web pages all the info that you will need to initiate an order. Among these are my menu selections, availability and notice requirements and my policies about tastings and meeting with clients. Time and time again, these are just disregarded and I just cannot understand why .Just as you would not demand a restaurant to produce an entree not on their menu, nor should you ask that of me.Neither would you demand a store to open just for you, should you ask that I do the same.My policies are the result of decades of experience and knowing what is right for my business. please don't ask that I change them for you.
Number 3.:Please do not insult me.I hear constantly, "Debbie, I LOVE your work! Now, here's a picture of someone else's cake.Make it for me!" I presume you came to me because you recognized that I am an artist. Please don't treat me like a machine. I am a designer, not a cake machine.Let me do what I do, I am assuming that's why you chose me over another.On the subject of insulting me, do NOT question why I charge what I must(and I say MUST).I don't sit around calling out the first number that pops in my head. Pricing is an incredibly difficult and complex issue that is ever evolving.Because what I do is so unique, most of my cakes are one offs, I must rely on previous experience with similar cakes to help me gauge a fair to all parties price.I have woefully underestimated the amount of work a particular project will take on countless occasions. I am the one who absorbs this cost oversight. I had a cake last year , for example,that I priced at what I thought was a reasonable number and when I got into the actual crafting of the cake, ended up spending 3 times the hours than I had estimated. Once you factor in my expenses and the salary I must pay my occasional assistant, you can easily see I lost money. A tough mistake for sure, and not one I could afford to make, but I turn these experiences into lessons.The next person who asks for something similar will receive a much more realistic quote. Believe it or not, this is beneficial to everyone. When I know that I have priced a cake properly, I can set aside the amount of time that it deserves and am a much more creative and non stressed cake designer.
Number 4.: Do YOUR homework or: Why are you better than ________? Technically this question belongs in the last paragraph but that was getting wordy =) As a customer, it is up to you to take advantage of the years of work I have laid out for you to see on the internet.Please take some time to peruse my website(s), read my reviews, note the large amount of international press I have worked hard to receive.I AM my portfolio, and if that isn't enough to convince you, then I am not the right designer for you, and you know what? That is fine too. Not every business can be right for every customer, just as not every customer is right for every business.
All rambling aside, I am eternally grateful to the hundreds of customers that have trusted me and continue to make me a part of their important occasions, to you,a heartfelt THANK YOU!