Is It Bad Design Or Bad Execution? (Ridiculously Long)

Decorating By SugarFiend Updated 21 Nov 2010 , 3:00pm by SugarFiend

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SugarFiend Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 6:38pm
post #1 of 28

(Let me preface this by saying that I'll be referencing some of my cakes, because I'm in desperate need of constructive input from someone other than my DH - but I'm in no way fishing for compliments. The last thing in the world I need right now is for someone to blow sunshine up my a&$. icon_rolleyes.gif )

In a nutshell, I'm concerned that A.) I'm just getting worse at decorating because I don't adapt well when things go wrong, or B.) I'm not actually going to shape up to be a good decorator because I can't seem to work in the ideas of others to make a good cake. Or maybe it's a combination of both. Regardless, I feel like I've been turning out crap lately! Put another way, I seem to do my best stuff when nobody else's opinion matters, when I have minimal input from others and can do whatever my heart pleases to make a cake. This is so incredibly discouraging, because how can I be a good cake decorator if I can't work with someone else's ideas?

For instance, of the two zebra striped cakes in my gallery: I think it's pretty obvious on which one I took a lot of input. I wasn't happy with it - didn't like the guitars and stars around the bottom at all. My apple, Yoda, and Guess How Much I Love You cakes were made with very little input from others, aside from "yeah, that sounds like a good idea." I did what I wanted with those, keeping in mind sketches I had shown people. The pink and brown dot cake was different in that nobody even knew I was making a cake. It was a last-minute thing that I made up as I went along. It had zero input from anyone but me, and it was my most well-received cake ever (and I'm very flattered by all the favorites it earned!).

Examples of things going wrong are my last four cakes, as well as the communion cake. The communion cake was actually my most perfect cake ever, weirdly, as far as fondant and piping go (all freehanded piping, even the lettering on the board. I was so proud, not that anyone even noticed!). However, I broke no less than 8 RI butterflies that were supposed to go on it, which left it seriously naked and unfinished-looking.

The black and purple cake was a disaster. It was supposed to have flowing black scrolly designs cut with the Cricut on the top tier, accented with silver dragees, and the bottom was supposed to have the random stripes (and a lot more of them), accented with the black flowers with the silver dragees. I spent HOURS trying to get a decent cut with the Cricut to no avail. What is on the top tier is the only thing I could get to cut halfway cleanly - the "feel" is totally wrong, and it's a mess. I was so rattled and shaky by the mess of the top tier that I made a lumpy mess of the fondant on the bottom tier and wound up with messy stripes that weren't even straight. Just... MESS! And a bad picture to boot.

Thomas collapsed while settling, and became misshapen while I was repairing it. Again, I was rattled, and couldn't manage to get a sharp edge anywhere to save my life. The three-tier school cake's main issue is that I made it while going on 24 hours with no sleep (stayed up all night to finish it, long story), while also working on the round crib cake. My biggest issue with the school cake is precision and detail. Crooked, too-large plaque, ill-spaced top stars, wonky dots on the bottom tier (it really needed more, looks unfinished)...

The crib cake was design conflict AND things going wrong. *sigh* I stayed up all night again (second night in a row) after only 3 hours of sleep. I felt the crib should have a delicate piping/brush embroidery feel, or something more classic like quilting. But I had already deviated so much from the original plan that I couldn't bring myself to knock out the polka dots, too. I'm sure fatigue was a factor in my breaking everything and then standing there wasting time wondering how to fix it. So of course I ran out of time to stand back, look at it, and add much-needed finishing touches. Like embellishments to the posts and front crib panel, a crib bumper and/or a blanket tossed over the back of the crib (but with my caffeine-shaky fingers, I was afraid I'd break more pieces of crib), some ribbon roses here and there... Instead of looking like a soft, inviting crib, it looks like a little prison gate to me! (Speaking of, I couldn't attach any of my broken crib rails to the front, which is why it looks so sloppy. I had to use fondant and attach it directly to the cake.) The fact that I haven't heard from the recipient of this one makes me a little anxious, too.

SO... (and thank you from the bottom of my heart if you've made it this far!)... My confidence is very shaken at the moment about my abilities to design and execute a decent cake, and I have bridal shower cupcakes to do for this weekend. I'm a little worried that I'm going to somehow screw up yet another good concept. I'm feeling like I'm a flash-in-the-pan decorator, that I just had a couple of bouts of great luck on cakes. I'm hoping that someone objective can look at my cakes and suffer through my stories behind them to help me see which is my bigger problem: working with someone else's ideas or working through problems that crop up. Any tips or suggestions would be welcomed! <pulling up big girl panties> Be brutal if you must - I'm okay with that!

Thanks again in advance!

27 replies
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BluntlySpeakingKarma Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 6:56pm
post #2 of 28

Sounds like time management problems to me. Your cakes are adorable. There is some inconsistency in the execution from one to another in some areas, but nothing a little more time wouldn't solve. Sometimes, you need to write out a lpan of attack for each project. Things like cribs and other details can be made days/weeks ahead of time, so that in some cases, you're just baking the night before, or two nights before, fondanting, and placing your pieces on and you're done.

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SugarFiend Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 7:23pm
post #3 of 28

Thank you, KarmaCakes10. I guess I failed to mention that yes, the crib and baby were made well in advance. Extra pieces, too! I just managed to break everything during final assembly. icon_sad.gif As my pieces dwindled, though, I became more and more flustered. I would have assembled the crib fully in advance, except it was going to be a close fit. I wasn't sure if the posts were going to go inside or outside the crib frame. And the icing and thickness of fondant could make a big difference, so I opted to "wait and see" for that part. I guess that was my first mistake!

And yes, detailed to-do lists are my friend. I have them for nearly every cake I make!

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CakeDiva101 Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 7:46pm
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I think you are your worse critic. I think your cakes are lovely. It might not have looked the way you imagined but nobody else would know that but you. Also, you are not getting enough sleep. When Im tired, things just go south in a hurry. So, I walk away and come back when Im rested. (more than 3 hrs). As far as not working well with others ideas,,, well, I am much better when I have the choice to do what I want, but I know that sometimes my style may not be someones elses, so, I will work as close as I can with the client so that ultimately, they are happy. After all, it is their cake and they are paying for it. But I do understand you. Also, sometimes we all have bad days. Sometimes I really don't want to do anything but guess what? I have a cake or two due in two days,,,so, I just get up and go do it.
I hope this helps a little. Just remember, it could get worse. I was to tired one night after finishing up a wedding cake due the next day. I decided to hammer a center dowel thru the cake...guess what? I missed and the hammer went thru the top tier! icon_eek.gif. So, I had to re do it. Too tired. I learned my lesson. Next time, I just wait until morning. icon_biggrin.gif

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tiawanna02 Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 7:47pm
post #5 of 28

personally I think your cakes look great...sometime we're our worst critics

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cakeythings1961 Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 7:51pm
post #6 of 28

Well, to put it bluntly, it's not about what you like, IT"S WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS LIKE!! Did they say anything about not liking the guitars & stars, Thomas, crib, school, etc? I doubt it!

If the client gives you creative license, then go with it. And if they don't, then give them what they want within your design aesthetic and don't worry so much that it isn't what you would prefer. If problems occur (and there will always be problems!) then do your best to fix the issue or move on to plan B. I understand you want to be proud of what you do, but over-thinking everything is going to cripple you.

Relax and enjoy the process.......not just perfect results! icon_smile.gif [/i]

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obsessed Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 8:37pm
post #7 of 28

...breathe in through your nose...and out through your mouth....c'mon....take a couple of deep breaths with me.....aaaaaaahhhh...that's better..... icon_smile.gif

Seriously, I agree with the others, you are your own worst critic. Your cakes are all lovely. And all the things that you listed above with regard to specific cakes, most people (including me) won't notice...especially if they are cake civillians.....


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elliespartycake Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 8:58pm
post #8 of 28

Your work is lovely. We are all our own worst critic...we see every flaw. The cake recipient doesnt know that you broke butterflies or had a crib problem. They just see the beautiful work you do.
You'll enjoy decorating much more when you learn to relax, do what you know how to do and don't sweat the small stuff.
Happy caking!

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sugalips Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 9:20pm
post #9 of 28

I feel your pain!! I just posted a topic on having a bad...really bad, day. Yes, we are VERY hard on ourselves. Personally, I want perfection but non cakers around me are marveling at what I call "acutely amature" work. BUT I WANT IT TO LOOK PROFESSIONAL!! icon_cry.gif So I will keep practicing, make more disasters, and practice some more...either that or get out the 9 iron!!! icon_mad.gif

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sandytibbo Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 9:26pm
post #10 of 28

I think your cakes are beautiful!

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cakedout Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 9:31pm
post #11 of 28

SugarFriend- so how long have you been decorating? Your lament sounds much like mine during my early years as a decorator.

First let me say that from the viewpoint of a cake teacher and cake competition judge for many years- you certainly have the talent! thumbs_up.gif Your issues seem to be mostly of inexperience and time/stress management. I spent many-a-night on the verge of tears because my Royal Icing flowers weren't drying right or some other mini diseaster. Eventually I learned to relax, go with the flow and how to work a mistake into something else so it wasn't noticeable to the "cake muggles".

Please keep at it- with time you will learn to guide clients to make good design choices, let them give you a healthy margin for 'artistic license', or you learn to just do what they want-no matter how much you hate it! icon_lol.gificon_rolleyes.gif

good luck, dear!

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SugarFiend Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 11:18pm
post #12 of 28

Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement!

CakeDiva101: A hammer into the top tier of a wedding cake? I would be mortified! Strange the things that can happen when you're overtired. I have to say, though, that the lack of sleep thing is not normally an issue for me. I generally have my cakes planned out well enough and allow a big enough cushion that I don't have to stay up all night. But with my last two cakes, I had - shall we say - a repeated "scheduling disagreement" with my DH. I ended up having to wait until my kids were all in bed before I could get down to the serious business, so I was behind the eight ball before I even started.

cakeythings1961: You're very right. I do tend to overthink things. I'll have to work harder on not doing that. However, when I've breezed right past Plan B and have been working on Plan R, I tend to get a bit flustered...

elliespartycake: Unfortunately, both the butterflies and the crib were noticed. icon_sad.gif But at least the butterflies were just absent. Apparently a piece of the crib kept falling off! icon_redface.gif

sugalips: LOL Yep. It's the "acutely amateur" thing that has kept me from attempting BC cakes, although I may be attempting a cream cheese iced cake this weekend as a topper. We'll see how that goes.

cakedout: Thank you very much! I guess I've been doing this for just over a year. The Transformers cake was the first one beyond the loopy bow one I did following the instructions on the Wilton fondant box. So I guess this would qualify as my early years! icon_smile.gif Speaking of inexperience, I just got out my box of white chocolate seashells that I made for my upcoming order and had all luster dusted, and the sparkle had all but disappeared. *sigh* And I really hope I can learn how to guide people into good design choices and make them feel like it was their idea!

Again, thank you all so much. (But I still want to try the crib cake again and get it RIGHT!)

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Rachel5370 Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 11:41pm
post #13 of 28

Umm, get a grip lady! icon_biggrin.gif Your cakes cakes look just about perfect to me. I would have not noticed any flaws if you didn't point them out. Seriously- very clean work, nice lines, good color combinations and your photography is fine too. You got a lot of faves too, not everyone gets those on most of their cakes like you did. I am striving for that clean perfect look that you seem to have accomplished. I feel my cakes are creative- but far from perfect. You should be proud to deliver your cakes, and don't ever point out flaws to the recipients- they won't notice- trust me! Lighten up on yourself- please! You are very good at what you do! ~Rachel

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CrescentMoon Posted 9 Nov 2010 , 11:45pm
post #14 of 28

your work is fine, I think what the issue here is you are lacking self confidence. That and perhaps some time management (as you say you stay up late nights). I think perhaps you expect perfection in a craft that very, and I mean VERY few are able to achieve. Your cakes are beautiful, you need to relax.

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Rachel5370 Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 12:24am
post #15 of 28

Another thing, I noticed that you often pick your cakes apart in your descriptions when you post them. It seriously makes my heart hurt for you when I read it. Please, please appreciate your own ability and talent and show some gratitude for God, the universe, good genetics or whatever source you feel you get it from! You have nothing to explain or apologize for. Just because you believe you have a talent doesn't mean you are arrogant, so go ahead and believe it girl! Ok, the self-appointed cake therapist of the day signing off! Cake-filled hugs to you! (I was almost done with my psychology degree when I quit to go to culinary school- I can't help myself sometimes, lol.)

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tokazodo Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 1:40am
post #16 of 28

First of all, your cakes are lovely, and I'm not blowing smoke up your britches!

Secondly, creativity is a touchy thing. We put a lot of ourselves into our work and that's okay. Personally, in order to have the creative juices flowing, I need to be well rested and have taken care of myself or 'It aint happenin'!

I too have had bad buttercream days and foolish fondant follies. If I am not well rested, it is more difficult to cope with outside forces be it cakes crashing, fondant pieces breaking, or husbands reaching into the cabinet right over the cake you are working on, wondering why you are perturbed!

One of the hardest, most important lessons I have learned in my life is that if I don't take care of myself, I'm not fit to take care of anyone else, and my judgment is jaded.
Sometimes we have to be selfish. We have to have 'me' time.
It's okay to tell people 'NO' once in a while.
We as woman, sometimes feel that we must be all things to all people.
We only 'NEED' to take care of those near and dear to us.

The key to all of this is balance, physically and spiritually. Well rested, nutritious food, Church (if this applies) Family time and most importantly 'Me' time. We need to be kind to ourselves.
As woman we are the care givers of the world, but if we don't take care of ourselves, no one is going to do it for us. We will then find we are of little use to those we love.

It might be time to take a step back, take a small break, regroup, find out why you are feeling like this about the lovely cakes you are making, and then maybe step back into it.

Many times I have run myself into the ground working 3 jobs at one time to help support my family. It took me working myself into the ground several times before I learned the lessons above. Exhaustion has had an effect on my physical health, mental health and relationships with those I love the most.
No cake is worth that expense.

I hope this helps, and I wish you well.

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SugarFiend Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 4:29am
post #17 of 28

Ouch - you all have hit a nerve! I will try not to pick apart my cakes in the descriptions anymore - thank you for pointing that out! Self-confidence has always been hard for me to come by since I'm a perfectionist in the first place. And then I have my cake muggle DH pointing out that I need a polka dot here, here, and here because I have "oopses," and that it's "not your best work." icon_mad.gif

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mcaulir Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 4:43am
post #18 of 28

I think it's really super true that others will hardly notice any issues you see. (foot-in-mouth husbands asideicon_smile.gif ) You're comparing yourself to people on this site who have been doing this for 30 years, or who have freakishly neat work. The people who see your cakes are comparing them to what they could do.

I made some cookies recently, which I was pretty happy with apart from two tiny flaws which I thought really spoiled them - but the recipients thought they were amazing. I really had to bite my tongue to keep myself from pointing out the flaws and just say thank-you instead.

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Apti Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 5:12am
post #19 of 28
Originally Posted by mcaulir

I think it's really super true that others will hardly notice any issues you see. (foot-in-mouth husbands asideicon_smile.gif ) You're comparing yourself to people on this site who have been doing this for 30 years, or who have freakishly neat work. The people who see your cakes are comparing them to what they could do.

Exactly. (mcaulir, I loved your description: "freakishly neat"!!!)

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tavyheather Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 5:29am
post #20 of 28

I feel like I've been turning out crap lately, too! icon_sad.gif

honestly u have a great eye for design, ur color schemes are perfect...I don't see a problem!

You're probably just like me and are too hard on yourself! I'm committing to continue to practice like crazy and know that maybe one day I wont feel I need to drastically improve!

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G_Cakes Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 5:54am
post #21 of 28

I think your work is wonderful and have several of your cake photo's saved to my favorites.

We are our own worst critics and sometimes the design or vision we have in our minds does not translate into our creation.

It happens!

You are very talented and I think part of the issue may be in your planning or preparation.

I love to bake from scratch and have several recipes that are tried and true that come out the same without deviation.

When I go to try something new I always use cake mix and do a dry run just to see what headaches come about during that test run.

This way come C-Day (Cake day) I know that what ever comes my way I can handle it. I also make extra of everything, be it cakes, decorations, flowers...just in case I have a bout of butterfingers!

I learned my lesson the first time when I dropped my cake topper and had no back up!

I find it also helps if I draw out my design ... this gives me a plan that I can follow.

Lastly time management...I like to bake at night when everyone else is in bed. This way no interruptions or distractions. I know for most this is not easy or viable due to family, children, employment or other obligations.

Plan to bake at a time when you will not be interrupted or distracted! and make sure you give yourself enough time to get the job done. Factor in time for any possible glitches so your not leaving yourself short and most importantly... if your frustrated WALK AWAY! Give yourself a chance to let go what ever it is your feeling and come back to it with a fresh outlook. Sometimes that's all you need!

Don't be so hard on yourself, you are very talented and I am sure that there will be many more great cakes and ideas coming from you in the very near future!


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karabeal Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 6:23am
post #22 of 28

Hun, I would die happy if I could make a Yoda like you. You are TALENTED!

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mcaulir Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 8:32am
post #23 of 28
Originally Posted by Apti

Originally Posted by mcaulir

I think it's really super true that others will hardly notice any issues you see. (foot-in-mouth husbands asideicon_smile.gif ) You're comparing yourself to people on this site who have been doing this for 30 years, or who have freakishly neat work. The people who see your cakes are comparing them to what they could do.

Exactly. (mcaulir, I loved your description: "freakishly neat"!!!)

Ha! I actually thought about replacing it in case someone who was freakishly neat was offended. Hope not!

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carmijok Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 9:57am
post #24 of 28

Gee the way you were describing things I was expecting to see pastry road-kill! Your cakes are great...even the ones you were stressing over. Your customers don't see the stress you put yourself through or the 'mistakes' you think you made. They only see the finished product and chances are they love it... believe me...if they aren't happy they WILL tell you! Sounds like you're so concerned about what elements THEY want, you don't feel comfortable with the design because it's not something you thought of. You can certainly make your cakes your own even with other people's ideas! Also..CC'ers wouldn't be saving your cake pics as their favs if they didn't like what they saw! Sounds like you could use a little R&R! thumbs_up.gif

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tokazodo Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 10:41am
post #25 of 28

[quote="carmijok"]Gee the way you were describing things I was expecting to see pastry road-kill!

This made me laugh out loud! Nice!

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sweetmonkeycheese Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 2:00pm
post #26 of 28
Originally Posted by mcaulir

I really had to bite my tongue to keep myself from pointing out the flaws and just say thank-you instead.

I think alot of us need to do that more often w/ many things in my life.. When I was in middle school, I did not like to look into the mirror infront of other girls to reapply all my late 80's hair band eye liner.. I did not want the other girls to think I thought I was cute or something... Some times a B in college was well, it was a B not an A (and in other classes oh thank lord baby Jesus I passed at all!) and now sometimes I transfer that thinking to my kids.. it's a fine line between striving to be better and also praising the hard work done and being satisfied - think most of us think it's one or the other and really they should both coexist

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Cathy26 Posted 10 Nov 2010 , 8:42pm
post #27 of 28

Most of us here feel the same about our cakes - your Yoda cake is seriously ace of cakes standard - i love it! also love your zebra and pink and brown spots one - they are very very clean work and thats what i always look at first.

In terms of planning and making spares etc thats all important but also dont take on anything your not comfortable with - the crib scares the living daylights out of me - its so fragile looking - id have adapted the design a lot to make it less dangerous!

but seriously, you do have talent, an eye for colour and an ability to work well with fondant so dont beat yourself up - as long as people like Pink Cake Box, Maki, and Jennifer Dontz are about theres always going to be people a million times better than you and me so theres no point getting down - i spend so much time comparing myself to other decorators and other cupcake companies when i should be concentrating on perfecting my own skills and making my own business more successful so just practice practice practice and dont take on anything too risky and give yourself ample time for decorating and you'l be fine!

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SugarFiend Posted 21 Nov 2010 , 3:00pm
post #28 of 28

I just wanted to follow up on this with a big, heartfelt THANK YOU to all who posted and helped give me some much-needed perspective. I was able to complete the bridal shower cupcake tower I had due the very next weekend without freaking out. And I liked the way it came out! Not perfect (I still need practice smoothing cream cheese icing. And piping it? What was I thinking?), but still one of my favorites.

I've realized that planning and time management are not my issue.
My lesson learned here: Do not depend on DH for caking time or for reassurance. Because in addition to disappearing when it was time for me to make two cakes in one weekend, he also decided that when it was time for me to bake the cupcakes the following weekend, it was suddenly time for him to go out and finally drain the pool (yes, in November).

<sigh> And caking IS my outlet, my "me" time. It generally doesn't stress me out. In fact, someone once pointed out to me that I smile a lot more when I'm making a cake. So I will continue, without depending on DH. I'll continue striving for perfection too (I see nothing wrong with "freakishly neat!" icon_wink.gif ), but I'll also try to stop pointing out my own mistakes.

Thank you all again! icon_smile.gif

edited to make a long story short. icon_smile.gif

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