A few months ago, a friend of mine asked if she could commission me to make a cake for her birthday. I was, of course, incredibly excited to be given the task and promised to save the date. Little did I know at the time how insane November was going to be for commissions, but I was fortunate that they all fell on different weeks and I didn’t have to turn anyone down.
I know this friend through Uni. We did our Zoology undergraduate degrees together, and we also started our Zoology Masters degree at the same time. When she first asked me, I had no idea what sort of cake she was going to ask for. But when she later approached me with the idea, I figured I should have known. While all of us Masters kids have a passion for every animal, great and small, we all have our groups of fauna we navigate towards. We tend to think of ourselves as being in two groups: the terrestrial and the marine halves. Her passion, and her research, is marine biology, so I perhaps should have guessed that her cake would be along those lines.
As soon as she asked me for not only an octopus, but a blue-ringed octopus cake, I was practically bouncing with excitement. Given that I was on a tram on my way home from work it probably wasn’t the most appropriate time to become hyper, but I was thrilled at the chance to try it.
Once the excitement wore off, though, I had to work out how the hell I was gonna make this thing. Realism presents an exciting challenge, but it also terrifies the living daylights out of me. To the point I tend to actively avoid it in most forms of art I try. When you’re going for a stylised or cartoon version of something, you can get away with a lot. But when you’re aiming for realism, it becomes so much easier to miss the mark, and so much easier to pick out every fault.
The saying ‘it never rain, but it pours’ has never felt so appropriate for me as it has this last month. While I’m more often approached for quotes, it is actually quite rare that someone (outside my family, at least) commissions me to make a cake for them. But this last month has been nothing but commissions. I’ve spent all my spare time in the kitchen staring at cake and icing, crafting things of someone elses imagination. It’s most of the reason I’ve been so terrible at getting back to all your lovely comments and emails lately, something I keep promising myself every morning I will catch up on.
I’ve had to set aside my list of fan art cakes and such I have planned, but it’s been a fun change. It’s wonderful when someone entrusts you with the task of bringing to life the cake that exists in their minds eye, something that it for an important occasion, something to share with all the people they hold dear. It’s equal parts nerveracking and I never quite stop stressing until I see their overjoyed expressions, and even then I still panic. I’ve got a heap of cakes to show you guys over the coming weeks, alongside the usual recipe posts, so here’s the first one.
The family this cake is for is one I’ve made cakes for before. They were one of the first people to ever commission a cake for me. For their son’s first birthday I made them this jungle cake for their private celebration and this one for the larger birthday party. This year he was turning three and they approached me about making another cake for him. This time he was old enough that they were able to ask him what he wanted, and he answered straight away: a race car.
Some of you will already be familiar with the Link’s Blacklist project, my undying love for it, and my previous cakey creations for it. It returned for a third round, and of course I signed up as soon as I was able. I love any excuse to make a Zelda cake, and I love any excuse to join in a collaborative project and show everyone that art isn’t just drawn.
For those not familiar with the project, Link’s Blacklist is a collaborative fan art project that focuses it’s attention on the baddies of the franchise. Each time a select amount of artist are permitted to sign up for the project [this time it was 45], and all get to claim a different baddie. The places available disappeared within the day, which is a testament to how popular it’s becoming. It’s run by Game Art HQ and coordinated through deviantART, which is how I first got involved. These days I’m a community volunteer on deviantART, helping to look after the Artisan Craft galleries, so I prodded as many artisans to get involved as possible. I hope to encourage more fans from different artistic genres to get involved and diversify the fan art a bit.
As for my claim, I was pretty set on a Deku this time around. I love making sugar leaves, and the design felt a bit more achievable that some of my previous adventurous attempts. I settled on making a Mad Scrub, simply because I love the autumn palette in it’s design. I also love covering the basic enemies. A lot of people go for the big bosses, but I like the under-appreciated.
When I posted the Earth cake, I did not expect it to get anywhere near the amount of attention it received. Getting featured on the Facebook pages Think Geek and I Fucking Love Science was a total highlight of my blogging life. I’m big fans of both pages so it was kind of surreal. A lot of my Zoology graduate mates are also fans of IFLS and you’d often hear conversations in the Masters office beginning with, “Did you see that post by IFLS today?” So I woke up to several of them messaging me about it and we all got super excited over it.
With the exposure those pages brought came a whole lot of people who wanted to know how to make it. I still get a couple of emails a week asking for a recipe. The cake was a total experiment on my part, and not one that went flawlessly. There were many imperfections within the cake and I never share recipes unless I know it’s absolutely tried and true. I’d hate to be responsible for a baking fail simply for giving a botched up recipe. But I also hate letting people down. So I decided to re-visit the concept so I could make a tutorial. That will come later in the week as I’m still editing it. But first, here’s the result of round 2.
One question I got asked a lot was if it was possible to make it a sphere. Absolutely it is. If you can make the hemisphere a sphere is easy. I didn’t want to make another Earth cake as I hate repeating bakes, so I opted to decorate it as something new. I threw around a few ideas ranging from something floral to a giant pokéball, but in the end I just wanted to make another planet.
Some of you might remember the Zelda cakes I made for Game Art HQs Link's Blacklist Tribute. Well, a little while ago another artist tribute caught my attention. It's called "Virtual Worlds We Loved" and, as the name suggests, is completely focussed on the worlds, levels or places depicted in games. I love tributes that move away from the protagonists and otherwise famous characters and allow scope for the under-appreciated, unseen, or unusual.
The tribute features 30 different artists and allowed for no repeats of games. I almost claimed about Zelda game, but instead decided to depict the first game I ever played: Super Mario Brothers. Ah, the good old days of playing the NES as a kid. We owned 3 games and I repeatedly played each of them. I fell in love with the 8-bit world so I couldn't resist the chance to bring it to life with cake.
Our cake is in another castle…
A little while ago, my sister approached me with an idea. She’s doing an education degree, and her and her friends had to give a series of lessons on the geological sciences to a class of primary school kids. One of their lessons involved teaching the kids about the structure of the Earth. One of her friends came up with the idea of presenting a model of the Earth made out of cake. So my sister asked me if I could make a spherical cake with all the layers of the Earth inside it.
I told her I couldn’t do it. “How do you get a sphere inside a sphere inside a sphere?” I recall saying. “Oh yeah,” she replied, realising what it would involve.
I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about it. I don’t admit defeat. Ever. But especially not with cake. Nothing is impossible is pretty much my baking motto, so to say this cake was impossible left me feeling weird. There had to be a way. A way that didn’t involve carving or crumbing the cake. I kept mulling it over until I had a breakthrough.
It finally arrived…
You guys might remember the Furnix Cake I made for an artist collaboration on deviantART. Well, the project was so popular it's on for a second round. When the organiser contacted me to let me know, I was only too ecstatic to be on board a second time. Any excuse to make a Zelda ckae is a very welcome one indeed.
For those of you who don't remember, the collab is called Link's Blacklist. It's a fan art project that focuses only on enemies from the video game series, The Legend of Zelda. It's that enemy-only facet that I love so much. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Link artwork as much as the next Zelda fan. But there's no shortage of them. Focusing solely on enemies generates a lot of fan art with a focus on what is often ignored. What makes this project even more special is that it's both quality-controlled and open only to a select number of artists, so every entry is one worth staring at. If you're a Zelda fan, or just love some beautiful fan art, check out the artwork so far here on Game Art HQ.
Beam me up…