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Painting actually seemed more intuitive than using a piping bag.

How to Paint Your Cake

Whitney M.

Last month, I tried brush embroidery...and fell in love. It was so natural to be manipulating frosting with a brush instead of a piping bag. Well, thought I, frosting that comes in a tube is really not that different from paint that comes in a tube. What if I treated the cake like an oil painting?

A Wayne Theibaud painting... on a cake. See what I did there?

The Plan

For irony, I decided to copy a painting by Wayne Thiebaud; he’s painted a lot of cakes, by which I mean he makes oil paintings that look like images of cakes. I don’t know if he's ever painted ON a cake. Also, his style is very thick and painterly, perfect for the thick frosting I’d be working with.

For simplicity, I chose a box cake and tubed frosting. Store-bought frosting is thicker than my standard buttercream, and besides, I wanted to buy several colors instead of mixing them all myself.

The Process

The palette of "paints".

Painting is easier on a firm surface, so I crumb-coated the cake and refrigerated it for an hour before beginning to paint. I laid out some pre-bought colors on my palette (a big Pyrex lid), mixed a few with food coloring, and got out the brand-new natural bristle brush I’d bought (and washed!) for the purpose.

I started with that brush, but finished with a palette knife (it was one of those offset butter knives, but the principle is the same). The palette knife was easier to use and gave better results; no surprise, really, since that’s how you normally apply frosting to a cake. Some of the finishing touches were applied with the pointy end of a meat thermometer.

The Postscript (what I learned)

Canned frosting needs to be thinned a bit before it will behave like oil paint. The perfect marriage here is between a glob of frosting and a few drops of food coloring; even if the frosting is pre-tinted, the added food coloring makes the frosting so vibrant. Water works, too, if you don’t want to change the color.

Box cake is too soft to be used as a canvas for painting. It kept coming up in pieces despite my refrigerated crumb coat.

The painting was lovely for about 24 hours. After that, the colors started to run together a little.

Detail of painting

Painting this cake was so much fun! It was more intuitive than using a piping bag, and it gave me the freedom to go a little color-crazy without having to refill a piping bag every time. I loved the deliberately painterly texture and the way the colors mixed on the canvas. Best of all, when I was done, I didn’t have to store or display my painting; I took a picture, then we ate it. That’s what I call a win-win.

Next month, there is a very important birthday in my house, and the birthday boy has requested a Thomas-the-train-shaped cake with chocolate and rainbow sprinkles. So, I guess my theme next month is: kids' cakes!

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I think our old art teachers would be pleased, what a way to have the process be part of the art itself!
5 years ago