Earlier this week, I wrote about how my lovely friend, Laura Dodimead of Life in Sugar had invited me over to her new workshop and teaching space at Badshot Lea Kiln, in Farnham, Surrey to check out some of the new classes she will be offering over the next few months. I’ve only known Laura for about a year, but what a year it has been for her! With numerous published tutorials to her name, appearances on various television shows, a highly-coveted Cake Awards nomination and now her new base of operations, it got me thinking about how many of you might still be wondering just where this modelling chocolate genius has suddenly appeared from. With that in mind, I took the opportunity to sit Laura down and get the inside scoop…
Let’s start at the beginning. Just how did you originally get into cake?
By doing my eldest daughter’s first birthday cake. I had obtained a few quotes and didn’t really like the fact that they were all quite expensive. Because I was quite arty, I thought I’d have a go myself. I ended up making a total mess of it because I used flour rather than icing sugar when I was rolling out.
Mmmm… sounds tasty.
I was making a ladybird cake and I was scattering plain flour all over the place. The flour stuck to the sugarpaste, horribly discolouring it. I ended up in a full-on panic and took myself off to read Debbie Brown’s Cute Cakes for Children. Luckily, I realised where I was going wrong, threw it all out and started again. I was actually really pleased with the end result though – I made a big ladybird, sitting on top of a sunflower and everyone commented on how nice it was. I really enjoyed making it – after I realised where I was going wrong – so I started to make more cakes for my family and friends.
It almost seems like you have suddenly appeared from nowhere as far as the cake scene goes. You competed at Cake International last November for the first time and, only a year later, you have placed twice in the competitions and were a finalist at the Cake Masters Magazine Awards. It hasn’t actually been such a rapid experience for you getting to where you are now though, has it? Can you give us a bit of background about your journey from that very first cake to opening Life in Sugar this month?
Well, after that first cake, people kept saying how nice my cakes tasted, so I decided to see if everyone else felt the same way. I started Cakey Bakes Cakes and took on a little market stall at the Maltings in Farnham on the first Saturday of each month. I created cupcakes and sponges to sell by the slice and most of the time, I would sell out. Eventually I got noticed by the owner of a local café, Paula. She came and had a little taste of my cakes, then asked if I would like to produce them for her to sell in her café. Although she sadly isn’t with us anymore, I will always be grateful to Paula for giving me that first real opportunity.
I started making lots of traditional cakes for Paula and, because I enjoyed doing it, approached other local businesses too. It got to the point where I was making up to 60 cakes a week for various cafés and tea rooms, all in the tiny kitchen of my rather small flat. It was a lot of work, with not a lot of profit and I eventually got bored of the repetitive nature of it all, so I decided to focus more on the decoration side of things, which I particularly enjoyed.
Word started to spread that I was making cakes and I probably spent a good year taking on orders from people – although not really earning any money from it – and building up a bit of a portfolio, but while I was doing this, I applied for a Saturday job at the Squires Kitchen Shop. I learnt so much there, mainly from working with the lovely Sue Griffiths, who is a very old school sugar crafter and eventually I was noticed by Squire’s Kitchen’s magazine, Cakes & Sugarcraft Magazine and produced my first tutorial for them – about four years ago now. I started to send in different designs and they used me more and more, until eventually they allowed me to start teaching there – an opportunity I will always be grateful for.
I started writing for other magazines, including Cake Masters Magazine and Baking Heaven, and I also did a tutorial for Paul Bradford’s Cake School a few years ago – which was awful. I wish I hadn’t had done it so early, because, with hindsight, I don’t think I was ready. It’s done now though and it’s out there.
In 2015, I entered Kirstie Allsopp’s cake competition on Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas and I won with my little cake man. It was a timed competition and good fun. More recently, I’ve done some more filming for Suzi of Pretty Witty Cakes and The Craft Channel Live with Rosie Cake Diva.
So, it’s safe to say that although some people might not have heard of you just yet, you’ve definitely been grafting away behind the scenes for… how long would you say now?
Almost ten years now.
So not such a ‘sudden rise’ as people might think.
No, I’ve definitely put in my hard work, but I think going to Cake International last November (2016) for the first time and entering my BFG really got me noticed.
He helped you cross over to mainstream awareness, perhaps? So obviously the big excitement now is that you have finally been able to open your own workshop and teaching space, here at Badshot Lea Kiln, in Badshot Lea, Farnham and we’ll talk more about that in a moment, but what else has been going on for you this year? A big year for you?
At the start of the year, I rebranded Cakey Bakes Cakes to Life inSugar. I wanted a name that represented me better and my life pretty much is in sugar – I’m absolutely obsessed with it. I started hiring a workspace to teach my own workshops, but it wasn’t ideal as I had to share it with other people and couldn’t leave anything there. I’ve also continued to write my tutorials for publication and had a couple of covers too, which is always nice.
I also returned to Cake International and competed at both of the spring shows, as well as last month’s Birmingham event, winning a gold award with my Wonder Woman Decorative Exhibit in March, a gold award and third place with my Lola the Bath Trollop Small Decorative Exhibit in April and a gold award and second place with my Behind the Scenes with the Royals cake in the Pushing the Boundaries category last month.
You were also a finalist for the Rising Star award, sponsored by Fabricake, at the Cake Masters Magazine awards?
Yes, I got to attend the Cake Masters awards for the first time and it was lovely to see my work up on the big screen. Although I didn’t win, I was thrilled to be recognised and the winner of the award, Alyssa Alexandre of Sugar Canvas and, in fact, all of the rest of the finalists were fantastic! An amazing category!
And of course, now there is my new work space. I discovered The Kiln a few months ago and, because it is owned by the community, it isn’t about making money, they just want people to come along and do interesting things here. I’ve been able to rent a little space, do it up how I like it and now I can teach my classes and do all my work from here, meaning that cake will stop taking over my home. My children will finally be able to eat at the table again!
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in your cake career so far?
It’s not really related to cake making or decorating, but I suppose my own challenge is – and always has been – the writing side of the tutorials. I don’t hide it, I am dyslexic and I mix letters up and my grammar is appalling. But actually, being given the chance to do my tutorials is – it’s one of those things – it takes me a long time. Something that might take someone else half-an-hour to write up can take me hours and hours – because I’m having to double check, constantly think about how I’m wording things and trying not to get mixed up. So yes, for me it’s any of the writing aspects of my work. I find all the hands on designing and making a breeze in comparison.
But when you see it published… I can’t describe it. I’m so very proud of what I’ve done each and every time my work has made it to publication. Some of these magazines go all around the world and to think that all these people are reading my written word… it’s lovely to think.
So, what’s next for Life in Sugar?
Well I’m in the middle of prepping all of my classes and workshops for next year and a lot of it is going to be modelling chocolate-based because I do love modelling chocolate. In addition to your typical cake covering classes and similar, I want to do a lot more modern workshops – although no sugar flowers, I’m afraid. I won’t do sugar flowers – I leave those to the many other people that are far better than I am. I want to do lots of brides and grooms, posture and posing classes, facial expressions – all those things that I found challenging when I first started and that add real character to your cakes. There is one other thing, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about it yet!
Oh, go on!
Let’s just say that you will be seeing a lot more of me in one of the leading sugarcraft magazines from next month and I’m super excited about it…
How cryptic! Now, if I wanted to book a class with you, what are you currently offering?
During December, in the lead up to Christmas, I’m running two different classes. One is about the basics of decorating Christmas cakes: covering your fruitcake with marzipan and sugarpaste; achieving sharp edges; some small festive decorations; and really working with each person on what they want to achieve. There will be lots of easy and helpful tips that they can repeat at home, which they can then transfer to other cakes they want to make too. My other festive class is the Sleepy (or Drunk if you’d prefer) Santa, which is a fully edible cake topper of Santa sitting in his armchair modelled entirely from modelling chocolate.
In the new year, I’ll be continuing my dynamic modelling class, which consists of three ladies in different positions – one standing, one sitting and one laying. It teaches people about proportion, which is really important in figure modelling. I’ll also be offering my bohemian bride and groom class, which offer tons of options for customisation and my facial expression class. Those are a bit unusual, as you end up with a lot of heads on lolly sticks, but it’s really fun – we use a mirror!
After many requests, I’m also looking into adapting my dynamic modelling class to focus on the male form later in the year too – looking at musculature and poses.
If I come to one of your classes, what can I expect from the day?
When you get here, you’ll find loads of free parking and we’re in a really quiet spot too, so you can really relax and chill out – perhaps with a little bit of music playing in the background. You don’t need to bring any materials or tools – everything you’ll need is supplied, so you just need to bring yourself and maybe a notebook if you want to make some notes. I will be doing some print outs of what we’ve done in the class too though, so you will have that to take away with you and refer back to when you have another go at home. You can also take as many pictures or videos as you want – in fact, you can pretty much do whatever you want. The classes are really laid-back and chilled out because I think it’s very important that people don’t get stressed or frustrated while they’re working, otherwise they won’t enjoy what they’re doing.
Just turn up, learn a lot and take the opportunity to ask as many questions as you want – about whatever you want, from baking, to modelling, to whatever.
How can I find out more about your classes?
You can go to my Facebook page, Life in Sugar, message me on Instagram, email me, phone me or however else you want to get in touch!
That all sounds rather fabulous, I can’t wait to see more. Do you have any other cake goals for 2018? What would you like to achieve in the next year?
I admit it. I want to complete the set. I want a Cake International first place. I’d also like to get involved in some collaborative projects, perhaps at the shows too – I love being at the shows and it would be nice to get to work with some other people. But ultimately? I want a book. With all of my challenges with writing and spelling, that would be the ultimate dream: to overcome them all and write my book. Well maybe not just one book, lots of books – but one would be a good start. I just want to provide people with easy ways of doing things. Help them realise they don’t need tons of tools – that their hands are their main tools. And to have that all written down in a beautifully designed book, also illustrated by me would be perfect. If I could do that, then I would feel quite complete.
What would you say to anyone considering getting into sugarcraft?
Take your time and do lots of classes. In this industry you can never stop learning. There are always new techniques to learn and different ways of doing things. Try and be taught by lots of different people too – yes, I would love people to come to my classes, but there are so many different ways of learning and you need to find what works for you. You also need to practice what you learn – I think that’s why people love my dynamic modelling class, because you make three figures in total. Attendees always say that the third figure is their favourite, which just shows that the more times you do something, the better you will get at it. So yes, practice, develop and find different ways of doing things that work for you.
Finally, what would be your top cake decorating tip for my readers?
Use modelling chocolate! If you’re making a character of somebody or something, it’s so much more forgiving because you can blend it and add things on. This means that you can tailor your figure to what you’re trying to do – and at a much slower pace than with sugarpaste. I think everybody should try modelling chocolate – it’s so versatile and you’ll enjoy it so much. I know you will be back for more.
I’m trying to convert the world to a modelling chocolate world…
Laura Dodimead of Life in Sugar is based at Badshot Lea Kiln and Village Hall, in Farnham, Surrey, where she offers a variety of classes for cake artists of all abilities. I was lucky enough to have an advanced preview of her Sleepy Santa class last week and you can check out my review here. To find out more about classes at Life in Sugar, you can visit her Facebook page, Life in Sugar, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 07940425261.