All Content, Blog

Only the curious will learn…

An ambiguous title, I know, but I do love a good quote. And I feel it perfectly sums the conversation my pal, Vicky Teather of Yellow Bee Cake Co and I were having earlier this week about some of the amazing classes that we have been lucky enough to take during our time in cake.

I had featured this amazing creation that Vicky created during her recent class with Carla Puig in last week’s Something Sweet 19 and, of course, I have rhapsodised-a-plenty about my experience learning from Carla earlier this year.

But actually, I have been very fortunate in that, since I started my blog just under a year ago, I have been invited to take part in some truly amazing classes with some fabulously talented people and thanks to the generosity of these wonderful individuals, I have been encouraged to really push myself out of my comfort zone and try some new things that perhaps I wouldn’t have tried at home on my own. As a result, I have been able to add skills and mediums to my repertoire that can’t fail to enhance my own creative projects.

Wafer paper flowers with Dragons & Daffodils Cakes by Rhianydd Webb

During our aforementioned conversation, Vicky and I got chatting about our dream class – the class that, if we could take any class with any artist, who would it be and why. It really got me thinking, because there are so many amazing cake and sugar artists out there right now, pushing the boundaries of sugar every single day.

A huge consideration, when looking for a class of course, is the individual taste of the individual wanting to take it. I think we can all have different motivations for taking classes – whether it’s because we want to add a new product or skill to what our business can offer or simply because we are a fan of the artist in question’s work and want to spend some time ‘learning at the hands of the master’, so to speak. As an enthusiastic amateur, I definitely fall into the second camp!

My first class experience taught me one very important lesson though. I went into it thinking that I was going to create a perfect replica of the piece originally created by the tutor and, after struggling a little to keep up during the class (due to my own perfectionist tendencies), I was initially disappointed with my finished piece. However, I have since come to realise that when one attends a class, we aren’t there to produce a beautiful cake or sculpture (although that is a nice bonus), but rather to learn the skills and techniques to allow us to replicate one later at home – after a bit more practice of course!

I think that when you allow yourself to have that mindset and take the expectations and pressure off of yourself, you are guaranteed to have a much more enjoyable learning experience. After all, as I teach my pupils at school, mistakes are opportunities for learning – we only fail at something when we give up trying.

But I digress… The question I guess I am trying to pose – inspired by these ramblings – is, if you could take any class with any artist, what would you want to learn and from who?

Avalon’s amazing sculpture of AHS’s The Countess

As I say, I have been thinking about this for a few days now and, because I am totally going through a bust phase at the moment, I would probably look to one of my favourite chocolate bust artists. I absolutely love the work of Corinna Maguire, Avalon Yarnes, Carla Puig, Marta Hidalgo and a lot more besides and, having already been lucky enough to learn from Carla, I think my next dream class (today at least) would be with Marta Hidalgo of Peccata Minuta, who I originally discovered when we both took part in Isabel Tamargo of Tartas ImposiblesSweet Summer Collaboration in 2016.

There is a real sense of drama to Marta’s work and it never fails to capture my imagination. If I was to put myself on the spot and force myself to choose one of her designs? It would probably have to be the incredible teen vampire that she created for last year’s Sugar Spooks 2017 – although her previous Sugar Spooks piece for the 2016 collection, Aquelarre is an incredibly close second!

I just loved the juxtaposition of the traditional elements of vampire lore with a very cheeky looking young lad and the level of detail Marta was able to capture within the design was incredible!

So yes, I think that would be my dream class, but how about you?

Feel free to let me know in the comments or over on Facebook of course…

 

Incidentally, if you would like to take a class with Marta, she is currently touring with her Little Jester, Baroque, Snail Fairy and Unicorn Elf classes. Her next UK class will be the Unicorn Elf on 26th-27th September at The London Cake Academy. For more information, check out the Facebook event here or visit the London Cake Academy websiteUnfortunately, the classes are during the week, so I’ll be at school, but I cant wait to see all of the student’s amazing results!

All Content, Blog

Cake Class: Carla Puig – Nadine

Carla Puig

In August 2017, Leeds-based Zoe’s Fancy Cakes announced that they would be hosting one of my absolute favourite sugar artists for her first EVER classes in the UK and I was immediately torn! As you’d expect, top quality cake classes aren’t cheap and Leeds is SUCH a long way away from Fareham (which is just outside Portsmouth, in case you’re wondering), but this was Carla Puig!

I had become such a huge fan of her work, since stumbling across her first ever Cake International entry, the Occidental Geisha (which incidentally took the International Best in Show award) back in Spring 2016 and had said on numerous occasions that I would happily pay good money to just sit and watch her at work! The chance to not only do this, but also to learn from her?! Well…

Occidental Geisha

I immediately got in touch with Carla and asked if she was planning any other UK dates or locations, but, at that point, she wasn’t, so after a bit of dithering, I bit the bullet and booked a place.

Well, at least, I tried to. In all my dithering, I had left it too long and the weekend course was full! Cue the crushing disappointment. Zoe kindly agreed to put me on the reserve list and, as fortune would have it, within a day she was back in touch to let me know that a place had become available! Hoorah! And at this point, I should probably also give a shout out to both Mummy Baker and my sister for their much-appreciated donations towards the cost of the class and accommodation, by way of my birthday present! I shall remain eternally grateful!

Unfortunately, after the initial excitement of the booking confirmation, then came the longest wait in recorded human history (or at least it seemed that way), while I waited for the following March to come around. It honestly felt like it would never arrive, but naturally it did eventually and the time came for my epic journey up to Leeds.

As did a severe weather warning!

Having never driven in snow – I was a little bit nervous looking at the weather reports in the days leading up to my class, but the day itself dawned bright, clear and, dare I say it, even a little mild. On the advice of various guides from the AA, the police force and anyone else who had cared to write one, I loaded up my very-impractical-for-cross-country-snowy-driving car with every conceivable provision one might need for such an expedition and, as soon as school was out on Friday afternoon, I hit the road…

Many people had warned me that leaving at 3:30pm was a foolish notion as I would hit traffic the entire way, but do you know, I had a pretty clear run. Oh, and before anyone says anything, I don’t USUALLY leave school at 3:30pm – this was definitely an exceptional circumstance!

IMG_8932

On arrival in Leeds, the snow finally hit. And boy did it hit. Flakes the likes of which we never see on the South Coast. Luckily, I got to my hotel, which was conveniently close to the course location, before things got too bad and ensured I got to bed at a reasonable hour, ready for a weekend of intensive learning.

On Saturday morning, with the snow on the ground not too severe, I drove the short distance over to Zoe’s Fancy Cakes, just outside Leeds and found the free car park, just a short walk away from the shop.

IMG_8987

Now people are always surprised to find out that I am actually quite shy on meeting new people and, as I only knew Zoe herself, was a little bit nervous about walking into a room full of strangers. Of course, I needn’t have worried though as Zoe was incredibly welcoming and immediately put me at ease, while she and Carla put the finishing touches to the day’s preparations. The little bit of time before the course was due to start was a great ice-breaker, as it gave all of the attendees a chance to mingle and chat before we got started. Not to mention explore all of Zoe’s amazing artwork scattered throughout both the shop and the teaching space.

IMG_8954

When we were finally ready, it was time to get straight down to the nitty gritty of things – colouring the modelling chocolate that we would be using to sculpt the majority of our busts. Carla explained that we would be using Saracino’s Cioccolato Plastico Bianco, which we coloured based on our own preferences using a variety of Sugarflair gel colours.

I had only ever made one bust cake before, so in spite of feeling reasonably confident with the tools and materials we were using, I wasn’t sure of how well I would be able to recreate Carla’s masterpiece. Animals are a lot more forgiving than humans after all! However, something I learned fairly early on in my cake journey, after struggling to keep up at a class and ending up initially disappointed with my finished piece, is that when one attends a course, we aren’t there to produce a beautiful cake (although that is an added bonus), but rather to learn the skills and techniques to allow us to replicate one later at home – after a bit more practice! When you allow yourself to have that mindset and take the expectations and pressure off yourself, you are sure to have a much more enjoyable learning experience. And as I teach my pupils at school, mistakes are opportunities for learning – we only fail at something when we give up trying.

IMG_8986

One of the best parts of the first day was the time we spent on the theory of facial analysis. By taking the time to understand the relative proportions of the human face, I felt much more confident with the prospect of trying to replicate one. I also took away plenty of tips that I know I will be able to use on other projects too. For example, how to work with chocolate with my ridiculously hot hands. With such a simple solution, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself: gloves! I actually found that with the addition of powder-free, vinyl gloves, my warm hands actually helped me to manipulate the chocolate – not to mention the fact that I was able to knead my modelling chocolate a lot more easily than most!

My favourite part of the day though was when we were all given a chance to work alongside Carla for some 1:1 time to troubleshoot our own sculptures. I mean, how often do you get to sit down with an expert in their field and benefit from their knowledge and experience? Although the prospect of trimming off some of my Nadine’s excess face when I had built it up a little too much was initially terrifying!

As we worked, after a morning of blazing sunshine, which had cleared away most of the snow, the heavens opened and we were treated to a positive deluge of the dreaded white stuff. I have to say though, if you are going to be somewhere in the snow, Yorkshire takes some beating – it was absolutely beautiful. However, as the first day drew to a close, the journey back to the hotel was positively terrifying and I was already making plans to move in with Zoe and her partner Richard if the snow got much worse.

Luckily, I had an issue of Something Sweet to keep me busy that night, so I was able to put the weather completely out of my mind until the morning.

Things weren’t looking much better weather-wise in the morning, but in daylight, the journey was a lot less eventful and I arrived back at Zoe’s Fancy Cakes excited to continue work on my bust.

IMG_9071

After a whole day of learning some quite tricky skills together, the group had bonded really well and the atmosphere was even more jovial as we cracked on with the next stage of our projects. The start of the second day saw us adding shading, eyelashes and make up to them and I think I was at a real disadvantage there! Although I may have a little bit more experience with make-up than some men (think crazy stage make up in my teens and mad spritzer-infused evenings with friends, where letting me do their make-up seemed a good idea), I have certainly never had to dress a face in full make-up that actually had to look remotely ‘put together’. I’ve also tended to avoid colouring with dusts, because I’ve found it tricky in the past. I think it’s because I’m too impatient to wait for the colour to build up gradually, infinitely preferring the much faster results of my airbrush. On this occasion, I decided, most uncharacteristically, to adopt a less-in-more approach to this aspect of the decoration and it seemed to work. I can imagine it would be very easy to go overboard though – much like when airbrushing really!

Once our faces were catwalk ready, we were on to the body and hair – and back to my old faithful, Renshaw sugarpaste. While less forgiving than modelling chocolate, there is a lot to be said for sticking to what you know! Inevitably, as I became more mindful of the five-hour journey I had ahead of me after the course concluded, a certain degree of rushing did come into play – particularly when it came to the hair (don’t get me started on how much those ringlets misbehaved!). However, that was all on me and nothing to do with Carla’s tutorage. At no point in the course did I ever feel rushed, which is amazing when you consider what we had to get through during the two days.

I was genuinely so amazed with the standard of the busts that everyone on the course managed to produce – particularly when you realise that we were all at very different points in our caking ‘careers’, with very different areas of expertise. Naturally, we all experienced our fair share of dramas (I mentioned my panic attack over the make-up, right?), but Carla was on hand to support us through them, stepping in to help those who needed her, when required.

IMG_9126-1416792508-1521670842395.jpg

Of course, there is always that one naughty student who wants to go off plan (eh, Zoe?) and I wonder if you can guess which of the amazing array of finished pieces belongs to the maverick Mrs Fancy Cake herself? And while you’re at it, see if you can spot mine in amongst them too…

final

If you get the chance to attend a class with Carla Puig, I would not only highly recommend that you do it – I would pretty much insist on it! Her relaxed style of teaching, focusing on both theory AND artistry, was excellent and I genuinely felt like I came away from the weekend with the knowledge and skills I needed to be able to recreate the project again at home. I can also see oodles of ways in which I could adapt it for other future projects too – I don’t think you could ask for any more from a cake class really.

IMG_9147

Additionally, Zoe’s gorgeous little shop and teaching space was the perfect setting for the class and I may have left with a couple of purchases too – including the essential Zoe’s Fancy Cakes souvenir, my very own Zoe’s Fancy Cakes t-shirt.

IMG_9066

Thanks Carla (and Zoe and Richard) for a truly fantastic weekend and I hope to see you all soon!

x

After bursting onto the international cake scene only a few years ago, Carla Puig’s lifelike sculpting has ensured that she has become an instant global sensation. Her breath-taking work has been published in magazines all over the world and she has won numerous prizes and awards, including the much-coveted International Best in Show award at Cake International in 2016 and the Best Sculpted Cake Award at last year’s Cake Masters Magazine Awards.

She now travels all over the world teaching her classes and you can keep up to date with her upcoming class schedule via her website or over at her Facebook page, Carla Puig – Sugar Atelier.

 Zoe Hopkinson of Zoe’s Fancy Cakes is also a fantastic teacher in her own right (check out my previous post regarding my cake classes with Zoe) and she teaches both at her own shop and teaching space, as well as further afield. To find out more about classes with Zoe or her guest tutors, visit her website.

All Content, Blog, Guest Post

Guest Post: Sam Hughes – Silvia Mancini ‘Skipping Girl Class’

Sam Hughes is the face behind Aunty Sam’s Cakes, based in in Sheringham, Norfolk. Last week, she was lucky enough to attend a modelling class with the legendary sugar modeller Silvia Mancini at Zoe’s Fancy Cakes in Leeds and she has been generous enough to pen a few words to share the experience with us all.

Over to you, Sam…

The night before my course, we checked the weather forecast ahead of our three-hour drive from North Norfolk to West Yorkshire and things weren’t looking too promising. ‘The Beast from the East’ was due to arrive and conditions were looking rather threatening.

Luckily, the weather wasn’t too bad on the morning in question and remained fairly reasonable throughout our journey. As a result, we arrived quite early and as soon as I had packed the other half off into Leeds for the day, things couldn’t have been better.

Our hosts, Zoe and Richard welcomed us all warmly, with hot cups of coffee and a variety of biscuits and honestly made the whole experience very relaxing and easy before we even got started.

There was plenty of time to explore Zoe’s lovely little shop before Silvia arrived and already I was picking out a selection of tools and other goodies to take home later – and, I have to say, everything was very reasonably priced too.

Upon Silvia’s arrival, she made a point of coming around to meet us all individually and, of course, to introduce the plan for the day. Our goal was to learn how to make a Silvia’s wonderfully animated and character-filled Skipping Girl Topper, under Silvia’s expert tuition.

Everything we needed for the session was provided and ready for us, so we quickly made a start with Silvia first demonstrating the techniques we needed for each individual section, before we all had a go ourselves, while our teacher kept a watchful eye over us attempting to craft our own versions.

Personally, I find this to be the best way of learning – diving in, giving it a go and learning from my mistakes (especially with an expert conveniently on hand to show me the error of my ways!).

Before I had even had time to blink – or so it seemed at least – it was time for lunch, so we stopped for a quick break of tasty sandwiches, more delicious coffee and biscuits and even some brownies and other yummy treats. However, we were all eager to quickly get back to our Skipping Girls again.

As the day progressed, I began to realise just how good Silvia is at explaining everything she does, the tools she is using and the reasoning behind it.  She shared her time perfectly between all of the students and was happy to explain things as many times as necessary, without letting any of feel like we were falling behind.  This helped create a good bond between all of the students, which only added to the shared feeling of what a superb day it had been for us all.

With about an hour of the course left to go, Gary (the aforementioned other half who had been sent off into Leeds for the day) returned from his day out, but this wasn’t a problem as Zoe, Richard and all of the staff in the shop quickly made him feel welcome with plenty of hot drinks and snacks, while I was finishing off my model.

At the end of the course, we were all presented with our special certificates from Silvia and, of course, I grabbed a quick photograph for my website too! As we said our goodbyes, the first flakes of snow began to fall, but the journey was perfectly fine and gave me time to reflect on what an excellent day I had had. The cost of the course had been well worth it and, honestly, I’m already looking forward to booking the next one!

 

 

It sounds like a wonderful experience, Sam. I’m completely jealous if I’m honest and I love your model! Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Silvia Mancini is based in Italy, but regularly travels the world teaching her unique style of modelling. Her next classes in the U.K. are: