As a requirement for my graphic design degree, I had to take a few fine art drawing classes. I am not a naturally talented illustrator, so I really liked when they taught us the grid method for drawing. But in fact, you don't need to go to art school to learn this method. It is there in most children's activity books! It breaks down the drawing process into manageable pieces, which will work together like a puzzle to make an impressive final product. It also happens to be one of my favorite ways to decorate a cake. For me, not only is fondant difficult to work with, I just don't like the taste of it as much as I like buttercream. But I am no pro and my buttercream cakes can end up looking sloppy, and like a kid DID do it. The grid method enables me to decorate a clean, creative and great-tasting cake!
Step One - Pick and Print a Picture
Find a google image of whatever character, object or theme you want on your cake. Print it out, preferably at the approximate size that it will be on your cake. After flip-flopping a few times, my son Sam settled on Geronimo Stilton, his favorite book character, for his 8th birthday cake..
Step Two - Grid Your Picture
For a 9x13 cake, grid your picture into equal squares 7 wide and 5 tall. If you've printed it to size (you need 11x17 paper for this), they will each be about 2 inches. You'll see how I compensate for the extra inch when we grid the cake. I did mine on the computer, so it looked like this.
Step Three - Bake and Ice your Cake
This part is mainly up to you to figure out, but here are a few of my favorite recipes for White Cake, Chocolate Cake and Carrot Cake. If your picture is going to cover most of your cake, you don't even need to worry about a crumb layer.
Step Four - Grid Your Cake
For a standard 9x13 cake, I line up my ruler from .5in to the 13.5in on the long edge, and make subtle marks with a toothpick at the 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. On the short edge, line it up from .5in to 9.5in and mark at the 2, 4, 6, 8. Do this on all four sides, and then draw connecting lines to make your grid. If your picture only takes up one section of the cake, only connect the lines in that area to reduce the amount of touch-up you need to do later.
Step Five - Draw Your Pic, Square by Square
Start with the easiest square, probably the one with the least amount of lines in it. Then go square by square, connecting the lines. If it is still too intimidating, take some scrap paper and cover up the squares that you are not working on. It doesn't need to be perfect, because you can make adjustments as you fill in the color. I used a Wilton #2 tip.
Step Six - Color Your Pic
Switch to a Wilton #16 tip and fill in your picture, color by color, with little tiny stars. Make sure to leave a small gap where your white icing is. This will make it easier to outline later.
Step Seven - Outline
Once you've got all the color filled in, mix together all of your icing colors, add some cocoa powder, and you will have a pretty dark icing that will make your image pop! Trace your white outline, and add any extra detailing to make it fabulous.
Step Eight - Touch It Up!
Most of your grid lines should be covered up by now, but if not, you can easily touch them up. Take the back of a spoon, get it a little damp, and *very* gently pat your lines to slowly erase them. This gives a smoother effect than trying to fill them in with icing and prevents your from messing up all of your hard work!
Step Nine - Take lots of Photos!
Please, do it before the guests come! Then you won't even be upset when someone drops their cell phone on your beautiful handiwork while taking a photo of it at the party. Yup that really happened.
Step Ten - Eat it up!
Of course, this is the whole point of the cake, right? I love this method because the cake looks great and tastes great.
What are your favorite cake decorating tips for an amateur like me?
Luke and I are married and have five little munchkins that travel the world with us. I blog about living overseas, travel, kids, homeschooling and graphic design.
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