One of the most liberating and exhilarating things that I’ve come to figure out during the past few years as a baker and caker is that inspiration is everywhere — literally, everywhere. As long as I’m tuned in and really paying attention to what’s around me, and I keep the ability to stand back and look at things with an open mind and knack for using typical things in an untypical way, I find there is enough inspiration out there to have me happily baking for eternity, with my own spin on things. Okay, well maybe a few days short of eternity — I have days, many days, where it doesn’t come together, and where tears are shed, but that’s when I realize that it may be time to walk away and rejuvenate. Then, when I’m ready, and the stars are realigned, I get back at doing what I love and send my muse an urgent plea.
Here are my 8 favourite sources of inspiration for cake & confection designs and ideas:
1. Children’s clothing
This may sound a little unusual, or maybe we all do it, but I find oodles and oodles of inspiration in children’s clothing & pajamas. As a mom of two little girls, I am surrounded by a jackpot of tees, pjs and more, which kind of comforts me–I can’t go two steps in our house without finding a cute piece of the girls’ clothing just begging to become cookies, cupcakes or cake. I find children’s clothing designers create the most pleasing colour-palettes, patterns and themes that are often reminiscent of confections and childhood in general. It’s not that I want all of my desserts to look like they are for children, because most aren’t, but I find that this kind of playful inspiration can bring out my inner child, which ignites a spark in me and makes me happy. When I’m happy, I create prettier things. True story.
The colour palettes used in children’s clothing are often pastel, rainbow and the like. Sometimes I’m inspired to literally recreate a design I love onto a cookie or cake, as I did with these Milk & Cookie Cookies for Santa, and other times it’s not so literal–such as the How to Make a Rainbow blog post, which I pulled inspiration from the words and concept of the girls’ matching pajama sets. Sometimes I’m purposely searching for ideas, and other times I become inspired upon first glance, even before I buy it. And, I may or may not be guilty of choosing a style just so I can go home and use it as cake or confection inspiration, but since I’ve got two very girly-girls, this usually goes over well. There are so many ideas just sitting there in their closets waiting to be baked into life. You can also browse online for kids’ clothing, so no need to stock an entire closet full or rush out and make babies (unless you find making and raising babies particularly inspiring, in which case make away) to tap into this goldmine of creativity. I get a flutter in my heart while browsing Decaf Plush, Layla Grace and Etsy, to name a few.
2. Books, Stationery & Wrapping Paper
This is one another one of my favourite ways to get inspired, and it there are so many ideas waiting to happen, when you look at pretty books, paper, illustrations, or wrapping paper in a new light.
The first time I fell in love-at-first-sight with a potential paper-into-sweets idea was when I spotted these envelopes in an issue of Martha Stewart and created the Love Letter & Scripted Hearts Cookies (above). Up until the moment I spotted the stationery in the magazine, I was at a complete loss what to bake & make and just like that, I had a cookie vision. This was a pretty literal take on the envelopes, and then I added the hearts once I got started and felt, well, even more inspired. See how quickly inspiration travels? I can also recall an “aha” moment when I was brainstorming ideas for a friend’s virtual baby shower, and this book clicked a switch, resulting in the Little Pea Sugar Cookie Pops. And wrapping paper? This is one of the most incredible resources out there–so much creativity goes into the art of wrapping paper. I mean, can someone please make this into a cookie collection? Or this? And look at these colours – they scream confections. Some of my favourite online resources for this kind of inspiration are Paper Source, Cartolina and Etsy. Paper bliss . . .
This is a funny set of circumstances, really: Candy inspires me to make cake and cookies, but actually eating candy isn’t really my thing (one thing I forgot to mention on my recent post, 23 Random Things About Me). Maybe it’s because I’m a bit fanatical about oral hygiene and keeping my teeth healthy, or perhaps I just love the texture of baked goods and frosting so much that I’m not often willing to spend those calories on eating straight candy. That being said, nothing says uplifting or connect-with-your-inner child like walking into a candy shoppe. The colours, the shapes, the scents – instant sugar-induced inspiration and happiness.
As you probably guessed, or maybe recall if you read my guest post on Wedding Bells last holiday season, the inspiration for this winter wedding cake was peppermint candy and twine, which sounds a bit odd now that I think about it, but I remember how compelled I felt to incorporate a candy vibe into the cake. Even just a handful of old-fashioned candy can inspire, and it doesn’t always result in a big fancy wedding cake. Remember these Licorice Delight Cupcakes? Or this Strawberry Layer Cake with Whipped Strawberry Frosting?
4. Whimsical Blogs
This is such a big one for me–I love whimsical blogs! When I say “whimsical” blogs, I’m referring to blogs that are filled with, or, actually, overflowing with colour, quirkiness and just an overall sense of artistic chaos–blogs that leave you wondering if you’ve got paint or fabric snippings on your shoe after you’ve visited.
There are a few blogs in particular that give me an immediate creative boost and inspiration, and even a quick visit can arm me with creativity. You may remember my
girl crush close friend Vanessa Valencia, and how her work and blog, A Fanciful Twist, inspired me to create these Artist Palette & Paintbrush Cookies. The truth is that each time I visit Vanessa’s blog I get a feeling of transcendence, and when I leave her blog I am instantly eager to make something special — it really is like visiting another world. It was also because of her that I took two steps left of my comfort zone and created the Ruffles & Roses Mad(ish) Tea Party. Another art & lifestyle blog that I adore is A Beautiful Mess by Elsie Larson. Elsie’s blog has a strong vintage-crafty flare and is dipped in pretty. She blogs about DIY projects, outfits, photography, beauty, treats and so much more. I dare you to spend 5 minutes on either of these blogs, or similar, and not feel compelled to create. There are many more out there, but these are my two current favourites.
5. Design Seeds
Design Seeds is an incredible source of colour inspiration. Jessica Colaluca is the talented woman behind this site filled with seemingly infinite colour palette inspiration (I’m sorry for the “u” in colour, Jessica — my Canadian fingers won’t let me omit it), and I can only imagine, actually, no, I can only dream of imagining how many works of art out there that have stemmed from her gift for creating and generously sharing her colour palettes.
In our case, let’s say you’re making a birthday cake or cookies (or anything at all) and you’re not sure which colours would work well together, or maybe you’re typically great with colour, but you need a boost to get your creative colour energy going. It’s almost hard to believe that there could even be so many palette options, but, like I mentioned, it is seemingly infinite, and since even the slightest variance in shade can evoke different emotions, each palette tells a story and inspires me in a unique way. Her site, albeit deep-rooted with colour, is simple, clean and easy to use. You can browse palettes by single colour, collection or season. All of her palettes are inspiring, but I’m often drawn to her “Edible Color” palettes (quel surprise!).
Did I mention that my life changed the day I discovered Pinterest? If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, it’s basically a virtual pinboard for selecting images you find around the web and categorizing them onto different boards for your own reference and those who are interested in what you’ve pinned. Think of it as a big inspiration board, but on your computer. You can also follow any other Pinterest users, and see and/or repin anything they’ve saved to their boards. If you feel that sounds endless and overwhelming, well, you’re right, but it’s in incredible source of inspiration. And although “Pinterest” isn’t really one specific bit of inspiration, but rather endless, I find it really helps me create because I can view an entire board in one glance. Something about the ability to group these images any way I like keeps me focused.
While I was recently working on this summery fresh cake (above) with a “Provence” tablecloth theme for Wedding Bells magazine (Spring & Summer 2012 issue — it’s hitting shelves next week, which you won’t want to miss!), I turned to Pinterest straight away. I was, of course, given some guidelines for colour and theme, but it was up for my interpretation, and this can be a little overwhelming in its own right. If you peek at my “Sweet Colour Inspiration” Pinterest board, you’ll likely see it’s peppered with fresh, summer, blue and yellow images, and these images, as a group, gave me direction and a vision for my cake. But, fancy cakes aside, even if I’m making a simple layer cake or brownies, sometimes something strikes me on Pinterest that gets me excited to bake all over again. Or redecorate the house. Or buy a couture gown. Or to throw another wedding party. If you join Pinterest, you’ll see . . .
7. Baking & Party Supply Shops
Do you ever get stuck in a baking-tool rut? I do, and actually I’ve been in one lately, so shopping pretty baking supply shops gets me inspired. It’s not even about actually buying new cake or baking tools or party supplies, although I won’t lie, that does give me a lift. It’s kind of like buying new makeup — you wake up the next day with more P&V than usual because you can’t wait to try your new blush . . . or is that just me?
This Rainbow Doodle Cake (which you are likely tired of looking at by now) came to be because I spotted the Gourmet Food Writer Markers one day while online shopping, and coupled with my little Reese’s need for a rainbow cake, we ended up with a much-doodled cake that she was so proud of. Had I not been looking for a new & fun bit of cake-tool inspiration, I’d probably still be trying to dream up a birthday cake design for her.
Sometimes I get comfortable using my favourite baking tools, and even a new cookie cutter can set off a rush of cookie design ideas, like when I bought my cute-as-pie milk bottle cutter and made the Neapolitan Milk & Chocolate Sugar Cookies. I find, though, that even just taking some time to browse different baking supply or stylish party shops, online or in person, ideas start to click. And click. And click and click. Just remember to write your ideas down before you forget them! Some of my favourites are Shop Sweet Lulu, Bake It Pretty and Fancy Flours.
8. Desserts, Past & Present
I know this may sound peculiar. How can the general term ”dessert” be a source of inspiration for dessert? Well, here’s how this works for me: I love dessert (no really, I do), and so I’m, for the most part, thinking, sleeping, dreaming, living and reminiscing about dessert. The key for me is taking a step back and looking at dessert in a new light — maybe mixing up an old treat into something different, but the same. Confused yet? For example, my memories of the carton-packaged ice cream bricks from my childhood inspired this cake, but yet there was no ice cream involved in my cake–the same but different. My love and memories of those Misty Mints I ate at Christmas-time as a little girl inspired me to make these peppermint patties, taking the simple little minty pastel chocolates and turning them into full-on homemade white chocolate and mint peppermint patties — the same but different. I love observing the flavour combinations that are out there in any dessert or confection and then tying them into my own recipes, but with a different spin. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t always look to cake for cake ideas, but rather shake things up by using pretty much any sweet treat as inspiration for other sweet treats. I should mention, though, that there’s definitely something to be said for trying a recipe you’re inspired by and simply making it as it is, but for those other times when I really want to experiment, this system works for me.
So, these definitely aren’t my only sources of cake & confection inspiration, because every day and every project is unique, but these are some of my favourites.
What are your best-loved sources for creativity?