49 Cakes for 49 Birthdays

This is long posting.  To see the artwork only, called 49 Cakes for 49 Birthdays, visit the Personal Art Projects, Portfolio, Painting portion of this site.  The following post is about my process.

I was excited when it started.  Wait, let me back up.  I was not excited about the virus, the loss of lives, the impending doom on life as we know it.  I was excited about having more time.  We were told that school was shutting down, we would teach from home, and the school day would be shorter.  More time to create, more time to learn and grow, more time to get all those projects done that have been piling up on my desk, bookcase, and now on the floor in my corner studio space. While others were thinking about what they were going to bake, I was thinking about what art I’d make.

My husband, myself, and about ten other people still went to work/school.  We would Google meet with the kids, make a few videos, check-in with each other, and it all felt a little bit like an educational sabbatical.  We looked at it like “education lite” because really, how can you realistically distance teach during a pandemic.  Not only are you trying to teach, but you are also trying to maintain a sense of calm, a sense of normalcy when everything around you is the exact opposite of the normal you have had your entire lives.  We’d grumble as more restrictions were put in place (masks to be worn at work, gloves in the grocery store), but secretly, I was handling it well because I thought that the creative self that was contained because of teacherboredom was going to be born during this downtime.  I would have more time.  “I’m more creative when I have time to be creative,” I kept telling myself.

This did not happen. Instead, I did what a lot of people did with more time. I surfed the web. And found classes, so many classes. I am a classaholic.  I love taking online classes.  I can learn when I want, with a touch of the button, push pause if I don’t get something or simply watch it over again.  As soon as memberships came up for Bluprint, Udemy, Skillshare popped up, I signed on with reckless abandon. This is how I spent a lot of my time from February to April, but around the end of April, I was classed out. Classes didn’t help me be more creative. They helped me with skills, but not to develop my own work. I could feel myself getting stuck but didn’t know how to get out of my creativity lull.

My birthday is at the end of April.  My husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  We usually don’t ask this question because my husband and I do not give each other presents on our birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and no way Valentine’s Day.  It’s not that we are above that kind of thing.  It just doesn’t work for us.  We tried to give each other presents when we first started dating.  It was a disaster.  He gave me an old-lady beyond heavy wool sweater, something I would never wear; and I gave him a plaid shirt that screamed “Farmer Ted,” something he’d never wear.

After a few tries of gift-giving, we realized that we just aren’t good at picking out gifts for each other under pressure.  We love to share experiences – mainly food, adventure, and travel.  So, our gifts are fancy dining experiences in world-class locations around the globe.  We are not wealthy.  We just take advantage and celebrate when we can. Happy Christmasnewyearsbirthday! on one of our vacations from Saudi Arabia. This pandemic put a serious kink in how we roll.  No vacations, no foodie experiences.  I know you know what I’m talking about because you miss restaurants too!

So when he asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I replied, “A carrot cake,” because it’s my favorite and it was doable.  Get your pandemic bake on! He made it.  It was his first baking experience ever, and he nailed it.  That day, I decided to give myself a challenge too. I remembered how much I loved the Inktober challenge and how that helped me become more creative. For me, I need a challenge, a goal. I also need limitations. Limitations help me be more creative. This is how I’ve survived seven years living in the Saudi Arabian desert.  For more on this, check out my favorite Ted Talk ever.

With this as my mantra, I made a “49 Cakes for 49 Birthdays” challenge to celebrate all my years on Earth.  The challenge also included these elements:

  1.  All paintings must be 4 inches by 3 inches.  This was to save on paints. We didn’t know if we’d ever be able to order from Amazon again and I needed to conserve. Also, I’ve never been into miniature paintings.
  2. All paintings must be done in about 1 to 1.5 hours. This will prevent my perfectionist nature from creeping in.  Small, simple. Done.
  3. All paintings must center on the theme of cake.
  4. Only primary colors, white, and black acrylic paint can be used.  Every color I make must be made from those colors.
  5. Use the color wheel.  I tend to paint every color in a painting so my paintings look like a Rainbow Bright show. A color wheel is an invaluable tool, which I don’t use enough.  Pick three main colors, and a focal point color to allow your reader to travel around the painting.

I started fast and furious, completing four paintings in a very short time period, just to get myself into it.

And then, I started getting more into the paintings, more into the process, looking at shadows and shapes:

And then, I asked Wayne Thiebaud for help.  I love his work.  So I copied some of his paintings and a few others I found on the Internet:

Then I looked at other paintings with cake. I found these two paintings on Pinterest, which I copied.  I do not know who did them originally.  When I look at Pinterest, it takes me to Etsy and both paintings are sold. I loved learning from these paintings.  They allowed me to really concentrate on details, form, light, and shadow.

So, with all these paintings done, I started to look at photos for reference.  I didn’t want to copy the photos, just use them for ideas.  The challenge started getting really fun because I could just play with the concepts I had been learning.

One thing I learned, there’s not a lot of shadows in photos.  It’s like everything is perfectly lit up, which is bad for when you are trying to use shadows to create depth.  I pretty much am making shadows out of thin air.  And I’m not too good at that.

Also, around painting number 25, I started getting bored with cakes, so the creativity part took another side trip. Watched Ghostbusters, painted “that” guy, then tried a baby dragon on her first birthday:

But I kept at it.  And I really, really, had so much fun:


Through the course of this challenge, I’ve learned so much about cake.  I haven’t made them, thankfully, because my husband and I are having a hard enough time exercising the weight off right now as it is, but cake decorating is off the hook. Cake artists out there are doing some really amazing work:


The first one is a top hat cake with a sugar skull on top. The second one is a cake, an actual cake done like a person:


This is the original:

Screen Shot 2020-06-26 at 1.06.49 PM

How do you eat something that looks like this?  I couldn’t. Other cake artists pay homage to famous visual artists.  So I did one for Dali. And I like flamingos, so I slipped this in.

I redid the dragon based on a drawing by Marie Stamp. I just think the concept of a dragon blowing out candles is pretty funny.


And, of course, I go back to people.  I love drawing, painting women.  This is fun because it’s so pop art:


One of my favorites is this one.  I had so much fun with her hair, her face.  I am trying to do more underpainting, but it’s been a process.


I am almost done with this challenge. I’ve got ten more to go.  I have learned so much, but the most important thing I’m learning is that time for me to make art is always there.  I just have to do it.  Some people can just start, they have those creative juices flowing.  I have to give myself a challenge of some sort. Maybe I’m more competitive than I thought.  I’ve got to keep off social media, stop comparing myself to others, and just do it.

It would be great if you could tell me what keeps you making art, what helps you keep focused. I’d love to learn from you.

Until then, keep it loose, keep it simple, look at the world around you, and have some fun. Peace.


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