To sketch or not to sketch….it’s a good question…

In my job I read a lot of wedding magazines for research.  I like to see what’s trending for cakes, flowers, dresses, décor and what advice they are offering brides for their wedding process.  A few years ago a piece of advice magazines were offering were to get “visuals” from your vendors.  I do have some thoughts on this and I actually wish the magazines would ask the vendors their point of view on this subject.

I do have to say that we do very little sketching here at the bakery.  There is a good reason for this, if we have done the structure before, there is no need for us to do a sketch.  90% of the time we are recreating the same structures, sure the surface details change and the flowers change, but not the structure.  We always offer the client a photo of a cake that is similar to what they are getting and mark things on the photo that is applicable to the clients design.  So really there is no need for us to sketch in this situation.  The contract that we present to our clients has a very detailed description of their cake design. (Of course there is always an exception to this rule because every client is different.)

Now if it’s something that we have never done before, a sketch is absolutely necessary.  There are logistics that need to be worked out between our head chef and the design team.

Here is a great example of why would need a sketch. This project was a little tricky and we needed to figure out how we could make everything stack up. (Pun intended...)

Another point I would like to bring up is that we are not artists.  Well we are – but our medium is sugar, not paper.  With that being said, our outcome is ALWAYS so much better than the sketch we present to our clients. If we ever produce a sketch, it’s always done after we have received the deposit to book the date.  This is to ensure they won’t take our work to another baker to execute. (Yes – it has happened before.)

I am not saying that sketching is bad and it shouldn’t be done, it’s just not always necessary and clients need to understand that.  The magazines are offering this advice because they think it’s a good idea.  Every baker’s policy is different on this subject and I think the advice that magazines sometimes offer is too vague.

Sketches take time and in turn take away from our design team working on sugar flowers and cakes.  If we do a sketch for a client, we basically try to do only one.  While we understand the design process can be complex and does go back and forth, adding drawings into the mix can sometimes make the process longer than it needs to be.  People do not know how our company operates, how are staff’s time is divided in their work duties and depending on the time of year, can actually create problems in our production schedule.  And in most cases sketches are done after the staff’s full day of work, so now we are paying over time to get a sketch done that is not built in to the overall cost of the cake.  Ahh, something to think about if you are a baker…

Remember when I said that there is always an exception to every rule? I design wedding and birthday cakes for clients over the phone and through email. They will get a very basic sketch from me that gives the idea of what we are going to do. These clients never set foot in our bakery and this is the easiest way to communicate with them. As you can see the cake on the left is so much better than the cake sketch on the right.

How do you feel about this matter? Have you sketched something for a client without a deposit only to find out another baker has executed your design?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject…

21 thoughts on “To sketch or not to sketch….it’s a good question…

  1. At my bakery, it is not uncommon for me to occasionally create sketches of cake designs. My sketches never leave my bakery though, I don’t allow it.

  2. I loved the post, as usual… This blog is an amazing source of inspiration! I have a very small business, and even though I can’t draw, sometimes I make sketches, specially when I think all the information about the cake is a little confusing… Maybe I want to make sure that we ( me and the client) have the same idea. And sometimes I sketch for myself when in doubt about the colors. In both cases, I just take the time to make sketches if the cake is booked.

  3. Oh yes! I learned this lesson well just a couple months ago.

    A bride and groom met with me to go over some sketches I did for them (complete with price quotes)…stupid me. I left the room momentarily and I am positive that one of them snapped a photo of the sketches with their phone. Why do I think that? Because they left like a bat outta hell once I came back and didn’t even discuss price and she’s very price conscious. It made me so mad!! But mainly at myself for being so trusting. Thank you SO much for your good advice… I will never do a sketch again without a deposit in hand. Lesson learned!!

    1. I am sorry to hear this happened to you! But of course lesson learned…something similar happened to us as well and now when we walk away from the table, we take the paperwork with us.

  4. I never thought about someone taking my sketch to another bakery. My business is so new that there are a lot of things I haven’t done on a cake so I always sketch it out. I have only given a customer a sketch if I only spoke with them on the phone. I can’t draw well so like you our cakes turn out better than the sketch. Thanks for the advice!!

  5. Thanks for sharing your insight Ron. It’s always nice to know what others in the industry are doing, especially someone as well respected as yourself. I sketch for almost all of my clients during the consultation as I am a visual person. It can become cumbersome, but I think my clients like to see a representation of what they will get and I always give the disclaimer that the cake will look much more fabulous out of sugar. They only get a copy of the sketch if they book. I too have seen my sketches come to life by other bakers. It’s heart breaking!
    I truly wish magazines would look to industry professionals for advice, but I think opinions vary so greatly it could be difficult to find the best answers to share with brides. We all have our own practices, which make us desirable in different ways! 🙂

  6. Great insight! Would you write about cake contracts as well? Have seen so many of them from one page to as long as Rapunzel’s hair. What do You prefer and how detailed? Thanks, Marta

  7. I am a cookie artist and am frequently asked to sketch as part of the quote.

    I no longer do it, as I’ve found more than one of my designs on other’s portfolios online after the client received the sketch and ‘disappeared’.

    Now I only sketch after payment and put a watermark on the sketch as well.

    Thank you so much for your post today [and every day] 🙂

  8. I am a cookie artist and am frequently asked to sketch as part of the quote.

    I no longer do it, as I’ve found more than one of my designs on other’s portfolios online after the client received the sketch and ‘disappeared’.

    Now I only sketch after payment and put a watermark on the sketch as well.

    Thank you so much for your post today [and every day] 🙂

  9. Very smart!
    I once did an entire Christmas theme for a client and then they hired someone else to install it. Always get a deposit and a signed contract.

  10. I am an artist and this helps me have the advantage to help the client visualize what I am imagining, since some people have an hard time understanding what I am describing and they don’t understand the ‘cake talk’ the drawings help a lot. Plus, the drawings help me stay on track and not wander into unknown territory!! lol

  11. Interesting to read other people’s opinions on this! I always sketch things out for my clients so that we are all in agreement of what they are getting. I am such a visual person that it is just as much for me as for them. I do also have a disclaimer on the sketch saying that all designs are my intellectual property and cannot be copied and/or reproduced without my express permission. That being said, I am an artist as well as a pastry chef/cake designer, so the final product and sketch not matching up isn’t something I have really ever had to think about – often, my sketches have become a fun keepsake for the couples I work with.

    Love your blog and insights Rebecca!

  12. We’re located in France and cake design is rather new and our clients still need to be educated as to what is and what is not possible in cake design.
    We do sketches only for special occasion cakes (i.e. wedding cakes; corporate) and only after a deposit has been paid. For the smaller cakes (birthday, etc…) we occasionally do a quick sketch for ourselves which never leave our laboratory. All our sketches are signed to prevent copying.

  13. sadly, I can’t draw. I wish I can because I can understand some people’s need to see as I’m a visual person myself. But what’s in my head never comes out the same on paper.
    Personally, I wouldn’t want to be restricted by a sketch come cake decorating time. That’s when I get an extra surge of creativity and productivity so often times I can do more/better than what I’ve previously described. Decorating can also be so unpredictable where sometimes you just have to go a different route (my failed attempt at doing lace appliques comes to mind – turned brush embroidery). And if you have a really picky client, then they’ll for sure be disappointed on some level.
    I agree that the magazine(s) should have asked vendors opinion(s). Reminds me of that time when one mag told brides to get a smaller cake to cut the cake cost or stay within their budget. What were they thinking?!?!

    1. Another one of my biggest pet-peeves! Getting a smaller cake….for shame! I wrote about that last year too. I might bring it up again as a reminder… 🙂


  14. I never thought that customers would take the sketch to other bakers. Although I rarely give them a copy. I find using the “cake sketcher” on a great tool though. I put in the customer requirements and then print out the basic cake and sketch over a few ideas for them. It makes it easier to have a few basic cake prints and you can sketch over them with the customer their too.

  15. Reblogged this on NYC Cake Girl and commented:

    A subject that I have tackled before a few years ago regarding cake sketches and still hold true today. Have a read and let me know your thoughts on weather to sketch a cake while sitting at a sales meeting…

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