Painting on Fondant

materials for da vinci painted cakeQuestion: How on earth can I recreate a Renaissance art piece using cake materials? I’ve been putting it off for months. Impressionism, post-impressionism, surrealism, cubism… those are so much more forgiving. But the precision of those Italian masters would be impossible to recreate, and I resigned myself to skipping that period.

But then I thought, really, Kath?! You’re going to do an art series and skip one of the most well-known periods? So I devised a compromise. How about I do a famous drawing instead of a painting? That would be easier because I wouldn’t have color troubles. A sketch would be even better than a drawing- a nice, rough, one-tone sketch that maybe looked like it was scribbled in five minutes, as opposed to, say, the Mona Lisa.

After looking around a bit, I found a print of a Leonardo da Vinci drawing that is suspected by some to be a self-portrait. Pretty simple- brownish background with brownish chalk. (Well, simple for Leo, I mean, haha!) I set to work with the fewest materials ever: brownish fondant, one fine paintbrush (that would be a paintbrush that has a thin tip, not a paintbrush that you look at and say, Dang, that paintbrush is fiiiiiine!), brown gel coloring, and lemon extract. That is literally it.

The process is simple enough- cover a rectangular cake with brownish fondant, put a little food gel coloring on a plate, add a splash of lemon extract (or you can use vodka, just sayin’), and paint away. The more extract you add, the lighter your color will be. The less you add, the bolder the color will be. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly, because:

Brown food coloring is apparently not brown, it is green at heart. And black is actually blue.

This is a weird phenomenon to me, and I do not understand the chemistry behind the process. But here is what happens, according to my simple observation: If you use brown coloring in fondant, royal icing, buttercream, gum paste, or any other medium I’ve ever used, it makes it brown. (Duh.) However, when you add lemon extract, it separates into individual colors, with the predominant one being green. ??? Why? I don’t know! I don’t get it! And the black coloring turned blue! Check out the evidence below!

difference between black and brown food coloring

In a way, this is a sort of beautiful plate. But in another way, it’s extremely annoying when your Leonardo da Vinci comes out greenish and seasick. And as I could find neither a cause nor a solution, I present to you: Leo: His Life on the High Seas.

It is hard to paint for hours while leaning over and not being able to support your hand.

Sounds like I’m being lazy, which is something I usually specialize in- but this is a serious problem here. Pick up a pen for a sec and try to write something without placing your arm on the table. I bet your handwriting isn’t very nice, huh? This is the way cake decorators always have to work, because obviously, one cannot rest her arm on the rest of the cake. Now, I’ve been taught a few different ways to anchor my piping hand (you get SUCH a better, cleaner result if you anchor your hand!)- but this was impossible to anchor for so many hours. Normally, the longest thing I would need to anchor for would be “Happy Birthday!” It would have been super nice to set this cake up on an easel, but again, that’s not something you can do with a cake. (Think: “cake-sliding-down-broom-handle” from Sleeping Beauty!)

As always with food coloring, you cannot add light color on top of a darker one.

Therefore, if you paint over an area that should be lighter, you are in trouble! You must be careful! Working with paint is quite different because yellow paint can be painted atop black, but since food coloring is clear-ish, that doesn’t work. For example, using the third photo below- with regular paints, I would paint the pupil the desired color and add a dot of white in the center of the pupil to make it look like it was glinting. But in this case, a little area for the “dot of white” must always be preserved and not painted on. It’s a backwards sort of way of thinking.

Here is the in-progress photo compilation, featuring the cake as well as the speck of dust that is inside my phone’s camera lens (anyone know what to do about that?):

in process painted da vinci cake 1in process painted da vinci cake 2leonardo da vinci cake painted with food gel coloring self portrait

leonardo da vinci cake painting with food coloring self portraitClick below for other art-inspired cakes:
Van Gogh (painting with buttercream), Monet (painting with royal icing), Monet (Nerds candy), Cezanne (apple peels), Michelangelo (modeling chocolate sculpture), and Ansel Adams (chocolate shavings)

Do you have an idea for an art-inspired cake? Leave me a suggestion in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “Painting on Fondant

  1. Mary Grace

    Your amazing…you know that? Now I LOVE hand painting cakes my self…but really, there is no way I could do that.

    I am wondering if you would have had such a hard time with keeping the brown brown, or black black, if you added a speck of white food coloring gel in to the mix? Now I am FAR from an expert…but I have found that adding that white turns the pain from ‘water color’ to ‘acrylic’, and it might help preserve the intended color shades as well. (I also never use lemon extract until people have a problem with alcohol. I find it mixes cleaner with vodka?)


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