Mar 13, 2009

Working with Gumpaste (Part 3, tools & body parts)

In this section, my intent is to share with you some of the techniques I use when working with gumpaste. In this particular case, I decided that making people (ok well, little green leprechauns....close enough) would make for an interesting tutorial, because well, quite frankly, they're a bit more difficult (for me anyway) than say, inanimate objects, flowers or animals. Be forewarned, there's a lot of detail here, so if you're not all into that, skip through and just look at the pics, you won't hurt my feelings. I'm just trying to share as much as possible for the peeps who want to see every step.

Let me just preface by saying, people always ask me, "how did you do that?", or, "where did you learn to do that?". While I may take inspiration from other artists, I've never tried to make an exact copy. In fact, I go out of my way to somehow do it differently than other works I've seen. In addition, I don't think I've ever done a particular thing or project twice. I like to do new and different challenges everytime, learning and improving (hopefully) with each project. I always start with a plan, thoroughly thinking the project thru from start to finish. However, I'm also willing to compromise (sometimes concede) as I go along. Let's face it, sometimes things don't go according to planned and you just have to go with it (as you'll see later). So while sketching out a plan is a great idea, for me it's useless. I can't draw worth a lick, but I can paint and I can mold things, go figure.

So, before I get started, I thought I'd go over some of the tools and items that I use most often. (third most common question, "what did you use?") Some of my tools are conventional, some aren't. Starting from the bottom left:
  • A fondant rolling pin- with measuring bands for even rolling
  • small pizza cutter- for cutting thick pieces & trimming
  • fondant ribbon cutter- with various shaped cutting wheels and sized spacers (essential for cutting even strips)
  • ruler- one of many that I use
  • exacto knife (different shaped blades come in handy)
  • wooden dowel- bluntly pointed on one end and round on the other (I call it my "Vlad the Impaler" stick, used for shaping heads or creating holes in the body for legs and arms, heh)
  • various (green) fondant tools- used for shaping and molding
  • sewing pattern wheel- used for making faux "stitching"
  • metal nail file- for filing dried pieces or knocking off dried crumbs
  • pumpkin carving tools- small saw for cutting semi-dry parts and the hole poker (works on voodoo dolls too, insert sinister laugh here)

In addition, I use plastic styrofoam blocks (not the crumbly kind) to hold my Vlad sticks (or in some cases flowers) while I'm working or to hold a piece while it dries so that it holds it's shape. I also have a container with an equal mixture of cornstarch and powdered sugar. This acts as a "cushion", holding shaped pieces that you can't put on a stick, but don't want them misshapen from laying flat. Also, I always have a small metal container of vegetable shortening and one with water nearby when working. I also like to use a (craft) cutting mat makes for a great surface for working with gumpaste.

Probably the most used item is my high tech piece of equipment that I call the "cocoa puff". Used for the fine dusting of surfaces when rolling out fondant or gumpaste and also for dusting the rolling pin. I take a pair of stockings (yes, brand new, as if I have to point that out LOL) and cut about a 6-8" section, tying a knot in one end. Place it into a glass, folding the edges over. Fill it with an equal mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch. Now tie the two ends together and POOF! You have a cocoa puff
For painting, shaping and molding, I have a set of artist brushes (that I only use for gumpaste/fondant work). These have very soft bristles and are "watercolor" or "floral" painting brushes. If your bristles are too stiff, they will leave marks in your finished piece. Have at least one brush that has flat bristles (a.k.a floral petal brush). I'll use this brush most often, not just for shaping and painting, but to attach dried fondant or gumpaste pieces to a finished cake. Oh, and of course a paint mixing tray comes in handy.

Now the tools are out of the way, let me get on with it. When making people with sugar art, you have lots of options. You can go the easy route and make them as simple as possible (think weebles) or you can go all out and make them realistic. I like to do somewhere in between. I like my peeps whimsical, but with some detail, somethin' a little extra special that makes them stand out.

I always start with the body because it's going to determine the size and placement of everything else. In the beginning, I tried making the individual parts (body, arms, legs and head)and sticking them all together with toothpicks.....uhm, not the best method. (wake up Ace of Cakes) Real people, especially kids and grown ass men, WILL EAT the cake people, so unsuspected toothpicks make for a dangerous situation. Besides, they don't work. The body parts fall off quicker than a zombie in a B movie. Nope, a better way is to do as much as you can from ONE big piece, carving out the legs and arms as you go. When I do have to make seperate body parts, I "glue" them together with water or a watered down gumpaste. (Of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule)  I have a few other tricks up my sleeve (heh, get it? oh never mind), I'll share those in a moment.

First, I shape a log, keeping it smaller at one end than the other, thinking in thirds (the chest, the waist and the legs), rolling it into a fat cone shape. Normally, you'd want the legs a bit longer than the waist and chest portion, but this little guy is getting boots, so the legs are "cut off" at the knees.
Next, I shape the shoulders and what will be the waist area. Then I use a small pizza cutter and "slice" up towards the middle, aiming for the crotch (watch it there girl). Then I shape and smooth the legs until they are round. I probably should also point out that he is going to have a little "pooch beer belly" when I sit him up, so I did make his body and waist a bit thicker than I normally would. At this point, you can slice up on each side, creating the arms the same way, but I wanted this guy to wear a suit, so I made the little coned shaped arms seperately. I also shaped the shoulders so that the arms would "fit" better.
I covered the arms with plastic wrap so they wouldn't dry out while working on the body and set them aside. Next, I sat him up on a styrofoam core board that I cut, folded and taped. (I knew that I wanted him sitting next to the cake) After sitting him up, I shaped his little pooch belly. A little shortening periodically on my finger tips keeps him from drying out while I work. After he was in position, I covered him up with plastic while I worked on rolling out the gumpaste for the vest and jacket.

No easy way to do this, just think "sewing" pattern pieces to make the clothing. Since he was going to be all dishelved looking (i.e DRUNK guy), I didn't spend too much time on the jacket and the tails. Next I put on his lapels and buttons. I "glued" on his arms by slightly wetting the attachment points with just a small dab of a moistened brush, then positioned the arms, shaping as I went. I used the pointed end of my Vlad stick and poked in only about 1/4 inch or so to create the "sleeve opening". Once his arms were in position, I went ahead and made his boots and attached them the same way as the arms. Then I made the hands, which proved to be a mistake. I had moved him around and they cracked. So I amputated them (gasp!) and made him new ones later, once he was all finished. (I always wanted to be a surgeon ;)

Now, the other little guy I had to approach differently. A few days beforehand, I made the black innertube so that it would be hard before sitting him in it. Otherwise, his fat butt may have blown it out. I made the legs first, and unlike before, I made them seperately. I made two rolls out flesh, the whole length of the legs. Next, I rolled out a flat piece of green, rolling up on one end for the pant cuff. Turned that over, moistened it just a bit with a brush, layed the leg in there and rolled it up, then trimmed it. I placed them in the tube. Notice he doesn't have feet? There's a reason, you'll see why later (wink wink). After getting the legs in there, I made his body the same way as drunk guy.

After both bodies were done, I had some idea of what size the hats would be. I cut strips (1 1/2") of gumpasted and molded them around a decorator tip cover. I let them stiffen up then slide them off and used the larger opening for the top. I cut circles for the tops of the hats and attached them. Then I made and shaped the brims and let those dry.

After the hats dried, I used the decorator tops again for a prop and painted the hats and lapels using a bit of vodka, mixed with pearl luster dust and green food coloring. Use vodka instead of water because it mixes well with the luster dust and it evaporates more quickly. This allows the piece to be painted without melting or getting soggy. Alternatively, you could use lemon extract.

In the next section, part 4 of this series, I'll show in detail how to shape the hands, heads, hair, and faces with cute little pinchable cheeks. Then finally, I'll show you the finished cake.

You may also be interested in:
You say Sugar Paste, I say Gumpaste (part 1)
Gumpaste Recipe and Directions (part 2)
Working with Gumpaste (part 4, heads & hands)
Happy St. Patrick's Day! (part 5, the cake construction)


Spryte said...


Those are amazing!!!

Debbie said...

Hi DD, As usual you did an excellant job on the little green guys. Thanks for all the detailed info you added to your Blog about how you made them....I understand now why you've been so busy!
After you get rested and your back in better, what is the next project to play with? HUGS, Debbie

Danielle said...

Amazing as usual!!! Those are soooo cute. the one on the right looks like he's been to one of our wine parties ROFL!!! Love the eyes. I so want to do something with this stuff but I have noooo idea where to start.

Culinary Alchemist said...

They look phenomenal!!! I can't wait to see the finished product!!!

Monique "Nenita" said...

Wow! you have some talent.

DDpie said...

Thanks everyone! very much appreciated :)
Danielle, I would have named the drunk guy Dani, but didn't think you'd appreciate that LOL

PRIYANKA said...

priyanka said

Hi nice guy to you create,good idea , i appreciated the these guidline to our

Mich said...

Thanks for your detailed instructions. They are great! I learnt more from your post than the class I take at Hobby Lobby!