Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cake art and learning

Sam's birthday cake portrait
from Grade 8
icing on cake
Barbara Muir
The image tonight is of a birthday cake I made
for Sam's 13th birthday. I found this photo
when I was cleaning out my bookshelves in the
office yesterday. Many years later I see that even
in icing I did have a likeness of my boy then. True the
smarties forming the eyes seem to have slipped, and
his skin never had so much texture. It was the last of
his cakes decorated by me. That had been quite the tradition for
his 'school' cakes, and these bits of simple art
in icing were a big hit. Our secret in the early
days, was cake mix cakes, which I cut into the shapes
of Pokemon, or the current superhero. But
when the call came for Harry Potter flying on his
broom stick I graduated to slab cakes from the
excellent bakery at the local supermarket. Un-iced
these were the ideal canvas for icing art, and
required no baking.

Sam took this cake to school in Grade 8, and his
teacher made a cute remark about who would
want the lips. These were the kind of comments
that made us (Sam's parents) find the teacher
difficult to talk to. But the kids loved that guy,
and one of my son's friends said tonight that
he had changed her life. 13-year-olds are not
always easy to decipher, and clearly this teacher
got through to my son and his friend in a lasting
way. His friend said he was one of two teachers
who made a big difference.

Later tonight another friend and I discussed
what helps us to learn. In art I've noticed that
encouragement makes me flourish. That has
been the delight of the blog world for me -- the
encouragement of wonderful painters, and the
stimulating exchange of ideas. But
some teachers feel that it's better to prevent artists
from thinking that art's an easy ride. You know
develop your mettle, get a thick skin, pull up your socks.
And be realistic about how many artists ever "make it."
Does that work?

Or are all the artists I know who hide in their houses, and
are afraid even to doodle when they're on hold on
the phone, people who were squished by an over
eager fan from the "dash-your-hopes" school of
art? I suspect that's at least partially the case.
My point? Thanks to everyone who comments on
my work when they can, and who leaves me to
figure it out when they can't. Not a new theme
I realize, but still important.

Have a coddling-your-inner-artist day.


Gwen Bell said...

How wonderfully creative! I see from this you could very easily have had a completely different career. I know your son had to feel even more special on his special day with this unique gift.

I completely agree with you that encouragement and recognition from peers can go a long way in advancing artistic growth. This blog community can be a real boost in times of doubt.
I'm one of your biggest fans so you can count on me to continue with the "atta girl's"!

eldon warren said...

It's amazing the power a teacher has over his/her students. And how they still make a difference in the lives of those they taught even years later. And it can go both ways. It's good your son had such a teacher.
Nice cake.:)

Barbara Muir said...

Hi Gwen,

I don't know. But the cakes were popular, just because they were original, not for any great artistic merit. This blog community is an amazing boost at all times. Times of doubt come and go during a day. But I must say your "atta girls" mean the world to me.


Barbara Muir said...

Hi Eldon,

I remember my favorite teachers at art college. Their manners, their lines, and their very gentle encouragement took an awkward girl who liked to draw, and turned her into someone who could actually produce art. I think that's a phenomenal talent. The same is true of my English teachers at university. They were so inspiring.
Et voila as we say in French. So when I teach I try to be the encouraging teacher. I may not always succeed, but the philosophy always does.

Take care,


Nicki said...

Hi Barbara,

As you know, I am new at this blogging thing, but I have to say the encouragement other bloggers have offered has already pushed me to take myself more seriously.

I began first year university (long time ago!) thinking I would do a BFA. My first year studio class went well, but in second year I was so intimidated by the professor and format of the class that I dropped it and never took another studio class again. I was young, I gave him too much power and lost a lot of time as a result.

I'm sure you have the complete opposite effect on your students. I hope they know how lucky they are to have you.


Anonymous said...

That's a great cake! I also enjoyed baking and icing inventive birthday cakes for my daughters.It was a creative outlet for me when I was too busy or too tired for painting. I remember having a power out one night before a birthday party; then icing individual cupcakes by candlelight to look like each sesame street character. It was hard to see if I had the icing colours right in the dark. he he But I will always remember the delight on the children's faces when they recognized oscar, miss piggy, kermit etc...!

It's true how much a teacher can make a difference. I thrived on gold stars:)

Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at:
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!