Sunday, May 27, 2012

First Sugarcraft Competition!

 For the past month or so I have been extremely busy juggling cake orders, work and preparing my competition pieces for the BSG Sugarcraft Exhibition in Telford, UK.  This was to be my very first competition and actually, the first time attending a cake show of any kind!  Originally I had entered two classes: Novice Floral Arrangement and another novice class where I could do anything I wanted.  Also, I had planned to bring a cake to represent Finland on the international exhibition table.  This last was not a competition piece, so I really did have free rein on what I wanted to do.  In the end, I ran out of time to do the Finland theme cake and these peonies were the only thing I was able to enter.
Before these three blooms were created, I must have made a dozen or so other peonies, calla lilies, magnolias, you name it!  Most of them ended up in the bin, although a couple have been saved for non-competition use.  My Easter holidays were supposed to be spent making flowers etc, but as fate would have it I was ill for most of the two weeks.  When the fever subsided I did try and create some flowers, but they weren't good enough.  My hands were too shaky and I was too tired to pay attention to little details.  In the end I decided to stick to tried and tested, making the flowers I do best; tree peonies.
 These are Rock's peonies, a Japanese variety discovered in the 60's.  I loved the colour and their dramatic appearance that belied their simplicity.  My original plan was to make a Japanese style "ikebana" arrangement, so I also made a palm leaf commonly called the Good Luck Palm :) and to create interest,  some variagated ivy leaves.  I personally hate ivy, but there's no denying it looks good in floral arrangements!  I had a smoked glass boat-shaped vase to build the arrangement, lots of oasis, so I thought I was all set.  However, when I wired everything together at the hotel I realized to my horror that I needed a LOT more foliage to cover the oasis!!!!!!  What to do, what to do?!  There was no time to make any more foliage.  In desperation I borrowed a tom collin's glass from the bar and modified the arrangement to something more traditional.
Once at the competition venue, I covered the glass and board with some black satin I had brought with me and struggled for ages to make the whole thing look presentable.  I had some doubts about the palm leaf, but decided to leave it in anyway.  Stupid mistake, as I was later to discover:

Saturday was spent enjoying the show, attending demo's by well known sugar artists and shopping.  It was also spent awaiting the judges' decisions.  Finally, at 3:45pm, after a demo, I came back into the show hall to see my exhibit had been marked SILVER!!!!!!  Much, much better than I had expected, so I was over the moon!!!!  Later on in the weekend, I had an opportunity to speak to the judges, and they all said the palm leaf detracted from the arrangements and I lost valuable points because of it.  Well, you live and learn!
 Sadly my other competition piece suffered so much damage on the flight over that despite my best efforts to fix it, I had no choice but to withdraw.  There was extensive damage to the wings, tail, head and neck of the phoenix, despite my best efforts at careful packing.  I had packed the wings and tail feathers separately in individual boxes, but even so they got broken.  The altar, on which my phoenix was just landing was also damaged; the whole altar had been compressed from the top, causing the fondant on the sides to buckle violently and crack.

In the above picture you can get an idea of how he would have looked, despite having only one (damaged) wing and half the tail feathers.  The other wing was damaged beyond all repair and couldn't be attached at all.

In this picture you can see just about the only parts of the cake that WEREN'T damaged.  OK, I had forgottten the talons at home and had to remake them at the hotel.  The hotel proprietor was such an angel, allowing me to work all day in the breakfast room and providing me with free cups of tea.  Still, in the early hours of Saturday morning I had to admit that this project was not going to make it.  I had spent probably close to 60 hours all told on this exhibit, including three versions of the body and two versions of the wings, and of course two sets of talons.  I was very sad about it all, and it was gut-wrenching to throw the whole thing away on Sunday.  There didn't seem to be any point in taking back something so damaged.

Winning silver did make up for a lot of the disappointment, and there will be future shows where I can try again!

The show itself was a fabulous experience!  I met up with my teachers, Alan Dunn and Lorraine McKay and through Alan I met so many people that my head was reeling by the end of the weekend.  I met, and through strange fate, spent quite a bit of time with Tombi Peck, who really is the queen of floral sugarcraft.  She taught Alan Dunn and has done much to bring sugarcraft to where it is today.  I was truly honoured to be able to get to know her!  Other names include Tony Warren, an internationally known sugarcrafter and a future teacher for me; Pat Ashby, known for her fantasy flowers; Robert Haynes, a rising star in floral sugarcraft; and Christine Flynn, known for her royal icing skills. There were countless other people I spoke to and truly, I came back from the show with a wealth of knowledge I didn't have before.

Another highlight was finally meeting a cake lady I had befriended via Flickr and eventually Facebook.   Cakes aside we have sooo much in common that when we finally sat down for lunch together, it felt as if I had always known her!  Sarah Russell owns "Emily Had a Wish" and makes such incredibly imaginative and usually amusing cakes.  All her cakes tell a story and I am a big fan of her work!

In closing, BSG International was a wonderful experience with both highs and lows for me, and I am already planning for the next competition!!!  I made some valuable contacts, made new friends and learned so very much.


  1. I was so pleased for you winning that Silver!! I was excited that you had no idea as you were in a demonstration and I thought what a lovely surprise awaited you once you returned to the exhibition!
    It was fabulous to meet up with you and I am in awe of your flowers - maybe we need to work on a joint project....hmmm that's one for the future!!
    Sarah X

  2. Well done Sonja. We are proud of you. M and D.

  3. Thank you all for your kind words! Sarah, a joint project sounds like a really cool idea; will have to keep that on the back burner for sure :)

  4. Got to see your phoenix now. Wonderful!

  5. Im amazed!! You are very talented! I make some cakes for friends and family but would love to enter competitions!

    Im self taught and have no idea if I would be able to enter a sugarcraft competition or how to go about it!!!

    Any advice would be much appreciated

    Many Thanks,