My Week In Creativity

There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than turning on some great music, cranking it really loud, gathering all my supplies, and MAKING something.

There is something divine in that act of bringing an object into physical form that was only a vision in my mind - of creating something with my imagination and my own two hands.

I've been doing this my whole entire life.  It's part of who I am like the fact that I have brown eyes, or I'm 5'-10" tall.  It's just what I do.  

I sometimes forget that not everyone does this.  Not everyone has saved every art and crafting supply since high school.  Not everyone has an entire room dedicated to their creativity.  Not everyone can spend a blissful evening organizing their Prismacolor marker collection.  

Is this odd?  Maybe.  But I don't care.  I love it.  Always have and always will.

But over the years, I have to admit that I've been doing this less and less.  I am busy building my career.  I'm busy trying to start a family.  I've discovered a new passion with my writing, so I've been spending most of my free time exploring it.  But nothing else that I do brings me quite the same simple joy as making things.  

So I've decided to start doing more making.

As in:  I plan to make something EVERY WEEK.

I want to engage in something each and every week in order to stay in touch with my creative side and keep the juices flowing.  It doesn't have to be something grand or amazing.  In fact, I'm excited to see how I can think outside the box with this goal.  Maybe it will be decorating a cake one week, and making jewelry the next.  Or completing a pencil sketch or planting some herbs or cooking a new meal.  There are endless ways to express our creativity, and I intend to explore as many as possible.

But this isn't intended to bring more stress into my life.  It is intended to bring more joy.  So if it becomes overwhelming, I'll re-assess, and figure out how to make it joyful again.  But for now the plan is to make something every week.

Starting this week.

So here it is, this weeks creation.

My materials:

My music selection:  the Chris Stapleton Pandora station.  So fun!

And... the result!  I got to make a fun baby shower cake for a sweet mom-to-be, and bring some more joy into my life at the same time.  Win-win.

And there may have been some dancing and icing-bag microphone action involved.

There is a reason why I taught cake decorating classes for so many years.  And why so many grown women showed up each week to play with frosting and fondant.  Because it is FUN!  That's really it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  There was something magical about those classes, and the experience of coming together with a small group of women with no other agenda than to MAKE something beautiful (and yummy).  Everything else just kind of went away during those hours.  Oh, the memories.

Stay tuned for more fun creative projects in the weeks to come.  I'll share some of my creations on the blog, but mostly in my newsletter.  So if you haven't already, be sure to sign up for weekly Fearless Friday newsletters.  You'll be glad you did!

Till next time,


© Haley McManigal 2016

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How I Create an Award-Winning Cake

Several people have asked me recently how I go about designing a cake, and what all goes into the process of producing the finished product.  Since this is fresh on my mind from last month’s cake show and several weeks of work, I thought I would walk you through my design process and share a few of my secrets.  I’ll also relate each step to the specific example of my Train Station cake, which took home second place at the Great Cake Bake, to show you what I did.   

            I can break the process down into four basic steps:  Plan, Design, Prepare, and Execute.  I’ll talk about each one in detail.

Step One:  Plan your cake.

This is the most important, and by far my favorite step of the process.  This is where you get to be creative and envision what you want to create. 

For me, this step includes:

meeting with the client to get a feel for their expectations and tastes,

brainstorming ideas,

researching examples and images,

considering color schemes and design elements,

determining how big the cake needs to be (how many people will it need to feed)

Example:  I did a lot of research and creative thinking for my train station cake.  Here are some of the images that inspired my design:


Step Two:  Design your cake.

Step 2 is when you take all of those ideas that are swirling around in your head and you put them all together to create something unique.  I love this step.  It’s like solving a puzzle, figuring out the best way to incorporate all of my ideas into one cohesive design.

 Example:  After I had a clear idea of what I wanted my Train Station Cake to look like, I got to work putting my ideas on paper and working out the details.  You can do this any way that is best for you, a simple sketch on paper is fine to get dimensions and form down, or I used a 3-D modeling program called Sketch-Up.  Sketch-up is a simple tool that allows you to quickly model ideas and analyze forms in 3 dimensional space.  And best of all, it is free!  You can download your own version here if you’re interested.  Here is my design, you can see how I worked through different ideas and color schemes until I found what I thought was the best solution:

First draft.  Hmmm something is missing.

First draft.  Hmmm something is missing.

So I added lower roofs on each side and some color but still didn't love it.

So I added lower roofs on each side and some color but still didn't love it.

That's better...and maybe I'll add a clock tower!

That's better...and maybe I'll add a clock tower!

Step Three:  Prepare to make your cake.

This step is when you determine what materials you will actually need to execute your design.  It is important to think through what materials will be most suitable for what you want to accomplish.  For example, you will need a denser cake like pound cake if you are sculpting, you’ll need to use gumpaste if extra strength is needed, etc.  You have to consider the following questions:

How will I support the weight of my cake (sometimes a cardboard base is enough, sometimes you’ll need a plywood base, or a more complicated support structure.

How many cake mixes will I need to bake, and what size pans will I use to minimize cutting.

How much fondant will I need, and what colors will I need?

How much buttercream or royal icinig will I need?

What other materials will I need (tape, foil, adhesive, dowels, popsicle sticks, rice cereal treats, candies, gumpaste, etc.)

What tools will I need to execute my design? (sculpting tools, spatulas, xacto blades, fondant cutouts, icing tips, etc.)

Now, you will need to go gather all of these materials.  I highly recommend having everything you need before you start putting the cake together.  I usually gather stuff over a period of time.  I always clip the coupons for 40-50% off one item from the craft stores, and then go to each of them and get the expensive items, especially large boxes of fondant or packages of gumpaste.  This saves a ton of money!

 Example:  For my train station cake, I used 10 pounds of fondant, 4 batches of buttercream, and 2 batches of royal icing.  This particular cake was actually made of Styrofoam, but had I used real cake, it would have been somewhere in the range of 15 cake mixes!

I also used a 24” x 24” piece of plywood for my base, and covered it with foil and then fondant, and glued black ribbon to the edges to finish it off.


Step Four:  Execute

This is when you actually build and decorate your cake.  So many people want to start with this step, but I have found that if I skip any of the other three steps, this one ends in disaster.  With a complicated sculpted cake, you must properly plan out what you are going to do. 

As you execute your cake, you will be following the blue prints that you have already created.  The more you plan in advance, the easier this step will be.

 Example:  For my train station cake, this step involved sculpting the Styrofoam (cake), cutting the fondant and applying it to the cake.  Making all of the details in advance to give them time to dry and harden, attaching all of the details and applying the finishing touches.  Here are a few progress shots:

Photo by Denise Retallack

Photo by Denise Retallack

photo by Denise Retallack

photo by Denise Retallack


And here is the finished Train Station Cake.  Thanks to Denise Retallack for the amazing photos!


A LOT of work for one cake, but totally worth it in my book!

Happy Weekend!

This has been a great weekend!  It was jam-packed with fun stuff.

First there was the Great Cake Bake, Knoxville’s largest cake show with over 150 cakes on display.  It benefits Dolly Parton’s Knox County Imagination Library which provides Knox county kids with one book per month until the age of 5.  It is a great event for a great cause and I am proud to be a part of it!

   Here I am at the event with my Train Station cake.  

Here I am at the event with my Train Station cake. 

I won second place in the Professional All Occasion – Fondant category… I’m pretty stoked!  My friend Denise took lots more photos of the cake that I will share soon!

I also was interviewed by the Knoxville News Sentinel at the show and quoted in the story in today’s paper.  Check it out here.  Pretty cool!

After the cake show I high-tailed it to Pigeon Forge to meet up with my girlfriends for our 4th annual Girls Weekend. 

Here we are at the Dixie Stampede (hmmm, I’m seeing a Dolly theme emerge here).

   (and no, that is not my child, I'm just practicing.  That is baby Bo, the sweetest baby I’ve ever met, he didn’t cry once the entire weekend!)   
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(and no, that is not my child, I'm just practicing.  That is baby Bo, the sweetest baby I’ve ever met, he didn’t cry once the entire weekend!)

I’ve known these ladies for over 15 years now!  We were Sigma Kappa sorority sisters at East Tennessee State University back in the day, and I am so thankful that we are still so close today.  Every year we get a t-shirt for the big event, and this year's, designed by Jenn, is so cute and so very appropriate:


Now, I am totally exhausted, so I’m gonna go to the grocery store and then come home and chill out with my honey.

Happy Weekend!