Exercise: Exploring Drawing and Painting

Birthday Cake

Although I’m becoming allergic to taking the suggestions in the exercise literally the idea of a birthday cake has given me an idea. I’m going to use each page to represent a year of my life… maybe not all of my years, see how much time I’ve got… then I’m going to depict a birthday cake on each page that is shaped, decorated, transformed… to evoke the mood or events of that year. In this way I will have material to draw on to explore all the materials and substrates on offer.

Parts of a birthday cake that matter:

  • Lit candles on the top, maybe the smaller ones for units and bigger ones for tens, maybe in helix shapes like a barber’s pole;
  • shapes like cylinders and ‘slices’ (wedges);
  • celebration decorations – sparkles, sprinkles; icing decorations – extruded stars;
  • layers of sponge and jam, maybe fruit cake;
  • ribbons around the full cake;
  • bows and flourishes;
  • flakes of chocolate;
  • silver sugar balls;
  • other fruit of the moment;
  • Icing applied thickly with a knife in thick, expressive, painterly daubes;
  • expressions of birthday apparel – balloons, presents, flowers;
  • bite marks;
  • cheeky mice;
  • candle smoke;
  • Fruity, sweet sauces;


  1. Used photographic backdrop roll… like cartridge paper but a bit grubby. (2012, age 42)
    Used some old fluorescent highlighters (“Light” for light-based media like photography). Filled in the background with a short stick of charcoal (now on my computer keyboard too!) pressing not too hard. The paper did not have a rough surface but neither is it in any way glossy. Being used it sports a number of slight creases from handling and where it’s been walked and jumped on in the studio. The charcoal picked out some of these imperfections as stronger marks but also left more definite marks where the ends of the square charcoal stick pressed more on the paper than the middle.
  2. Paper bag from a sandwich shop (sandwich no-longer present. It was very nice).
    There could be a slice of cake in the bag from a party. I left this on my desk hoping to collect some rings from tea and coffee mugs… but somehow that didn’t happen. So I got a saucer of cold coffee and made a ring of rings deliberately. It was quite faint once it had dried… I think the paper is less absorbent than normal – perhaps waxed… I drew around the stains using a fineliner. This will be a coffee cake. I thought the candles should be burned into the pattern using sun and a magnifying glass. Waiting for the sun now.
  3. Page from a scrapbook – brown, rough paper. Used pastels to draw a cake slice and one candle all about to be eaten. The phrase ‘Cake Hole’ made me think of cake vanishing into a black hole.., in this case the mouth. So the mouth is a black area. I want to draw the lips glossy like they’re wet – mouth-watering perhaps. We have no red lipstick in the house.
    I tried rubbing the pastel through a fruit net to try to get a pattern but it wouldn’t rub so I tried ‘stippling’ through the net. This resulted in a lot of pastel dust falling through onto the paper but the pastel didn’t strike the paper because of the net. I effectively had a layer of blue dust on the paper now so I padded it with my finger to make it stick to the paper. This unintended and elaborate way of getting the colour onto the surface resulting in a strong colour but without any ‘strokes’ visible… it looks a little like it has been sprayed on.
  4. Wallpaper – heavy embossed. This reminded me of the 70s (yuck) so I drew my last cake of the decade – my 10th birthday. It’s just a watercolour set (the solid disc type for kids) and some glitter-glue (for the icing and candles). I drew a big central silver glitter candle to represent the flute I got for that birthday but it didn’t really look right. A composition problem – it’s stuck in a cake, how could it look like a flute? The pattern in black and orange is remniscent of wallpaper of the era. This type of design is retro and cool again at the moment. In the 70s it made me a little sick!

…and then I gave up this detailed method as I was getting bogged down by it. Here is the completed book of cake which I have called “Cake on FIRE”… ’cause that’s what it is.


Cover – oil on board. The oil paint soaked into the acrylic/emulsion background colour and created a stain. Quite interesting.

CAKE_Page_02 CAKE_Page_03 CAKE_Page_04 CAKE_Page_05 CAKE_Page_06 CAKE_Page_07 CAKE_Page_08

This one is interesting… it has a ‘rebellious schoolchild’ theme… The paper is a page out of my OCA folder and the cake has been drawn in ink pen to look like a target. The candles are like arrows that have struck the target and the flames are holes in the paper that have been burnt there using a magnifying glass and the sun.


Paper bag from a shop. Coffe stains. I drew around the stains with a pen.


Charcoal and ink. A contrast in media texture.

CAKE_Page_11 CAKE_Page_12

Ink on glossy card. The ink didn’t soak in so had plenty of overlaps which I made use of.

CAKE_Page_13 CAKE_Page_14

Back cover (Found. Although I painted it too… it was a while ago).


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