Let me tell you about the most freeing cake project I’ve ever created: I had a smooth, frosted cake on the turntable as my blank canvas, a pretty buttercream color palette set before me, and absolutely no vision of what the cake would look like in the end. The only thing I was sure of was that I was going to play with some bold buttercream colors. With a great album on in the background to keep me company, I started by adding a big color swatch onto the cake, then a few more, then spatula painted the buttercream wherever I felt like, and ended it all with a good splatter painting sesh. It was the first time I truly let myself go in a cake decorating session with no real expectations or rules, and that’s exactly why I want to share the process with you!
I first created a cake with this approach for New Years Eve and the process was so freeing that I knew I had to try it again. It’s basically edible art therapy! After posting it on Instagram I got so many requests for a video that I decided to film this one, and I hope it’s as therapeutic to watch as it was to create. If you’re more of a visual learner, this video shows the techniques in action for you to reference as you create one yourself:
The only real decision that’s important to make before you start decorating is choosing your color palette. Each time I’ve used this technique to decorate a cake, I’ve chosen four different colors to make it come to life. I usually start by mixing up one bold mid-toned color, make a darker color to contrast it, then pair those with two lighter pastel colors to use for the spatula painted portions.
It will work with any color palette, so just choose four colors that you’re crazy about and run with it!
You Will Need:
- A frosted cake that’s been chilled
- ½ batch of vanilla buttercream (or other light colored buttercream)
- Food color gels of your choice
- Bowls and spoons for color mixing
- A cake smoother or bench scraper
- A small icing spatula
- Edible Art Paint in Glamorous Gold (optional)
- Food-grade paintbrush (optional)
Step 1: Mix Up A Color Palette
Divide the buttercream into four different bowls, reserving a bit of white buttercream just in case you need to lighten a color. Then, use your food color gels to create the color palette of your choice.
The color gels I used for this specific color palette are all Americolor: Eggplant mixed with Regal Purple for the darkest color, Fuschia for the mid-toned color, Peach and Lilac for the lightest colors.
Step 2: Create Bold Color Swatches
Make sure your cake has been chilled for at least 30 minutes and is firm to the touch before starting the painting process (aka where the fun begins!). Choose two different colors to use as your big, bold swatch colors. I always pick the darkest color and the mid-toned color, but you can use any colors you feel would be the most fitting. One by one, use your small icing spatula to apply color wherever you want on the cake, then use your bench scraper to scrape off the excess and create smooth color swatches.
It’s best to have a few paper towels handy throughout the process, because you’ll need to clean your bench scraper every time you smooth out a color to get a clean finish.
Repeat the process until you’re happy with how many swatches are on your cake, remembering to leave enough blank space for spatula painting.
Step 3: Spatula Paint
Wherever you feel like, use your icing spatula to apply the final two colors, spatula painting them on in strokes. There’s no right or wrong here, so feel free to overlap your color swatches and go with the flow on how long or short your spatula painted strokes end up.
Make sure you clean your icing spatula when switching colors, unless you want the strokes to end up with colors mixed together.
Step 4: Splatter Paint
I absolutely love splatter painting cakes, so I chose to finish the design by splattering some Edible Art Paint in Glamorous Gold all over my colors. You can use any kind of edible paint or luster dust mixed with alcohol for this part, but I love Edible Art Paint because it’s already pre-mixed and ready to go. Just pour a little bit into a bowl, dip a food-grade paintbrush into it, and splatter until you love what you see.
And that’s it! Three different cake decorating techniques combined to make art. The best part is that every cake design you create with this approach will look totally unique, and it’s so easy that you can just relax and enjoy the creative process. I hope painting with buttercream is as therapeutic for you as it is for me!
If you create a cake with this tutorial, I’d LOVE to see your artwork. Be sure to tag me on Instagram to show me!
Disclosure: this post does contain some affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you click them and purchase items I’ve recommended. Clicking these links won’t cost you any extra money, but they do help to keep Sugar & Sparrow up and running. Thank you for your support!
lovely tutorial and you’re absolutely right about painting being therapeutic, I absolutely enjoyed making my first spatula painted cake and will be posting the picture on my Instagram account soon . thanks a ton for inspiration .
Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m so happy to hear that you’re finding painting with buttercream therapeutic and can’t wait to see your spatula painted cake. Be sure to tag me on Instagram so I can see!
Is the “paint” a little bit thicker consistency than the buttercream used to coat the cake?
Hi Andrea! It’s the same buttercream consistency as what’s used beneath (from the same batch). I just colored it with a little food color gel before painting it on.
What if person wants the whole cake to be gold…do you use same technique
Hi Frances! If you’re wanting an entirely gold cake, I recommend using one of these FDA approved metallic cake finishes and painting it onto chilled buttercream with a food grade paintbrush: https://sugarandsparrow.com/metallic-gold-buttercream/
How many batches of buttercream did you use to frost & decorate the cake?
Hi Gabriella! If you’re starting with a filled/crumb-coated cake, you can use 1 batch of my vanilla buttercream recipe to frost and decorate. If you need to fill and crumb coat the cake as well, doubling the recipe will be enough.
Thank you for the fantastic tutorial! Appreciate your spirit of generosity in sharing your design process. The cake is stunning and your instructions are super easy to follow. I will try this technique next week when my vacation starts!
Also, (and entirely unrelated to your cake) your website design is everything! Love the pale robin’s egg blue paired with vermilion when you highlight text!
Of course, Trish! So happy to hear that the tutorial is helpful and I can’t wait for you to try this cake design! Also, thank you so much for the kind words about my website 🙂 my husband designed it, so I will pass along the compliments to him!
hii, what size cake pan did you use for the cake?
Hi Dani! I used three layers of 6 inch cake.
Hi. Can o do this on a cake that has been covered with ganache?
Hi Sol! In my experience, I have piped buttercream onto a ganache covered cake and it worked well, so I am assuming that painting buttercream onto a ganache covered cake would work just fine!
Bruce Nicely says
My cake turned out looking truly like an impressionist painting! Thanks for the instructions, and I’ll try to tag you on Ig with a pic!
Yay, Bruce! I’m so happy this tutorial was helpful!
Hello I need to make these colors for my cake can you tell me how many drops should I use. These are the colors that I have
Super Red. Sunset Red
Deep Pink. Royal Blue
Lemon Yellow. Fruit Green
Cocal Black. Sunset Yellow and
Chococlate Brown. Grape Violet
please get back thank you
Hi Tina! I’m not sure how to generate color recipes for you since I usually don’t write down how many drops of each color I use (I always eyeball it!). I think the grape violet will be great for the deep purple color, the deep pink + a little grape violet should help make a fuchsia color and also the lighter pink color, and the lemon yellow + sunset red will work for the peach (use very little of each color to keep it pastel). Hope that helps!