Of all the things you can paint with, buttercream remains one my favorite artistic mediums. Yes, it’s only temporary art because it’s the edible kind, but there are so many ways you can get creative with colors and techniques! One of the simplest edible art projects you can do is create a watercolor buttercream masterpiece as a cake finish, and although this tutorial focuses on how to get the look with a watercolor ombre, you can easily use this same technique on your entire cake.
When creating a watercolor finish, the first thing I do is think about a color palette. Sometimes I flip through Pantone swatches for inspiration and sometimes I just fly by the seat of my pants (usually the latter approach), but it’s always a good idea to have a plan before you start mixing up colors.
After having taken a few painting classes in my adolescent years, I know my way around the color wheel and which food color gels to blend to get the look I’m going for. If you haven’t a clue on how to mix colors, Wilton makes a pretty awesome set of food color gels called Color Right that includes all the gels you need to achieve any color of the rainbow (and then some). It’s even got a handy chart to help you mix up whatever hue you’re into.
Here’s a quick video of the watercolor technique before you read about how to get the look:
You Will Need
- Color Gels (here’s the Wilton Color Right set)
- A fresh batch of vanilla buttercream or other white-colored frosting
- A cake that’s been filled, frosted, and ready for it’s final coat
- Mixing bowls and spoons
- Cake turntable
- An offset spatula
- Bench scraper
Step 1: Fill And Frost Your Cake
Before you start creating a watercolor masterpiece, you’ll need a good blank canvas to paint on. Fill and frost your cake with a white or solid-colored buttercream so you’ve got a smooth finish that’s just waiting for a final coat.
It’s best to chill the frosted cake in the refrigerator for a good half hour or more so it’s easier to work with.
Step 2: Mix Up Your Colors
While the cake is chilling in the refrigerator, mix up the colors you want to use into your buttercream. I like to color a little at a time, which is where the toothpicks come in handy. Instead of squirting the gels into the buttercream, I like to apply a little of the color to a toothpick and then dip that into the buttercream before mixing and seeing if I need more. This way, you can control the hues a little bit better. Keep in mind that your colors may darken slightly as they settle in, so be sure to allow for the darkening process if you’re trying to get a really specific shade.
For this tutorial, I’ve created a brick red (Crimson + Rose Pink + Blue + a little Black), a purplish pink (Rose Pink + Blue), a bubblegum-toned pink (lesser amounts of Rose Pink + Blue), and a light blush tone (I mixed a tiny amount of my brick red with lots of vanilla buttercream). It’s always a good idea to keep some plain white buttercream around in case you need to tone down the color.
Step 3: Start Painting And Smoothing
After your blank canvas is chilled to the point where you can touch it and not leave a fingerprint, start applying your colors to the cake by touching them to the surface with your spatula. Try to start small by only adding a little color, smoothing the finish with your bench scraper, and then seeing where you want to add more color.
If you come on too strong with your colors, there’s an easy fix! Simply apply the white buttercream over the top of the colors and use the same smoothing technique to tone things down.
Step 4: Keep Decorating
Once your watercolor design is looking top notch, you can keep up the creativity by using some other design techniques. In this cake design, I’ve created a drip with chocolate ganache, added fresh flowers and chocolate disks to the top, and splatter painted with some Rose Gold Edible Art Paint.
Want to see some of the other looks and cake decorating techniques I’ve been loving? Head on over to my Pinterest!
thank you so much for posting your tips about this cake! i am making it for my birthday and i was a little worried about the decorating. do you have any classes on cake decoration, online or otherwise?? also when i make a cake and freeze it, upon thawing the dark colors seam to bleed into the lighter frosting. do you know how i could prevent that?
Hi Mar-c! Happy birthday! I don’t have official classes on cake decorating, the closest thing are these tutorials and my YouTube videos. As far as colors bleeding, I’d recommend storing finished cakes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer. If you’re eating the cake within a few days, the fridge will be totally fine and the colors shouldn’t bleed.
How many layers is this cake? Thanks!!
Hi Christi! This cake is three 6-inch layers 🙂
Nadia Hassan says
what kind of buttercream did you use please? Amercan or swiss meringue
Hi Nadia, this is American buttercream. The recipe can be found here: https://sugarandsparrow.com/vanilla-buttercream-recipe/
I love this artistic cake. What cake recipe and filling did you use?any suggestions?
Greetings from Austria
Hi Christina! Thank you for your kind words about my cake! For the filling and frosting on this cake, I used my vanilla buttercream recipe: https://sugarandsparrow.com/vanilla-buttercream-recipe/
Thank you, Charlene!
Would love to know how you made the chocolate disks for this cake?
Hi Sam! The tutorial (video included!) for the chocolate disks is here: https://sugarandsparrow.com/chocolate-geometric-shapes/
Thank you soooo much!! This is super helpful! 🙂
JOAN SEVERINE says
Thank you, Joan!
I love this so pretty! I was wondering if I could do the same thing but with shades of pink and blue? Do you think it would look okay or would it all just turn purple? I was thinking that it would probably be better to do one colour (for example the pink shades) first and then do the other colour after- to prevent mixing and turning purple. Please let me know your thoughts❤️
Hi Maliha! You can certainly use pink and blue with this method. You might have some color mixing happen where they overlap, but to prevent that you can do one color first, refrigerate it for a few minutes to let it set up some, and then add the next color. Hope that helps!
Hey! So I placed the watercolor effect on cake however as I was trying to spread the color with the smoothing tool, the colors would spread. They kind of just stayed in place. It seemed like they were so stiff but I know my icing wasn’t stiff. It is because the cake was in the freezer for 15 min before so I couldn’t spread on the base? Any tips appreciated!
Hi Sally! The colder the cake is, the quicker it will “set” the additional buttercream colors you swipe on, so my best tips are to 1) chill in the refrigerator instead of the freezer for the specified amount of time in this tutorial and 2) work quickly with the colored buttercream. Hope that helps!
Hi Whitney! This came looks beautiful! Do you think I could do the same on a cake with cream cheese plus whipped cream icing (Chantilly cream).. using the same Chantilly cream?
Appreciate your advice!
Hi Tahmina! I have never worked with chantilly cream before, but as long as it’s tintable and will spread like the buttercream in this tutorial it should be perfectly fine to use.
Thank you Whitney for sharing your talents! I love how you are interactive and actually help others as well! I will definitely be using these techniques for a cake I’m making today. Actually using similar colors except gold instead of chocolate. Do you have any recipes for mirrored glaze/icing?
Thanks so much for the kind words, Jennifer! I’m so happy to hear you’re finding my blog helpful. I don’t have any recipes for mirror glaze but it’s a technique I’m hoping to try someday! I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.