For the past 5 years, “Cake Face” has been my favourite extra curricular photo project. Its also the series that I get the most questions about. “What is that???” “What do you mean by cake face?” “Why are you doing these?” I figure the debut of emilybeattyblog.com is the perfect time to address some of these popular queries.
Cake Face began almost exactly 5 years ago one June afternoon at the house in Uptown Waterloo where I lived with my two best friends. Susan had an oversized magazine featuring work by all kinds of talented commercial photographers. Paging through, I stumbled upon a series where models with comically huge, teased hairdos were posed on a neutral grey backdrop with some sort of tiny crystals all over their faces. I’ve always been drawn to gradients, and loved the way the makeup, whatever it was, blended from one shade to another in a dramatic, super-textured way. We all went from bored to inspired. I enlisted my other roomie, Britt, to model for me, and we started dreaming up our first crazy fashion/makeup/concept collaboration.
Step 1 was was to go to the Bulk Barn and buy a whole bunch of coloured sugar crystals. The kind usually used to decorate cakes and cookies… get where the cake face title came from yet? Next, I went digging through my craft supplies, and found an orange wig, a bunch of feathers and a glue gun. Britt had incredibly short hair at the time and I knew this look would be more dramatic if it included a crazy hair piece of some kind. We decided on a warm and sunny look with fiery colours blended together.
Shoot day, I spent about 2 hours painting sections of Britt’s face with water based face paint, then carefully sprinkling the sugar crystals onto the wet paint, and pressing them down. The makeup is delicate, and sprinkles coated the apartment before we headed our to our backyard to make use of the late afternoon sunlight outside. We tried a few full body shots, but quickly found that focusing on Britt’s face, and the texture of the cake sprinkles was the most interesting angle. Cake Face 1 continues to be a personal favourite.
This first backyard shoot generated so much interest that I decided to make it the first of 4 seasonal themes. Next would come Winter, which we shot in my living room with borrowed lighting equipment.
Wondering how I got her hair to stand up like that? Shaving cream. And a liberal application of glitter, naturally. We were going for a Jane Frost kind of look this time around. I wanted even more texture on Britt’s skin, so this time we tried white acrylic paint as a base. It worked in the sense that the cake sprinkles clung nicely to the paint. However, Britt was less than pleased when she had to spend 45 minutes in the shower scrubbing her face to get the paint off. Lesson learned. Use face paint for faces if you don’t want to piss off your model. Next would come spring.
Spring would prove to be quite challenging for reasons I never expected. The morning of the shoot, I went to my friends’ house to snip some little blossoms from their tree. It was a good start, but I needed some bigger blossoms to surround my model’s face. I saw the perfect magnolia tree at the edge of my friend’s apartment complex, pulled my car into visitor parking and got out my super sharp kitchen scissors. First snip. Something was not right. I looked down and saw the tip of my middle finger in the dirt. Gross, I know. Then I looked at my left hand. Bad idea. All I thought was, I need to get home before I pass out from blood loss. I drove home with one hand on the wheel and the other clutching some Kleenex above my head. My mom is a nurse, and luckily when I called her she came running with her gauze and bandages in tow. An hour later I was still bleeding- but mom had patched me up, and my friends had arrived. I could barely hold my camera- but we decided to proceed. We also decided that 1pm was an appropriate time to start drinking wine– in light of my injury and all. By the time we had Britt all set to go for this shoot, it was mid afternoon and all the neighbours had gathered to watch the ridiculous photo shoot happening on my deck. It didn’t go exactly as planned- but it went OK, all things considered.
Now we had completed 3 of the 4 seasons, with just fall remaining. We were beginning to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to Cake Face. Moving forward, we agreed that it was essential to have the cake sprinkles covering as much of the face, neck, ears and eyelids as possible. We also wanted to be consistent about completely covering the model’s hair in each scenario. I also wanted to be more meticulous with the layers of paint under the sprinkles, and to plan my shots before the camera got involved. Working with studio lights for the winter shot went really well– but for fall, we would have to make due with natural light one more time.
It took us two years to complete the initial seasonal series. Four cake faces in, we had no intentions of quitting this project. Britt and I continued to plan concepts for future shoots, even though we worked very different hours and had a hard time finding enough free time to shoot. The cake face look takes between 1-2.5 hours to complete, and the photo shoot lasts about a half hour. By the time you factor in getting supplies, reviewing sketches, discussions, makeup application, lighting tests, shooting time and showering time + cleanup, you need a good 6-8 hours to pull off one of these looks. It would be awhile before I was sufficiently motivated to attempt a new look.
Cake Face 5 was completely inspired by the handmade wool scarf Britt is wearing in the shoot. I love visiting the One of a Kind Show in Toronto once or twice a year. Artisans from all over the country congregate to sell wonderfully unique handcrafted items from soap to silver jewellery, photography prints to pepper mills. At the 2011 show, I fell in love with the scarf the instant I saw it. It’s the only one like it in the world. It reminded me of Tim Burton and corpse flowers and Alice in Wonderland and all kinds of warped but beautiful things. It can be shaped and styled in 1000 different ways. I paid a shocking amount of money to own it, because I simply had to photograph it. Come to think of it, I should really come up with another way to utilize it in a shoot. Anyway, I had a model and a red and black scarf and a big red bed sheet to use as a backdrop. For maximum contrast, we settled on a colour scheme of just red and black. (Black cake sprinkles were hard to find, but I eventually paid like $7 for a little jar at Michael’s.) For red details, we found dramatic false eyelashes in the Halloween section of Value Village. The rest is history.
This shot marked the first time we allowed Britt’s natural hair to show in a cake face photo. We sprayed some red-orange temporary colour on her hair, and I used Photoshop to make it appear much more red. We ended up with a very strong, androgynous kind of look that I find very eye-catching. This image was displayed at the Silicon W gallery on Duke St. for quite a few months.
After the the drastic red and black colour scheme we used for the previous shoot, we decided that out next attempt should feature a rainbow of colours. I went back to the Bulk Barn and bought a gigantic bag of “hundreds and thousands” and cake face 6 was born.
This shoot was the first one we did with my brand new Alien Bee lights. What was unintentionally interesting about this shoot was the way our model’s features all but disappeared into the pattern created by the sprinkles. Where did her nose go? Perhaps we should have painted her lips a different colour- but the result is certainly interesting. Again, we sprayed her hair and used Photoshop to exaggerate the hue. Though she was utterly covered in hundreds and thousands, I did spend quite a bit of time in post production adding extra individual sprinkles to fill out the pattern.
By now Britt and I had collaborated on 6 different unique shoots and while she will always be the original and best cake face model, I wanted to explore some different faces for my project.
I would end up going back to Susan to model for my first non-Britt cake face project. This one was simply motivated by a recurring attraction to purple and gold. I wanted to incorporate both the traditional sprinkles, and other textured sparkles in to this new concept. I also wanted it to look rich and exotic. I handmade the purple black and gold lashes that Susan is wearing using craft feathers, an exiting pair of falsies, and a glue gun. We had a hell of a time getting them firmly attached to her face, but I think they totally complete the look. We took this photo with my lighting equipment set up in my basement. My model is lying on her back on a purple paper backdrop.
By this point, people were starting to take notice of our little pet project. Musical artist Trish was visiting Silicon W in early 2012 and was intrigued by the cake face images she saw displayed there. We started talking about the possibility of a shoot together, and in May of 2012 Much Music provided the funding for us to work together for a day. For the first time, I had Britt with me as an assistant and co-makeup artist rather than a model. We spent 11 hours creating a series of different looks for Trish. That will have to be a whole other blog post! For now, check out the partial cake face look that we created for her at the end of that day.
And then there were eight. Eight is a good number, but I think it is just the beginning. When I started this project, it seemed completely unique. Nowadays, there are plenty of photos floating around the Internet with models with candy stuck to their faces. I like to think we pioneered the concept. Ultimately, I’d like to see cake face become a coffee table book. A big, heavy volume with huge, detailed prints of 40 or 50 different faces on glossy pages.
Would you be interested to see such a book? Give me your feedback so I can continue to make this project more awesome!