She’s a trend setter amongst the cupcake world and known for her uniquely designed desserts, including her AH-MAZ-ING cupcakes (duh!), cookies and edible crystals <<< yep, you heard me right.
Nina is the inventor of the cupcake monogram (say what now?) and creates the most gorgeous colour schemes for her buttercream cupcakes #colourpro.
Did I mention that she’s also a multi-award winner for her cupcake designs?? #humblebrag
Nina was a big inspiration to me when I first started in the cake world, so understandably I was pretty damn excited when I had the chance to interview her *tries to contain excitment*.
In today’s interview, Nina shares her design inspiration, gives advice on how to achieve your own unique style (hint: don’t be trendy) – and gives insight into how she selects her gorgeous colour schemes for her cupcake orders and desserts.
I’d love to hear more about your backstory – how did you get started in the cake world? And why specifically cupcakes?
Well I had 2 young kids at the time and I wanted to have the baking memories with them that I didn’t have as a kid. I’m originally from Chicago, one of my best childhood memories was Halloween. I decided to start having annual Halloween parties at my house and I needed Halloween inspired treats of course. So one day I baked and literally fell in love with piping the moment I did it.
Also, not long after starting, I had a health scare and it was a pretty hard time for me. I found it so therapeutic to get lost in the world of sugar and creating, I was hooked for life. I’m drawn to working on a small scale with a lot of detail so cupcakes and cookies seemed perfect. Everything mini is just so adorable, don’t you think?!
You’ve developed some truly wonderful out-of-the-box cupcake (and cookie) designs. Your designs have influenced and inspired so many other cake decorators (including myself when I was first starting out). How do you think of these ideas? Do your clients tend to give you a lot of design freedom?
Thank you so much Amber for the high praise. That’s so sweet of you to say. :0)
At the beginning, I threw myself into the baking business not knowing much about anything really but just going by feel and saying yes to almost everything. I created a lot of cupcakes and cookies that I really wasn’t enjoying during the first couple of years with the mentality of…’that’s what you have to do when you have a business, what everyone wants’.
I started to feel very unmotivated and it actually started to feel like it was a chore more than a passion. I decided to take a break from it all and came back with a much more clear vision of what I wanted to create and I felt so much happier about my brand. The work I was creating drew the type of clients that were suited to my brand. I create my best work with free reign and my clients are happy to oblige. To hear the words, “I’ll leave the design up to you” is music to my ears.
My ideas stem from everything such as home decor, nature and art. It’s really a mashup of many things. For example, I saw a pair of really cool stockings that had beading and florals on them, and I was inspired to create my floral cactus cookies. I know, so weird and it only makes sense in my head! lol
You’re the original inventor of the cupcake monogram – amazing! How did you originally come up with the concept? And how did you feel once you realised you had started a new trend?
Yes, thank you, that’s something I never tire of making because no two are the same. I created the monogram box concept in July 2015. As you know, I’m obsessed with florals and at the time, real floral wedding monograms that were pretty large and used as a back drop, were very trendy. I literally saw the monogram craft boxes one day walking down a craft store aisle. I was immediately stopped in my tracks and had an idea to create one out of cupcakes.
It was really hard at the beginning when everyone started to create it and not give credit for the concept, to be honest. It was then when I learned the downside of social media. That once you put something out there, it’s literally not yours anymore.
Funnily, it was my kids that helped me see it in a different light. “Mom, it’s a trend, get over it”. I never thought of it as a trend and so I decided to turn it into something positive and gave shout outs and acknowledged the people that were honest and I shared their work with my audience as a thank you. Some of the best messages I’ve received is how that concept has helped their business thrive and its made it a huge success in countries like India!
One of the big things I love about your work is your use of colour. You’re not afraid to experiment with different colours schemes and flaunt your gorgeous buttercream colour gradients. Do you have a process for choosing your colour schemes? What are your biggest colour inspirations?
Thanks so much Amber, I love color so much! Maybe because I only wore black and never color so I express it in my bakes? haha. I am an extremely visual person with no art background so my choice of colors is inspired by things I see. Would you laugh at me if I told you, I had no idea how to use the color wheel when I started? I’m not kidding when I say totally visual.
Depending on the project I’m working on, I tend to ask clients for one color and then will suggest another 2; one compatible color and one color to pop. I prefer to work with 3-4 colors max. I feel likes its visually more appealing and adds interest without being overwhelming. Nature is by far my biggest color inspiration. Just look up in the sky when it’s almost sunset, especially in summer, and you’ll see shades of pinks, lilacs and rusty orange…so beautiful!
How do you achieve your lovely colour variations for your buttercream? Do you have a specific brand of food colour you use? Or do you like to experiment with food colours to create your own custom colours?
I like to color buttercream in small batches to avoid using too much food gels which leaves a bitter tasting buttercream. I use mainly americolor gels along with Wilton and Progel brands and I mix 2-3 food gel colors to custom make the shade I desire. It’s pretty difficult to recreate my colors because of that. I keep telling myself to write them down. Maybe a 2020 to-do goal? ;0)
What advice can you give cake decorators that want to experiment with their own style and cake ideas, but are just unsure about taking that next step?
Style is learned and developed over time. I’m being real here when I say no creator is completely original. We all get inspired by existing ideas but we need to take those and make it our own. Take that idea and twist it into something new. Experimenting is crucial to achieving that. Don’t be scared to try something different and not trendy. Please tell me unicorns are no longer trending? Just kidding (not really). hahaha.
As you’ve mentioned on your blog before, we need to have creative play and just let go. Ask yourself what do you enjoy creating at the moment? What inspires your work? I wish I had asked myself these questions when I first delved into this but it I guess it was all meant to be part of my journey and has taught me so much about myself.
I try not to look at other bakers designs because I feel like that stops me from creating with my own flair. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with taking ideas from multiple bakers and be able to create something unique. I personally don’t like to copy one exactly. For me, coming up with the design is the fun part. I get to use the creative side of my brain and hope it all translates in my creations.
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