I always kind of chuckle to myself when I see decorators saying that they don't repeat designs because they are "artists" who do "custom work" and they just won't do that. Let's be serious... not repeating designs is simply a personal decision, because there has never been any law that says that an artist isn't allowed to repeat himself.
The definition of "custom" is "made to order for a particular customer." That doesn't say that it's a totally original, never-been-done item. If I walk into a furniture store and order a custom chair, they're not going to tell me that they won't do this style in green because they've already done one like that. They're going to make it according to how I want it. That's what makes it custom.
But cake decorators can be strange, and there are those who seem to think that everything has to be totally different in order to be authentic, or genuine, or whatever you want to call it. I've seen people online worrying that they did the same design twice, and does that make them less of a decorator? Are you kidding me? Part of this is the art vs. craft thing, which obviously gets people all worked up, if my last blog post on the subject is any indication. Or this one that I wrote a year ago.
(It's also a business thing...The more you do a design, the more efficient you'll be, and the less time you'll need to achieve the design. To make a better profit, less time spent on each cake is good.)
So don't worry, just because you have some self-imposed concept of never repeating anything having something to do with your "artistic integrity" it doesn't mean that the concept has a basis in reality. Let's say that you do self-identify as an artist. What does that mean for your "artwork?"
Artists have never had a problem taking a subject and working it and reworking it. And reworking it and reworking it. Each painting, sculpture, photograph or whatever final product isn't the same, but the subject and basic composition might be. If that precludes you from being an artist then we just wiped Warhol, Picasso, Degas, Rembrandt, Goya, Albrecht Durer, Hokusai, Van Gogh, Ansel Adams, and any number of other artists who did the same design twice or who ever made a print off the list.
When I was in college my printmaking classes were my favorite of the art classes that I took. I find something fascinating about the process of taking a plate and making multiples of the same image that should be the same, but are never exactly alike. It's impossible to make two things exactly the same if human hands are involved. If you're stamping something out with a machine then yes, you might get two like things, but not if a person is making it.
I once did a cake for a couple of artists, and the groom was there when I was setting it up. He said "It definitely has your fingerprints all over it." I kind of freaked out, being in the mindset of delivering something that DIDN'T have fingerprints in the icing, but he said "no, I meant that it's made with your hand."
Well, that's true. It's pretty obvious that when people replicate a design it's not going to look exactly the same as the original. Even if I copied one of my own designs, it won't be the same as the original, because I'm not a robot. That's why I don't mind doing the same design twice. It's never going to be exactly the same, and I don't care that I've done it before, because the process of doing it is never exactly the same. I've done a bunch of ruffle cakes and cakes with the large flower all over the surface, and none of them are the same.
If you don't want to do the same design twice, that's perfectly fine. But don't worry that it makes the cake less legitimate somehow if you do repeat yourself. Not repeating designs is something that you do as a personal choice, but making that decision is more of an ego thing than anything else. You might think it's more interesting to never repeat a design. I think it's more interesting to see how the same design done more than once is never really "the same."
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, online cake supplies at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com