July 25, 2011

The Very Necessary and Precise Task of Eating Cupcakes

A good friend of mine recently had a birthday.  She's always been one of those genuinely supportive friends-- the type that gives you a thumbs-up or drops you a "good luck" when the cynical, broken, husk of your former self isn't expecting it from anyone.  She's promoted my stuff without me even having to ask, and she does it time and time again, past the point where I'm sick of talking about it.  She's always one of the first to get behind what I'm doing, even when I suspect she's unsure sure of what it's really about, because often I'm not sure of it.  So to wish her a happy birthday, I wanted to paint something original, even if humble.

See, she's also one of those cupcake people.

You know those cupcake people.  Since this is the Internet, odds are very good that you are one.  Cupcake people love everything and anything that is cupcakes, every aspect of em, the process and paraphernalia.  I don't even think it's about the cupcake as a food item, but rather an object in and of itself.  I can't help but think there are cupcake people that might be severely diabetic, missing their tongue, teeth and both hands, also they don't own ovens, but they would still enjoy and celebrate the very existence of cupcakes.

Personally, I prefer the communal and disassembly-required cake.  Maybe that's because the cake is more inline with the traditional canvas or blank scroll for the artist/writer.  Maybe it's the complexity and mystery of the varying layers.  Maybe, and far more likely, it's that a cake is just one thing to prepare and decorate rather than a series of small things... things that usually require some uniformity or theme among them.  A cake is a single project that's often challenging yet fulfilling, and can be completed without several espresso breaks.  Icing a batch of cupcakes is six to six-hundred tedious, tiny and nerve-wrecking projects.  Making cupcakes requires either waking up at or stay up until 3:00 in the morning.  I am not a cupcake person, but I credit them for their resilience in the face of repetition and the refilling of piping bags.

Painting a cupcake is a bit different, and I have to admit, getting the reference shots for this painting was very enjoyable.  It left me with a sweet and spongy layer of fatty guilt, which is one of the best types of guilt.      

I'm something of an inverted dieter, meaning what most people refer to as dieting must be a constant state for me rather than a periodic endeavor.  Between that late twenties plunge of an already crap metabolism, unfortunate genetics, and the very sedentary nature of many of my hobbies and usual career circumstances, I have to be something of a calorie nazi with myself-- especially if I want to stay under a second-airline-seat or TLC-reality-series level of fatness.  It's annoying and it sucks but it's the reality for me.  As a result,  I've gotten a pretty good handle on the calories-in vs. calories-out tedium that will keep me from ever returning to my high school weight.  I know that's the reverse goal of most people but my prom dress was a size thirty-two, nine sizes larger than my current dress size.

That said, there are occasions in which the definition of indulgence gets a little blurred.  Sometimes indulgence means allowing a package of pasta in the cottage or accidentally letting those extra croutons fall onto my spinach salad.  Other times indulgence means... well, indulgence.  Specifically, buying cupcakes and having to eat one or two, albeit systematically, for the sake of a painting.

The best subjects King Kullen's bakery had to offer the unemployed painter. 

Not wanting to travel to ritzy Huntington Village, to one of those smancy bakeries or cafes where cupcakes are the size of soup mugs, under a bulletproof showcase and sold individually for around $12.00 each, I picked the best my grocery's bakery had for sale.  I have to say, in addition to paying $2.50 for the half dozen, I was glad to have some leeway for bite screw-ups.  If I smudged the icing swirl on one, I had five others with which I could try, try again. I had multiple sprinkle and icing configurations to choose from, and a chance to see which icing flavor would better hold a bite mark.  These cupcakes were also on the smaller side, giving some semblance of restraint and sensibility to this yummy project.

Like the "Brewing" photography session, setting the shoot was easy enough: formerly-unstained white tablecloth and a white mat board gave me a simple background.  The tricky part would be keeping the cupcake in the same spot and keeping it as upright as possible as its mass and stability decreased. (While my mass increased-- ha, beat ya to the joke!)

Since I wanted to keep the icing light and give contrast to the rainbow sprinkles, my first victim was vanilla. I intended to keep the icing vanilla for the painting but eventually switched over to pink. The painted shadow on the vanilla with a white background made the flavor feel gray.  I'm sure you can do some lovely things with a gray cupcake, but that's not what I'm going for with this painting.

On top of feeling guilty for simply eating the cupcakes, I have to admit the photo process started to feel a little creepy and predatory.  Carefully evaluating each cupcake to select the most appealing, placing it on a precise spot on the table and peeling back the wrapper so the ruffles were just right, exposing the soft cake-- it just seemed so... wrong.  I'd be capturing the slow, methodically dismemberment of this little subject, all the while experiencing a shameful enjoyment.  If there's such a thing as cupcake snuff, I think this is it.

This photo shouldn't feel dirty but it sure does now... Anyways.

Even though the vanilla iced victim had more the look I was seeking, chocolate icing did a better job of holding that essential bite mark.  If you've ever looked at the photos on the side of a Mr. Softee truck, you've probably noticed how critical a role the bite mark plays in the advertisement.  A ice cream bar without a bite mark is just a brown rectangle with a stick jutting out.  A well defined bite mark is what makes it a sweet staple of all that is summer time goodness.

This is where it started to get a little hard to maintain stability on all fronts-- from keeping the wrapper flat, to standing the cupcake upright with enough of the top and sprinkles still in view. Since I lack air conditioning at the cottage, and this being a July day, I had to work efficiently before the icing got a little droopy-- because that's what happens to delicious fat in the heat.  And as we all know, delicious fat is an essential part of cupcake icing.

Back to vanilla since the icing on this single bite shot was actually better than the chocolate counterpart.

And with that last, spent piece and those few brave clinging sprinkles, the cupcake was impossible to keep upright in either shot.

And there you have the empty, stained wrapper.  A metaphor for oh-so many things.  Things I don't want to think about, but do and will.  Boy this post got a little dark.  I have the urge to go wash my hands and brush my teeth... maybe I should take a shower. Ugh.

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