Nearly good enough to eat: Austin artist Jasmine Archie takes the cake in fake foods
In front of Jasmine Archie in her East Austin studio was a pale pink cake with purple accents. She made semi-circles in the air with a piping bag, practicing the motion before decorating the cake with hot pink spackle.
Yes, spackle. Archie is a master of cake fakery.
The cakes, which are made of cardboard, hot glue and spackle, have kept Archie plenty busy since the start of this year when she launched her shop, Pretty Shitty Cakes. Her business, which she runs out of a tiny, one-room studio, has blown up in a short amount of time.
Archie has more than 11,000 followers on her cake Instagram (instagram.com/prettyshittycakes) and tends to sell out of cakes within minutes of posting that she’s taking orders. The cakes cost from $85 to $100.
“I can’t think about anything other than cakes right now. I’m like, ‘What did I do before that?’” Archie said.
The cakes look sugary sweet to the eye, and people use them as home decor. Customers can hang the cakes on their walls. And she just started offering fake cupcakes with magnets for refrigerator decoration, which range from $25 to $35.
Archie is a 25-year-old Nashville-born photographer who moved to Austin about three years ago. The idea to start a fake cake business came to her at the start of the year, when she was searching ceramic cakes on Etsy for her birthday.
“What’s really funny, I don’t even really care for cake. I don’t like cake that much. I’ll eat it, but that’s not something I’m crazy about. That’s why I wanted the fake one,” she explained.
Her search for a fake birthday cake led her down a rabbit hole of the pretend pastries. She ended up on YouTube watching tutorials and decided to make one herself. She posted the cake on her personal Instagram, which boasts more than 14,000 followers, and people started asking for one.
Archie isn’t sure why people love the fake cakes so much. She said it could be nostalgia. And she pointed out that there’s huge hype around fake foods at the moment, including ceramic fruits and pies.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, certain home decor trends have risen — think checkered rugs, squiggle mirrors, animal print galore and '80s mushroom lamps. Archie’s cakes fit right into that style.
The fake cakes could be filling a need for something whimsical and sweet in one’s home, or a move to maximalism as we were stuck inside for so long with nothing to do but look at our blank walls and think of how to decorate them.
"... And it totally fits in with all the styles and the fake foam mirrors and everything that's going on. This totally fits hand in hand," Archie said.
Archie’s cakes are not your grandmother’s fake cakes, either. They’re bright and can be customized with fake fruits and personalized messages. One of her recent creations was neon green with a curse word written in bright pink cursive.
The profane cake was sitting on a shelf in Archie’s studio with dozens of others that were waiting to be packaged and shipped.
The space, which is a light brown room that's about the size of a shed, looks like it could belong either to a painter or a baker. A pink cake stand and a blue cake stand sit near cabinets that are filled with acrylic paints and piles of plastic treats, including fake cherries, strawberries, lemon slices and oranges.
Sprinkles, icing piping bags and cake boxes are organized throughout the studio, with blue bubble wrap against one wall. The cakes can be any color you choose — light pink, bright pink, blue, pale green, lime green, purple, white, red, orange and yellow.
The cakes are deceptively lightweight and are convincing enough that one may just swipe a finger across the top for a taste of icing.
Although her cakes look immaculate to a regular, non-fake-cake-making civilian, Archie said the name for her business arose from the cakes not looking so great when she first started making them.
“It’s the most bizarre thing that this happened to me. I never imagined this, but I love it,” Archie said.
When we first interviewed Archie in mid-April, she had sold more than 200 cakes since opening up her business. That number has increased, made evident by the columns of cardboard shipping boxes stacked outside her studio.
Archie laughed a little at the sight of the boxes when we arrived earlier this month to learn the art of the fake cake.
Archie set us up with a piece of cardboard that she hot glued into a circle as a cake mold. On top of the circle was another cardboard circle to serve as the top of the cake. She placed the mold on a spinning, blue cake stand and taped the bottom to a piece of cardboard as the process can be a little messy.
Next comes the fun part — scooping and mixing spackle. She divvied out a scoop of spackle like a more elegant version of plopping mystery meat onto a platter. The scoop went into a paper bowl and looked like whipped cream cheese before a royal blue acrylic paint was drizzled over the top and mixed in with a big, wooden craft stick.
From there, the process is the icing on the cake. With the craft stick, we iced and smoothed and iced and smoothed the spackle onto the mold until it was pretty and messy enough for our liking.
Next, Archie demonstrated how to pipe the cake with white spackle and decorate the top with her most popular fruit, the fake cherries.
“I named my business ‘Pretty Shitty Cakes’ because they were pretty shitty looking at the beginning, and I wanted to play into that,” Archie said.
“Four months later, I’m pretty good at piping.”
As Archie’s success grows — she sold out at a local pop-up earlier this month — she has different ideas for what her business can become. She pictures merchandise and possibly other fake foods, like pie, to add to her lineup.
The business is "going to evolve into something. I just don’t know what is right now,” she said.
Until then, Archie is happy making cakes for the dozens who visit her Instagram page.
She thinks the appeal of the cakes may have something to do with the correlation between celebrations and cake.
“Anytime you see a cake, usually something happy is happening,” Archie said.
“It makes my heart so happy that when people get my cakes they say they look at it and get a boost of serotonin."