Introduction: Van Gogh 3-D Sculpture Cake

This cake is an edible cake sculpture representation of a Van Gogh painting titled 'Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat' by Vincent Van Gogh (1835-1890), painted in 1888. The original painting can be viewed here:

I am new to making cake sculptures but have watched many television series of cake decorators making very fancy, creative and imaginative cakes for their customers. I was inspired by the combination of artistic talent and mechanical skills that went into these cakes. And best of all, you can eat your creation.

I chose to make a cake sculpture that looks like this painting as an entry into the Cake Decorating Contest. If you like my instructions, liked what I made or learned anything new from my experience, please vote for my instructable.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Base and Support

  • Base - I used 3/4 inch wood about 16 inches square (i didn't know how heavy it was going to be), most cakes just use cardboard support.
  • 1/2" metal flange mount from plumbing section
  • 1/2" threaded pvc adapter
  • 1/2" elbow 45 degrees (2)
  • 1/2" cross
  • 1/2" pvc pipe schedule 40
  • 1/2" wood screws (4)
  • cardboard


  • any cake mix or recipe will be ok
  • 8" cake pan
  • 9" x 13" cake pan

Rice Krispy Treat

  • Rice Krispy cereal
  • Marshmallows
  • Butter
  • Plastic Wrap
Buttercream Frosting

  • Powered Sugar
  • butter
  • vegetable shortning (optional)

Marshmallow Fondant

  • Marshmallows
  • vegetable shortning
  • water
  • Powered Sugar
  • Store bought Fondant

Modeling Chocolate

  • white Candy Melts
  • lite Corn Syrup


  • set of 12 food coloring gel
  • 1/8 - 1/4 inch synthetic brushes
  • white candy melting chocolate
  • crock pot
  • small cups

gum paste

24x36 inch sheet of foam board


  • Philips Screw Driver
  • Saw (electric is ok)
  • PVC pipe Cutter
  • plastic tools for sculpting

Step 2: Design and Planning

Since this is the first time i have tried to make a sculpture of a persons head, I felt it important to study the human skull so I could get a better idea of what i am working with. My view is that if I could make the cake close to the shape of the skull, it would result in a more accurate looking and hopefully easier to make face. I studied many drawings of the human head, showing how it is divided into various equal parts, they eyes are in the middle of the head, the top of the eyebrow is one third down from the top and the bottom of the nose is one third up from the chin. I drew out the skull side view at the size I want to make the cake so I could use it as a reference when carving the cake. I also found several youtube video of artists sculpting a head in clay, showing how the different parts of the head look compared to the rest of the head.

Step 3: Build the Support

The first thing that needs to be done is to build the support that will hold up the cake sculpture. I chose to use pvc because it is food safe (it can carry drinking water), easy to get a hold of and easy to work with (be sure to wash off the outside of the pipe pieces with soap and water).

Start off with your wooden base, cut it to the size you want, make it a little bigger than the cake to give you room to work with. Locate where the support will be attached, a little behind center of the board, and screw down the metal flange.

Next screw in the pvc threaded. Build up the scaffolding using appropriate lengths of straight pvc piping. I used a two inch piece for the bottom straight piece. Add an angle piece pointing forward, followed by another straight piece one inch long. Place the final angle piece pointing up. This shape duplicates the curvature of the spine in the neck. Add another one inch straight piece to connect the second angle piece to the cross piece. Followed by a four and a half inch piece pointing up, a two and a half inch piece pointing forward and a one and a half inch piece pointing to the back. The cake layers for the head will be resting on the cross piece.

Step 4: Bake the Cakes

You can use any recipe for the cakes you want, but I used this recipe. This makes 2 8-inch round cakes or 1 13x9 inch rectangular cake (about). I repeated the recipe to get one 13x9 and 3 8-inch round cakes.

• 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flower
• 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 3 (4-oz.) sticks butter
• 2 cups sugar
• 4 tsp. vanilla
• 6 eggs
• 3 tbsp. canola oil
• 2/3 cup buttermilk

1. Sift together flower, baking powder, baking soda and salt
2. Cream (or blend) butter and sugar for 5 to 7 minutes until light. Add vanilla and then eggs 1 at a time, followed by oil and buttermilk. Combine with flower mixture, then pour into 2 9-inch round pans.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.
4. repeat for the 9x13 pan.

Something I have found that helps the cakes bake flat is to add wet fabric cooling bands around the outside edge of the pan. It allows the edge of the cake to rise like the center does and prevents burning around the edge.

Step 5: Make the Other Stuff

Rice Krispy Treats are easy to make, just place four cups marshmallows in a plastic bowl and microwave for one minute than another 30 seconds. Add one tablespoon melted butter and three tablespoons water to help it release from the bowl. Fold in six cups rice krispy cereal one cup at a time then allow to cool in a cake pan. This will just fill up one eight inch round cake pan.

Buttercream Frosting is easy to make, just set out two cups butter till soft, transfer to a mixer and work in two pounds powdered sugar. For stiffer frosting you can replace 1/2 to one cup of butter with the same amount of vegetable shortning.

Modeling chocolate is easy to make, I just set up a double boiler (a pot on the stove with a little water and a metal bowl on top of that). Add two pounds of white candy melts and stir till smooth. Once melted, remove the bowl from the pot and mix in 5/8 cup of lite corn syrup (it works out to be 1/4 cup of corn syrup per 12 ounces of candy melt). Fold the mixture until it starts to hold its form like soft taffy, then stop. Dump it out and wrap it up in plastic wrap to cool. I have found that it produces a little coco butter that floats to the top. Once cooled I knead the oil back into the chocolate.

Marshmallow fondant is simple to make. First sift two pounds of powdered sugar. Add 1/2 cup vegetable shortning to your stand mixer. Melt one pound of marshmallow in the microwave, 40 seconds, stir then 30 seconds. Stir in a couple tablespoons of water to get the marshmallow to release from the bowl and transfer to your stand mixer with dough hook attached. Begin mixing and add one pound of sugar, mix for two minutes. Transfer mixture to separate bowl with remaining powdered sugar and mix by hand. Warm about one pound of fondant in microwave for 30 seconds and add to mixture. Knead and fold the mixture until thoroughly mixed. Use extra powdered sugar to prevent it from sticking to the table and to your hands.

Step 6: Start Assembling

Now that everything is made, you can start actually making the cake sculpture. Unscrew the pvc scaffolding from the metal flange and set aside. Cut the 13x9 inch cake in half long ways so you end up with two pieces 4 1/2 inch x 13 inches. Cut a hole in the center of each rectangle, a small biscuit cutter works nicely. The hole should be about the same size as the pvc piping. Cover the wooden base and metal flange with plastic wrap. Insert the threaded pvc adapter back into the metal flange, securing the plastic wrap in the process. Place the bottom straight piece of back into the base without the angled pieces and place the first cake over the pvc. Add a layer of buttercream frosting followed by the second layer of cake. This will make the body of the cake sculpture.

Replace the upper pieces of pvc piping. Pressing them firmly in place so they won't move on you. Cut out the two cardboard pieces (pictured above) that will support the skull cake and cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. My cardboard was about 3 1/2 x 6 inches. Add the cardboard platform and it should rest on the front and back of the pvc cross. Then cut 1/2 inch holes in the center of the three round cakes and stack them with frosting between on the cardboard support with the pvc going up the center. The top pvc piece should be at the same level as the top of your cakes, trim if necessary.

Once the cakes are in place, the three top cakes will form the upper part of the skull, the sides of the skull need to be cut off. The cakes should be the same width as they are tall. For me, the cakes were five inches tall so i cut off the sides to make the cakes five inches wide.

At this point the rice krispy treats are added to form the lower jaw and neck. Melt about a half cup of marshmallows in a bowl and paint the marshmallows onto the pvc with a silicon spatula so the rice krispy treats will stick to the support structure.

The skull cakes are rounded of on the front, back and both sides to make more of a ball shape, remember to keep the front flat for the face, trim off just a little bit for the forhead. Finally cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting as a crumb coat.

Step 7: Sculpt the Skull

At this point I cut holes in the cake for the eyes, and formed the rice krispy treat to look more like a jaw and skull. I colored about a pound of chocolate by adding some brown food coloring and kneeding till it was a consistand tan color. I rolled out a 1/4 inch sheet of the modeling chocolate and covered the front with it, pushing it into the eye sockets and forming the nose hole. It also covered the front of the neck. I made another pound of tan chocolate to cover the back of the skull and back of the neck.

Step 8: Sculpt the Face

This is where it gets fun (btw. the entire face is made out of modeling chocolate).

I started off by sculpting the nose as a triangle or long pyramid and added it to the face, and blending it in. Next I made a ball of gum paste for the eyes. Human eyes are about one inch in diameter. I cut the gum paste ball in half and pressed them into the eye sockets. With more chocolate, I added eye lids. Next I added the upper lip, I made a wedge with the tin part going up under the nose and the thicker part on the bottom. I cut off the bottom of the lip at a 45 degree angle to make the lip. The bottom lip was made as a cylinder or log with the ends tapered and blended into the lower jaw. I added the ears next and the neck muscles. The ears were made as two halves of a hart, then they were cut like a wedge with the curved part thick and front of the ear thin. I cut off the outer part of the eye socket and blended it into the side of the head. I also added to the underside of the eye socket/ brow to make him not look so surprised. I added some fatty cheek folds to create some character.

Step 9: Add Shirt and Jacket

I colored some marshmallow fondant with brown and gold food coloring to make the shirt. I rolled it out to about 1/6 inch and cut it to shape. I colored more marshmallow fondant blue to make the jacket. The jacket was made in two pieces, the left and right half, so I could incorporate the folded over collar. (I also started playing with adding the beard)

Step 10: Add Hair

Next i took some modeling chocolate and colored it orange for the beard, mustache and eyebrows. I used a plastic sculpting tool to create the texture for the beard.

Step 11: Make the Felt Hat

For the brim of the hat I made a cardboard template that would sit on the head in the correct shape. I took the gum paste and rolled it out the size of the cardboard and cut the center out 1/2 inch smaller so it would create a flange to rest on the skull. I created a turned up edge by sticking crumpled aluminum under the edge of the gum paste.

Actually the first two hat brims broke because I was trying to shape the brim and make it turn up after it started to harden. The third one I heated in the microwave first for about 20 seconds so it would stay flexible longer. The third one finally worked like I wanted it to.

Step 12: Start Painting

To paint the face I used white candy coating chocolate that comes in a brick. I chopped it up with a sharp knife and placed it in several glass cups in a hot water bath in a crock pot set to low. This would keep the chocolate liquid so I can paint with it, but once cooled on the cake it would be dry and hard. I colored the chocolate as needed with a gel food coloring. I started by painting the skin with a light yellow color and covered the beard, mustache and eyebrows with orange paint. I darkened the red hair with shadows of brown, green and blue. The skin also used green as a shadow with red in the crevices around the eye. I matched the colors and brush strokes as close to the original painting as I could.

Step 13: Add Back Panel

For the background I painted a sheet of foam board with the colored chocolate melt. The first layer I applied using a spatula, it looked like this is what Van Gogh did on his original painting. I Then traced out the head onto the background so I could match the paint stroke direction to have it flow around the figure, again like what was done in the original painting. Once finished I propped it up behind the cake to complete to look.

Here is a link to the original painting located in Amsterdam

Cake Decorating Contest

Grand Prize in the
Cake Decorating Contest

Clay Contest 2016

Participated in the
Clay Contest 2016