Have you ever made dirt cake?*
It's pudding, not cake and hoo-boy, it's tasty!
My recipe calls for cream cheese, butter, vanilla pudding, and Cool Whip, all thinned out with milk. The mixture goes into a plastic flower pot and is coated with a thick layer of Oreo dust before you "plant" a flower on top.
At 10, my daughter was regularly helping me cook, so I recently handed her the dirt cake recipe and told her to "go for it".
The instructions are short and simple. Six ingredients, six steps, six sentences.
My daughter served her pretty little dirt cake, beaming with pride.
My son dug in with his spoon and pulled out a whole stick of butter.
Uhmmm.... yeah. A whole stick.
The stick of butter was slightly mangled- but honestly, we could have rinsed it off at the sink and used it on toast. Actually, I think we did.
I'd used that dirt cake recipe for at least a decade with nary a lump; but when I looked at the recipe- I mean really-really looked, I saw that it fails to mention bringing the butter to room temperature.
Cream cheese? Yes, that's called "softened" and the Cool Whip is "thawed" but there's no descriptive on the butter. So my daughter threw a frozen stick of butter into the mixture and it pretty much remained intact until my son served himself a heapin' helpin of solid dairy goodness.
We tease her about it still, but only because it's fun to ask if there's a stick of butter hidden anywhere in the tacos or the lemonade she's made.
Clearly the recipe's author never foresaw my habit of buying butter by the palette at Costco.
As an experienced cook, soft butter was something I naturally assumed. But to a new cook who didn't know the limits of a stand mixer, it was a frustrating and embarrassing experience.
Internet tutorials are a bit like that Dirt Cake recipes sometimes.
Especially Copic recipes.
I'm sure most authors are very talented and they're eager to share but they're not professional copy editors and they don't have a staff of testers backing them up.
Details slip through the cracks.
I've come across several tutorials recently where all the blogger provided was and ingredient list and a general overview. No individual steps. So if you're a newbie using a mini-tut, it's entirely too easy to end up with a lump of solid butter in the final image.
Now I'm not pointing the finger at marker bloggers, I'm guilty too.
I suspect a few of my students have wandered around in the wilderness after one of my classes. I really try to break everything down into the simplest of steps but it's impossible to think of all contingencies floating around out there.
Writing complete and clear tutorials is hard work.
So I'm putting out the call to my students:
- What projects do you have sitting unfinished and unloved because I missed explaining a key detail?
- What techniques do you want to see? What have I failed to cover?
- What's new out there that you want to learn?
And here's a call to my blog readers:
- What technique have you failed to master?
- What tutorials do you find missing from the internet right now?
- What's your number one hangup with markers or colored pencils?
I'd like to start solving some of these sticks of butter in future Studio Journal posts.
The big ones may even earn a video tutorial or a whole online workshop!
If you have a simple generic suggestion or a question about one of my techniques, feel free to leave it in the comments.
But be kind- if it's someone else's tutorial that has left you flummoxed, send me a note with a link here rather than post it in the comments. I'll still answer the question but we'll do it in a very nice, non-finger pointing, non butter-chuckin' sort of way.
* Psssttt... that's not my recipe but it's very close- similar ingredients, similar steps... and darnitall, it's also missing the key butter descriptive.