When Danya Smith began her undergraduate studies in sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University, she imagined her medium to be marble, clay, or some other type of stone. No cake.
Today, the Richmond native makes a living baking cakes so realistic, it’s often nearly impossible to tell her artwork made at Layers Cake Studio is edible.
A longtime painter, Smith envisioned a career as an artist or teacher pushing the boundaries as a professional sculptor. When her grandfather passed away in 2017 and her grandmother moved in with the Indian family, Smith quickly postponed those dreams to become a day care worker.
“I found myself at home every day and needed a way to make some money,” Smith says. “I never thought cakes would be this thing, but I started making elaborate cakes for my grandmother’s birthday. I researched extensively, became obsessed with the chemistry of baking, and it all snowballed from there.
The following year, Smith began taking custom orders and preparing our delicious desserts. But what her clients demanded was not what she wanted to create. “I was interested in hyper-realistic cakes because I had seen them on social media and on TV,” she says. “As soon as I felt I could make realistic cakes, I stopped taking orders and turned to creating content for social media.”
For her degree, Smith had dabbled in video production and content creation, but she never expected popular pages to approach her for partnerships. With the move away from operating an actual bakery, Smith had to change her company’s name to reflect her new direction as a viral content creator. “I like to tell people that I’m a content creator who cooks, or that I’m a cake artist so people can tear it away from the typical story of a baker making a cake for someone to eat for their birthday,” she added.
Sometimes Smith gets a commission from a big company like Nickelodeon, but most of the time she just creates whatever she wants. When she’s done cooking and sculpting, that’s when the filming and editing begins.
“What surprises people the most is that the cakes I make are really small,” says Smith. “They’re almost never bigger than my hand because I’m the only one eating them and they’re really only for video.”
While Layers Cake Studio may focus on stunning visuals, that doesn’t mean Smith only cares about aesthetics. With a better website in the works, she hopes to start taking orders again next year and start baking bigger custom cakes for special events.
Those eager to try out Smith’s elaborate artwork may be able to nab something she made thanks to Richmond Bakers Against Racism. Whether it’s cupcakes, cookies, or an entire cake, Layers Cake Studio always contributes at least one item to its sporadic bake sale fundraisers.
Nostalgic Cakes for Millennials and Gen Z
Whether using modeling chocolate, wafer paper or gelatin plastic, Smith is always focused on creating the most realistic cakes possible. Although many cake artists avoid settling into a specific style in order to appeal to the widest possible audience, Smith has doubled down on her niche: nostalgic cakes for Millennials and Gen Z.
The characters from “SpongeBob SquarePants”, “Hey Arthur” and “Shrek” are all likely to appear in a Layers Cake Studio post. DVD cases, early Game Boys models, and VHS tapes are also popular. Smith’s goal is to give her more than 16,000 Instagram fans and 42,000 TikTok followers a literal slice of something they loved as kids.
“Those of us in our late 20s and early 30s are one of the last generations before the explosion of technology and the internet, so it’s nice to think about the most fun toys and things. primitives that we had in simpler times,” says Smith. “I love when my cakes remind me of the playful things of being a kid. I want to bridge the gap between people who care about pop culture and people who love cake art and decorating.
Baking a Bratz doll may have been one of her most grueling endeavors to date, but the post’s popularity made even the lesser glowing reviews worth it.
“It’s not great to hear bad things about something you’ve spent so much time and work on,” admits Smith. “When someone leaves an exceptionally mean comment, I just reply with a scowl face emoji. Most of the time people apologize afterwards. They often think the creators don’t see those comments. It makes people think twice before being so mean for no reason.