I made a red velvet cake.

And learned an important lesson about fear.

An excerpt from The Sketchbook B Letter.

A few months ago, I started an email newsletter, the Sketchbook B Letter. For the January issue, I wrote something I really liked, so I've posted it here, too. Sign up today to receive my monthly newsletter on the first of each month.

I made a red velvet cake last week.

From scratch. It was a recipe that my mom made when I was growing up, but it was originally my Grandmother Wertz’s recipe. My grandmother died when I was very young, so to me, red velvet always makes me think of my mom.

My mom passed away almost 17 years ago. She taught me to cook many things, but this red velvet cake was not one of them. All I knew was that it was difficult, and that she messed up the icing the first time she tried to make it. I can make pretty much anything that she made, but I had never tried to make the red velvet cake. I’ll be honest – I was scared. Scared to fail. Afraid that if I messed it up, I wouldn’t have someone to call for advice. I was on my own. So I never attempted it.

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about making her red velvet cake. I don’t know what triggered my urge to bake the unbakeable, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I got the recipe from my sister and decided to bake the cake Christmas Eve. (Because obviously, we had nothing else to do that night…) I ran to the grocery store and got the ingredients. I found our fanciest cake stand. And I pulled out the Kitchen Aid mixer that my parents gave us as a wedding gift.

I don’t know what triggered my urge to bake the unbakeable, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.

The recipe wasn’t that hard, but like most older recipes, it was procedural. Lots of steps and precise measurements. The cake batter came together okay, but the icing was another story. This recipe doesn’t use a cream cheese icing like a lot of modern red velvet cakes do. It’s more like a butter cream. I ruined the first batch of icing and had to make a second batch. About 1:00 Christmas morning, I finished icing the cake. It looked exactly like I remembered.

Christmas evening, after dinner, we cut into the red velvet cake – giant pie-sized wedges like my mom used to cut. It tasted like I remembered. Not too sweet, perfect texture. Even the kids loved it. I will freely admit that I teared up a little upon realizing that I had successfully pulled it off.

As I think about the year ahead, I realize that many of the things I’ve been scared of… many of the things I’ve put off attempting… the fear is all in my head. In 2018, I’m going to put those fears aside, branch out and try new things.

(And now that I can make the red velvet cake, I’m definitely going to bake it again.)


All the best,


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.