Holly - from Edon, OH
The most critical factor for successful spatula icing it that the icing should be a thin consistency. If the icing is too stiff or thick it will tear up any cake surface. If your icing is too thick, thin it with corn syrup or milk.
Your technique might also be pulling up crumbs. Make sure you start with a lot of icing on the surface of the cake, then spread it with a spatula. Only touch the icing with the spatula; don’t touch the surface of the cake. If you can’t avoid touching cake, add more icing to the cake surface.