I can tell the energy for Jell-O is rising, just looking around my living room. Once I realized I could and should make gold Jell-O in keeping with our title "Jell-O Goes Gold" I went a little wild. My plan is to make 30 gold roses for the 30th show, but today will be the test to see if I can even make ten.
I bought a lot of extra gelatin for people who might have ambitions...and will sell some of it. For while I had little starter kits with instructions and FAQs and I hope to do that again soon. In rewriting the instructions I came up with far too many details so I will start putting things in here for people to follow as they explore the medium.
The main point of the whole thing is that you should take the time to play with art. The medium isn't as important as the process: the time you spend in a fun zone just creatively solving problems and learning about what works and doesn't. It's good for you to play. Jell-O has wonderful, cheerful properties that make it appealing on many levels.
So I recommend starting with a few boxes of regular Jell-O mix...I try to buy the off-brands so that the big Kraft product won't dominate but they probably own the off-brands now too. So mix some up according to the package directions, and eat it if you still want to eat some. As it gets more art and less food, it also gets less edible. But have at it.
Then mix up a couple more with decreasing amounts of water, to see how the properties change. You get less jiggle, but also less tendency to melt at room temperature. If you like, mix in more Knox or plain gelatin instead of using less water. I am pretty sure the little Knox packets contain about a quarter-ounce of gelatin. So add one, or two, as you experiment.
Mix it up in cold water, stirring thoroughly. It has to sit and "bloom" for about ten minutes to absorb the water so it can then dissolve completely. Then melt it in the microwave or on the stove top, stirring. Pour it into molds for easiest results, and let it sit in the refrigerator if it's the jiggly kind, or just let it sit if it is the thick kind. You can use lots of things for molds, or make your own, but plastic is nice as it is flexible, which makes it easier to unmold your creation. I've used candy molds a lot for little jewels for the Tacky Food...just a bit tough to chew if you want them to unmold well. Just make up a recipe and try it out. You are supposed to be creative...not following a recipe. If you mess it up, remelt it and start over.
|This artist used Jell-O as textile dye|
Getting it out of the mold is the first problem to solve. Putting the mold in hot water briefly is a time-honored method but if you make it thick enough you can pry it out of the mold with your fingers without breaking it apart, when it is at the right stage. You will have to experiment. Then you can try carving the stuff, putting it though a ricer, whatever you want to do to make whatever excites you to make. I've tried many things that didn't work as well as some that were pretty exciting.
Eliminating the Jell-O brand also gets rid of the sugar and chemicals that make it attractive to ants, which is one reason I like to just use plain gelatin. I put dye in it, so it isn't edible, but without the sugar it doesn't taste good anyway. I like having more colors to choose from too, as not all the food colors blend well or end up that pretty.
The kind of art that I've been making, with dried gelatin, is a specialty with some extra skills and problems. My recipe is 3 ounces of gelatin per cup of water. I put two cups of cold water in a quart canning jar (broken glass and molten gelatin are really messy and dangerous) then stir in the gelatin two ounces at a time, stirring until it has no lumps. Then after it blooms I melt it for two minutes in the microwave, then a minute or two more until it seems clear. Skim off the foam at the top and take out any lumps. Try not to get it all bubbly.
Then I pour it into smaller canning jars and add some dye (you can use all kinds of things for color) and pour it in thin (less than 1/8th inch) layers in pyrex pie plates. I have a whole set, as the dried gelatin can be strong enough to take chips right out of glass, so you don't want to use the same dishes for food. I put those on top of the piano and entertainment center where it is warm and dry (I have electric heat) and then some hours later I start to tend it.
|This piece ended up on top of my helmet in the parade|
You have to get it out of the dishes at the right time. Ideally you get it all in one piece, so there isn't any residue or small pieces to go down the drain. I imagine that molten gelatin does not stay molten long in your drain and I'm sure my waste system has a layer of impossible hardened junk in the bottom of the pipes. Avoid that. So, at about eight to twelve hours after pouring it in, I try to get it out.
One of the best ways I've discovered is to cut into the center where it is still not dried, and try to get my fingers underneath the piece and gently encourage it to let go of the glass. It stretches a little and tears itself, but sometimes I can get the whole thing out cleanly. Other times I run my fingernail or a knife around the edge and get it out from there. I let it tear into pieces, as I make mostly flowers and leaves so the shapes work well if they are varied and have not-sharp edges. You can of course cut out shapes or do whatever you like.
Another method I use is swirling the gelatin around in a bowl to coat the sides, which takes a little patience as it slowly cools and jells in place. The bowl-shaped pieces are perfect for folding into flowers. I even have some plastic bowls printed like lettuce leaves which make great petals. I prefer the gloss of the glass molds, but plastic can be almost as shiny and the top side is shiny in either case.
After you get it out, you have to tend it for a couple of days, turning it over, watching for mildew to develop (remelt it quickly or throw it out...the moldy stuff smells really bad fast) and shaping or twisting the pieces according to what I want. You can do quite a lot with it in various stages of dryness, so have fun with that. You want to wait until it is not sticky, but not too stiff either. Once it is completely dry, you can still bend it sometimes, or you can get it slightly wet to manipulate it.
Gelatin that doesn't come out the way you want it can be remelted and used again. When I fasten the pieces together I just use melted gelatin and a few tools like little spoons and lab ware. It's a good excuse to buy beakers and things if you have a fascination for lab tools like I do. There's a lot of science involved in gelatin art.
That makes it really fun to do with kids and if you are having a hard time getting into it, I suggest involving a younger person. Having a display for the show is a great goal, but it is also fun to make it to eat (if you can bear to eat it...I can't now) or play with from a child's perspective. For the show, anything goes. You do not have to address the gold theme, or the 30th thing, and people often do political, environmental, or silly statements about their lives. It's free expression at its best. If you are already an artist, try using techniques or materials from your other media.
It's not to early to start. Sometimes I cruise the goodwills for molds, pie plates, or fun items to use as props. It can be a good launch into a concept or idea. And if you like to eat it, there are a ton of great recipes for traditional Jell-O salads and desserts and casseroles and whatevers. The Tacky Food table is a great place to show your creativity and tacky taste...just be safe with that stuff.
Here's a great page if you want to know more about this odd product that is still popular despite the fact that most kids raised in Eugene don't know what it is. There's a lot online. For awhile our show had a lot of traction on the internet but it's a little hard to find with the explosion of those gelatinas. Still, I don't think the Golden Age of Jell-O is over yet. Obviously, in Eugene, it's not over.