Sunday, February 1, 2015

Splash!

The Radar Angels jumped into the Jell-O Art pool
   yesterday with both feet. Felt like a cannonball, but the water was warm and inviting.

About twelve or thirteen of us crowded onto the stage at MKAC yesterday and entertained the annual meeting of their Board with a few short songs. I was so grateful to all of us for showing up in style and being so easily expressive. The musicians of the moment, Larry, Wren and Marty and Sunny, really carry things through and are extremely easy to work with. Dependable, cheerful, supportive...I could go on. I was sick all week with a terrible cold and had to miss the one rehearsal we had for this mini-show, but I'm guessing you could hardly tell. We stood up there with no mics, no strict procedure set up...we winged it. I think it sounded pretty good, though I tend to not hear anything much when I perform, being in an altered state of hyperpresence/absence because I'm an introvert and not an experienced performer. But maybe it's the costumes or all the low-key family singing or just the supportive group of Angels, somehow I get up there and sing loud and don't care and just do it like it comes naturally. Indi often has to tell me obvious things, like look at the audience, etc. but really, I amaze myself when I get up there and do that.

It would not be possible without the accepting nature and the high level of support of each one of the group. While singing and playing an instrument at the same time is an astounding skill, it is no less important to put on a wig and some ruffles and get up there to just be part of the group and sing behind whomever is singing. The one who has my undying gratitude and is really the one who gets the most credit, is Indi Stern. She is the glue that keeps it all together. Each and every one of the lovelies who showed up was fantastic in their own right, so a big thanks to Karen, Nan, Annemarie, Jacque, Mark, Sakti, and the ones who wanted to be there but couldn't: Ariel, Tania, Ruby, Sherri,Teresa, Jorge, Noah, Liliana, Jennifer, Angela, Joanie, and the rest of the sixty or so who call themselves Angels. Thanks also to those who came in support, Bee, Clare, Jude, Ben and Terry, and more. Huge thanks to the Board and Staff of Maude Kerns Art Center for thinking of us and the opportunity and their cooperation. Over-the-top cooperation as it turned out. I offered the chance for people to wear a Jell-O flower on their heads and since there were 20 flowers and about 50 people, I figured a couple would do it and the rest would stay in the box. Wrong! I should have brought more. It was so thrilling to look out over the audience at so many men and women wearing Jell-O. No one seemed to be too sophisticated to try it. That was the best. What a great community. And here I have to say a word of thanks also to the dearly departed, especially Gil Harrison, who was always there, and is sorely missed. And my still very-much alive mentors Leslie and Celeste, who always were able to make looking professional easy and possible. And still do. And Mom!

I had of course been quite nervous about our reception and my speech and giving a piece to the gallery, but with all the support I tend to try to just live with the anxiety and know that the crowd will be forgiving. It's like a lot of Radar Angel things, you put on your apron and put some Jell-O on your head and pretty soon you're Marilyn Monroe without the tragedy. It's like a lot of Life things I suppose, and I think I'll expound upon those in my other blog, http://divinetension.blogspot.com/ where I write about the more personal side of it all. This is the Jell-O Blog and yesterday was a Big Jell-O Day.

I had a lot of inquiries about the dried gelatin art itself and if you look back there is a lot of expostion in earlier blogs about the technique. I'll say it again here: it's really simple. I get gelatin powder, which I buy in bulk but for a start you can get the Knox stuff in the little packets. You mix it in cold water, and for the dried stuff or wet stuff you want to make art with, you mix it stronger than the package directions. I've settled on a formula about 12 times stronger than the 1/4 oz package meant to mix with a cup of water (or 3oz per cup). I think it would work 6 times stronger or anywhere in between, so just try something and see. The gelatin content makes it strong, the water makes it workable. After you mix it in cold water, let it sit for at least 10 minutes to "bloom" or absorb the water. I do it in a canning jar, because then I put it in the microwave for a minute or two to melt. Let that sit a bit too, then skim off the foam, add a little color (I just use liquid procion dye because I work with textiles and have a lot of dye around, but you can use food coloring or whatever you want) and then pour it into dishes in thin layers. You can also melt it in a pan if you don't want to use the microwave.

This is a jiggly one by David Gibbs
You can pour it into molds if you want shapes, but for the flowers I use glass pie plates and baking dishes. I will warn you that you have to dedicate those to Jell-O because the stuff is so strong that sometimes the dried bits will pull off actual bits of glass, so you don't want to later use the dish for food. Make the layers as thin as you want, from a mere coating to about 1/8 inch, depending on the result you want. Stuff that is too thick won't dry fast enough to avoid mold. Stuff that is too thin needs attention pretty soon or you won't be able to get it off without re-wetting it. I also swirl it around in bowls which makes a lot of interesting things happen.

I put the dishes on top of the furniture where it's hot and come back in a few hours to tend it. I generally run my fingernail or a knife around the edge and then pry it out, in one piece or several, and then flip it over to dry some more. I make petal or leaf shapes at this point, sometimes laying it over the edge of the dish to bend or curl. You are going to have to experiment according to what you want as a final result. I have tried to keep it flat sometimes, which is pretty hard, and I also use textured surfaces sometimes, like a plastic lettuce leaf bowl I have that makes nice flower and leaf replicas. Sometimes I'll stretch it or cut in a spiral so I can pull out a long string to make boingy things. I twist it and shape it or just let it do what it wants. You have to tend it for a couple of days depending on your heat, or less, so you have to pay attention. If it changes texture in a weird way, remelt it. I've gotten rid of mold with bleach, but once its moldy you might as well throw it out and start over, as the animal origins tend to emerge with a nasty smell you don't want to add to your smell memory bank.

To make the flowers I just select pieces I like, hold them together in various ways and then stick them together with melted gelatin (not too hot, it can burn like crazy and sticks on you). Sometimes I'll clamp with a clothespin or just hold it together (for at least a 60 seconds) and then set it up again to dry. If you don't like it, you can pry it apart or get it wet and take it apart, or remelt the whole thing. It's really up to you to work with it and get to know the limits or the open qualities it offers. You can use objects in additional ways, like wire stems or toys or whatever you think helps your piece say what you want it to say. It's art! You are the artist and it's your job to work with the medium and your creative process to make something from nothing. That's an incredible joy for a lot of people and worth a try for everyone. You are an artist if you create.

To me that is really simple at this point but like I said yesterday, I feel like it took my whole life to get here. Jell-O Art made me an artist. I started out with my box of Cherry or Berry Blue and went from there, and you can do that too. The wet jiggly kind of Jell-O Art has its own delights and in fact I think I might challenge myself to make a wet piece this year. That also has its own demands, mostly because it will only last a few days so you have to do it right before the show (which is March 28 this year.) If you want the jiggle you can't make it as stiff, but you can use the Jell-O brand if you want and just add in a bit of Knox or less water, and those pieces have lots of charms too. That type of work is actually harder than the dried, in my opinion, but can also be quite rewarding. Perhaps another blog post.

This was made in a complex process and I'll tell you someday
So that should answer the basic questions. This will be the 26th or 27th Jell-O Art Show, so there is a long history with a lot of legends and stories to discover, and some of it is found online here and there if you look. There have been other Jell-O artists and shows, as you will see, but we can give ourselves (and I include MKAC in this) a lot of credit for keeping it alive. We do it because it adds joy to our lives and warms our hearts and gives us something happy to do while we wait for spring. Please do participate. This is a thing to do, not just view, and it is above all, supposed to be fun. So have some. Make Jell-O Tonight!



Friday, January 23, 2015

Legitimate Jell-O! Really important Jell-O!



Boy, this is going to be an inconvenience: I broke the J key on my laptop. Not the right time of year for that! I gave in and ordered another five pounds of gelatin. I'm on the last pound or so, and although I'm not planning anything big, it's a long time until the end of March and you never know.

I am working on a piece that is very exciting and a little bit secret. As I mentioned, the Radar Angels are being honored by Maude Kerns Art Center as a Community Partner. I can't tell you what a really deep honor this is; treating us like a real, legitimate arts organization is something that rarely happens. We come with such a prominent humor component that we don't seem serious. Yet, the group has been fostering artists throughout its history.

In case I don't get a chance to speak about this next weekend, I will say that when it formed, the group was a bunch of women artists who were friends and wanted to get together regularly to foster themselves. We came from the fifties kitchen. We were of similar ages (this was in the mid-to-late-seventies, when we were in our mid-twenties and early thirties) and had witnessed the limitations of our mothers' lives and their struggles for self-expression. The fifties has rightly been labeled as a decade of conformism and safety as well as suburbanization and the isolation of that. I know I was astonished when I asked my Mom to draw me a clown and she could just do that, freehanded. I didn't know regular people could do art.
Some foot-tall wings for the secret project

The liberation movements of the sixties and seventies were so widely popular because they were so needed in that era. We didn't have the ERA (and didn't get it either) and following the artistic was not encouraged. It was impractical and dramatic and only male artists were taken very seriously, plus the structure was very tight and regulated by money and criticism. My generation pretty much threw that stuff out the proverbial window.

I will be somewhat vague about the origins of the Radar Angels as for various reasons I stayed on the fringes of it. I didn't participate in the Frivolous Teas or photo shoots or the production of the many events but I did attend the Extravaganzas and some of the parties and shows. When the Jell-O Art Show started up in the late eighties I was ready for it. The appeal was immense. I had never studied art except one calligraphy class at Cooper Union when I lived in New York but I was making art nonetheless. I knew that I had no credentials as well as no training so I never was able to call myself an artist or really feel like one. I started making things, declared myself a signpainter and went on the road in my Willys jeep and when I got to Eugene in 1975 found the Saturday Market and became a craftsperson. Still not an Artist though.

Jell-O Art made me one. Making a piece of sculpture for gallery display was completely intimidating and seemed impossible except that Jell-O was right there in my kitchen and anyone could make it. It was so easy, so gorgeous, so possible, that the rest is history and after 27 years of it here I am a Queen. In 2012 my loyalty and dedication were recognized and in a big secret show they surprised me with a crown and the honor, and since then I have tried to live up to the role.I give credit to all of the ones who kept gently encouraging me even though I was such a hard case. I really am quite proud to claim the Artist title now and anyone who doesn't think it is legitimate can go till their field of f**ks as the kids say, as I don't give a flying one anymore.

Our symbols are aprons and wings. Aprons represent hard work and the kitchen, with the nurturing and feeding aspect of the artist within us all included. Wings represent the freedom to fly and the ascension of the ordinary to the extraordinary. Members of the Angels encouraged all to participate. Men were allowed in, though they certainly had to be feminist men. Kids came along with those who had them, and some are now participating as adults. Everyone in the world is encouraged to join in our movement for artistic freedom and the right to be who you want to be. Jell-O is the vehicle because it is uniquely qualified to express our silliness as well as our seriousness, our appeal and our frustrations (as you may know by now it isn't the easiest medium to master) and the Jell-O Art Show has survived and prospered even as the Angels have changed and expanded and contracted.

I used to say I wasn't a member of the performing wing of the Angels but now I am that as well, stepping up to lose my limiting self-concept of stage fright and sing and dance. Turns out it was just a myth and indeed I can get up on a stage in front of an audience. Sometimes you don't know you can do something until you are encouraged to try it, and there again the Angels work within each person to open the doors. You are in charge of it, and you can set whatever limits you like, but when parody and silliness are the frames you'd be surprised how brave you can be with your self-expression.
These will become wearable headpieces

So here we are in 2015, when I'm turning 65, expressing ourselves still with humbleness, confidence, and inclusivity for fun and for art. I don't know what Maude Kerns expects of us exactly as their Community Partner, but next Saturday January 31, we will be performing and wearing Jell-O Art at the annual meeting of the gallery. The secret piece will be revealed, and the Radar Angels will fly in, put on our aprons and open our hearts to the community they have formed over the many decades there. It's entirely fitting that our annual show has landed at a gallery named for a formidable woman, run by many dedicated volunteers, and one that promotes the arts in many easily accessible and wonderful ways. Their classes and workshops have encouraged countless young people and those of all ages to explore the arts. Their wonderful Art in the Vineyard event is world class in a town where artists and craftspeople are so ubiquitous as to be almost common. We live in a fabulous place to be an artist, and their gallery has been a huge part of this fabulosity.

So come to the meeting to support your gallery if you can, join as a member or as a volunteer and help them, and us, do the work to make the world a more beautiful and meaningful place.Nothing depends upon it but your own vibrancy, your depth of expression and love for this life, and your freedom. And you know, helping the gallery survive to continue to do their important work. Let's stir it up!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Going deep into it


Spiral that extends to five or six feet...oingy
Love this blue rose, very thin, ten inches across
 I made some Jell-O right after Christmas just to loosen myself up, and quickly immersed. I had carefully boxed up all the pieces I had made, all the petals and leaves and bits and scraps, and had forgotten what a rich collection I had. Once I dragged them out and started sorting the colors, the joyfulness of it took over.

I bought twelve clear plastic boxes and sorted the pieces by color and type, which greatly reduced the chaos and made me feel like a real artist again. These are my materials. The fun is matching them up and making things...I made flowers. I may or may not make these into fascinators by glueing hairbands to them.
These are 6-12 inches wide

The glueing part is simple: I use melted gelatin for that too. I put a small amount in a half-pint canning jar, and have a couple of tiny spoons to drip it onto the parts to be glued. Then I clamp the pieces together with a clothespin or just hold them together until it gels. I think a full minute is the minimum time to hold them together (tightly) and is usually adequate.

There is a stage of gellation that happens if you let go too soon and the pieces move, a weird stage where the gelatin breaks up into chunks and won't stick together. When that happens the best thing is to remove it and start over. I just dip the piece in the jar and melt the stuff off, or run it under the faucet though here I remind you that is isn't a great idea to drip half-gelled gelatin into your drains, where it will quickly get cold and coat whatever it wants. I picture it staying a long time unless frequent watering melts it off. Jell-O can be very durable. I'm glad I went for the bigger drainpipe sizes all the way downhill.

I've been making a lot of thin boingy things...updating my crown with what will probably be very annoying deelybobbers (I think that is the technical term.) I simply make a spiral cut in a pie plate full of jelled stuff about an eighth of an inch thick. It seems best for me to let the gelatin sit for about 8-12 hours and then flip it over, and with the spirals I carefully wrap them around an overturned bowl to keep the spiral shape but spread it apart so it can dry. It's quite simple though I don't know what practical use I will make of the longer ones. I hung them up to see if they would stretch more over time, and they do. Thicker gelatin would boing and stretch less.

Drying takes about 36 hours in a warm house. I put the pieces on top of the furniture where the most heat gathers in my house. I flip the pieces every 8 hours or so, and during the drying they are bendable and I can manipulate them in all sorts of ways to suit my purposes. If you notice them getting dull and granular, they aren't drying fast enough. They're on the way to getting moldy. Sometimes I remelt them or throw them away at that point, or if they seem close, I put them in a hotter place to finish quickly. The drying time will depend on your atmosphere...when I do it outside in the summer it only takes an hour or less sometimes. So check them every few hours and just flip them over when they need it.

This will be added to my crown
The secret to the thin glassy layers is to swirl the gelatin around in a bowl, glass or smooth plastic, so it evenly coats the inside of the bowl in a very thin layer. In about 6-12 hours it should begin to pull away around the top, or you might help it do that by carefully prying up the edge. If it dries too far and seems like part of the bowl, you can start prying by cutting into the center in the bottom of the bowl where it is thicker and still wet. Then pull gently on it to get it to release from the bowl and let it tear into pieces or come out whole. Then I reverse the bowl and let it dry more on the outside or in a flat disk. Draping it over the edge of a pie plate or dish gives it some nice curves and helps it dry faster. At any point you can spray or brush the drying gelatin with a small amount of water, or just pass it under the faucet and quickly drain it off. It will soak up some water and become pliable again. You can always remelt gelatin and start over, so don't throw it all away in frustration if you are not getting results that excite you.

If I'm getting too technical too fast for you, I pin that on my 26 years of experience...I have to make an effort to quantify and record these details because I forget that most of what I do in Jell-O is instinctive by now. I just settle into the flow state and play with it. It is the most fun thing I do I think. Assembling the pieces into flowers is just an incredibly blissful time for me; I'm continually astonished at the great beauty and randomness of it. I don't know what I'll do with these flowers, I just want to make them. That's how I know I am an artist. Thank you Jell-O.

I'll add some photos to this as soon as my camera recharges. Maybe the sun will come out...sun shining through the layers is really magical.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Jell-O Art Year Begins with Joy

First time I wore Jell-O
Christmas is barely over but today I will put away the ornaments because it is time to get out the Jell-O! I'm happy to discover one last 4-pound bag of gelatin in my stash. I'll have to buy more but at least I can get started on this year's crop of whatever-it-turns out to be.

Maude Kerns Art Center just named us (the Radar Angels Jell-O Art Wing) as a Community Partner and there will be an awards ceremony on January 31 at their Annual Membership Meeting. What a great note of appreciation for our mutually beneficial and long-standing relationship. They've provided a home for our pesky one-night show for decades now.

My immediate plan is to dust off my Queen costume, always a pleasure to wear. I can go full-on with accessories and glamour, in fact will be expected to, so the next step is to make new Jell-O Art to wear on my head. I plan to make enough to make those without Jell-O Art on their heads look silly. That's right, it's always my plan to shift the paradigm and turn the world upside down like a fancy salad mold made to my design.

I didn't have a plan yet for my sculpture and was a bit tired of the same old routine. I did make a quick batch two weeks ago to use up the remnants of a bag that was in the way, and to repair a piece I wanted to wear at the Holiday Market. I was looking forward to helping to write the show and sing in it and vaguely thinking of themes and songs, but now I will ramp it all up and get into it. So much for the priority list for the winter months when we don't have Saturday Markets. Even though it is just a membership meeting there could be the opportunity for a quick song.

Piece I made for my son's wedding in 2013
I'm going to Australia a couple weeks after the Jell-O Show (which will be March 28 in 2015) and of course the following week Saturday Market opens for the season but those just took second and third place to the pursuit of my true art. I had an insight into why I love it so much. Most of my work, like the screenprinting, demands so much precision and perfection, which puts a lot of pressure on me. I'm not really a perfectionist; don't really even believe in perfection. Making things for retail means they will be looked at and evaluated one at a time, and printing doesn't really deliver perfect items each time. There are so many variables that make for flawed prints, but with Jell-O Art, that really does not matter. All Jell-O Art is free art that takes its own form and we just get to direct it a little and watch it flow. We are not really in charge, the creative flow is in charge. Just surrender to it.

Jell-O is not a cooperative art medium, not even an easy one to work with. That's the other side of the irony that the Jell-O Art Show is a completely rules-free everything-is-worthy art exhibit. No judgment is applied, no winners or losers, no "good vs. bad" type of set-up is involved in the Jell-O Art universe. Really. I personally have fought these impulses to rank myself and each other for all of the twenty-seven years of the show, and fought that inner drive to criticize and evaluate my own art. This art is all about imprecision and adapting to the medium. It's not that easy to ride that ridge and still exhibit in a real art gallery where real fine art is the expectation. Maybe that's what makes it so delicious.

Just an ordinary Saturday Market
I know I've been directing a lot of people to this site through giving out my business card so I will quickly say that I work in dried gelatin, and you are certainly free to work in the wet and jiggly kind too. You ought to start there so you get the fun of the jiggle, which is missing from the dried kind. You can start with the Jell-O brand, as it is easy to find and the colors are so seductive and iconic. Just use less water than directed. If you want to go a step further get the big box of Knox and mix some of that in. The little packets are one-fourth ounce apiece, meant to mix with one cup of water. I use the equivalent of three ounces per cup of water to make my formula for dried. Obviously I order mine in quantity from a food supplier online. Just get gelatin in the powdered form. Whatever the formula, use much less water so you will have a stiffer form to mold, carve, or whatever you decide to do with it.

You mix it in cold water because the gelatin needs to "bloom" and absorb water for a few minutes, so I do that in a canning jar and then melt it in the microwave. You can heat it on the stove of course. If you try to mix it in hot water you will have to break up a lot of stubborn lumps and I did that for years before I read an actual old recipe where they always mix in cold. I add a bit of dye because I am not going to eat mine and the food coloring assortments are too limited in color. For me the Jell-O brand is also too limited in color range, but again, suit yourself especially if you are just beginning your study.

Don't spill it, especially on yourself. Skim off the foam that forms on the top and put it in a dish to make white foam for your angelic and aquatic pieces. The stiffer it is the more quickly it hardens and scraping little dots of it off the floor, while an annual post-show ritual, is tedious. Prepare to dedicate some refrigerator room to it though freezing can change the texture. Jell-O will get moldy in a few days, but you can remelt it and lift off the top layer and save the rest. I don't make edible Jell-O or eat it, though I have been known to bring some to the Tacky Food Buffet at the show. Once you see how long it lasts in dried form you have a smaller appetite for it. It can also develop a terrible smell if you let it rot. It is made from cow hides and other offal, a fact we like to ignore, but rotten Jell-O is not a great sense memory and you could skip that part.

So let's get busy, Jell-O artists, we have work to do! I will try to post often with my tips and tricks and just email me at dianemcwho@gmail.com with your questions. This is a good place to say that I have a Facebook page called Gelatinaceae, at  Facebook page and another more personal blog at Divine Tension which I try to keep more-or-less Jell-O free but the stuff spills over this time of year. Above all, enjoy it!

My coronation as Queen of Jell-O Art at the 2012 show



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keeping up with Jell-O Art

I haven't kept up; I keep handing out cards sending people to this blog and then not writing anything in it. Let me take this opportunity to say I do have a more active blog: divinetension.blogspot.com. That is a more personal one as well, where I write about my life with Saturday Market, the Oregon Country Fair, my research for my book about my house, and things in general. This one I started when the world of Jell-O Art seemed big enough to hold its own. If you googled me, you would find my Jell-O Art in all of its worldly importance.

I haven't made much Jell-O since the last show, in the beginning of April. My studio was overrun with tote bags as I attempted to figure out a successful strategy for selling logo tote bags at OCF. Then I got a new worktable, and decided to put it in place of the old one, and a summer-long adventure with disorder began.
The room needed painting, so I decided to install the baseboards I meant to put in at least a decade ago as I finished up the remodel and moved back in. My son's need for a private room with a closeable door was paramount, so he never had baseboards, much to his dismay in our leaky old house. He had plenty of ants in his junkfood days.

So one third at a time I patched and painted and installed the boards. I didn't do a particularly good job, in this house that constantly needs editing. After I finished the second third, I abandoned the last wall for the winter and just got my studio set up for working. I now have not only a sewing table but a Jell-O Art table! I can spread out the many colored pieces I had boxed up and actually make something if I want.

Except that room is the coldest in the winter and I usually keep it closed off to save on heat. So my sewing machine is still in the living room while I repair bags and displays and get ready for Holiday Market. I still end up doing every project on my lap. Gotta work on that.

One of the most dismaying aspects of advancing age is the realization that all the work we like to do most is what sets our bodies into the pain and suffering of overuse. I have no handle on this whatsoever, but I am trying to learn. What small adaptations can I make to my movements to ease the work and stop over-efforting? I'm really trying to notice how I twist myself up into a contortion to do certain things; why? These habits have developed over so many years I am not aware of them at all. I must become aware, or continue to cripple myself slowly. Hard!

But my complaints are not so major, not really painful and I just keep working. I feel like a farmer in that the sun comes up and I am working. All year round. I do make progress, but so many activities are so repetitive. Perhaps grace comes from acceptance of the plebian, ordinary tasks of the day. I do like a clean kitchen, so I try to enjoy those rare moments when it is clean. The same with my project room.

So Jell-O Art. If you came here for photos and details I think you will find lots in the previous posts. I don't presently have any Jell-O Art to sell but the latest wave of it has come in glass jars: I make a flower and then install it in a covered jar so you never have to dust it. I think this will prolong the life of it, but it may not, and only time will tell. I still have no idea how long the dried Jell-O lasts. I have many pieces in the Jell-O Art Museum that are fifteen or maybe even twenty years old now. My plan is to install a showcase for them made from the last section of old casement windows I took out of the old bathroom. The windows make really great-looking shallow wall cabinets, and I have two in my kitchen. One is still out behind the shop waiting for me to get around to that project. I am getting close. That wall of the shop needs work so next summer we will add the wall to the roof project out there and see what can be done to preserve it. Old houses are just a bunch of projects and I have two of them.

So I will be making Jell-O Art again, well before the show in April, though I doubt I will bring it to the Holiday Market. Last year I had some flowers on display to brighten up the booth, and I may bring them again. I brought a few for the weekend at Market that would have been Eugene Celebration (and kind of was) and that proved to be a great idea!

I knew the clothing designer, lead actress and filmmaker of Track Town were coming to look at my bags and shirts and hats. Alexi had already told me she wanted to write in a line for the Queen Bee hat, and she ended up getting a Worker Bee hat too, and a few shirts for her character, Plumb, and her family. I was wearing one of the Jell-O Art head pieces as if it were my normal attire (and I do wear them rather frequently.) They asked what it was, I answered, and they borrowed it for the film. When they returned it they said it was in a scene...so I will officially be famous again when the film shows at Sundance. I can just see thousands of art lovers trying to figure out what the heck Plumb had on her head, some exotic type of glass flowers or something. You will know! I'm looking forward to it, even though they admitted they were looking for quirky and kind of borrowed my quirkiness too. It's okay. I'd rather be admired for quirkiness than most anything else.

Which brings me to Hallowe'en and costumes. I don't know when I lost interest in dressing up for the evening but I suppose it was when John moved out and I no longer had a kid to dress up with. I used to go to great lengths to create an amusing costume and persona (the Plumbing Nightmare and The Neighborhood Fool were the last two over-the-top enactments.) I just don't want to drag all of the fabric and costume pieces and hats and masks out in my nice clean studio. That's my story this year, plus the fact that I just don't go out on Friday nights when I plan to sell at Market the next day. At least this year I bought some tiny candy bars so I won't have to cower in my darkened house pretending not to be home if any trick-or-treaters show up. I am happy I live in a neighborhood where kids can still go out.

So that is the update: getting ready to create. I have dyed many bags and printed many hats so am ready for the Holiday Market later this month. We still have three outdoor Saturday Markets to get through in all their dark and damp. Maybe we'll be lucky and not repeat the wind and rain of the last two weeks. Let's hope we are, but if not, I'll still be there. See you downtown!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Art Life is Alive

An apology to all those who picked up my business card in the last few weeks and came here to read a lively blog about Jell-O Art. I have been overwhelmed with work and had no time to write anything since just after the Jell-O Show. Doing a little video promo for the Oregon Country Fair Radio station reminded me that I am passionate about Jell-O Art, and do think of it as my true art form. A few years back I wrote an essay about that, kinda, where I proposed that my transition from clothing decorator to something less arduous would be led by my Jell-O, but that turned out to be somewhat of a fantasy, at least so far.

I did spend at least one season of Saturday Market showing and selling Jell-O Art as headpieces and flowers with no purpose other than their beauty and wondrousness, but soon realized they were a distraction from the items I really needed to sell for a living. The Jell-O went back into the project room and was only brought out on special occasions such as the annual April Fools Jell-O Art Show, the coronation of the Slug Queen, and my son's wedding, where we all wore it on our heads. I brought a few of my favorite pieces to wear at the OCF, since everyone enjoys outrageous costumes there and I don't have the energy to put much together while trying so hard to be an actually profiting artisan. The headbands are easy to wear and of course quite spectacular to view.

But the actual making of the art went on the back burner and is mostly relegated to the off-season months of January to March, culminating in the show. I made one big piece, the Blue Heron, and a few smaller ones, but that was it, even the tools were put away.

I'm really into tote bags, and recently bought 250 of some I had sewn by T&J Designs in Springfield. They are made of a high-quality USA made canvas and have webbing handles also domestically sourced. The people at T&J are real, they sit at real sewing machines and sew up the bags, pressing them for a beautiful finish and making an elegant product that looks wonderful on my display. I printed up four of my designs so far and they are selling, even though they cost more than the imported ones on the other side. I'm proud of them and happy to have found one way to make my products more ethical and more satisfying.

I still don't sew my own bags, just screenprint on them, but this is a big improvement, and I plan to gradually replace all of my imported bags. I also branched out and added some new types of hats, though they are still imported and mass-produced, but these fit more people and add some new colors, so my customers are happier. That makes me happier.

Apparently a lot of my operation as a craft artisan is people-pleasing, and I do get off balance sometimes in the heavy work seasons. I made too many logo bags for the OCF, but I learned a lot by putting them on the path. There really are collectors of logo items, who truly love the Fair and what it represents, but they are a discriminating group of people and some of them did not have happy looks when they left my booth. They wanted something special, and my special new design didn't really go all the way to the meaningful level I had envisioned. It was nice, and charming, but not really a winner. I sold about 50 of them nevertheless, but I'll have to try harder next year.

It interests me that it has taken me so long to really understand the translation of love for the event into a craft item. I can't really even articulate it, but I know it when I see it. Tons of people came to tell me how much they loved their OCF bags, but they meant the ones made by a sadly now-deceased artist whose name I don't even know. I met her daughter at the Fair. She had it down, made really fine products and had a beautiful design each year. She would probably say she had a few failures too, but she did it successfully for a long, long time. So it's a bit unrealistic that I should achieve great success the first year, or even in the first five.

It's a funny thing when you have the hot Fair item. I had one once, a shirt that I hadn't even planned to sell, but just brought for fun gifts. You might remember it: had an image of George Bush on it. You still see them around sometimes. It got such a radical appreciation from the moment it came out of the box that I ended up spending most of the Fair running home to print any available shirt to rush back to my booth. It was my second hot Fair item (the first one just sold out its edition of about 30, and really my partner got the credit for it, but I felt the rush) and it was quite life-changing to be filling the desire of hundreds of people.

So I got a little carried away this year with my bags. I was having conversations in my head where people came to get the cool bags I brought and they were sold out, so my people-pleaser kicked in and I just bought and printed more and more bags.I had purple ones and blue ones and blue/purple/blue ones and green ones and peach colored ones and three colors of dyed purple ones and on and on. Too many.
I did hedge my bets and printed most of them without the year, but people want the year on them. I will have to figure out a way to make the ones left over special for next year, maybe a little back print with 2015 on it, not really a lie. I don't know. A year can be a long time. I may be so far into the locally produced bags that I will want to scrap all of the imported ones by then. Maybe I can make a deal with the concessions and commemoratives to sell them. I'll have to think of something.

My biggest thought about it is that I sold about a fourth of what I made. That means I worked four times harder than I needed to, or even to sensibly have enough, I worked twice as hard as I needed to. That's not ideal. I paid for them, so no real loss over time, as they will eventually sell at some price or other, but I could have taken that canoe float day off, if I had had more sensible conversations in my head. Oh, sorry, sold out of that one. I'll have more next year.

Create more desire, have fewer of higher quality, make the interactions more satisfying on both sides. My customers are smart and know what they are looking for. I'll get smarter too. I'll start working on that lovely peach earlier and get it done on time.

And Jell-O Art, my true art form, has not left my palette. I'll be making more. I'm still passionate and dedicated to it, and the Slug Queen's Coronation is coming up quickly. I'm still and always will be the Queen of Jell-O Art. I get to make that what I want it to be. It doesn't depend on money, not even on people-pleasing. It's just art. Deepening and shining into our souls. Yes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Life After Jell-O

A rat ate my Jell-O. I watched it snack boldly in my back yard, and quickly relocated the compost pile, but I did find this deliciously ironic. The Jell-O that was destined for the Tacky Food table instead gave a Norway rat a few more days of survival. I'm guessing all the sugar and chemicals didn't agree with him that well.

I owe my fellow Jell-O Artists a celebratory post with photos of their work, but I'm still trying to catch up on all the projects that were shoved aside while Jell-O-ing. I don't feel motivated. I really am sick of Jell-O.

I have no idea what to do with my heron sculpture, though I may enter it in the Mayor's Art Show in August. I'd like to take it to Country Fair, as it would look good parading around, and is light enough that it would be easy to carry, but getting it out there is rather difficult. It takes up a lot of room and I already take far too many things out there. I may just put it out of sight in my project room and call it a day.

Art is supposed to feed us, and if we aren't feeling satisfied we ought to explore other aspects of it. I really do think I will take a break. I think I will go back to researching and writing my book, and to making and selling my tote bags and hats. I already decided to phase out my clothing lines, and I feel good about that. Of course the popular items are already almost gone, so there will be an uncomfortable period of lowering prices and letting go, and the disappointed customers who will not find me agreeable to ordering a few more garments and making those particular items again. I may relent. It's hard to not produce things you know will sell.

I am concentrating on the hats, which are a successful product, and the tote bags, which are a bit more problematic. The market for tote bags is pretty saturated. Everyone knows they need them, and everyone has accumulated some surplus, especially of the woven plastic kind that are inexpensive and can be printed with all-over designs of highly detailed artworks. The type I make, old-fashioned canvas with one- or two-color screenprints, are not in high demand. I'm proud of them, and they look good, but not only are they being sold by every screenprinter as a side item, customers are just not all that interested.

I do have a little niche selling them to people who want to shop, either at Farmers' Market or ours, and forgot their bag, but that is minimal. It works pretty well at Tuesday Market, but if only one other person brings bags to sell, that could put a hole in my niche. This is a common dilemma in retail, when an item becomes popular or needed. It doesn't take long to flood the market.

We'll see how it goes. I may find myself investing in a bad idea. The bags are heavy, and perhaps not the best item for my quest to make things easier on my body, so maybe if their usefulness fades I can let go of them too. This might be a transition year to something else. I did sew a couple into shorter bags that will work better for produce. You can nicely nest six berry hallocks in the bottom and rest a bag of spinach leaves on top. Unfortunately since they take sewing time I had to raise the price a little. If they look popular I'll make some more.





I let go of the printed and handpainted silk OCF flags and scarves I've been making for years. They have never been a great-selling product, even at my underpriced level, and I'm tired of making them, too. They're gorgeous, and I will miss them, but change has to happen somehow. I'll be able to sell them for one more Fair, and then goodbye.

So some small shifts in my artistic life, shifts that seem healthy. I'll keep you posted.