Thursday, July 28, 2011

Giant Slug Eats Orchid

Worked outside on the Jell-O today and was happy to find that summer breezes and sunshine are really great for drying the pieces quickly. Even better than the top of the piano!

I took the mask downtown for Kim to take some photos, so I can enter it in the Mayor's Art Show. The photos are amazing, so we'll see if Jell-O Art is Art or not. I have to figure out some kind of wall bracket though, whether or not it gets in the show, so I can put it in the other show. It was interesting biking around with the mask in a plastic tub, on our very bumpy streets. I had to glue a couple parts of it back together afterward, but I hadn't done anything to it (except drop it once) since the Jell-O Show, and apparently Jell-O art may require a bit of maintenance now and then.

This is something I am making for the Slug Queen Coronation, for Kim, the First Lady in Waiting, and I think it will look quite fetching on her or whomever ends up trying it on. It has been super fun. A big 9x13 slab of yellow made the most wonderful, natural looking slug you could ever want, all frilly on the edges and everything. There is a little fuchsia slug on the back of it, too, extra sliminess all around. I am donating it to Kim to put in the Slug Queen Archives which is probably a cardboard box in someone's garage somewhere in the South Hills.

I am very pleased. I made the headpiece flat and it's very comfortable to wear, not too heavy, not too fragile. The art is evolving. I'm wearing the first tiara in the photo here from Market, nice to see how it looks. That one digs into my head just a little bit. Beth said she was talking to the cops about an incident she was having on the corner when I walked by and the sun caught the Jell-O, and she felt like her world was really just fine. Imagine a world where an old woman can look perfectly normal and safe wearing Jell-O Art on her head in broad daylight, and then recreate that world every Saturday.

On Saturday night, my next door neighbors are having Jell-O Wrestling at their birthday party, and I'm excited to get a look at it, though it is far too weird for me to want to participate. I think it's rather hilarious though. It won't be Jell-O they will be using, there is a special product made just for wrestling, just add water to the pit you dug in your yard. They're super serious about it, scheduling it like a tournament, and making all the kids go to bed.

I'm not telling them about the roomful of dried Jell-O I have over here. It will just be a delicious oversupply of Jell-O in the neighborhood for a night. Wonder what you do with a pit full of strange gelatinous stuff in the morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


The Jell-O Art has been getting a lot of amazed attention and compliments at the Market, and this week, as it was finally sunny and warm, I displayed it well and it looked wonderful in the sun. I wore the tiara most of the day and Kim took some pictures so when she gets them posted I may have some to add to this post.

I keep giving out cards and referring folks to this blog, but I haven't really done a tutorial yet to be helpful. I say it is really simple, and if you put aside the 23 years of experimenting with the medium and learning all of its little idiosyncrasies (well, some), it is really simple.

I use about 3 ounces (dry measure, not weight) of pure gelatin powder to one cup of water. I mix mine in a quart jar, half full of cold water, w
ith six ounces of gelatin sprinkled in. I do it gradually, stirring with a big spoon, and the reason you use cold is if you try to shortcut and use hot water, it gets all lumpy and does not dissolve well. In the cold water, it "blooms" and after about ten minutes it is all wetted. Then I put it in the microwave for a minute or two to melt it.

I skim off the foam, and then divide the liquid gelatin into several smaller jars for coloring. I use procion dye, because I have a lot of it around and like the colors, but you could use any kind of coloring you like. The transparency is important and I like a wide color range, which is why I don't bother with food coloring. You can use things like milk and candy co
loring, whatever you have and want to try.

To dry it, I simply pour it into glass pans in thin layers, about a sixteenth or eighth of an inch thick. You will find out what you like. If it's too thin, it dries fast and can stick to the pan too much to get it out if you aren't watching. If it's too thick it will mold before it has a chance to dry. Moldy gelatin has a way of re-liquidizing itself in a very smelly fashion.

I use a variety of textured molds, too, since I have been collecting glass and plastic molds for Jell-O art for many years. I have t
wo excellent plastic salad bowls pressed to resemble bowls of lettuce leaves and I often use those for flowers or parts. The subtle veins are wonderful, but the plastic surface does leave one side duller than I like. I really like the glossy surface that glass imparts, or that the side that is not in contact with anything retains. Sometimes I just dip the pieces that aren't glossy enough, to resurfaced them. You can layer up colors too that way.

After a fairly short time you have to flip the gelatin over to dry the other side, and to extract it from the container. I usually tear it or cut it into geometric shapes at this point, triangles or squares or leaf shapes or specific shapes to fit whatever project I am working on.

Then the tending begins as you have to flip each piece several times as it dries. I use the
top of my piano as a place to put all the dishes and plates of gelatin pieces. As they dry, they distort in wonderful ways and I sometimes encourage or discourage this as the pieces are quite flexible.

Making the flowers is much like making paper or cloth flowers, using rolling and assembling techniques that I will leave y
ou to explore on your own. It helps if you stick to similar colors so that you can find enough of the same shade to assemble a full flower, but anything goes really.

Nature makes outlandish flowers, especially in the Orchidaceae, so I don't try to restrict myself much in the forms and combinations. I add leaves and use a stick from my apple tree for a stem, but it is possible to make stems with long strips of gelatin, if you like.

In the Cake Connection video online where they show their system for making flowers to use for cake decorations, they use florist's tape and wire for structure, but I don't usually use anything but the gelatin itself, and the sticks.

I melt a small amount of gelatin in a half-pint jar for assembly. I just dip pieces in or use a spoon to drip the "glue" where it is needed, and then press and hold the pieces together while it hardens, or clip them with a clothespin to hold them for awhile.

I will caution you here to be careful with the hot gelatin. I have burned myself, of course, and it can be nasty, just like glue. Be ready to immerse in cold water. During assembly I do usually wear out my fingertips with the repeated coating of thin layers, but I suppose you could wear g
loves or something. It's not toxic (the dyes are, though, in the powder form) and although the annoying question "Can you eat it?" has become routine, it's only technically edible, and I certainly haven't recommended eating Jell-O for many years. This is art, people, why would you want to eat it? That's what food is for.

I have large plastic trays of pieces all over my "studio" and periodically make a bunch more pieces in the colors I like. The fairies were supposed to be mermaids but the OCF came around and I thought a fairy on a stick would be cool. Faces are quite difficult, especially as the gelatin almost never stays flat, and you have to plan for the shrinkage. I tend to find a picture similar to what I want, put it under the pan of gelatin, and cut out holes for the eyes and mouth, which I then fill with the colors I want (blue for the eyes, etc.) This is tricky work and you have to do it in stages and keep the gelatin just barely liquid. I've done extremely detailed cutwork, like the fractals, which are 6x6 inch square, and this kind of thing is a fun challenge when you get farther into the art form.

See, it really is so simple. I purchase the gelatin online in bulk, but you can start with the Knox brand at the supermarket. Just make it 6-8 times stronger than the package directions, or figure out how to convert to my recipe. It is really not a precise kind of thing. Celeste Le Blanc, who introduced the dried technique at a Jell-O Art Show a couple of decades ago, does big forms and garments and said she makes it 16 times the package directions. You will find the recipe that is thick enough and stays liquid long enough for you to do what you want. You can remelt it in the microwave (or in a pan on the stove) many times, though I have a theory that it gets more brittle with repeated meltings. Not a scientific theory.

I try not to let much of it go down the drain, because I picture it jelling and making some lovely blockages with all the coffee grounds, pet hair and whatever else goes down your drain (let's stop there). You do have to soak it off of the glass sometimes and throw it away when it gets moldy and muddy.

I will again mention that I blog over at, where in the past I have discussed Jell-O Art at length, though that is also a personal blog where I discuss many other issues, and talk a lot about Saturday Market and my thoughts about my membership and history there. If you really are interested, you can go back into the archives there and find out more than you want to know about me and my Jell-O Art. There are artifacts online from my Yahoo 360 pages and pages, but I doubt if even I can find them at this point. Suffice it to say I have been writing about Jell-O for at least a decade and if you believe that everything on the internet is still there, you can look for that stuff. I may go find it and bring it here, someday when I have nothing more important to do.

But that day won't be today. We finally got some hot weather and I am going to swelter in it and love it. Oh, and yes, the Jell-O flowers will melt in water. I have worn them in the rain and with wet hair, and they soften up and would dissolve if I didn't let them dry, but they last really well. I have dropped them and compressed them and they are much stronger than I expected. If they do break, however, just re-glue with more gelatin or get the broken ends wet and press them together until they stick.

As far as the archival qualities of my art go, it's unknown, but I have pieces that are ten years old and they still look the same. They get dusty, but you can dust them or even wash them quickly and they are renewed. I think once it is dry it will last as long as you need it to. Life is brief anyway, and I feel that the ephemeric quality of the art just adds to its charm. Not everything is a piece of furniture that will still be valuable 300 years from now. Some things are just for today, just to be delighted, just to marvel at. Just for fun!

So enjoy yourself!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tiaras! and Fairies!

Of course I will take Jell-O out to the Fair, though I can't sell it during public hours, since it isn't juried.

And of course I don't really want to sell these fabulous creations, at least not the tiaras. But I suppose I will.

I am not sure if I am taking the wings, depends if they fit in the car or not. They won't be wearable in sweaty, naked crowds...too scratchy.