Monday, December 9, 2013

Pleasing People and Products

What a great season to be an artist. People are being so supportive of the Holiday Market, buying our sometimes pricey "stuff" and not even asking for discounts (mostly.) Customers probably don't know about all the rules and judgements we artistans like to joke about to balance the vulnerability we feel standing there among our products. One thing they must not know is that if they do or say something unusual to us, we will most certainly tell many people about it, as we use stories in our "spiel." I had a man saying "I would like them if the sayings weren't so stupid," to his companion within my hearing, so I engaged him, saying he needed the Curmudgeon hat, which didn't amuse him. I tried to explain that I was not offended, that I didn't expect everyone to like my work, and he proceeded to say that the saying were degrading, and I really wish I would have asked him which ones, but I was speechless at that, because I think I try really hard to keep things kind and funny and not insult people. He was probably blessed with a sour sense of humor or perhaps none. It made an excellent story for me, so I repeated it endlessly. This week I swear he came by and bought three hats. He did ask for a discount, and I did give him one (against my strong practice of saying that my prices are already low) and he wasn't happy at all but in my version of the story, he went home and his wife explained that he had to be more respectful of the artists even when he wanted to be a critic. I think (in my version of this story) that this was because I treated my work as art and spoke as an artist. Forget the fine lines drawn between art and craft, forget lots of things. I assured him he was entitled to his opinion and certainly not obligated to purchase my work, but I presented as a human being with a personality and the willingness to put it out there. So I think I gained his respect and he re-evaluated my work. So much for the fiction of the week.

We all have our retailing styles, and I make lots of the common mistakes listed by marketing experts, like cramming too many products and too much stock into my booth, and overwhelming shoppers with too many choices. I love the variety and want the consistency so that when someone wants a hat or shirt in their chosen color, I have it, and if they want ten of them, I can make it happen. This did benefit me this summer when a man from Norway wanted ten of the Stay Calm hats, and I was able to find ten in my stock. That was gratifying, since with my use of the bike and trailer, I have manicured my stock down to as fine a point as I can, so I won't haul too many surplus pounds with my 500-plus pound load.

The limits of the trailer are helpful, but at Holiday Market I don't have those limits and I need to work harder to just have less in my booth. It's a real problem for a recovering people-pleaser. I'm now hauling two Toyota-loads of tubs, or three bike loads, and that is really too much. That will be my task for this week, to lessen the load. My hope was that as things sold, the stock would thin, as I am not replacing some of my lines, the kids shirts and the men's longsleeves, and some of the women's styles, etc. It gets painful to me as the popular sizes and colors sell out, but it will be something to get used to. I will have to learn not to apologize too much, too.

All that is good change, as I want to learn better marketing, not my strongest suit. I noticed that another vendor had a pretty spare display, and when she sold one of the five choices of a particular item, she replaced the one, but didn't display every single one of them she had. Five was the right number for those. It occurs to me that if a customer sees one of the item they want, they will be way more motivated to purchase it than if they see three of them. They will be fairly sure they can still find it after going off to see what all the other choices in the show are, so they may never make it back, and I will still have three. So my work is clear.

I am good with signage, so I did a cute little good turn yesterday. I purchased some hot cider from the Lemonade Gourmet, and it was so delicious I immediately wanted more. I happened to see the owner in passing, and commented on the quality, and she told me it must have been the fresh ginger that made it so good. So I made her a little bright sign saying "with Fresh Ginger" and stuck it on her display (with her permission.) Not sure how she felt about it, but when I looked at it later in the day (and it was not a particularly busy day) she had posted a "sold out" sign. So maybe that was a really good deed. I hope so.

It is not always a good idea to sell out, of course, especially for a people-pleaser, but it did illustrate a good point: that customers want to know what makes our products special, better than ordinary. Anyone can make hot cider at home, and many are wary of buying some that might not be as healthy as what they want their kids to drink, but ginger is very popular for many health and foodie reasons, so let people know what you have! I use a lot of signs. Even then people still have to ask the prices occasionally, and that makes them less comfortable. I want my customers to have it easy.

So even though I am essentially still doing what I have been doing and my booth doesn't really present as new and exciting, I can still do little things to improve my sales and my retail life. Never too late to learn something.

As far as Jell-O Art goes, this is the time we gelatin artists and Jell-O Show participants begin to think about next year's theme and our next works of art. I saw on Facebook that artist and genius David Gibbs is making custom pieces, lampshades and presents for people, and decorations for his tree. He has been slightly whipping the Jell-O or whipping the hell out of it, not sure which, to make a dense pastel foam that he can paint with and easily shape.
I personally have zero desire to make Jell-O Art right now, with all the retailing, but I did decorate my booth with some of the Jell-O flowers this year, so if you want to see them, come by the Holiday Market and I will even model them for you. Right now, on with the day off.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Jell-O Art Still Fascinates

I continue to give out my photo cards featuring the dried gelatin mask I made in 2011, which looks gorgeous on the black background, and send people to this link, so I had better post now and then. I am currently not making any Jell-O Art, concentrating on my retail work with the upcoming Holiday Market in mind. That starts in November, after many weeks yet on the Park Blocks wishing for summer to come back. We will be outdoors through November 16, them moving to the Fairgrounds, indoors the weekend before Thanksgiving. 

I doubt I'll be retailing Jell-O Art again, though it was fun, as it was mainly a distraction from those types of work that actually sell well, like hats and tote bags. Even though I am happiest manipulating gelatin, and able to express my true soul through that open-ended medium, I'm not retired yet and still need to make money with my time. Traditionally I spend the months of the offseason after Christmas concentrating on the Jell-O Art world culminating in the annual Jell-O Art Show around April Fools Day. I hope that will be the case this year too. It will be the 26th Annual show.

I did successfully outfit the wedding party, and photos here show the Bride and Groom's Jell-O, and the decorated hat I wore. Lots of my family and friends wore the giant flowers on their heads or hats, and to me the Jell-O really made the wedding decorations, blending terrifically with the steampunky theme of the costumes. Kat and John did a wonderful job with all of the outfits, Kat sewing much of what people wore, including her fab dress. She's a keeper.

I abandoned the heron project outlined in my post from May. Lots of things changed between then and the wedding in July at the Oregon Country Fair. Perhaps I will make the heron for this year's show. I did make some lovely pieces of gray-blue feathery thin gelatin.

I discovered that one of my main practices, using glass plates and dishes to dry the gelatin, causes damage to the glass if you let the gelatin dry so long that it gets stuck and rigid. Little flakes and chunks of glass can break off. I bought new pie plates to use for edible things, and will no longer use the same dishes for eating and Jell-O Art. I hope my practices didn't cause problems for people. Be careful with glass, and with molten gelatin, which has burned me many times. You really don't want to spill liquid gelatin.

In other art news, the Eugene Saturday Market presents the Holiday Market Art Bag Project, which consists of 46 tote bags decorated by 46 artists (or more) to be given away on the first weekend of HM. The ones turned in so far are wonderfully individual in the styles of the artists and to us insiders they are recognizable and so desirable. I am having a lot of trouble deciding how to decorate mine. I've considered and rejected sewing some of my silk or cotton prints to the bag, even putting a hand-painted silk scarf on the bag, and I don't really want to hand-paint a tote bag. I am primarily a screenprinter, and I can do amazing things with a screenprinted bag, so I just have to draw something, make the screens, and get it done.

I have a list of ideas but settling on one is really tough. My neighbor has a gorgeous persimmon tree that is just beginning to turn the shades of oranges and yellows that are so glorious, but I have the peaches design which is quite similar, so I want to do something different. I like to draw plants from life, but the nature window is rapidly closing with all this rain and cold we are having. I need to choose something and get going. I'm leaning toward a vintage photo of the farmers' market, or something featuring giant fruits on a wagon, like the old postcards, but then again, it would be simpler to draw some blueberries or something. I will think of something soon!

So art is happening, just not much of it in the form of gelatin, though I still have a five-pound bag of it sitting in my kitchen waiting to be measured and melted. I am not tempted to fasten some of it to the tote bag, though. Sometimes it is just not possible to fully integrate everything into the same life. Unless...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Still Working

I've still been making Jell-O, just not any finished pieces since the porch Jell-O from my video. If you like watching science meet art meet fashion, here is someone else who does what I do, with a very different style.

I wish I had her lab equipment. She apparently uses glycerin and other substances to make the foam stay bubbled...and I love the metallics, which I assume are cake decorating colors.

People have been wearing my Jell-O for several years now. What I am doing is far afield from her mostly foamy pieces. I mostly use the foam for slug lime. I like the glossy surfaces that result from using glass to dry the gelatin on.

Mostly I'm constructing large flowers, of which you have already seen a plethora, in order to decorate a collection of steampunky hats for my son's wedding in July. My entire family is coming from thousands of miles away for the weekend, so I told them rather than trying to bring costumes, they can just choose from my collection. Perhaps some of the hats will make it to next year's Jell-O Show.

I'm also making a big (three feet tall?) Great Blue Heron as part of an arch or something for them to stand near or under during their ceremony. I will just build it around a curvy stick and try to keep it light enough that it can be carried in their procession. Should be no problem. I already have an eagle about that size, and probably both of them will make it to the wedding.

Making big pieces is a little more challenging than small, because they distort more in the drying, but I just use plastic lids from large tubs to pour out the gelatin and shape the pieces. You have to peel it off and flip it over to dry on the other side, several times, so there are lots of chances to ruin it or make it more interesting, depending on your perspective. I generally just make a lot of pieces in the colors I am using (blues, grays and purples in this case) and then assemble them into the desired sculpture.

Hot sunny weather is pretty good for drying Jell-O although there are more pieces of dust and fluff and debris from sitting outside, which could be limited somewhat by letting it dry inside until it has hardened sufficiently to not pick up pieces of wind-blown detritus. In the winter with the heat on, drying is not a problem, but I have also discovered the top of the water heater and the TV as hot spots, and I suppose the top of the refrigerator would be good too if it were not as dusty as mine.

You want the gelatin to dry within maybe 48 hours so it doesn't have a chance to mold. I try to keep it as thin as I can, maybe an eighth of an inch thick, or less. If you don't like the shape it ends up in, remember you can get it wet and in a few minutes it will return to a flexible state, so you can reshape it and try again. You can remelt it in the microwave, too, though not if it has fully hardened.

But go ahead and try whatever you want. Art is nothing if it doesn't include some experimentation at some stage. I like it when I am forced to adapt to what the gelatin wants to do. Except the mold part.

And if you don't feel like reading back for instructions, I use 3 ounces of gelatin per cup of water. You can succeed with a lot less (this would be, I think, 12 envelopes of Knox per cup of water) so you don't have to start with such a dense formula, but my theory is that this is a good level for durability and strength, so your wonderful constructions will be sturdy enough to transport or wear.

I just add procion dyes for color, as I have a lot of them around from dying fabrics. You can use anything that you like for color. You can get creamy colors with added milk, though I try to stay away from foods to keep the ants uninvolved. Cake colorings would work. The little four-pack food colorings are perfect if you don't mind the limited colors, and you could also add Jell-O brand if you like, though it has too many chemicals for me, and I have found that it shortens the life span of the art. Just gelatin and water and as little else as possible is best for saving the pieces without dulling or decomposition.

They do get dusty. I like putting really nice pieces under glass, so now I am collecting large glass containers as well. My house does have a unique look.

Back to flipping pieces. See you with some pictures soon!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Jell-O Art Show Show (Not the real thing though.)

Such a beautiful sunny day yesterday, keeping so many of my people in their gardens and back yards, or biking with their families, allowing them only brief moments inside, which may or may not have included dropping by MKAC for the few short moments that I have focused the last two or three months of my life upon. The gallery was filled, but maybe in my quest to keep the secrets of the My-i-electronic stew of the show covered tightly, I forgot to make sure you knew that this was something not to be missed. Even the little bit of repartee with Slug Queen Sadie was priceless and not graceless as I had feared. She's so wildly talented. 
I will try to deliver a pale substitute elixir, but those twenty minutes are here and gone now, as ephemeral as the wobbly items that graced the pedestals. So, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome something sublime:

iJell-O Script version #165b:

Here we are after 25 years of the Jell-O show, checking in with the Radar Angels as they make their Jell-O Art.         Let us go to their “site” and see what is streaming...

 Picture that iconic album cover, loosely interpreted with a bit more fluff and glitter, including people with Jell-O on their heads, and shiny gold lame. (We missed you, Gil.)

We're Radar Angels one & only Lonely Facebook Band  

Stand back & let the evening jell...Bumpbumpbumpahdumppahdump

 Yes, the whole songs, with a band, maybe not quite the original lyrics, possibly a few more kazoos than the Beatles recorded. You might know how this goes from previous shows. The sight gags here involved oversize thumbs, from texting all our friends, you dig?

 I’m going berserk, ( I ) just can’t communicate this way 

I’m going berserk, texting what it takes just a minute to say

Musical transitions occur between the five songs, leading you gently through our narrative. Comedy skits, written by the participants, attempt to connect you with what is coming next, not that you will feel prepared for these types of surprises. Soon you see three hot *girls* letting you know that

Friday night is Facebook time!

Rumbeando, escalada, try to keep up here as it goes viral. Likety like it!

Oh look, I’m a hottie-oh a lookie oh a lookie at me! Lookie at me!

Then prepare yourself for the ordinary disappointment which suffuses the virtual world. Unfriended by your second cousin in Louisiana. Not invited to the dang event! Sitting in your kitchen on Grinning Singles not finding anyone in your age group who looks the least bit appealing and is also not pretending not to be married. You have been there, and this you know because the entire audience responds with the most empathetic groans and moans to our heroes.

Will you “LIKE” me? (Thumbs up, then down.)

Will you be my “FRIEND”? (Thumbs up, then down)
Would you like to have a loving CHAT” with me? (You guessed it, no way.)
Must have been those velour pants, with the expectant junk (actually we didn’t even consider that sight gag, too obvious, not family friendly. We like a modicum of decorum. We used a tiny violin.) Anyhow, he can’t get a Real Connection.

They tried and they tried. You know this song and dance:

When I’m browsin’ on my phone

You know I’m feeling like I’m so alone

But I keep surfin’ more and more
I’m losin’ my imagination
Need some physical sensation

I can't get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that's what I say

Well, as you might imagine, we did have a compassionate and nonviolent response for him, poor fellow. Him and the hot girls, who also posted the mostest but still couldn’t get anything real. We responded the best way we could imagine, by feeling. Feeling gooey.

Hello humans,
Where ya goin?
Time to watch your flowers growing.
Time to touch, to dance, to be
Doot-in' doo-doo,
Feelin' gooey.

No me mails to read,
No you-tubes to view,
I am the real me and you are the real you
We are sharing our lovely gelatinous goo

We love Jell-O,
All is gooey.

And then, as everyone begins to make Jell-O art in their aprons and wings, and the website for the Jell-O Connection loads, and we forget to use all the many carefully constructed and brilliantly designed props like a spinning hourglass, made by someone who had no clue how many things you can’t do in a 20-minute show, (*taking a curtsey here for the meticulous and clever set design and execution, however misguided and borderline obsessive*), and fog and bubble machines do get turned on, as far as I know, and:

Crickets and frogs begin to fill the swampy site with sounds. A fat frog who looks very little like Kermit steps up to the mic and appears to eat it, surrounded by fairies and elves. He/she warbled and croaked out this little ditty:

Why are there so many questions about art?

What’s on the artists’ minds?

Artists have visions, sometimes delusions

Art leaves you nothing to hide

Here on our website, we’re going to show you  (and here, not to be obtrusive, I must tell you that the fat frog stripped off his/her painfully and (borderline, whatever) cleverly constructed concealment to reveal, yes, you guessed it, The Queen of Jell-O Art herself! In costume! And let me tell you I had about six layers of costumes on...that was interesting.)

The Secrets of all Jell-O goo:

Today you can find it, the Jell-O Connection
The artists, the Angels, and you. (She sang this, on the mic, in front of thousands, or dozens anyway, of our area’s finest art patrons and lovers of all things Jell-O. I know you sent your representatives to see this personal transformation, since after fifty or so years of saying this was something unimaginable, I became one of the *performing* Angels. But I’m interrupting her song)

 We say that every wish can be made in Jell-O
if you have the right recipe 
Here on our website, we have the apps you need, 
and we give our secrets FOR FREE!
It’s so amazing, the joy you’ll be raising, 
See what it has done for me! (Songwriters can get away with a little self-indulgence, if they are still in their first innocent year of queendom, so I put this line in, and took it out, and put it back in, with appropriate gestures. Apparently it worked.)
Today you can find it, the Jell-O Connection,

the Jiggle, the Angels, and You. (Repeat three times and hit those high notes, though not those ones in the soprano range that you wished you could hit like you did in the bathtub. Maybe next time.)

Big finish, as everyone steps in from wherever they were (your narrator had some peripheral vision problems, you might say, as she pretty much saw no one else, in her incredulity that she managed to finish her song with no tears or all those other unrealized fears, mostly by not looking at any of her loving fans in the audience or anyone else in the real world…)

We’re Radar Angels Lonely Facebook Band,

We hope you have enjoyed the show, etc. (Royal wave, the wrist action, etc. Remember to bow to the band, and yes, you do have to leave the beloved stage, new diva.)

Wild applause, a few tears, euphoria, many levels of gratitude all around. Take some pictures, pack up all of that Jell-O and those new artifacts for the Jell-O Art Museum, and go have a cast party. It's over. Sent into the Jellozone, never to be repeated, but legendary, and nowadays probably available online in a few weeks. You get 15 minutes plus, thanks to youTube, which only has 5 billion users or so. But that isn't all that interesting. Go check your Facebook.
We did more singing. We expressed our thanks and looked at our unbelievably cute pictures on a big screen. We went home and tried to sleep, and I can report that I cannot remember the last time I lay in bed, surprised to find a smile still on my face long past midnight. I’m still smiling, though I doubt I will be able to do a single productive thing today (Wait, what? This isn’t productive?)

You just have no idea how may blogs full of insights and powerful, life-changing realizations I could put here if any of us had the attention span necessary. I love being almost 63, and being able to say that I did something I never knew I would love so much as this, and feared so long as this.

Working in a group of highly creative, giving, brilliant individuals making something from thin air, germinating ideas, embellishing, discarding, being diplomatically critical, being dependable or not, committed in varying degrees, terrified, reluctant, exhilarated, satisfied, perfectionistic and realistic, and getting together repeatedly to focus on something so ephemeral, this is an amazing, and probably fairly common occurrence. Stepping out of the safe background into the maelstrom of risk, taking part, participating in something outside your own little world of safety, this is an everyday action.

Board and committee meetings are something like this, minus the singing and dancing maybe. School projects. Opening days of Saturday Markets. Every busker knows what I just learned. Laugh if you will at old people who state the obvious. Every learner is a curious, semi-aware newborn puppy at some point in their process.

Performers do this, playwrights, chefs, teachers, activists, students, parents, Jell-O artists, lots of people do this. I am happy to say that nothing in my life so far felt like a Radar Angels production, so fully engaging all of my talents and gifts and passions, filling my days and thoughts, leaving me so ecstatic. And yet, it is something so very unsubstantial, so unremarkable, so ordinary and insignificant to the larger worlds that go out from me in this kitchen with this old and clunky laptop. I get that. Do not feel guilty for missing my stage debut. Watch the video somday.

I am here to tell you that you already know the secrets of all Jell-O goo. You feel something, a fear perhaps. You are drawn to it, and repelled. You are terrified and intrigued. You are compelled, however long it takes, to move into it, and through it. You saw those Radar Angel-type people in your neighborhood, you wanted to join them, but you were not asked, or coddled, or that properly nurturing person in the interface did not see that you needed nurturing. I’m sorry. Do keep trying.

Fears are there to be conquered, though it matters not a bit to the larger world if you do so, except maybe on the grand scale of collective consciousness it does matter, a lot. Who knows?

Jell-O Art Show is over for this year. Next year is a very long time away, and a 26th anniversary is not too significant. Fifty, now you’re talking, but that would make me 88, and that is a challenge I don’t have much control over. But I urge you to save the date. That one will be huge.

Thank you all, my fellow Angels, the ones who skipped this year as well, because you are still in it. You are here with me, humans, from frog to queen as if it were as easy as stripping off a converted Ducks graduation gown and a decorated baseball hat or two.

You’re all Queens, and Kings, fairies, whatever you want to be, because the secrets of all Jell-O goo are that there are no rules, no winners and losers, no criticism, no rejections, no judgments, no negativity or violence at all. That is the world we are making.

That is the world we are living in. That is the world we have chosen. We are so happy to share it.This world is collaborative. And gentle.

Time to stop trying to rewrite and describe something not describable, and uneditable.  I have to go cry it out now, and then scrape the Jell-O off my kitchen floor. There are a few things to do before next Saturday, my next public appearance. I hope if find it every bit as heart and soul-warming as I expect to. Maybe see you at that one. Love you.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Jell-O Master

I'm famous again! I really like this interview by Sean Cuellar. She went all out to get great shots, and edited it down to something quite coherent!

Too busy to say much more right now...dress rehearsal tonight, and then on with the Show!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Busy Buzzy Slippery Sloppy Jiggle

It's going to happen! The Jell-O Art Show is just around the corner. This Saturday!
The Jell-O Project 2009

 We have two more rehearsals and then the show will go more secrets, lots more laughs, and then it will all be history: my stage debut, hilarious costumes, excellent sets and props. In the space of about 15 minutes my life achievement bar will be raised a little higher.

I keep trying to tell myself that all of it is not a big deal. Hundreds and thousands of people perform every day, with varying degrees of professionalism, and the performances that give the most satisfaction are the ones in which the performer herself is visibly enjoying the process as well as the transmission. I keep reminding myself how much I am enjoying the process.

I like being a little obsessive; it makes my art feel important and compelling. I don't think it matters one bit that my obsession is focused on Jell-O Art. I love going from piece to piece doing the next steps all at the same time...there is always some detail to pin down before cogitating on the next one. Sometimes I have a vague idea to start with and the final product is something completely unimagined until it emerges.

Creativity just builds on itself. I suppose it collapses at some points...I'm pretending that can't happen, and will deal with it on Sunday after the show. I do not have to be creative one whit on the day after the Jell-O Art Show. I do not have to go on the radio or the TV or answer my phone or anything else if I don't want to. 

But from now until Saturday at 8:00 pm I am ON! Working steadily and relentlessly to perfect what I have finished and finish what I have nearly perfected, I am starting to have a little trouble sleeping.

That's not a bad thing. On Thursday I have to get up really early and create the Jell-O Art Museum on my front porch for KEZI-TV. It will be a bit of a practice run, a bit of a workshop on making Jell-O Art, a bit of historical celebration of my outre ouvre, a bit of acting, some major silliness, and it could go viral if it is delightful enough. 

I've pretty much dropped off the internet radar since my big push to be a famous Jell-O Artist a few years ago. You have to maintain your fame in the intertubes. I've never done a TV interview before. I hadn't ever done a radio interview before either, but Michael Canning at KLCC made it easy (no small thanks to Radar Active, a seasoned promoter of all things Jell-O). It was all over in about five minutes and lots of smiles were exchanged.

And so it will be with the TV, and then with the show. I realized that some of the set pieces I have been slaving over for weeks will be displayed for maybe 60 seconds, or maybe even the 15 or 20 minutes of the performance, and then will be artifacts of little usefulness. (Which I will save for the Museum of Jell-O Art, of course.) So the point is easily seen to not be the final product, or a product at all.

This is something truly ephemeral, something meant to last for only a few hours at most. Anything I try to do to extend its life or magnify its importance will all be lost in a few hours, except in legend.

One of the best things of the last few days was reconnecting many former Jell-O Artists with their Jell-O histories. They haven't forgotten them, but I have only vague memories of most. It is so fun to meet up with someone and have them describe to me, in detail, the classic or failed or ridiculous Jell-O pieces they have made. People remember their fun!

I've started trying to make a list of each year, the theme, and my piece, which may not be as hard as you think, because I have a lot of those old-fashioned photos, the ones on paper. And I have t-shirts, a t-shirt for every year except the first few. Mine started in 1994. I know Mike Martin made one earlier than that, but I don't have it handy. It was just a big Jell-O box with the lettering in red on a white shirt, I think. I used the art again in my first one, 1994, when I made it into Jell-O-Rama. I have faithfully created one each year.

I love these particular shirts, the Jell-O Collection. I get to be completely self-indulgent with the design, and don't care whether they sell or not...if they don't, I give them away to the artists and performers. I sometimes refer to the theme, sometimes quite loosely. I always do them at the last minute, though this year I did it last week, and finished them just in time to get one on TV via MKAC. 

Yes, the Jell-O Art Show costs me three months of productive work time, several dollars in bulk gelatin, blank shirts and piles of art materials, but the payoff is huge for me. Fun like I rarely seem to have it, fun that engages every part of me. Each year I stretch, whether it be in gelatin technique or concept, or in putting on a show as I am doing with the group this year. Fun that builds on itself, does not consume energy without a giant net increase, art that has legs.

This stuff is seductive, brilliant, and delightful, and I know I am not the only one who feels this. Countless onlookers have been engaged and brought into our Jell-O Art world, despite the fact that there are even a few people on my *friends list* who have never seen it, and don't get it. 

Once you are in, you can see where it goes, even if you don't want to go there too. That's okay, just wait. Someday you will see something like gelatin bubbles on a cake, or Bacon Jell-O, and you will be drawn inexorably in. Inextricably. Your doubts and fears will fade as you play. You will find yourself grinning when your piece wobbles off its plate and you have to start over.

This stuff is magic. You have to step over the threshold though. We make it as easy as we can: just come to Maude Kerns on Saturday night at 5:00. Prepare to form some new synapses. 

And a disclaimer: You could be disappointed. Maybe this year there will be no interesting Jell-O sculptures, no new recipes on the Tacky Food Buffet, and all the singers (especially me) will be off-key, fumbly and annoying. The jokes won't be funny. It will be so crowded and you will be in the back and miss everything. We'll have a snowstorm and all the refrigerators will go on the fritz, and all the Jell-O will slide onto the floor, and my costume will rip and I'll fall off the stage and break my other foot.

You see how it can get. Please help. Think lovely thoughts, dream about the brilliant transparency of life and art, and LYFAO.

Repeatedly. See you at the Show!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

You've Never Made Jell-O Art?

Classic piece from 2009
What? We've been going for 25 years and you haven't made any Jell-O yet? Perhaps you don't realize how easy it is.

Relax, you still have two weeks (minus one day) until March 30 when you will be bringing your piece to Maude Kerns Art Center and declaring yourself to be a Jell-O Artist.

Easter is usually a good back-up theme
Go get that box from the cupboard, because I'm guessing you at least have a box of Lime for that family reunion. See how complicated they make it? It is actually basic: gelatin plus water, and the more gelatin, the firmer it gets.
Book made of dried gelatin sheets

Try getting a box of clear Knox brand, which contains 32 envelopes, each containing about 1/4 ounce of gelatin. Then add some extra to the Jell-O brand, to make the traditional Jigglers-type edible stuff, a little firmer than usual, still retaining a bit of jiggle, but more stable at room temperature.

Try a few things, like pouring it into non-traditional molds, anything that will hold liquid and allow you to pry the firm gelatin out. The firmer stuff is easy to get out of molds, holds its shape, and will allow some shaping techniques, like carving.

Some advanced technique and great use of props
Then try a few more things. Make it really, really thick, and as soon as you are comfortable, abandon the Jell-O brand with all of its sugar and chemicals, and use just the pure gelatin. Color it with whatever you have I use dyes, because I have a lot of them around. I also buy gelatin in 25 pound lots on the internet, but you can stick with the Knox until you get a lot more ambitious.

Closeup of a dried piece almost ten years old

One thing that differs with the clear gelatin is that you want to dissolve it by stirring it into cold water, not hot. Let it bloom in the water for about ten minutes, and then melt the stuff in the microwave or on the stovetop. Skim off any foam and throw it away (or use it to decorate your sculpture.) You can remelt the gelatin numerous times until it gets moldy or too stiff.

Wet gelatin will last a few days, so you will want to wait until the week of the show to make your final project, but that still gives you a week to experiment. 

Looked like a good plan...

I work in mostly dried gelatin at this point, because I like the illusion of control and the permanence of the results. Once dried it resembles plastic and lasts for decades. I fill a quart canning jar half full of water and add 6 ounces of gelatin. That makes a very stiff formula that I pour in thin layers in pie plates and cake pans for a glossy surface. Then as it dries I peel it out, tear and cut it into shapes, and turn and tend it for a day or two until it gets dry. There are various stages of flexibility in the process, and again, you can wet it and remelt it and start over.

You can't predict the results!

I glue my dry pieces together with molten gelatin. It's very strong and I have found a million ways to use it as an art material.

But I advise starting with the jiggly kind. It's fun, it's easy, it will clean up off your floor and counters eventually, and let me testify that playing with art, particularly something as beautiful and delightful as Jell-O Art, is highly liberating.

Let your Jell-O Artist out!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Restorative Jell-O

I restored Celeste's dress. Seemed like something I needed to do before moving along into this year's Jell-O Art. I pried off the excess of orchids and leaves that I stuck on there when I appropriated it for my 2011 sculpture. It looks magnificent in its simplicity and now it will get a corner of the Jell-O Art Museum in the full glory of itself.

I settled on a plan for this year's work, something I have been thinking about for a couple of years. I will do a miniature version of the Jell-O Art Museum (plan subject to change, of course...remember what happened to my well-laid plans last year when I broke my heel.)

So I interpreted Celeste's dress in miniature. Loosely interpreted, I should say. I plan to do this for as many of the famous Jell-O Art pieces as I can. It's a cute trick in many cases, and I love the scale of it.

It's a classic move to use Barbies or Barbie-size props in Jell-O Art. Her iconic being lends herself perfectly to the perverted kitschy kitchen-art aspects of using Jell-O for art, adding a layer of metaphor and familiarity, especially for those whose feminist thinking developed around Barbie's warped highheel feet and waspy waist. She's perfect for an apron, another iconic Jell-O Art object (say that with a French accent, please.)

My Barbie stand-in came apart years ago after I tried to get her out of a bath of Jell-O suds that had started to rot. You do not want to memorize the smell of rotten Jell-O, but it is an inevitable part of the total experience.

So anyway, I like using this artist's model that is about the same size. I have a Barbie dressing table and that jewelry case I found last month is on that scale too. I have a lot of photos of Jell-O of the past, and think I can make some recognizable replicas. I'm excited. And that is really the point of all this.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jell-O Research

In case you need inspiration, there's Jell-O all over the internet. Here's just the kind of Sunday morning show we dream of seeing ourselves on...except for the part about the edible stuff, ick. 

The Gowanus Studios shows are on their site, and there are hundreds of links about Liz Hickock, who is fabulous. My blog will come up, and we have a few of our images still popping up in google searches, but you might be amazed how much is out there, and also how much is missing. If you can spell Gelatinaceae, you will find all kinds of me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why Jell-O?

Be assured, I will be providing lots of tips and tricks as we get closer to the Jell-O Show, but really, Jell-O Art is very simple: it all happens with you, in the privacy of your kitchen, where you cannot make any mistakes.

I don't mean you have to be careful, I mean that the nature of the Jell-O Art world is that anything goes. There are no rules. There is no good or bad Jell-O Art, though that does not prevent the mightly artist ego from trying to dominate...maybe that is where you (I) need to work.

The idea is that Jell-O is such a ridiculous medium, so impossible to manage, so clunky to finesse, so resistant to technique, that it can be high art: all self expression. It's something familiar, easily transformed, magical.

There is no critical structure, no evaluating, no rejection and no financial is pure fun. 

The substance itself, its clarity and brilliance, its intense color and seductiveness, will lead you to a place of joy and you just have to follow. 

So put on your apron and free yourself! Jell-O is not food, in our Jell-O Art universe. It is symbolic, representative, evocative, liberating, creative force in action. It's deep play.

At least that is what I have deduced from 25 years of indulging  myself in this media. I consider Jell-O Art to be what made me a "capital A" Artist. Through it I discovered my creative process, my blocks, my fears, my strengths, and my challenges.

My personal creative process goes like this: Start in January, if not sooner. Think about the theme, if there is one, and how it might relate to me. My pieces are almost always self-referential in obvious ways: whatever I did in the past year, and am presently creating, comes to play in my Jell-O.

I bring all of my gathered life-skills with me. Paper-making, screenprinting, cooking, chemistry, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, sewing, you name it: it all works into my piece at some point.

Whomever left this on the roadside must have seen me coming.
So in the beginning I try to stay open, and broad, and just take a blank sheet of paper and start listing every word or phrase that comes to mind. I start to scan my world for things or images that resonate. I shop a little, usually at the Goodwill or library, looking for things that relate, and amuse me. Old Jell-O recipes, images from its 100-year plus history, (I have the book "Jell-O, a Biography" which includes some stuff about our very show) and odd items land on my kitchen counter and my brain makes its vague connections.

At the same time I mix up some gelatin and make something. I might try out a mold I found, or make some flat sheets like I did last year, or some pieces of a particular color. These just get me into the process. I like to leave myself starting places to come back to, so I don't get stuck.

Gradually over the three winter months my ideas coalesce and magic happens. The t-shirts come at the end when my ideas are as ready to transmit as possible, and the show is fairly pinned down. Still, it doesn't happen until it happens, and that three-hour show is the real art piece. It's about way more than the Jell-O for me.

That's some of the thinking behind the scenes, and I'll tell more. You will be happy to know that the performance is in process and has already diverged wildly from any original concept that might have existed in someone's mind. The group creative process of writing the show is quite similar to mine, but multiplied and extrapolated and collaborative and quite wonderful.

My individual role as Queen will be doing a lot of promotion, a lot of assisting, set creation, throwing out clever one-liners, enriching the fiction, stuff like that. It seems that I will also be on stage, but from now on I will try to say very little about the content of the's better if it's a surprise, and that you have to be there to make it happen.

It will be hilarious, there is no doubt of that. It will be HOT! And so cool. It will be so much colorful brilliance and movement your head will spin and your neural pathways will open and you will be forever changed. This is Jell-O Art

So get yourself some Knox brand in the big box. It costs about $9 now I think, though I buy plain gelatin 25 pounds at a time on the internet for about $8 a pound. Mix up a few packets anywhere from 4 to 12 times stronger than the directions (more gelatin, less water.) I usually use 3 oz gelatin per cup of water, as I have been working mainly in dried gelatin for the last few years. Add some color with whatever you have. I use procion dyes because I have a lot of them around, and food coloring is too limited for me.

Mix it in cold water, stir and let it bloom for ten minutes, then melt it in the microwave or on the stove. Then you can pour it in molds, or for the dried gelatin variety, pour it in dishes in layers about 1/8" thick. If you are letting it dry, peel it from the pans and flip it to dry both sides, experimenting with its qualities at various stages. 

Experiment with your medium. It is supposed to be fun. Amuse yourself. Play!

That's all for now. There will be more. You have some time to let it percolate in your brain and soul and heart, because that is where the groove is. Find your groove. Dance.

Groove is in the heart-art-art-art-art....

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Your Jell-O Art Queen is thrilled to report that we have a theme!  i-Jell-o

We even have a slogan: From the Me Generation to the iGeneration.

Think about it, everyone is tuning out from violence and global climate change and wiring into themselves with their iDevices.... Instead of more human connection, which is one of the only known ways to successfully transcend hatred and violence, we have an entire generation tuned into iThings.

Perhaps they are even hooked into the chemical slush that passes for food these days: extruded chemical blends that have a pleasing enough mouth feel to go down easy and the right secret sauce. DON'T YOU KNOW THAT STUFF IS KILLING YOU?

Okay, no one wants to hear another rant on the way those late icons Twinkies and Ding Dongs used to be real cake and how good they used to taste. Jell-O, in contrast, has always been made from calf hooves and other offal (mostly hides, apparently.)  It has never been food in a classic sense of something grown and gathered. It is made from a process. So we will be exploring process.

And in the process something is lost. Imagine if someone, say a Radar Angel, came back after say, twenty-five years, imagine how shocked and appalled they might be at the temperature change, the near end of the world, the death of the iconic Hostess Cakes, and the way the modern young person seems to be wired up to a silent transmitter while hooked up to a silent killer that passes for food. 

It's Too Darn Hot! People are slurping down melted Jell-O, with vodka, no less, and because it is easy, they don't even notice they have stopped eating food. The Radar Angels and Jell-O Art to the rescue!

Your Queen will stop here with the fantasy scenario of what backstory lies behind the theme, because like all good Jell-O Show themes, this one was chosen from a brilliant brainstorm of dozens of great ideas and connections, and it is open to your interpretation. You are the artist, remember that. I expect a grand range of interpretation that far surpasses even my ridiculous imagination.

The actual show and performance may diverge wildly from the said theme  by the time March 30 2013 rolls around. I'm not even one of the people who usually takes the theme from concept to comedy but this year I got to take notes at the brainstorm and it was really, really hot. People just stripped down to their wings and their Wonder Bread wrapper underwear and we didn't even have time to finish the wine and hummus.

Since there are people working on performance now, all you have to worry about is making your Jell-O, and of course bringing it to the show. You are free to interpret the theme in any fashion that appeals to you, or to totally ignore it and bring the Jell-O you had planned, or the result of your plans if they go a bit south.

I myself had something totally unrelated in mind, but the way my mind works is dependable, and I already found a little angle from the theme to my piece. That little dotted vowel is so pervasive in life that it has a plethora of facets worth mining and metaphors worth mixing.

So go out there and buy your gelatin (you can actually find non-Kraft gelatin out there to bolster up your iScore in the iCompetition toward iPurity of iNtention). 

This is going to get old quickly, isn't it? Keep it fresh for me, won't you?

In other Jell-O art news, I took a plastic box full of fascinators back East for party wear (my Mom looked utterly stunning in one) and on the way back my suitcase got hijacked for underplane storage when I had planned to carry it. 

I totally forgot my priceless Jell-O Art in its vulnerable top pocket, and sure enough, the plastic tote didn't hold up. At first it looked like every piece was smashed, but when I got over my hearbreak enough to fix them, I discovered that while nearly every piece had lost a petal or a leaf, they had broken at the joined parts. Within a few minutes, all were good as new! That stuff is strong. 

Structural, even. So that works into my idea, which may or may not involve walls, and my other idea is knitted Jell-O. Yo, Sadie! Let's see if it can be done.  The iWorld needs iSalvation. Or iSalivation. Or iSomething. You work on it. I have to start covering my kitchen with newspaper and filling all my furniture with piles of gelatin projects. It's Open Season on Jell-O!

Wait, we're trying not to use violent language. The non-competitive joyfest that is the Jell-O art peak season has opened for all!                         U-Jell-O too.