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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

You don't want to know-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh


Let's see if I can post the show videos here. Jell-O Maker
Yes, singing is always better in the acoustics of one's head or bathroom, but I am proud of my efforts here. I am obviously a natural at comedy and irony and I will learn to do makeup in the mirror too.

I rewrote this song from a parody of Led Zeppelin's D'yer Maker written by Radar Angel Robert Gillespie. I never liked the group so didn't go listen to the song, dissing it. Once I heard the original I had to have it for my act. He was graceful as I mangled the verses. I left the choruses intact, and he rocked the ending. This is an all-purpose song that could easily be expanded to be more explicit, like in Robert's second verse when he actually answers the burning question. Hides and hooves, people. We will have to know. So expect to see it at the Oregon Country Fair, where the Radar Angels shimmer liquidly about spreading joy and welcome. 

I (I mean Queen McWho) had to get pulled off-stage by Vanna-T after she and Alex caught on to the fact I was trashing Jell-O and reverting to my 60's radical roots as of course any Radar Angel would likely do if they had the chance to appear on Jeopardy. We didn't need to do that, but actually I tried to write in as many moments of ordinary jeopardy in life into the script as I could. Lots of people ran with that aspect of the theme, which more than anything else reminds me how much this is art. 

It includes writing and every kind of creativity. The imagination. Love it.

I hope people caught the hammer and bell as the tools I chose to use to survive. Thanks, Pete.

During our brainstorming period one of our underlying themes was Dead People We Love. If you think about it most of our characters were those, or symbols of those, like 50's housewives, my mother's generation. Mark Roberts as Alex Smart used that in his improv, introducing the contestants as *the longest dead,* and Shirley was the newest dead person or something, it was hilarious. He hadn't done it at rehearsal. Mark hardly needs to rehearse. He could stand up and do it differently each time and it would always work. He helped write the show, and the ukelele of Mark and Nan McCloud really made the tone. I shouldn't single anyone out though, as everyone in the group brings a part of what we need. I commend everyone for keeping to the consensus process so we are all powerful.

After two or three long brainstorming sessions with the 8-12 person groups, Mark, Indi Stern and I wrote the script by taking notes of all the things everyone said at the first few meetings and trying to form them all into a coherent story. It was excellent fun, like making a collage, and we put in as many levels of humor and meaning in there as anyone could think of. Each person in the large group had to leave many of their favorite ideas tattered in the corner. We tried to fit together Jeopardy, Saturday Night Live, and brought Vanna from Wheel. There were jokes in there that weren't really even in there. We had to cut the show in half at one point. We left Bill Cosby out completely, for one. But we have time, he's still alive. That whole writing project was terrifically stretching and I will be happy to continue polishing those group skills.

Here is to all the dead people we love, who are as much a part of flowering spring as they are of cold winter. Here's to Gil, who never missed a Jell-O Show and always came resplendently dressed. Here's to Jimmy Siemens, who graced our stage in 2013 at the request of his daughter Tania, and made it a real family show with her mother Annemarie and partner Larry, and Tania's husband Jorge also in the band, and their son Noah on the stage too. Jimmy played his last and we are grateful. Here's to Roger, who often played in those ruffled sleeves, here's to Lee, who took the slides that are so very valuable. Radar Angels Christi and Charlene will always be with us. Family members far too many. So many people, not forgotten. 

Hope, my mother-in-law, memorialized in my piece that year. Both the collar of my dress and the ruffled skirt with the polka-dots came from Hope's fabric collection. I always have at least a few items from her  in use. Spring brings flowers and Jell-O, with which we honor our losses.

Death, renewal, Jell-O in the compost and jello in flight.




Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sick of Jell-O

What? You're tired of hearing about Jell-O Art and all of its many charms? Yeah, me too. But really I'm just nervous. I think I finished up my piece yesterday, though I have to try to take it outside to photograph today and could break it. Better to break it today than on Saturday when I won't have the time to fix it.

I'm tired of rehearsing, too, as we meet almost every evening to go through the show and the songs again and again. I need the practice, of course, and need the slight pressure of the timing of my lines and songs, to get comfortable with the speed of it all and most of all, to be able to relax and enjoy it.

That's been one of the big challenges of stepping up into more involvement. It's supposed to be fun. Last year I was so nervous it was more pressure than fun, until it was over, and then the emotional roller-coaster effect was still there, but this year I am trying hard to *get over myself.* Of course I'm nervous. Even seasoned performers have the jitters about things that they can't control. Gazillions of performers get up there and do it anyway, to our great delight and wonder. Them showing their nervousness does not make our experience better. 

So I will focus on smiling, laughing, and having a bunch of fun. That is supposed to be the point, over all of the other minor points like promoting the arts and the Maude Kerns Art Center and the Radar Angels and the Eugene arts scene and all of the other things that come with this. It is going to be fun.

One of the parts I like best is making the funky set pieces and signs and props we need to make our literary points in the short show. I get to make them any way I want to, so I haul out my rusty graphics skills and do some lettering on some cheap posterboard. I spend way too much money and time on things that will have a very brief life. My house is full of them, though I am getting a little more life out of a few this year by recycling them into new pieces. 

Here are a couple of the signs we'll be using for the performance. It's a game show, loosely based on Jeopardy, and it moves quickly so we need visual aids to keep the audience with us. Let's hope they are effective. My memory of past shows is that the uneducated viewer (as I was for years, being all wrapped up in my own Jell-O world) gets only part of the show as it goes by. The songs do persist if they are catchy. We have some really catchy ones this year, so we're all going around singing funny lyrics about Jell-O to ourselves. You might spot me around the neighborhood, or downtown, deep in thought as I try to not revert to the original songs we have hijacked for our silly purposes.

And while I am vitally interested in the deep meanings and connections of it all to the big cosmic pictures, hardly anyone else goes there. Most people embrace the silliness and laugh at my great capacity to take it all seriously. Some people get that, generally other Jell-O artists. Some work full-time at this like I do for this period of the winter and spring. We don't get paid. Our satisfaction is our reward, if we value fun like we should.

I'm still learning to value the fun over the seriousness, so I get some odd looks and have to remember to moderate my intensity. My Jell-O creations are really quite important to me and I am emotionally involved with every single one, even the hair ornaments and headbands. I remember them and love them and they are exalted in my memory and photographs, and there are still so few about the world that it is a pleasant shock to see them. Most of the recipients gamely found a place of value for them, though some have ended up as compost. It wouldn't be the first time someone's artistic creations were undervalued.

It's good for me to feel that sense that even some of my most important friends don't really understand or value this art experience the way I do. Most of my Market people make things every day and making things, however elaborate or impractical, just doesn't always impress them. People who work in precious metals or marble or wood have a bit of a hard time accepting gelatin up in their league, not to mention completely un-credentialed artists who put on gelatinous airs and show in real galleries.

Alas, they have also lost sight of the fun. Let's all try as hard as we can to believe in it, to put the value in fun that it deserves. This year's Jell-O slogan, if we are to believe an ad in Parade magazine, is *Fun things up this Easter* or substitute holiday I suppose, to seem like a new slogan every month or so. (*Fun things up this Memorial Day*?) Let us take our cue from Jell-O itself.

Be transparent, be colorful, be jiggly and be sweet. Melt easily at room temperature. Resist all attempts to tame you and make you ordinary. Be inventive (what makes Berry Blue, that unreal mouthwash color?) and be consistent (over 100 years of amazing desserts, not to even list the many salads and casseroles) but ever new. Re-invent yourself at least every spring, if not more often, and always, always, fun things up if you can.

Suspend the other rules for awhile. Make verbs out of concepts (just funning you here) and concepts into sculpture. Laugh at yourself when you get too far into it. Laugh at each other when you get the chance. Be encouraging to those who aren't where you are yet, and humble about how hard you have worked at this for these 26 years. Take care of each other and let others take care of you. Stay forever young.

No wait, that isn't one of our songs; I'm digressing again. Gotta make some Tacky Food today, and finish the props and my costumes for Dress Rehearsal tonight and Tech Rehearsal tomorrow. Gotta get up early tomorrow and watch Michael from MKAC rock the morning show on KEZI. So glad it is him and not me. Gotta walk my foot around and coddle my voice and eat well and sleep well and make this thing into history so I can get on to the other things in my life.

And put my Jell-O away for a year. I really plan to do this, to put it all up in the attic and not be a Jell-O artist for a bit. It will leak out of course, but I am going to try hard. And that reminds me, did you see the OPB special called Cold Case: JFK last night? It was good, but the best part was the ballistic gelatin. They fired bullets through the gelatin, which behaves like human tissue (sorry if this upsets you) and it was really outstandingly beautiful. I'm not sure why they always make it in that unappealing yellow, but the patterns in slow motion are graceful and fractal, and what's more, it closes back up after the bullet passes through, a completely unexpected effect that makes me think. 

Oh, forget it, I know I won't put it all up in the attic. I'm already thinking about my next piece. It's my true art form. I'm just lucky that I get to fun it up.





Friday, March 21, 2014

Jell-O Workshop Ideas

Tonight we will have a public performance at Cozmic, a benefit for LILA (Lane Independent Living Alliance). One of our main players, Mark Roberts, does this quarterly, with karaoke and fun. I'm working hard to keep down the anxiety and have fun, and mostly succeeding. We'll be singing most of our songs from this year's Jell-O Show, which will be performed for reals next Saturday the 29th, and one of them is "mine" meaning I will be the lead singer, with backups of course.

Another of our players, Robert Gillespie, wrote the original words of the parody of Led Zepplin's D'yer Maker, and it was funny enough as he wrote it, but the Queen of Jell-O Art hijacked it and made it hers, rewriting the verses a tad to fit her selfish purposes. It should be surprising and at least funny if not hilarious.

I'm just beginning to get out of the initial earnestness to just remember it into the comic interpretations which will heighten the enjoyment for the audience, and myself in the process. I'm just beginning to get to the point where I can look at the audience and interact. Let's hope tonight is the moment when I cross over into the real joys of performing, where instead of an anxiety producer it's just a huge fun producer. Everyone says that's how it works.

I haven't been working on my Jell-O, but I still have over a week. I have faith in myself. Getting the shirts done was a major step, and I have a few more of the props and set pieces to finish up. It's rolling toward the inevitable conclusion on the 29th. I know it will all be over in a blink and then back to the mundane life.

I discovered some notes I made long ago when I was doing art workshops in my son's school, about how one might do a Jell-O Art workshop with students. I'll pass them on. People tell me every year that I should teach classes, and maybe someday I will, but anyone who wants to try it with a group of their own is welcome to.

I think this would be best done over several days, but you can decide about that for yourself. Basically you are going to allow the students to experiment with art techniques, using gelatin as the medium. You'll be letting them learn how the substance goes from powder, through the liquid state to the solid state, and even to the dried, permanent state if you have the time and space.

I recommend using the plain, uncolored, unflavored gelatin, sold in stores as Knox and available in bulk as gelatin, used in the food industry for various things. It really is made from animal offal, mostly hides, so if that offends you, you will have to find a way to justify that. I employ irony and the concept that if we are going to farm animals, we are going to have to find ways to use all of the parts. You might just want to hide those facts if you can. You could give a little history if you like. Jell-O brand is over a century old now, and quite well established in cuisine. Personally, I don't eat it anymore.Some kids might get confused about the ediblity of it, but I would suggest making it clear that this is not the kind to eat, though of course in your own kitchen you can make it clean enough to eat if you choose.

Depending if you want jiggle or not, you are going to mix the powder into water in some proportion to suit your end product. The package directions are 1/4 oz (one little Knox packet) to one cup of water, and with that you still get jiggle, but a longer gel time and you will need to refrigerate it. Make it stronger and you diminish the jiggle, but it will harden at room temperature and won't easily melt. For the dried kind that I make, I use 3 ounces gelatin per cup of water, and sometimes more. Somewhere in between there will be the hardness you want, so you might have to make a few test batches to see.

So have the kids sprinkle the gelatin into the cold water, stirring, and wait 5-10 minutes while the gelatin blooms (absorbs water.) It will be in a cloudy, semi-solid state, and you then can melt it in the microwave for a minute or two, depending on the quantity. With smaller kids you might want to do this for them in one container and divide it up, or microwave several containers at once. Obviously you will use microwave-safe containers. I use canning jars. Then you have to let it cool a little and it clears up into a yellowish liquid. Add some color at this stage if you like, food coloring, dye, paint, whatever you have. No one is going to eat this, but of course in schools you have to use non-toxic materials just in case.

If it has foam on the top, you can skim that off, or just use it anyway. Bubbles won't ruin the results. Next you carefully pour it into your chosen mode of setting. One choice is molds, probably the easiest. Most anything can be used for a mold: plastic blister paks, plastic dishes, actual molds, candy or Jell-O; or advanced students can make their own molds. If you have something you want to use that has a hole in it, you can plug that with modeling clay. To make simple molds you can press objects into clay or warm wax to make an impression. Plastic toys that don't have a lot of small detail and crevices might be fun for kids. You could use the first day to make the molds if you wanted and to do a demo.

For the dried stuff I do, pour the liquid in a thin, 1/8" or so layer in pans or dishes, and let it set. In a couple of hours (maybe less) at room temp (you could speed that up by making it stronger or chilling it) it is firm enough to take it out of the pan, (try running something around the edge, a butter knife or your fingernail). Then you have to flip it and tend it a bit as it dries. I lay it partially over the edge of the dish so it gets a little air underneath and dries on both sides, but you could just leave it until the next day and flip it then.

It goes through various states of flexibility as it dries, so you could design some experiments with that in mind. Once it is completely dry, it is like plastic and you can then glue the pieces together with melted gelatin to make whatever you like. If this isn't too open for your artists, you can expand this with planning and designing.

If you don't want to dry it, take it out of the molds and play with it, try other art tools like clay tools on it, see what you can do. It's not very cooperative, so this can be frustrating or highly creative. You can glue the jiggly chunks with the melted gelatin, you can try to build with them like blocks; it's pretty open.

It will mold after a few days, so plan to compost it or throw it out. The dried stuff lasts practically forever, and you could embed a string to hang it, mount it on a stand, put it under glass, or do whatever makes it seem like art. You could try making paintings with it in liquid form or by sprinkling the powder on colored paper. If you are a teacher you probably already have some ideas. Classroom management might be the hardest part when you get silly like this. Plan other activities for the waiting times.

I hope this minimal introduction gives you some ideas. I find it quite magical and the qualities of transparency and glossiness are so very attractive. You can do a lot with color theory and you can do some impossible things spatially with it too. I have made long thin strings of it dried into curly plumes and made wonderful headbands that look extremely magnificent even though they have a tendency to poke people if you are a big hugger. Alas, there are dangers with any art form if you are not careful. Molten gelatin is not fun to spill on yourself, as it keeps burning and sticks to you as it cools, so be prepared to wash quickly if you get it on you, or keep it cool enough that no one will get hurt. You don't want to boil it over in the microwave either, and I have poured it into jars with miniscule defects and had the jar break...that is truly a mess. If you do spill, wait a bit and let it harden so you can peel it up in one piece. Don't step in it.

Please message me at dmcwho@efn.org if you have questions.This is supposed to be fun, so try to remember that and let yourself go into the magic. Bring your results to the Jell-O Art Show! There is no bad Jell-O art, and it is quite empowering to put your creation on a pedestal in a gallery and hobnob at the opening with a bunch of other prominent and significant local artists. Everything goes at the Jell-O Show. Everything literally goes at the end of the evening, but you are welcome to enjoy your art at home as long as it lasts.

And if you really want some fun, make something edible, maybe from candy molds or a vintage recipe, or a new recipe from the internet, and watch people eat it from the Tacky Food Buffet. Make sure to use all of the rules of cleanliness the health department would require, as you most definitely don't want to make anyone sick. If you can't assure the safety, just get some marshmallow peeps and arrange them in a diorama, a somewhat related art form we also love.

Whatever you do, come to the show! We raise funds for Maude Kerns Art Center so they can do other types of art workshops and programs, and you know you want to support that. See you on the 29th!




Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wings and Things

Is it really procrastinating when you involve yourself in another productive task instead of the difficult one? I shot the screens for the Jell-O Show shirts yesterday, with some other screens, and after three tries I went back to the drawing board. I'll try the screen again in a minute, but first: A preview. The art looks good, but photos are really hard to reduce to the proper black and white elements sometimes. We'll see.

 

Here's a preview of my piece, too, which I expect to complicate but has a gorgeous simplicity at this point. I suppose I can always return to that, but I have plans for feathers and such. I made a beak/eyes for it too, but will wait to attach them after I have handled it. I wouldn't want to break the tip of the beak. Dried gelatin is incredibly tough, and this stuff on the net carrier is pretty strong too, but I can moisten it to bend it and shape it, plus I could sew it onto the stick, which helped a lot. I promise it will look more like a bird soon.



And I seem to be working on a few headpieces for the show as well. We have this one song that just cries out for Jell-O on our heads.  I have practically none of these left, having abandoned for the most part my plans to sell Jell-O. I plead Artist on that one. I just can't sustain interest in some aspects of my art, and selling it is one of the most problematic. People's tastes change so rapidly, and I am completely burnt out on trying to be fashionable, a big challenge for me to begin with.

I hadn't been making these for about a week, discouraged by that place I can get to where I know my imaginary sculpture is not going to be met by my physical results...I was afraid it wouldn't look at all like a bird. I am over that! 

I blame the Babes With Axes. I forced myself out of my hermitage for the evening to see their reunion concert, and the rewards were great. I felt like family, and a part of the history. When I first met Debbie, she was not making music publicly. She was a single mom with three kids and was just starting out here, seeing what was possible, seeing if it would fit with what she had to do to survive. She could sit down at the piano, though, and not only play well, but sing while she did it, and when she applied her prodigious sense of humor and appreciation for life to the mix, she wowed me. She wasn't new to music, but it was new to me to watch someone work through the challenges of putting oneself out there. I was sure I could never do it, and wasn't sure it was worth the emotional risk. Debbie never stopped moving though. Indi related that during that time the Radar Angels, always hungry for talent with a twist, asked Debbie to play with them for a couple of shows, and this helped her gain confidence locally. She didn't exactly "get her wings" through it, since she already had some giant, fluffy ones, (picture that) but it is nice to think of her as part of that family too.

Debbie said when she first heard Katie and Laura sing, she prepared a third part and went to them, scared, to propose singing together. They all had moments when they thought "Oh, they will never want to sing with me." I suppose these are common thoughts. I remember when I won the shower curtain prize at one of their shows, I got to go on stage, and blabbered something about always wanting to be on stage with the Babes....I was studying them at the show, their stage presence (stellar), their techniques for working together, their well-practiced arrangements and harmonies. I would so love to be able to sing harmonies like that.

I always wanted to be on stage with the Radar Angels, too, and now I am. Wonders never cease. And all through Jell-O. Thanks for the shout-out, too, even though they almost forgot to thank their t-shirt printer. (Indi hollered out from our seats.) Then Debbie, I think, said something about a Jell-O Brain...and I had just been thinking that very day about borrowing a brain mold from someone to use as a prop. Synchronicity and the magic of Jell-O Art, I say!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Filling the Dance Cards

The proper formalities have been exchanged and the raining Slug Queen will give the benediction at our Jell-O Art Show. We do this all by Facebook now instead of sending our well-dressed pages and squires and jesters, in those carriages we had to give up for lack of sufficient horsefeed. This was our recent epistolary fast-fiction (it does not seem that epistolary is commonly used as a noun, though it should be):

Esteemed Colleague,
Please consider this your official invitation to appear at the ever-loveable Jell-O Art Show on March 29, 2014. If, at around 7:00 pm, you could favor the gathered crowds and the art with your benediction, we would so appreciate it.

Thanking you in advance for the great honor of your company, I remain,
Queen McWho
Queen of Jell-O Art

 
Your radiance.
I will be there in all my finery.

The Right Royal Gastropod,
Siren of Science,
Truly Mad Genius,
Queen Professor Doctor Mildred Slugwak Dresselhaus

I do like being recognized as radiant. The Truly Mad Genius Queen Professor Doctor Mildred Slugwak Dresselhaus will be very busy this month (she always seems to be concocting something spicy) as she is holding her Gala on March 15. Find it here on Facebook. There will be a pie contest! They will be auctioned off, so some might presumably be eaten. http://oco.uoregon.edu/spice/pi-pie-contest. Of course this is a benefit and not just a ploy for her to buy more lime green accessories, so be generous with your support. By the way, you can always bring pie to the Tacky Food Buffet, and it is not required to include Jell-O as an ingredient (in fact, feel free to use actual food in your pie.)

And because I can, I will also plug the Babes With Axes Reunion concert which will be at the WOW Hall next weekend, March 8, and it will be another one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances as so many events are these days. Not many choices there, go or miss it. I made the t-shirts, so buy one while you are at it.

Save a few bucks for the Jell-O Show shirt, too, which will only be available at the Jell-O Show. It will be a cute one. I will give you an important insider hint about the show we are writing: this will be Jell-O Celebrity Jeopardy. Don't try to guess. You may know we have included portrayals of such important figures as Paula Deen and Sarah Palin in the past, so we could include anyone by the time we are finished.






5:44pm Feb 25

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Behind the Scenes

This will be my second year working on the show behind the Jell-O Art Show, and it has me excited. It jiggles parts of my creativity that aren't always in play. I love to write, and have a sharp sense of humor for double-entendre, puns, and satire, not that my jokes don't fall flat a good part of the time. Writing the script is a hoot. We do it in a group, with a few of us recording the ideas and putting them in sort of an order, which is refined every time we meet. At this point in the process we meet at least weekly, probably twice, and we do email exchanges as well. It's terrifically entertaining.

Brainstorms with creative people are so surprising. It's not easy to be a person whose divergent ideas hop all over the intellectual map, but when you get a lot of us in a room together, what is "normal" changes and the atmosphere opens up. There's such a fine line connecting creativity with wackiness, and being able to bring your wackiness to the table makes it all so much fun. I'm having a blast.

The Radar Angels use costuming a lot to express the wackiness, which is what makes the act so perfect for Oregon Country Fair, another venue where the Jell-O songs go when they are not being used for Jell-O Shows. I've never performed with them there, since I have a booth and last year had a wedding and a booth, but here is a clip of what it can look like: http://vimeo.com/86730890 . I'm actually thinking of taking quick breaks from my booth to appear with the Radars this year, just dropping in for a song or two within my retail madness. We'll see about that. I used up a lot of my booth capital last year during the wedding activities, so I need to be more focused this year. That's not until July, though.

Such a huge group! We don't have quite as many for Jell-O, and that's good, because the stage is not that large. Many of the songs, however, serve for both events. We will also be performing at a benefit for LILA on March 21, at Cozmic. That's a week before the Jell-O Show, so some of it will be a sneak preview.
I myself, as a performing newbie, am pretty intimidated by the bigger public stage, but planning to work up to it. Quickly.

I am practicing my songs at home and having a blast thinking about my character(s) and how they might perform. I can tell you that the theme is Jell-O Jeopardy, so will of course include elements of the game show, which I watch every day so will easily be able to write in the little details that matter. I can also tell you that since this is Jell-O Jeopardy, the similarities will quickly diverge.

Our crowds don't hold us to anything, though, in fact, I think the Jell-O Show more than anything else celebrates divergence. It is all about revolutionary social change, from within, starting with the most mundane life activities, such as eating. I have been a Jell-O Artist from the first show in 1988. I admit I was not there when the idea generated, but knowing the generators, I always assumed it came from radical feminist politics. I don't think that was just me. We had to step out of our kitchens and kick down the last artistic barriers for women and bring all of our sisters and mothers and daughters along with us. Okay, men and boys can come, and probably need it even more than we did, but I grew up in the 1950's, when liberation of women was just gaining a little traction after millenia of trying. I saw how deadened we were supposed to be, how good. (Does it matter that I was also raised Catholic? Yes, very much so. But that is a big subject we can't get to here. You will notice it on the Tacky Food Buffet, and the pagan scheduling of April Fools/Easter/Spring.)

So there has always been an educational piece, a liberation, and a mentorship and empowerment for others. It has never just been putting on costumes and flouncing around in public. That is just one of the benefits. The shows are actually carefully written and constructed to apply a wacky finish to real social issues and real, cosmic change. There has always been an element of bringing out the angel and princess and queen in each other, and anyone who happens into our circles. We want you all to get your wings and fly higher than you dreamed.

Life is participatory, although it is difficult to engage people from these selfish, protected environments most of us construct for our personal comfort and safety. Jell-O Art as a vehicle for liberation has some essential qualities that just make it natural. It's so gorgeous and mystical as a substance, so jewel-like and perfect. The transparency and jiggle are qualities that just beg to be used. It matters some that it is both a simple and an uncooperative art material to work with. It can be a real artistic challenge to make a statement with Jell-O, but of course, in our world it matters not if you make a statement. You don't have to. You can just play with it.

Elevating it on a pedestal and calling it art is also quite revolutionary. Even after 26 years it is seldom taken seriously, or at least a tongue is planted in a cheek when the art is viewed. I personally have always fought against evaluation of the art, erecting a critical structure like other types of art, because I feel so strongly that making that level of good or bad Jell-O Art will just drive people away and miss the point completely.



I do plenty of internal evaluation of my Jell-O, and take it very seriously in terms of challenging myself with technique and execution and meaning, but I don't want any of that coming from the outside world. I don't want there to be any rejection in the world of Jell-O Art. It creeps in, of course, and some comes with my ego attached, but I really try hard to stomp on those impulses and prideful thoughts that separate artists and cause them to compete. Life is hard enough. Art should be easy to enter, easy to explore, easy to grasp from whatever place you are in, and ought to stick with you and make you think and expand your own life.

Other arts can be otherwise, but Jell-O Art is in its own category. This is an outsider category and the rules are continually discarded if possible. There are no rules. Express!

So if you do get a chance to participate in the show, I want you to know that there is a deep history and political perspective behind your fun. This is important to me, as I look at my life and see my Jell-O Art as my premier life expression. It is the place I have been able to take my inner artist and really give her the full stretch of her wings. Sure, I can make any t-shirt or tote bag or hat that I want, and I am free in so many ways in my life and my work, but Jell-O is my essence.

When I was crowned in 2012, in the surprise "Queen for a Day" skit the Angels had planned for a year, my eyes were opened to a whole new realm of the show I had sort of ignored. This reveals how fear works in the art world...I had always thought of myself as someone with stage fright, who could never perform in a public setting. I don't quite know where that came from...a lack of imagination perhaps, because I don't remember a traumatic incident or anything. I just had that sense that even though I could sing and dance well enough, I would clutch on stage and croak voicelessly to my humiliation. I was aware of the fear and kind of wanted to shed it. One time I won a prize at a Babes with Axes show and confessed that I had always wanted to be on stage with the Babes, so yay, but I never pushed to get there.

You know how those inner messages persist. Fortunately for me, Indi and the other Angels also persist, and when they got me up on stage in 2012, and I sang along with them, and babbled an acceptance speech, and cried in front of strangers and felt that pure joy, I got over myself a little. In 2013 I joined the writers and performers and they propped me up enough that I sang a song, into a mic, and I guess it sounded okay. I didn't get to see a video, and maybe I sounded awful and no one will tell me, but I'm guessing my fears are speaking there again and I was just fine. At any rate, it was such a rush! I was over the top with excitement, which was of course disturbing in its own way, but I certainly survived, didn't croak (conveniently I was in a frog costume, so it wouldn't have mattered), and had a blast.

At the same time I was singing a bit on Saturdays with the also persistent and empowering Rich, (the two of us visible at the very end of this eclectic clip advertising the uncontrollable and amazing,  SM You-Tube,) so over the last two years I have relaxed and gained a little confidence about participating in music, just as I did over the last 26 about participating in art. That is the way the arts are supposed to work, at their best.

I'm almost sixty-four years old, and despite never taking a real art class except for a month-long calligraphy class in the seventies in NYC, I have based my entire life on artistic expression. This is powerfully profound to me. I didn't sign up to get the credentials, the student debt, the critical permissions: I have always been an outsider. That was the hippie way and it worked for me. The qualification for all that is that there will not necessarily be money attached, but one of the tenets of the hippie way was that we don't put money at the top of our personal hierarchies. That particular type of power comes with so many complicated compromises.

Of course poverty is limiting in a profound way, so compromises have been made, but out of those came Saturday Market, LCFM, and OCF, and they were fruitful and important compromises to make. They have benefited millions of people. And although the Radar Angels don't make a lot of money when they perform, they do get paid and are therefore professional. I admit I have made money from Jell-O Art, not much, but I sell the shirts every year and at least break even most years. Part of the reason money is attached to parts of our expression is just for survival. Those glittery costumes are not always free (though I will always look in a free box just in case...I have a sewing machine.)

So to get to a point, I invite you to try a level of participation in the Jell-O Art Show, for whatever reason appeals to you. I discovered the "flow state" of deep artistic immersion when working on Jell-O, discovered my creative process, and declared myself as an Artist, but for you it just might be a little bit of fun in the kitchen outside your usual activities. It's a personal walk through the art world, so do it at your own pace.

I urge you to do it, though. Within the Jell-O frame or not, if there is something holding you back from true expression of your desires, your delights, your passions for change, even your political stands, I urge you to kick out the jams and add some jiggle. Try it. This is your perfect opportunity, and your Queen demands wishes for you only the best, the richest artistic life you can live. You have nothing to lose but your clean kitchen.

Jell-O can eventually be scraped off your floor and dug out of your carpet. You can throw it in the compost and walk away if you feel the tinge of failure, or take it to the show, put it on a pedestal, give it a title and see what happens. One angel's garbage is another angel's lift. We all want to sit on a cloud. Let me lend you a little puff of hot air.







  




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What to say about Jell-O?

February is more than half over and nothing is as far along as I thought it would be by now. Maybe there is plenty of time; probably there is just the right amount of time as the art will expand to fit the time. I am definitely feeling the pressure, though.

I've made a few more pieces for my heron, but haven't really gotten into it in that way I love to immerse. Every weekend I expect to, so maybe the next one. I did get the idea that maybe peacock feathers would make good bird eyes, so I encased a couple of them in clear gelatin. Oddly, one lost all of its color. Oops, Science. The colors on feathers are a quality of light and reflection...and the gelatin spoils that. I assume that one has gelatin that is too thick, because the other one worked okay, and the gelatin seems thinner.

I also learned that I can reduce the foam that forms in the jar if I remelt the gelatin twice, for short times, just enough to melt it but not enough to get it boiling. It settles down and relaxes and there isn't as much to throw away. Just a tiny point of interesting data collected by doing something over and over again. I'll probably quickly forget that I learned that and continue just skimming off the foam.

The Jell-O Show performers are well on their ways to having a show. Just today the narrative came together into something more or less coherent, and soon we will write the jokes and learn the songs. I wish I could tell you about it. I told a few things to my Mom and got her laughing. It sounds pretty crazy out of context.

You might remember more shows than I do. Most of the time I failed to get up front to actually see and hear the show and busied myself with selling t-shirts in the back room and missed the fun, or most of it at least. Add to that a pretty poor memory for performance and such, and that sent me on a You-tube search for Radar Angels and Jell-O Art Show videos. There are a few, some snippets and some pretty long clips. Not nearly enough of them.
I love this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vuu3ofp92Uc It really has it all. Even great harmony!

I'm so new to the show production that I'm still in awe of how it seems to magically go together. Really, of course, it is a step-by-step bunch of work done by a few people, or in some shows a lot of people, and the mystery is that they can keep doing it so wonderfully year after year.

And yeah, t-shirts. I have to make some. I'm getting an idea or two...we'll soon see! Just about a month and a week to go. Aargh. No wonder I can't sleep.



Friday, January 24, 2014

Jell-O Jeopardy

We have a theme for the 2014 Jell-O Art Show:  Jell-O Jeopardy. That's just about all I am going to tell you about it, because you are the artist and you have to interpret. 

I can go off on the word Jeopardy, from the TV show (which I for one faithfully watch) to the whole idea of danger and guilt...and innocence, then, because Jell-O embodies innocence and purity so it could be fun to explore its dark side.

I'm sure as the months pass we can all find a way to interpret it and have some fun with it. Working with the theme is certainly optional if it doesn't inspire you, but don't rule it out, as sometimes magic happens and the thing you were working on that seemed unrelated finds its connection. 

One of my favorite TV shows with the fabulous Alex Trebec will also surely inspire all kinds of thoughts, though. All of the questions and answers, the silly format of answering in questions, all of it can be rich for satire. The performers who gathered will be thinking up skits, characters, and songs that expand on the title and it is guaranteed that the performance will be topical, hilarious, and embarrassing for someone, at least. It's not too late to get involved with the performers, especially if you have a connection with one of us and have been holding back for some reason. The group is different every year and people skip years to deal with personal challenges, so we might have just the spot for you.

Some of us have admitted that we know nothing about Jell-O Art or the Show, so if you are in that category, start looking around the internet immediately. Google Jell-O Art, gelatin art, Gelatinaceae (a word I made up to describe my dried-gelatin flowers) Jell-O Artists, Jell-O Art images, and so on. Try to filter out the plain Jell-O references, as we are a specialized area of Jell-O, and I am the Queen of Jell-O Art, nothing like those other queens who make molded salads and wrestle in little kiddie pools of goo. There are other Jell-O artists, most notably David Gibbs of Portland (and our show), Liz Hickok, who makes cities and other large displays and is quite famous for it, and the Gowanus Studios in Brooklyn NY who have an annual show that is quite different and much younger than ours, but also inspired and inspiring.

You might be able to pick up a copy of the book I described in my last blog, Jell-O: A Biography, or look at the Maude Kerns Art Center archives for lots of photographs. They've been good about documenting at least the last few shows. Our videos might be on You-Tube, as they were shown on the community TV station, but my laptop is touchy these days and I can't watch any videos at the moment. There is, of course, the one made last year by Sean Cuellar of KEZI which is still watchable through their website.

So now you have no excuses for not "getting" the Jell-O Art Show, at least a surface view. It is, of course, a deeply transformative Rite of Spring and personal artistic experience unparalleled in the Art World, and I have written extensively on that in my previous blogs both here and at divinetension.blogspot.com, my personal blog which used to be about everything until I attempted to separate my Jell-O Art from my other pursuits. And my facebook page Gelatinaceae has photos, and will continue to provide updates to its miniscule group of followers.

Okay? Get busy. Do your research and start planning your Jell-O art piece. There are certainly some techniques yet to try, and some fun to be had. If you are one of those people who can still bear to eat the pretty and sweet stuff, go for it and try some recipes. The old ones are fascinating and all of the new techniques to make things like "Fluff" (just heard about that one last night) are fun to do and easy. We have a thing called the Tacky Food Buffet which is also an integral part of the show and a big attraction. The tables are emptied over and over and you would be amazed what our fans will try. Tacky Food does not have to include Jell-O or marshmallow peeps, in fact chocolate-covered Brussels sprouts were a popular item one year, and various aspics and molded salads containing tunafish are often spotted and consumed. It has to be fun, or tacky, which is pretty easy if you shop at any supermarket or look in any cookbook. Anyone can bring food for the Tacky Food Buffet, though it has to be edible and safely prepared, even though patrons know they eat at their own risk. Luckily Jell-O doesn't support many bacteria in its carefully prepared state. I have a hard time thinking of it as food, but I usually do prepare some for others who are more willing. People enjoy biting the heads off of religious figures made of red Jell-O, what can I say.





Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Jell-O Birthdays

More details: the Radar Angels are working on a theme and title for the 26th Annual Jell-O Art Show, and you will hear it here first. It's like stirring up a stew, getting the creative minds together. 

Monday was my son's birthday, so I celebrated by making Jell-O Art. I made my mom, Rita, a present for her 88th birthday, an experiment in mailing...I put a gelatin flower in a glass jar, packed it up, and we'll see how strong it is. I might have to repair it a bit next time I go. Jell-O Art maintenance is part of the art. Dusting, at minimum, so that's why the glass jar. I've been doing that recently, making it lower maintenance and maybe longer-lasting. 

I had the flower left over from the wedding; there were four of them, burgundy and purple, and they were quite nice, so I'm happy to be finding uses for them. I think she needed a new piece, as she has one of the first I made, years and years ago.

In the realm of technique, I forgot to tell people what to do if you forget to pry your drying gelatin out of the pan before it gets stuck. Simply moisten until it is pliable enough to unstick. I put a little water in there, swirl it around, and let it sit for 5-15 minutes. You can also try melting it in the microwave, only about 15 seconds or so should do it. Some of the pieces I had to rehydrate became delightfully stretchy, so should end up in some new shapes.

And the reason I order my pure gelatin online and don't use the packaged types, is that I use a lot of it. The bag in the photo holds about 4 pounds. You can certainly start with the Knox big boxes and tear open those envelopes. I did that for years. It's convenient, and if you are making edible or jiggly for the show you might just want to use it to thicken the Jell-O or Royal brand (and I always buy the Royal so it will continue to get shelf space.) Don't get too ambitious too soon, either, because moldy Jell-O smells terrible.

These big foot-square pieces of bluish grey are for the life-size heron I'm building. 

I used some net as a carrier and will moisten it when I make the shapes I want. It could go over the back to support wings. I'll need lots of layers so I just make a lot of large pieces, using the lids of plastic tubs or even plastic wrap on a table to pour out thin layers. It can be uneven. I think that is what causes some of the interesting distortions while drying.

 One great aspect of fabric backing is that you can sew it, or sew things to it. Accessories like as wings can be heavy.

 Okay! I'll keep you posted. Keep thinking about what  will be funny in this April Fool's Day. On March 29, to be exact.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Put a Jell-O Out Tonight! (1970)

People may not realize how often I quote Jell-O slogans. Over the one-hundred years plus of Jell-O brand, there have been many, and they are quite useful for laughs and inspiration for art. Even though there are months until the show (March 29, 2014!) you can start to play around with your medium, and that is on my list for today.

I mix my gelatin in a quart canning jar, filling it half full with COLD water. Room temp is fine, but don't make the mistake of using hot water, which I did for years and years, as it gets quite lumpy. The gelatin needs to bloom in the cold water (absorb water, basically) and after some minutes, five or ten, you can melt it. My current recipe is 6 ounces of dry gelatin powder for the 2 cups of water. That is really strong, and you can use less, so if you are using the Knox envelopes, start with making it about four times the box recipe, and experiment from there. The amount depends on the end use.

 I melt it in the microwave, but you could do it in a water bath or make the stuff in a saucepan if you like. Two minutes in the microwave should be more than enough, or one more, but then let it settle a little and it will get more clear. Skim off the foam and spread it on a plastic lid or dish for later use as seafoam or slime or throw it away, if you want. Divide the rest into smaller jars with dye, or get right into the big batch.

I vastly prefer making dried gelatin so that it lasts and I can do more with it over a longer stretch of time. It loses the jiggle, but you can add dye to make it any color you want, and the dried has a lot to recommend it. My next favorite method is using molds, and you can use most anything for a gelatin mold. I collect plastic items, especially if they have interesting textures or suggestive shapes (did you ever notice how the blister pack for light bulbs are boob-like?) but you can use anything you can get the gelatin out of. It gets pretty hard to move as it dries, sticking to the surface with great strength, so flexibility helps.

Decorative chain by David Gibbs
I generally pour the colored goo in thin layers (less than an eighth inch) in glass pie plates, etc., but be warned that it can pull chips of glass right off if it gets super dried, so you will not want to use the same dishes for food. Find a level spot for it to sit for a few minutes, and it will harden at room temp, so no need to juggle those dishes into your fridge. After a few hours of drying in a warm spot (on top of the piano for me) you can peel off the sheet, tear it up, and flip the pieces to dry further. It can take a couple of days or only one, depending on thickness.

You will want to play with the pieces to shape them and explore the stages it goes through, some flexible and even stretchy. You can re-hydrate it at any point, remelt it, start over, but it does get moldy if you make it too thick, don't flip it enough, or forget about it. You can pry it out of the molds intact if you do it at the right time, but small parts might break off. No problem: liquid gelatin makes a great glue (this is where the term glue factory comes in...) to stick the pieces back together, and this is how you make sculptures of various pieces. You have to prop them up or hold them together for a minute, and you can maybe break them apart later, but the glue is reliable for the most part. A one-ingredient art form!

By "unknown artist"
Message me, at dianemcwho@gmail.com, or on Facebook (I have a Gelatinaceae page as well as my own, Diane McWhorter) if you have more questions, but I will continue to go over some of these details again, as we all form our concepts and our art pieces. You will bring a piece to the show this year, right? I guarantee it will be a good one, the show that is, but your piece as well. Because, and you may not believe this at first, there is no bad Jell-O Art. There isn't a critical or evaluative structure for Jell-O Art, and you can believe we will not reject any pieces from our show, even if they look like a nude woman on a plate or include bullets. (I made a Jell-O AK-47 once, and there have been lots of boobs and derrieres.) We are Artists in the true mold!

Make art, and you are an artist. All the better if it is imbued with meaning and has scientific import, but the main concept we promote is FUN. Make some fun (1979). The quickest way to find a smile (1987.) Don't say no, say Jell-O (1975.) If you want to find more slogans, there is a great book called Jell-O: A Biography, written by Carolyn Wyman, that you can probably find somewhere. I just pulled out my copy, and the glossy surface is kind of flaking off a little, because maybe I spilled some gelatin on it. Or maybe, just possibly, Carolyn covered her book cover in gelatin. No, probably not, I suppose I spilled.

Violet, about 10 inches across
Oh, and if you want to do a favor for your Queen, I have dropped off the google pages for Jell-O Art, gelatin art, Jell-O artists, images, etc. I could barely find myself, and my Mom is telling people to look me up, so if you have some time, google around and click on me and my pieces, or David Gibbs' pieces, or anything but those gorgeous edible flower things or the moldy San Francisco. Usage is the same as importance online, so use me and get me back up into the popular zones. You will find amazing things out there, but you will probably find that Eugene's Jell-O Art is the longest running, the most advanced, and the very best Jell-O Art in the history of the world. We're in the book. We're up to something good (1985).