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, 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, 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).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Season of Jell-O Art

It's time to start back into Jelloland. I cleaned my workspace (the kitchen table) and started thinking about my piece for this year, and the emails have begun to circulate to get the group together. It is never the same two years in a row, and this will be the 26th show, with many new people involved. For the performers, the OCF is also part of the process, since the performances often merge at least slightly and the songs are sometimes almost the same.

For my art piece, I plan to work on the Great Blue Heron I started before the wedding last year, thinking I would make it a feature of the arch for the wedding couple and something fun to carry in their procession, but it was just as well that I abandoned the project because I don't think it would have ended up fitting into the real wedding as it took place. Many ideas were abandoned as logistics took over, and that is the way with the Jell-O Show too. Last year I was very ambitious and quite a few of the projects I started didn't make the show.

However, I am used to art and creativity going in many directions at once. It seems to take all of my skills put together to get any final results that are satisfying on lots of levels, and that is the richness of the process. When I was thinking to make steampunk things for the wedding, I went through all of the stuff in my stuff library (I collect all manner of odd objects and decorative elements for my many media: paper, gelatin, fabric, paint, ink, dye, and found-object sculpture, as well as other things like rusty metal.) I took some of it inside to look through as I made the hat ornaments, though I ended up using very little of it. Had to re-sort it and take it back out to my studio to re-file in my organizing system out there, but that is all part of the creative process for me.

I'm a visual learner, and have to see things spread out in front of me to get my ideas to coalesce. It looks like a mess to other people and undeniably takes up space. I resist putting up tables in my small spaces but sooner or later I do that, and then there is no more room for people or other tasks of daily life. For the first couple of weeks of the year I just sort things, put them away, and try to create space. This also helps me remember what I have and what projects I might have abandoned and forgotten.

When it comes to the actual making of Jell-O Art, the dried type I do takes a lot of lead time as the drying process takes a few days for each batch, so I will need to see what I made of the blue-gray pieces for the heron and what I may still need, and make a bunch of it. It's important to have a lot, as once I start to stick it together, it gets a lot smaller, and I am thinking of a life-size bird. My first plan is to make it look like it is taking off from a pool of liquid or slightly jelled jiggly stuff, so some of that will have to be last-minute in construction. Whatever I do will take a lot of planning, and being in the performance also means that I will not have a lot of time near the end, since we will be rehearsing and making props, etc., as well as distributing posters, getting interviewed on the radio, and all of the Queenly things I am supposed to do in my role.

I think whatever I am willing to do will be open to me, and greatly appreciated as well. The show is a fundraiser for the Maude Kerns Art Center, so we'll do some promoting coordination too. Last year I had a wonderful video opportunity which is still viewable at KEZI: and I'm guessing that will not happen again in the same way, though I suppose if I can think of some way to put a new twist on it, I could get some coverage. Sean Cuellar was a great interviewer, did all the video herself, too, and she was very easy to work with.

There is also the Slug Queen connection. We always ask the Slug Queen to give a benediction at the start of the show, and each one brings her particular charms. Last year Queen Sadie knit some Jell-O, which was stupendous and didn't look nearly as amazing as it was in process, because Jell-O Art is subtle in it's presentation to those who haven't tried to work with it. This year the Slug Queen is an actual Scientist and Educator, not that all Queens and commoners don't have such talents, just not as much notice of them, but anyway, the possibilities are intriguing. She could do some spectacular demonstrations perhaps. If she gets all the attention I suppose I can live with it. I have been monopolizing as much attention as I could get for the last two years but this year I plan to fade into the background. Good thing the background is multicolored and full of pattern-mixing, like camo and tie-dye, so I will fit in.

In case you are new to the scene, try making some Jell-O soon and seeing what you can think of to do that will be fun for you. Some of the secrets include using the clear gelatin such as Knox, as it is more economical than the sugary edible chemicals that are Jell-O brand, and make it stronger than the package directions. I make mine anywhere from 4X to 12X the suggested ratio of gelatin to water. It will harden at room temp and you can add dye or food coloring or whatever you like (glitter, plant materials, Barbie doll heads) to make your meaningful art statement.

It has to be fun, that is the real only rule. I am allowed to be serious about it, and so are you, but only if being serious about your art includes enjoying it. How you can resist enjoying Jell-O Art, I do not know, but all of that is up to you.