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 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!