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 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