Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jell-O Art Workshop

So many people have asked me to hold a workshop on Jell-O Art. While there are of course techniques that can be taught, the whole idea of making it a formal art process that is (I assume) paid for is a weird concept for me. When we started the show, the concept was that it was almost anti-art in that it did not hinge itself on the formal art world, with the earned credentials of a degree in one's medium, a critical structure for evaluation, an exclusive world of exhibition and invitations to jury, and so on. We threw all of that out. You make it, put it on a pedestal in a gallery, and it is Art. The creative process makes it so.

You go to your kitchen, put on an apron, and take a commonly found foodstuff and start to play with it, going outside the instructions on the box. Jell-O was an exciting choice because of its properties of transparency and color, unlike say, spam, which is so unappetizing. It was a bit of luck that the world of gelatin art was unexplored for the most part, and that we did have many real artists in the group who were well practiced at exploration. Over the 28 years the number of innovative techniques and projects has been terrifically satisfying.

People tried using the original recipe at first, but soon discovered that it was really hard to do anything interesting with the soupy, temperature-sensitive stuff. It took too long to put everything in the refrigerator and was confining, so someone put in some extra gelatin and discovered that the firmer substance was easier to mold, to carve, and to manipulate. It quickly came out of the containers and stood alone on the plate in glorious testaments to every possible artistic subject and concept. Opinions differ about the use of sugar in it. Some think it adds strength. For me it added ants, so I quickly went to plain, pure gelatin.

Okay, not every possible subject and concept. Each year someone comes with something that has never been tried, or never been successful, (or has been forgotten.) It has made lampshades and windows, clothing and hats, has been illuminated and embedded with everything from Barbie heads to precious jewels. Some artists just continued to push the boundaries to more and more exciting techniques. Gelatin has appeared in every state from the powder to the gas (okay, maybe not the gas.. that can be your challenge this year.)

The wet form can be jiggly or not, depending on the amount of water you add. If you are just starting and want to work with the Royal or Jell-O Brand boxes, that is probably the most accessible form as you get color, flavor, and sweetness and you can eat your mistakes if you are so inclined. Do mix it with cold water first, because there is a good reason for that...the gelatin has to absorb water and "bloom" to properly gel without lumps and graininess. If you want to make the equivalent of Jigglers, for eating purposes, use those directions, which are really just less can get any thickness you like, up to a gummy-bear kind of chewiness. For the Tacky Food table I often make versions of this using candy molds for the shapes, or other plastic containers that make interesting molds. That can be step one of your exploration.

You may be getting the point that I am not going to lead a Jell-O Workshop. The whole nature of the show and the art exploration is that it is so accessible that you can do it at any age and with any so-called level of talent...anyone can make Jell-O! Be brave.

So once you try the molded versions and execute your plans, try something else. I love the dried for so many reasons. This is just thickly mixed gelatin that is air-dried. I use pure gelatin because I don't need the flavors, sugar, and other chemicals for the kind of things I make, as they are not edible (technically they are but since I don't use a certified kitchen and the dyes are toxic, they aren't). Gelatin is a food product. I buy it in bulk online as the formula I use is 3 ozs dry gelatin to one cup of water. That is probably thicker than it needs to be but I settled on that and don't really vary it much as it works well. If you are trying to use the little envelopes of Knox you will bankrupt yourself if you make much of it. I think those packets hold about one-fourth of an'll need many packages and they have gotten expensive. I buy ten pounds online for about $10 a pound. It's heavy. If enough people wanted it maybe we could get a local wholesaler to carry it.
Tacky Food

I mix the powder in a quart-size canning jar (you don't want broken jars of hot gelatin), making two cups at a time. I let it bloom and then melt it in the microwave for a minute to three. You don't want it to boil. Let it cool a little, until it is clear, and then skim off the foam. I spread out the foam and keep it for sculptures, since it is nice and white. I then divide the melted gelatin into smaller jars and add dye (you can use anything to color it) and then pour it into pans, dishes, bowls; whatever containers you have available will work. I have a dedicated set of glass pie plates because I have found that the dried stuff is so strong it can take little chunks and shards right out of the pyrex, so the dishes will not be safe to use for food. I also use plastic containers of many kinds, and if I am working big, I use the lids of storage tubs. It's nice if the forms are flexible so you can pop the stuff out, but there are still ways to get the material off the surface if the forms are rigid. I have a demo here: KEZI video

Really tacky food. 
I pour it very thin, less than 1/8th inch. Thicker can dry, but it can get moldy, which means you have to throw it out. I let it dry for maybe eight hours, or longer, and then it is easy to pry out of the pans, or may detach itself. Sometimes the dry edges are too thin to detach but I find if I make a hole in the still-wettish parts and pry from there, I can sometimes get the whole piece to let loose. I have heard of using mold-releasing substances like oil but I don't find that to be necessary. If you really can't get it off the glass you can get it wet and start again. You will have to experiment! That is the point of art-making: the process of exploring your medium to express yourself. Get messy!

Screenprinting on flat sheet
I use the gelatin shapes and sheets much like paper to make flowers, birds, or other desired objects. I use some of the molten gelatin for glue. I either drip it onto the surfaces and set them down, or often hold them together for about a minute to 90 seconds until the gelatin firms up. If you let go too soon it will sometimes break up into chunks which are not sticky enough anymore and will need to be removed or remelted. You can clip the pieces with a clamp like a clothespin or put a weight on top, but everything you do will leave an impression in the gelatin. I leave a lot of fingerprints. Sometimes I use a wet brush to smooth the surfaces and remove the imperfections but often I enjoy the character and accidents that happen.

Accidental effects are one of the most fun aspects of the medium. You can't always make it do what you want. When it dries it tends to curl up and make shapes according to, I guess, the variances in thickness and drying time. I use that to my advantage in making petal and leaf shapes, laying the pieces over the edge of a pie plate or pulling and stretching the stuff as it dries. You have to tend it and flip it over every six to eight hours, or even more frequently, to keep it drying on both sides. You need a warm dry room for best results. My heating bills go up in Jell-O season for sure. I always have pans and bowls on top of my piano and over the TV, and on every high shelf.

Unknown brilliant artist. All the food is Jell-O. 
I've repeated these tutorials many times in this blog so if you are really interested, look at some of the older posts for more ideas and examples of what you can do. For the wearable flowers, I just attach a stretch headband to a flat part that will be comfortable on your head, using the molten gelatin as glue. I apply a few layers. If you let it cool some before you use it it gets thicker and easier to manipulate and won't just run off and make drips on your beautiful piece that you will have to remove or learn to love. If you do it at the right time it is easy to remove, and you will learn this by trying.

Big Slug
Learn to do this! It is not hard. Other people have tried lots of things as well as me. You can whip it to foam, you can layer colors and blend the dyes right in the dish for swirly effects. You can cut tiny pieces out and fill the spaces with other colors to make the intricate pieces like the fractals. You can fill a straw and make it look like maple syrup pouring out of the bottle. I've made flat sheets and printed on them, and you can write on them or paint them too. You can use props. You can do anything you want to try. You do not need me to lead you. It is supposed to be fun! Have some fun with it.

Cut and fill. Put the pattern underneath.

You can't always get what you want.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jell-O Art Show T-Shirts

There has been a distinct lack of motivation pervading my workshop this winter, a carryover from last summer and fall when I had to force myself to work, and only because I had customers depending on me. For myself, I'd like to put screenprinting into the "if and when I feel like it" category. I've just spent too many years doing it. Once I get going, I can finish the jobs that are the most pressing, but others get set aside and intentions go astray. I guess that is why they invented retirement. My body is also worn out from it, and sooner or later it has to end for real.

But there is a grand history of t-shirt production for the Jell-O Art Show and that job will probably stay on my list for as long as the Jell-O Show does. They started with the second or third show and my ex-partner Mike did the first one, a direct take on a Jell-O box, just black on white with red lettering for the word Jell-O. The second one, I did, but it was much like the first, just adding the word "Rama" and there may have been a short gap while we restructured our partnership. I had John in 1990 so I think 1994 was the first year I really did a shirt. As part of this piece, the first incarnation of the Jell-O Art Museum in 2009, I made posters of the shirts and added a third a few years later. The items on the wall fit into that box, and lots of dried gelatin was glued to the posters. It's up in the attic waiting for that call from the Smithsonian.

So in answer to your question, yes, of course, there will be t-shirts this year. Limited edition, with a few old ones still left over for cheap. Thinking vaguely of images that will fit the theme, Jell-O Waves, or will refer to some aspect of the performance. Or maybe not refer to anything, but just be an image I feel like putting on a shirt. The beauty of the task, and the reason why I am sure I will still do it, is that I get to do anything I want. No one gives me any limits whatsoever on the shirt project, and it's all at my expense, so if they don't sell, that doesn't really bother me. I like to outfit the Angels and the Jell-O Artists and every year I say nobody will get one for free but then give most of them away. The group is really large now, though, so I hope I will ask people to at least pay the shirt cost. Sometimes people don't value what they get for free, and as you can see from this evidence, these shirts are cool and if you have one, you have cool credentials like only a few people get.
 As you can see I have often recycled pieces of the art and some years I get really fancy with the inks. The photo in the center is the 1999 one, worn as performance art as my piece was a Jell-O molded right on my head, which was very successful. I got the idea from the Supremes. The shirt just said "Are you ready for Y2J?"

1995 was probably the most beloved and the screens are ruined or I'd be tempted to reprint it. I love Jell-O Soul a lot and also the Jell-O Wranglin,' but there have been a few duds. The disco one with Donna Summer on a plate with a lettuce skirt was not so great but it did get printed on orange shirts which made it a keeper for those lucky people. Mostly they have been on white and lots of people refuse to wear white. People took the too-sexy Jell-O Fever one reluctantly but it is one of the most ambitious ones in technique, so I love it, though rarely wear it. My Planet Jell-O one is ruined with paint so if you have one you don't want anymore, I'll take it. Never give these shirts to the Goodwill, by the way. I will take them, and maybe even give you money for them, so that my collection will be complete. The cleaner the better. I collect all things Jell-O, of course, so think of me. I seriously do have a Museum of Jell-O Art, which takes up half the attic and half the project room, and someday I will retire and just live to maintain the collection and show it by appointment. Old recipe books and graphics are most welcome. I have a few, but you know how collectors are.

 Though white gets frowns, people do seem to like pink. This year I had probably better choose some watery color. There are, at present, so many interpretations of waves that I have no idea which one I will settle on. As you can see we did Airwaves in 1998 and I used an old radio graphic, so that's out. I was a big Beach Boys fan back in the day, even stood on my chair and screamed and stood by the exit to touch Denny's hair. Poor boys. I was probably thirteen or so, and that is probably the most music crazy I ever got. I bought half of Meet the Beatles (wish I had it now) but I don't think I saw the Beatles. I saw the Stones with an inch-high Mick Jagger in Philadelphia, but I truly did love the Beach Boys and they were all up in my junior high and even high school romance fantasies. So yeah, maybe them. Waving.