Fans at New York Comic Con who took the opportunity to visit the Jelly Belly booth located in section 400 were witness to something of a phenomenon. Artist in Residence Kristen Cumings once again treated con goers to a live spectacle of epic proportions, creating a portrait of Superman completely out of Jelly Belly jelly beans over the 4 days of the show. Kristen is one of the only people in the world who uses jelly beans as a medium for her art.
We had the opportunity to interview Kristen for a few minutes and get a behind the scenes look at her process, and what drew her to using jelly beans as a medium.
Gene: So the obvious first question, why jelly beans?
Kristen: Jelly Belly the company has been commisioning artists to make art out of their Jelly Belly jelly beans since the 1980’s. So this was actually the brainchild of Texas artist Peter Rocha. His nephew made several of these for Jelly Belly over the next few years starting in the 1980’s then they just didn’t have anybody doing it for a while after they stopped. In 2009 they asked me if I wanted to try it, because they wanted to start it up again. They have lots of cool connections with companies like DC where they were doing packaging that was really dynamic art. So, I said I’d give it a try and it ended up working out really well with the way I look at stuff and I’ve done several of them since.
Gene: Do you draw the background painting first for a reference beforehand?
Kristen: Well, there’s that and especially in the darker areas they are crammed together pretty closely but there are still little spaces, so if it was white or the light would come from behind it would look more pixelated. So that just helps the image once it’s put together.
Gene: So how long have you been an artist, in general?
Kristen: Pretty much my whole life. I started doing it more seriously as an adult probably about 15 years ago working on paintings and drawings, trying to get my skills better and submitting stuff to local galleries and stuff like that. I’ve always loved art. The jelly bean art started in 2009 and that was just one of those weird things. I had done a painting of one of my son’s school friends, and I put it in a gallery show. When it didn’t sell at the show, I just gave it to the family, and my son’s friend’s dad, who is VP of marketing at Jelly Belly, called me a year or two later and said we want somebody to start doing jelly bean art again, do you want to see if you can try and I really enjoyed it and have ben doing it ever since.
Gene: Why is the piece so big?
Kristen: That’s a good question. A lot of times people will call me and say I need an 8 x 11 portrait of my entire extended family. (laughter) The thing is like pointillism pixel art where there is no detail that can be smaller than this (she held up a jelly bean). So usually the highlights in the eyes are the smallest part of a portrait. So I basically have to base the entire size of the piece on the highlight in the eye, or whatever the smallest detail is. As you can see it’s really sort of pushing the edge, because it’s not really as big as a jelly bean, but you have to have those because that’s what makes the portrait especially come to life.
Gene: So you basically consider each jelly bean a pixel.
Kristen: Yeah, kind of. I know if there are real thin lines they’re not going to look right proportionately if they’re supposed to be thinner than one jelly bean.
Gene: How do they actually stick to the background?
Kristen: It’s a spray adhesive that will stay sticky for the whole time I’m here.
Gene: And then do you use a shellac on top of it to keep it safe?
Kristen: It’s a two part epoxy resin.
Gene: Finally, how many jelly beans do you eat when you’re doing this?
Gene: I had to throw one goofy question in there! (laughter)
Kristen: That’s another good question! I will just say, not as many as I used to.
My thanks to Kristen and Jelly Belly for granting a really interesting and fun interview! I hope any of you that went to New York Comic Con stopped by to see the amazing work as it was in progress. If not, here’s the final piece: