Jelly beans are more than just a popular Easter candy. In the right hands they can be transformed into "eye candy." Anna Werner has been watching an expert in action:
From a distance, it's hard to tell what these works by artist Kristen Cumings are made of. They look like mosaics ... shiny, like glass.
"I like making things out of weird stuff," Cumings said.
Unexpected, and tasty, materials. "That's true. It doesn't get much tastier, for sure!" she laughed.
That's because her materials are actually jelly beans, which she uses to make some of the most beautiful works -- like da Vinci's Mona Lisa -- even sweeter.
Cumings is surrounded by jelly beans in her studio in the garage of her Pittsburg, California, home. They're supplied by Jelly Belly, which actually considers her its artist in residence. It takes her about seven days to turn 12,000 jelly beans into a work of art. "There's about 600 per square foot, give or take," she said of one piece measuring 20 square feet.
And how many of these jelly beans does she eat? "Well, in the last couple years or so, I limit myself to trying all the new flavors that come out," Cumings said, "because they're so good that if I didn't have some sort of rule, I would just be in trouble. I would be in big trouble."
Cumings is one of a handful of artists turning beans into beauty.
Jelly bean mosaics started in the 1980s, and were actually inspired by President Ronald Reagan's love for the candy.
His obsession motivated San Francisco artist Peter Rocha to create a jelly bean portrait which now hangs in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Cumings developed a taste for jelly beans in 2009. She has since created nearly 40 pieces.
Most of her work, appropriately, is displayed at Jelly Belly's headquarters in Fairfield, California.
Collectors have developed a sweet tooth: Some of her works have sold for thousands of dollars. And she gives new meaning to the term performance art.
At Chicago's Comic and Entertainment Expo last week, she gave onlookers a sense of her process as she worked on a portrait of Superman out of jelly beans. Cumings starts by creating an image with acrylic paint, and then, using spray adhesive, she sticks on the beans, one by one.
"Using more than one different kind of blue or different kind of red will allow me to create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality even though it's a two-dimensional surface," Cumings said. "And it's just more interesting to look at."
Along the way, she's copied the works of the old masters: Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" ... Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," with one major difference.
"There's this huge history going back with oil painting and marble sculpture -- what I consider serious mediums," Cumings said. "And this just isn't it."
And why not? "Because you can't really mess up."
Really? "Well, you can always fix it, you know? If it's jelly beans, you can eat your mistakes. It really doesn't get better than that!"
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