If you’ve ever been to a convention that involves sci-fi and fantasy fandoms, or at least one of the many where Kirsten Cumings’ art was on display, no doubt you’ve done a double-take at the outsize mosaics of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and several Star Wars characters pointing their light sabers at you on the con floor. Not just because she’s outrageously talented. They’re all made entirely out of jelly beans.
So why jelly beans as an artistic medium? “It’s so fun. It’s freeing,” she told Rachael Ray on an episode of The Rachael Ray Show appropriately called Play With Your Food, “and I really like the idea that it’s for everybody. Art is for everybody.” Meaning, there is no one who can possibly resist a museum-quality mural that wouldn’t be out of place in Willy Wonka’s private collection.
Cumings became the official Jelly Belly jelly bean artist (that is a thing) in 2009, and she’s been addicted to candy murals ever since. She feels “painting” in jelly beans is remarkably similar to traditional art in terms of elements such as light, shadow and perspective. The sugary sweet characters come into being at conventions as she glues them, bean by bean, to the canvas over a blueprint she previously painted. Her palette consists of 50 classic flavors and some 40 others that rotate in and out of the flavor lineup depending on popularity. If she needs a shade that doesn’t exist, Cummings will mix several to give the appearance of, say, the murky greens and browns abundant in the more shadowy areas of her Yoda portrait. Because (at least for Jelly Belly) swamp-colored jelly beans really don’t sound too appetizing.
Each of these epic pieces is a colorful sugar coma of around 15,000 beans that takes around a hundred hours to complete. I’ve actually watched Cumings in action at New York Comic Con, and the precision with which she places every single bean to form a fierce Dark Knight swinging from a skyscraper or a Darth Vader of galactic proportions is nothing short of amazing. The way she arranges lighter shades to give light sabers their otherworldly glow will blow your mind.
Since you’re definitely wondering by now, the artist does admit to snacking on some of her materials occasionally. She swears she will never get sick of jelly beans.