“I never had a piece where I could not find a bean or combination of beans which could not give me the color I wanted,” Jelly Belly resident artist Kristen Cumings said.
One challenge to that came when Jelly Belly dropped the peanut butter and caramel apple jelly beans. They were the colors she used for midrange flesh tones and for a while, she hoarded them. To get that tone now, she uses two beans, such as honey bean and chili mango.
She has seen a lot of viewers repeatedly back away, walk up and then back away from one of her creations to get the close-up detail of the different beans and then how the beans merge into the overall image from a distance.
Cumings, who grew up in Indiana, has loved art her entire life. She moved here in 1996 and first encountered Jelly Belly bean art when she and her daughter went on a tour of the Jelly Belly plant.
“I really liked the idea of this art being not serious,” Cumings said. “It is more approachable and has fun built into it.”
Jelly Belly Vice President of Marketing Rob Swaigen called and asked if she wanted to make Jelly Belly bean art, which was a similar school to the mosaic art she likes.
Cumings was hired as Jelly Belly’s official artist in 2012 – just in time for the company’s 50th anniversary.
She carries on the tradition started by artists Peter and Roger Rocha. Peter Rocha started his art in the 1980s, when he heard that President Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans. He created a mosaic of Reagan out of the beans, which now hangs in the Reagan Presidential Library. In 2000, sclerosis forced Peter Rocha away from his jelly bean art, and nephew Roger carried on the work.
Cumings’ first work was the most daunting of all – creating a portrait of Jelly Belly board chairman Herman Rowland. It took her almost three months to complete, which is pretty much the average it takes her to make any of her creations.
She spent the next eight months creating “Masterpieces of Jelly Bean Art,” a series of eight creations inspired by classic artworks such as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” (measuring 4 feet by 6 feet, it is triple the original’s size) and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”
Cumings’ work has also included a re-creation of the World War II war effort poster “We Can Do It,” portraits of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a portrait of Harry Potter and the California Grizzly Bear for the 2010 state fair, which was the first artwork she created in front of the public.
“It was really fun,” said Cumings.
She enjoyed fielding questions from children the most, she said.
Cumings usually works at her studio in her home in the evenings after her daytime job as a special education classroom assistant. She does a lot of art projects with her students and they love the jelly bean projects.
With each creation, she starts by drawing out the underdrawing in acrylic and then she goes over the large range of beans to determine which ones best match the colors she wants. Each artwork takes 20 to 25 different colors on average.
When it comes to colors, she always checks out the new beans that Jelly Belly creates to see how they could fit in with her future art. Cumings is particularly fascinated by the new jewel-toned beans that have an iridescent finish and what they can add to her artworks.
“I am always looking for ones to come out,” Cumings said of expanding her edible palette of colors.
She then sorts the beans by color into compartmentalized bean boxes. She admits to having dropped a box occasionally and has paid her kids to re-sort them.
To finish her artworks, Cumings applies a spray adhesive that will not dissolve the beans. She usually starts filling in the picture from the bottom. Once all the beans are in place, she seals the beans with a resin and a hardener, which has kept many of the older jelly bean art intact for years.
Each of the finished pieces of art average 4 feet wide by 5 feet tall and weigh about 100 pounds.
Cumings confessed that she also nibbles on a few of the jelly beans while she is working. She stressed that she has never eaten so many that she came up short in completing her work.
The only time she was ever fearful about the fate of one of her artworks was when she was working on one at SeaWorld in the outdoors and it looked like it was going to rain, a sure way to turn her work into slush.
“I prayed that it would not rain,” Cumings said.
When it comes to replacing any beans that may get damaged, age poorly or drop off the artwork, Cumings keeps a list of the specific beans she used on each artwork in her computer.
The most technically challenging part of her work is to fit all the details in, especially when it comes to the nuances of the artwork she is creating.
Many of the jelly bean artworks are on display at the Jelly Belly Visitors Center, but they have also gone on the road to venues across the country, such as the Indianapolis Children’s Museum near her hometown.
Her current work is centered around a series on endangered species such as the sea turtle, green macaw, swift fox and the rockhopper penguin.
Those who visit Jelly Belly on National Jelly Bean Day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday will be able to see Cumings create a portrait of a Great Panda. The event will also be live-streamed at www.jellybelly.com for people who cannot make it to the Visitors Center.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.