Jelly bean artist Kristen Cumings' sweet creation was on display at New York Comic Con.

Robert Tutton
October 09, 2017

New York Comic Con is one of the biggest pop culture events in the world and has no shortage of novelty: with experiences like a War for the Planet of the Apes VR horse ride and drinking in Westworld’s Mariposa saloon (not to mention the costumes!). One such curio you may have seen if you were shuffling through the throng last weekend was artist Kristen Cumings’ portrait of Superman—made entirely of jelly beans.

Cumings created her latest piece live at the Jelly Belly booth over the course of the four-day event. The 20-square-foot picture consists of approximately 12,000 jelly beans, in this case mostly blue and red ones. Jelly Belly has had a presence at New York Comic Con for the past few years, with Cumings creating jelly bean portraits of characters like Batman, Wonder Woman and Yoda. The company started its art program in the 80s with a portrait of Ronald Reagan, famously a major jelly bean fan, by Peter Rocha. Cumings has done about 50 portraits since taking over the program in 2009. She’s since quit eating the beans, but says the sours are still her personal favorites.

Robert Tutton

It’s Jelly Belly’s wide array of flavors—and colors—that makes the whole endeavor possible in the first place.

“Instead of using paint, where you’re able to physically mix the two colors together,” Cumings says. “It’s like pixels where you put them next to each other and when you stand back they blend to make the different color.” This piece alone, she says, will use around 22 flavors, including:

  • Blues: Blueberry, Jewel Blueberry, Island Punch, Jewel Berry Blue.
  • Reds: Doctor Pepper, Strawberry Jam, Sour Cherry, Red Apple, Bubblegum, Cotton Candy, Strawberry Daiquiri.
  • Flesh tones: Bubble Gum, Pink Grapefruit, Strawberry Cheesecake, Beer, Jewel Ginger Ale, Sausage (!!), Maple Syrup, Toasted Marshmallow, Coconut.
  • Yellow: Sunkissed Lemon or Crushed Pineapple.
  • Blacks: Licorice, Wild Blackberry.

Cumings starts by painting the reference image on the board and covers it with a spray adhesive. She then spends the next few days meticulously placing beans and making color decisions as she goes.

“If I spray a thick enough coat, it’ll stay sticky for the whole weekend,” she says. “That’ll keep them on but it’s still workable, I can take them off and replace them.” When all of the beans are placed, the board is laid flat and covered in a resin epoxy. Like the Wonder Woman she created last year, which was also on display at the booth, the beans end up encased in plastic.

Robert Tutton

A pretty constant flow of Con-goers stopped to take photos, ask questions, but mostly to marvel at the impressionistic work in progress. Being a jelly bean artist, Cumings admits, certainly comes with its fair share of funny looks, but by now she’s learned to own the novelty. “I’m kind of a shy person, so it’s a good ice breaker at parties,” she said, laughing as she turned to place another jelly bean.