|Washington Post Sunday Source
April 17, 2006
Chew By Numbers — Jamie Marraccini is 'The Gum Artist'
Yesterday's Washington Post featured a most interesting Q&A with Jamie Marraccini (above, seated), whose day job is as a COO with an international technology firm.
His passion is gum art.
Here's the article.
Jamie Marraccini chews gum.
Lots of it.
By day, the Roanoke native, who lives in Potomac Falls, is a COO with an international technology firm.
But his true passion is gum art, and he has spent countless hours creating mind-boggling works from the sticky stuff. (His creations can be seen at www.gumart.com)
The 36-year-old's most recent project is creating gum-by-numbers (www.chewbynumbers.com) for DIYers who want to make their own art.
Q. How did you get started doing this?
A. I love bubble gum, I've always collected things and I hate to waste stuff. If you mix those three ingredients, that's a primordial soup and eventually there's a bolt of lightning that causes art to be created. I used to save it in on the wall of my locker in high school. It was just wads, but by the end of the year it was colorful and nice. The reactions I got from people was what fueled the desire to make more art.
Q. How much gum have you chewed?
A. When I was trying to accomplish all of the chewing myself, I worked on 10 large pieces of gum at a time. And I started to develop some incredible muscle tone in my jaw. My lower jaw would kind of swell to the point where I would have an underbite. And that was where I realized I was doing this a little too much. So I started to farm out the chewing a little bit. . . . But my guess is around 50,000 pieces.
Q. How, exactly, do you go about asking other people to chew gum for you?
A. You know, it's amazing, I don't have to ask. They want to do it. I rarely talk about my gum art, but eventually someone hears about it. . . . And when they see it, they're interested in participating. And I just say, "Yeah if you ever want to chew some gum, I'll supply all the gum, I'll supply the cups. You just have to chew it properly and save it."
Q. So when you work with the gum they return, do you wear plastic gloves?
A. No. No gloves. Now I've learned over the years that it's best not to work with the fresh gum because you want to let it age a little bit. You want to see if there's anything wrong with it. Gum is amazing stuff. But every once in a while, someone's got a little hygiene problem; it'll make the gum turn.
Q. What do you mean, "it turns"?
A. It kind of starts to rot. I don't want to gross you out or anything.
Q. Hmm. It's a little late for that. Let's talk about your favorite gums to work with.
A. To me Bubblicious stays the freshest -- it's got the really nice bright colors, it's easy to spread and it doesn't stick too much. Great bubbles. . . . But Bubblicious only gets you about halfway. You need lighter colors, pastels, harder gums that you can make into objects, and for that I use Fruit Stripe. And then the final element is a good white gum. Most of the whites that you chew don't stay white. But Carefree Peppermint, that's a primo white gum. It's the white of choice.
Q. How about Big League Chew, ever use that?
A. For one painting, I chewed so much grape bubble gum, including pouches and pouches of Big League Chew. It went on for about six months. That was 15 years ago and to this day, I have a hard time chewing grape gum.
Q. How did Chew by Numbers come about?
A. I've always had the idea for Chew by Numbers. So last year I forced myself to create the Web site, develop the kits, get the provisional patent and follow through. Because I do believe there's a market. . . . Even parents who are sort of disgusted by the idea have bought their kids kits. And I'm seeing the parents come back. They've been buying them as gifts.
Q. For some parents, this is just a nightmare product you've created.
A. Some parents think it's just going to end up in the carpet, smeared on the wall and that their kids are going to destroy the house with a couple of pieces of gum. I can understand the fear behind that, but meanwhile I have a 2-year-old who walks around chewing gum.
Q. So your wife and the baby's grandparents don't have any problem with a 2-year-old chewing gum?
A. (Laughs.) That's a good question. I think at first every one was a little disturbed by the idea of me letting her have it. But when they see that she doesn't swallow it and she has so much fun, everyone got used to it and no other comments have been made.
Q. But you're not recommending it? I'm trying to save you here.
A. I don't know. I was talking to a customer who is a speech therapist, and one of the things they're promoting for speech therapy for young kids is chewing gum because it creates muscle tone. It can help children continue to strengthen their mouth and their tongue. And so, I guess maybe I'm helping my child's development. There was just an article posted where they say that gum chewing stimulates your brain and increases your metabolism.
Q. Sounds fishy to me. Where was that study posted?
A. Well, there are various studies. (Laughs.) That one was actually posted by Wrigley, who happens to be the largest producer of gum in the world.
Q. So should dentists recommend gum?
A. Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum, but I think they should recommend all gum. I went six years between visits to the dentist and my dentist told me my teeth look better than the teeth of patients she sees every six months. I said I can't explain it except for all of the gum I chew.
Q. How long does it take you to finish a work?
A. If I was doing it full-time, I could do a large piece in a month, but I can't do it full-time. So now, I try to average one large one a year. Last year I did three small pieces, and I did the Chew by Numbers project.
Q. Could you work with any other materials?
A. I don't think there'd be a substitute for me. I'm truly a gum artist and if gum ceased to exist, my artistic skills would fade and become nothing. I feel passionate about it. I can't think about it without remembering childhood experiences and happy times.
Q. Any of your friends or family just think you're nuts?
A. (Laughs.) I don't know if this is the reason why they might, but it probably contributes to it. I will say that I think my parents thought it was a very strange idea and a waste of time initially. . . . But now my mom is a big supporter and I think my dad likes it even if he doesn't want to say he does.
Q. It must drive you crazy when you see chewed gum just wasted on the sidewalk?
A. I don't know. In a way, I like it because to me, gum just wants to continue to live somewhere, to be present somewhere. It doesn't want to go in a can. It doesn't want to be in a dumpster. It wants to show itself out there. It's so beautiful that it needs to be seen, so if it's on the street or on a tree or stuck under a desk, then it's still living out there.
Q. You know, you are going to get locked up by the city cleaners.
Heim also wrote an amusing sidebar story about his own experience with one of the chew by numbers kits.
Here's that piece — as it were.
In the interest of hard-hitting consumer reporting, I decided to try out of one Marraccini's Chew by Numbers kits ($12.95 each at www.chewbynumbers.com).
I opted for "Tulips" (below),
a colorful, relatively simple 5-by-7-inch design that comes with 22 pieces of gum.
Each piece is numbered and corresponds to numbers on the board, so unless you're really drunk, this project is hard to screw up.
As simple as it looks, however, the art actually requires a time commitment.
Marraccini says each piece must be chewed for at least 15 minutes to get rid of all of its flavor, sugar and oils.
Let's see: 22 pieces times 15 minutes a piece... I can't do the math, but it's a lot of time.
So, if you try and make this in just a day or two (as I did), your jaws will feel it.
Once I chewed a few pieces and started spreading the gum on the board, my inner-second-grader emerged.
Diving into my first art project since a hopeless diorama in Sister Suzanne's class, I quickly felt remarkably accomplished.
And the weirdness and gross-out factors were pretty satisfying too -- especially because I was making this in the office. (I should note that no colleagues offered to chew gum for me, a fact for which I'm incredibly grateful.)
The project truly did seem foolproof.
My only advice is to have water nearby to wet your fingers to keep the gum from sticking to them, and to spread the gum in small pieces rather than big wads.
As a finishing touch, Marraccini recommends spraying your work with enamel to keep dust from sticking to it.
A UV-resistant spray will protect it from fading.
I plan to frame mine and give it to my parents for their anniversary.
Each of the three Chew By Numbers kits — "Space and Comet," Diamonds and Dots" and "Tulips" (all pictured above) — comes with a numbered board and lots of gum and costs $12.95.
GumArt is a trademark
of BlueNet Solutions,