It takes Hannah Mendelsohn twenty minutes to drive from her Juneau, Alaska home to the grocery store and back. When she started creating patterns with M&Ms on her living room coffee table, she had no idea sheâ€™d need so many.
â€œI kept going to the store and buying more [M&Ms],â€ Mendelsohn said. â€œI probably went to the store at least five times. I did a little bit at a time.â€
Mendelsohn, a 21-year-old medical assistant, separates M&Ms by color and arranges them in intricate patterns on any flat surface she can find. The result is a surface completely covered with M&Ms, no space between them. Mendelsohn arranges the colors in bright geometric patterns. She said this hobby first took root when she developed a love for chocolate.
â€œI mean, if weâ€™re going anywhere, basically Iâ€™m going to pick up some chocolate,â€ she said. â€œMovies? Chocolate. Forget popcorn. Gas stations? I always make [my fiancÃ©e] run in for a candy bar. I love my chocolate. Love it.â€
She realized she could use chocolate to exert some creative energy when a high school teacher passed out M&Ms to teach Mendelsohnâ€™s class about probability.
â€œI would always put the M&Ms on my desk and sit there and rearrange them all over my desk,â€ she said. â€œPeople would give me their M&Ms and Iâ€™d make shapes. I guess thatâ€™s kind of where it started.â€
After that, Mendelsohn indulged in her hobby occasionally. She made small pieces with vending-machine-sized bags of M&Ms, but she rarely photographed them. That is, until she undertook the coffee table project.
While she watched Law & Order and CSI in the evenings, Mendelsohn and a friend separated M&Ms by color.
â€œWhen I first started the design on the coffee table I had them in little cereal bowls because I only had one or two bags [of M&Ms], but after awhile I had way too many M&Ms,â€ she said. â€œAfter that I put them in gallon bags.â€
Mendelsohn said she positions M&Ms in patterns without a set plan.
â€œItâ€™s always ad lib with me,â€ she said. â€œIf it doesnâ€™t look good, you can always take it off, know what I mean?â€
The M&Ms arenâ€™t glued down, but Mendelsohn said she didnâ€™t encounter many obstacles while putting her piece together.
â€œThere were a couple of times when I was frustrated when people would accidentally bump the table and [the M&Ms] would kind of move a little, and that would kind of throw things off,â€ she said. â€œWhen I feel like thereâ€™s too much of one color in a place, Iâ€™ll slowly take it off, but I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever messed up, really.â€
She said after working with M&Ms long enough the temptation to eat them disappears.
â€œI tell you, itâ€™s hard. After a while, you kind of get tired of them, because after putting it together youâ€™re eating the broken ones and the ones youâ€™ve touched too many times,â€ she said. â€œBut after a while, itâ€™s like you have probably touched one seven times and itâ€™s been sitting out on the coffee table forever. You donâ€™t want to eat it.â€
Mendelsohnâ€™s dog, a 14-year-old Chihuahua-dachsund mix, picks up the slack.
â€œShe eats the ones that fall on the floor,â€ she said. â€œShe loves chocolate. You know how they say dogs arenâ€™t supposed to have chocolate? If that was true she wouldâ€™ve been dead so many years ago.â€
It took her a week and a half to finish the piece, working two or three hours a night or more.
â€œAfter that, it lasted a day,â€ she said. â€œWe had a couple of people over. It was a big feat, and then all we did was take some pictures.â€
She said the artwork came off the coffee table much faster than it went on.
â€œAfter a while youâ€™re, like, â€˜Where am I going to put my feet?â€™â€ she said. â€œYou canâ€™t put your feet up. You canâ€™t put your dishes on [the coffee table].â€
Mendelsohn transferred the M&Ms she used for the piece to gallon bags, sorting them by color. She used them for her next project, a Thanksgiving turkey.
â€œI needed more space because the coffee table is too skinny, so I moved everything off our kitchen table and started putting it there,â€ she said. â€œThank goodness we donâ€™t use it to eat! Otherwise, my fiancÃ©e would be very upset with me.â€
She said people often ask her if she has laminated her designs to make them permanent.
â€œI tell them, â€˜No, itâ€™s chocolate,â€™â€ she said. â€œIt would either mold, orâ€¦ I donâ€™t know. They do make jewelry out of Peeps. There has to be some way I could preserve the M&Ms and make them a wall piece.â€
Her friends have suggested she contact M&Msâ€™ parent company, Mars, Inc., about doing company-commissioned artwork to advertise and publicize the candy. Mendelsohn, who plans to start nursing school in January, doesnâ€™t plan to follow through.
â€œThen I wouldnâ€™t be a nurse!â€ she said.