A Green Dinner in Berlin

I haven’t had much time to draw of late, because of the full-time job of looking for a flat.

Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes July 2015But I was invited to a dinner event on Thursday, and because I knew my Patrons were supporting me, I made the time to go.

The event was “Tales of Taste #2, Forgotten Greens”, and it was dinner featuring wild and historic greens of Europe. This picture shows the event creator, Inés Lauber.

It was hosted in the wildly chic penthouse of Ute K., an amazing new friend in Berlin. Her terrace has the most incredible herb garden I’ve ever seen.

I tried to draw a few of the plants, or at least suggest them.

Tales of Taste_2_2015_Hostess_by_Suzanne_ForbesThere was millet gnocchi, and bright, grassy herbal pestos, and nettle soup with flowers.

I had nettle tagliatelle the one time I ever went to Chez Panisse, in like the 90s, and I fucking still talk about it, I love nettles so much.

Hearing the international chatting of the diners, as the sun set over Berlin, I was so profoundly glad I came here.



Here are some of the diners. There was also a whole sophisticated beer and wine program created by Karl, a sommelier, but of course that went right over my head!

More about food tomorrow, when I post about Eating Mexican Food in Berlin….Tales of Taste_2_2015_02_Suzanne_ForbesTales of Taste 2 2015_01_Suzanne_ForbesTales of Taste 2 2015_TandM_Suzanne_Forbes

The New York-Berlin Express, Vol 1

One of my patrons mentioned she’d love to see drawings of the marathon culture in Berlin. I had no idea that there was marathon culture here until recently…

A couple weeks ago I was taking a taxi because I had to rush to get to an interview at a startup.

My cab driver was a friendly guy in his 70s. Like many people do, he asked where I was from- to my great surprise, older Berliners often don’t see much difference between an English accent and an American accent.

I explained that I was from San Francisco recently but that I grew up in NY.

He told me that he had been to New York, once, in 1991. To run the New York marathon! In under four hours.

I was very impressed and asked a lot of questions.

He described the difficulty of the conditions compared to Berlin: almost the entire Berlin Marathon run is flat, while the NY course has several significant hills.

He had obviously studied the route extensively before his run, and still remembered the names of the neighborhoods and the streets he had run down clearly. Then he told me about the hotel he stayed in.

262px-Calvary-baptist-churchHe stayed at the Hotel Salisbury, which is the only hotel in America wholly owned by a church.

It’s owned by the Calvary Baptist Church, which occupies the first five floors, with a sanctuary and a practising choir. “Then the hotel is just stuck on top of him! like brot in a sandwich!”, my cabdriver said delightedly.

He went on to imagine a situation where a fellow might go on a business trip, with his secretary very nice, and have to make his peace with God over his indiscretion on the spot!

To a secular Berliner, the idea of a hotel in a church was just such a good joke he had been enjoying it for 25 years.

Despite living the first 22 years of my life in New York, I had never heard of this hotel, and I’m so incredibly glad I did. I looked up its history and found it absolutely fascinating.

It was built as a 16-story “skyscraper church” in 1931, and has two Steinway Grand pianos, and its own radio station, with over 200 hotel rooms.

Nowadays it has a charming blog, where you can meet Bell Captain Al, who has served at the hotel for 32 years, and Dixie the bedbug-sniffing dog! The blog has some really good tips on things to do in the city, including an excellent list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants!*

New York mag‘s site notes that visitors arriving back at the hotel after 1am must show id at the front desk- so no unregistered guests can join your revels.

It’s across the street from Carnegie Hall, and next to the Russian Tea Room.  The hotel is also very close to The Art Students League, the classical atelier where I first started studying drawing at 10 (I used to take the subway there myself, can you imagine) and returned when I dropped out of Stuyvesant with my parents’ consent at 16.

“Excuse me, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practise!”

9andahalfIt’s near Coliseum Books, a large midtown bookstore. Paperbacks I shoplifted from there as a teenager include all the James Bond novels, one at a time, one per day, and the original 9½ Weeks, which is actually quite a disturbing little book.

As I was typing this and thinking about 57th st., someone walked by outside our ground-floor Berlin apartment playing the harmonica. Playing the harmonica intro to “Piano Man”, in fact. “Was that– ” my husband said. “Yep.”

During most of the 80s, my mom worked for Billy Joel. More precisely, she worked for his manager, Frank, whose trial and FBI investigation she was later deposed for.

Billy, however, was a sweetheart of a boss, who kept a bottle of high-end bourbon in the supply closet for the cleaning lady (“She needs to take a break too!”). And their office was just a block from Coliseum Books and the League; I must have passed the Salisbury Hotel a hundred times.

One time I’d stopped by my mom’s work after class. I was in her office, drinking Grand Marnier out of the bottle at her desk, and Billy stuck his head in looking for her. He saw me and gave me a big smile and a thumbs up.

In the 80s, nobody cared if a sixteen-year-old was day drinking in your corporate HQ.billyandchristie

Although the trip wasn’t in my mom’s wheelhouse I remember a lot of the details of Billy’s historic trip to Russia in 1987, including the food supplies- Christie was terrified of baby Alexa being exposed to irradiated milk, as it was not long after Chernobyl.

“The tour was controversial at the time because Joel was really the first American rock ‘n roll act to play in Russia after the Berlin Wall went up. It is largely credited as bringing rock ‘n roll to the young people of the communist country.

It was also seen as an enormous goodwill gesture. Joel lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on the trip, but he thought it was an important thing to do. Joel says that his whole point was to “make friends.” “Have them know what kind of people we are, make some people happy with my music and get something that can be continued more and more, maybe it’ll grow,” says the singer.”

If you’ve never seen any footage of Billy in Russia, it’s worth seeing. The goodwill shown to him had a huge impact on my ability to understand the humanity of the people behind the Wall of Communism. In the 80s, when a crack of thunder would wake me and I’d think for a disoriented minute that it was the first bomb, it was impossible to imagine an end to the Cold War.

I never imagined I’d be typing this just a kilometer from the Berlin Wall Memorial, and my cab driver never imagined he’d travel to New York in 1991. Or that he’d finish in under four hours!

*Sadly, the veggie restaurant I loved best, Arnold’s Turtle in the West VIllage, is long gone, as is Dojo on St. Mark’s where the veggie burger was so good. But macrobiotic Souen where friends of mine worked is still around, and so is Angelica, where hairy, scary hippies used to bully us Stuyvesant students to eat every single bite of our food because, the planet.

My first Berlin art event!

Suzanne Forbes drawing from ESDIP June 2015Since we got here, it has been crazy.

There is so much to do with a move like this for two people and two cats. Plus we’re both partially disabled and just don’t have the bandwidth some people do.

So it was only this Friday, three months after we arrived, the day after we got our two-year visa, that I finally made it to an artist’s networking event.


It was at ESDIP Berlin, a co-working space and art school in Friedrichshain.

I took the subway, even though the tram would have been more efficient, because I love the subway so much. Across from me there were three blond German kids; I noticed them because one girl had a face that interested me as a potential model. I don’t have cards yet though, and although I have been known to accost total strangers and demand they pose for me, I prefer to have a card to give them.

I got off at Frankfurter Tor, which smells slightly like pee, as do many Friedrichshain stations.

I deeply appreciated that the event didn’t start til 8, and when I got there at 8:30 everyone was eating delicious vegan food from Flambé. After staggering asthmatically up the eight million stairs, I entered the room full of young artists in full-on perimenopause hotflash hell.

Luckily, there was a gallery space serving as smoking room with open windows, and I saw a woman my own age, standing in one of them. I asked if I could share her window, since I was having a change of life moment.

She said in the most glorious, smoky, Marlene Dietrich voice, “Dahling, you know I understand you!”

I had a lovely chat with her, and then found a seat next to Clairikine, a transcultural maker of comics who I was delighted to meet. There is an incredible generation of young women in comics now, fearless and funny. They were never wounded by the battle to break in at the Big Two as I was, because they’ve never cared about working at Marvel or DC. They make comics and post them, and scrape together a living, and they don’t have to get sexually harassed by editors to do it.

Soon the first presenter, a graphic designer from Spain, started his slides.

That’s him in the top picture, Jorge Chamorro. I was so happy to be in a room full of artists, with beautiful work on the walls, with people holding sketchbooks, with people talking about making visual art. There were people from all over Europe, and of course plenty of Americans because there are Americans everywhere in Berlin, and everyone there cared about DRAWING. (And eating tasty vegan food. And drinking beer, or delicious Fritz-Kola, like me.)

It was like taking a bath in hope and welcome, especially because of the usual ghastly Berlin humidity.

The presenters were from Spain, France, Scotland and Germany; I was enchanted by French animator Perrine Marais and her fucking adorable mobile game, Pony Style Box. I was also impressed to see that “Kommunikations Designer” Jonas Heidenreich has solid actual drawing skills under his graphic design chops. I don’t think they teach drawing to design students in the US anymore.

I felt like I was in an environment where traditional draughtsmanship was actually valued, for the first time in decades.

I drew this picture below after the talks were over, especially for one of my patrons, since she has a taste for a certain look in boys. ESDIP_Connects_2_Suzanne_Forbes_June_15

I headed home early, just past midnight, because I’m an old, but I was deeply glad to have gone and so excited about art in Berlin.

I stopped at a very cool little crepe shop and bought two goddam excellent macarons, for just €3, and on the subway I saw the three blond kids again, sitting across from me again. “You guys were–” I said, laughing, and they said, “Yes! Berlin is small.”

Berlin is small, but big enough for new dreams.





Berlin is louche as fuck.

Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes June 2015Berlin is an amazing combination of good-citizen law-abidingness and cavalier scofflawry.

Obeying the law seems to be, iike many things in Germany, left to your good sense. You may have read that German people will shout at you if you cross the street on a red light; one phrase that they shout translates to “Think of the children (you monster)!”. It’s not actually so much about obeying the red light as setting a careful example to kids.

Besides, nobody in Berlin is in such a hurry that they really need to jaywalk.

The European sense that the law should be obeyed when appropriate and disregarded otherwise is particularly noticeable on the public transit system. Technically, it is illegal to eat, drink, drink alcohol or smoke on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses. Absolutely everyone ignores this.

Since you can get an espresso, a noodle stir-fry and a six-pack on the subway platform, it’s not difficult.Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes June 2015

(You can also get a pack of cigarettes, from an actual cigarette machine, but I haven’t seen anyone smoking on the transit system yet. )

You’ll be on the bus and someone will be eating a pastry; the person across from them will notice and remember that they have a sandwich in their bag. Pretty soon everyone is crunching away.

Here you see a picture of a girl cheerfully eating french fries- which you will note are SPECIFICALLY forbidden- while the ticket inspector gives her friend a ticket for riding without one, which everyone does all the time, of course. You can see my hand drawing the U-Bahn signs, which are hidden by the ticket inspector’s head.

I was waiting for her to offer him some fries, but she rudely did not.

I love all this lawlessness, of course. One of my patrons requested that I make some work about the similarity between Berlin now and New York in the 80s, so I drew this picture of me and my best friend Skenney and our friend Naomi on the subway in 1982 or ’83. We used frisbees as drink trays during our “Mobile Tequila Sunrise” phase; you can see Naomi is daintily adding the grenadine.NYC Subway early 80s Suzanne Forbes


Fauvist Mantis and Crafting With Pornstars

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015



These embroidered insects are the thing I’ve been working on the most for the last two months, since we got to Berlin. Embroidery is a wonderfully portable art form because it’s very cheap, has a tiny footprint and doesn’t risk mess-making like painting does.

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015

I loved embroidery as a teenager, but it took a craft day at a yoga spa with porn stars to get me doing it again in my forties.

During my years as a sex-positive artist in the Bay Area, I did a lot of work with Madison Young. I’m so very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in shows and performance art at her gallery, benefits she produced for sex-positive institutions, and shows her gallery arranged for me. (you can see some of the work here- NOT work-safe, and you’ll need to be signed in to Flickr with the adult safeties off to see some of it.)

Original drawing by Suzanne Forbes 2010One of the things we did was a day of handwork in the backyard of a fancy yoga place. As I recall the work produced was to benefit Lyon-Martin, and was exhibited there. Kira Scarlet, the lovely lady shown here, brought embroidery supplies and re-taught me how to do it.

When I went into remission from depression, I started to play around with needlework. You can see my last couple years of embroidery work here.

Thanks to PInterest, my embroidery has been inspired by Game of Thrones.

Original embroidery art by Michele Carragher for HBO's Game of Thrones

Original embroidery art by Michele Carragher for HBO’s Game of Thrones

No, that doesn’t mean *spoiler* has *spoilered* my *spoilers*.

Instead, I discovered master textile artist Michele Carragher, who does all the embroidery for the costumes on the show. She is very generous in sharing her process and techniques, and there are lots of pictures of her work on her site.

Her work with sheer fabrics and metallic lace is amazing. I was inspired to start using organza, lace and tulle as well as beading and ribbon in my needlework.Mermaid_Suzanne_Forbes_2015

This mermaid is the first embroidery I did with mixed media. It was the last thing I worked on in the Bay besides the three portraits I finished in March, and I was working on it til our last week- I think it actually got packed the day we left.

All the materials were leftover from my insane mermaid costume project.  The ribbons and net were burned and torn to distress them. Eventually she’ll have clamshell sequin pasties but I couldn’t find them in the chaos of final packing.

One of the ideas I’m interested in is using tulle or net as a callback to Zip-A-Tone, a 20th Century artist’s material now completely obliterated by Photoshop.

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015Also, bead embroidery is my equivalent of smoking pot- it is relaxing and meditative and luscious to me. Here in Berlin, I didn’t have my stash of beads and fabric, but you can buy oval hoops in the craft store! Oval hoops are the business.  My art materials stash has been growing thanks to a friend who is both generous patron and muse, and I bought some German metallic thread.

“This is way better than regular metallic thread”, I said to my artist sister-in-law over Skype. She said, “You mean it’s only the seventh circle of Hell instead of the ninth?” Exactly!

Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes 2015You can see the layers of metallic lace and organza ribbon in this bug- and also its surprising Fauvist palette.

People who have only seen my paintings from 2005 on might be surprised to know that my earliest paintings were all in the colors of Gauguin and Matisse, not Manet. The mantis was inspired by the poetic bug photographs of Igor Siwanowicz.

Also, I have been obsessed with mantises for a long time. Creepy.



This week: An angry little girl!

As promised, for the lovely little ones back in Cali, my version of kid-friendly art.

(Patrons receive a high-resolution file to print and frame, perfect for the goth-industrial nursery.)

The apartment I grew up in was filled with the artwork of my parents’ friends, and it was incredibly important to me. The pictures were like portals into the mysterious capacities of adulthood and the mystery of my parents’ past. I’ve always loved doing silhouettes of children, and the idea for this one popped into my head last week when I saw our furious kitty parading her outrage at us around the house.

I have very clear memories of being an angry little girl, stomping out to the yard at our ramshackle country house in Maine.

My generation of kids, the latchkey generation, was the last one to have the freedom to go fuck around outside unsupervised. We could walk away from our parents, and nobody would come after us. Later we loved Calvin and Hobbes so much because it was a document of a vanished kids’ world, one of wayward, lackadaisical freedom where tins cans, rusty nails and broken glass were just part of the environment.

Sharp things and junk were toys to me, interesting items, as much as sea slugs and birch bark.

Pull tabs and browned barb wire were components of my miniature worlds, like Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. I loved the flowers of high summer, the Black-Eyed Susans and Indian Paintbrush in the drawing, and the fishhooks and lures in my father’s tackle box. I loved to make stuff, and to be left alone.

At the same time, I was fascinated with performative femininity and the armature of created identity from babyhood.

There’s a family story about how when I was three, my godmother Sandy (who will appear in a future post!) asked me why I never wore pants. “Sandra, I’m not into pants”, I told her archly. I was a frankly beautiful child, both inappropriately sexualized and innately self-absorbed, and there are pictures of me in pretty dresses where I am absolutely vamping. I got that “pretty” was a key to power. I was looking for tools, and power, and I always cobbled them together from my environment.

That’s why when I saw Mark Tansey’s painting “The Bricoleur’s Daughter” in 1990 it hit me like a Mack truck.

This huge work addresses Derrida’s notion of bricolage, Plato’s Cave, and a half a dozen other heavyweight philosophical and art-historical constructs while presenting as a visually pleasing and apparently traditional painting. It’s stealth discourse! Sometimes the simplest, most literal things tell the complicated stories best.

There’s nothing I like better than using the formatted iconography of traditional illustration to frame a new discussion.

The Bricoleur's Daughter by Mark Tansey



You can see the legacy of pulp immediately, as well as something else. Although it’s not part of the critical dialogue about the work, I’m pretty confident that art-history maniac Tansey intended the disturbing objectification of the young girl.

I see her Balthus-like pose as placing that objectification within the discourse about the complicity of the viewer’s gaze, which moves through Caravaggio to Emma Sulkowicz.

There’s a reason it’s the Bricoleur’s Daughter, not his son. I love that she’s casting the Plato’s cave shadow herself- knowing is half the battle!


 So to me, my silhouette drawing is a stealth message about the righteous rage of little girls.

nancy-drew-book-coverThey will be, despite your best intentions and hard work, inculcated into a culture of performative self-objectification.

It sucks, but they have you (even when they’re mad at you), they have allies, they have tools to parse unique identities, they have their marvelous resourcefulness, and they have their beautiful, sacred fury.

lagniappe: Interested in political silhouette art? Kara Walker is everything. Interested in abandoned lot art? Lonnie Holley is amazing.

My first art in Berlin, thanks to Patreon!

Original drawing Suzanne Forbes May 2015We’ve been in Berlin over two months, but I’d been afraid to take any time to make art. Looking for any kind of job to help us get settled seemed like the highest priority.

Then some loved ones suggested I start a Patreon to support my art. And so I did!

This is my first Berlin drawing. I got on the U-Bahn, took out my sketchbook, and looked up. There he was! I felt like this wonderful-looking fellow, with his recurving forms and enormous angular hands, was a gift from the drawing gods.


Families are very close and tender here; there’s a lot of physical affection, like between this mama or auntie and her girls.

Original drawing Suzanne Forbes June 2015

I’ve seen several of these bags around; I can’t help but wonder what would happen if you carried one in the US.Original drawing Suzanne Forbes June 2015

I’m so grateful to my amazing patrons, who have made this batch of drawings possible!

If you’d like to help support my work, please visit my Patreon.
You can contribute any amount- $5 a month is great!- and stop at any time. 





A Patreon, I haz it!

IMG_0006That’s right, some of my wonderful friends suggested I set up a Patreon so they could help support me making art. Pretty wonderful friends, if I do say so myself.

Here it is!



Also maybe you’d like to see an amazing high-speed video of me painting an entire portrait in just a couple minutes.

Suzanne Rachel Forbes – Portrait Painting from John Ashton-Keller on Vimeo.

*photo of me painting by Justin Quimby, Feb 2015

What to wear to the End of the World.

* this article originally appeared on Carnal Nation and io9, repubbed here for the ages.

resident-evil-afterlife-movie-image-milla-jovovich-12-600x400Things are always a little sketchy, globally. They’ve been sketchy my whole life, what with Reagan and the Cold War and acid rain and global warming and shoals of plastic bottles in the Pacific. Now that we’re all depressed, let’s talk about clothes!

Obviously, when the Apocalypse comes you want to be dressed for it. You want to look good, and have a place to keep your tools and weapons and jerky. You want clothes that are sturdy, in case you’re dragged over the desert sands behind a motorcycle, and clothes that are washable, because your drycleaner is at the bottom of the new Los Angeles Sea. You’ll want clothes that are modular, because you’re likely to be wearing the same outfit for quite a while. You may want clothes that are armored, knife-proof or bulletproof, and you’ll definitely want some fucking bad-ass boots.

Also, you should do your shopping as soon as possible, before the worldwide economic meltdown. For boots, get yourself some New Rocks. Sure, they cost a fortune, but you’ll never be buying another pair of boots anyway, on account of that EMP taking out all the electronic currency. If you must go with Demonia, the Stomp or Transformer models are good for kicking in zombie heads. The Transformer can be instantly weaponized with attachable spikes. The motorcycle gear company Icon also makes fabulous high-heeled boots for your chic cycling needs. You’ll need a tattered skirt with lots of pockets, d-rings and straps. I found this French-run company based in Hong Kong and Bali, Shaman Electro, by looking at the tag on the back of Carnal Nation Editor-in-Chief Theresa Ikard’s fabulous tattered skirt.

Cryoflesh-Aquarius-SkirtOr this amazing one by CryofleshOr some demented modular skirt plus pants thing. Then you need a jacket. Maybe you’ll want this fucking crazy stillsuit/desert nomad hoodie to protect you from the radioactive ash. Or how about Kevlar or Aramid lined hoodies that deflect knife cuts? Try out this razortape-print Kevlar-lined hoodie from BladeRunner in the UK. They even have a  sickening pink “ladies” version.shaman-electro-pandora1

If you’re protecting yourself from the elements in the frozen wastes of Brazil, you’ll want a warm coat. After much research, I’ve concluded that most women’s cold-weather gear is not hot, and therefore, by definition, sucks-not-in-the-good-way.

The only cool insulated jackets are from motorcycle gear companies—and they have the advantage of being armored at the shoulders and elbows, for when you jump out of  the speeding jacked-up BattlePrius in the middle of  the wasteland. I like the British motorcycle gear company Frank Thomas for their Armored Venus line. This jacket from FirstGear is actually electrically heated. FirstGear-HeatedJacket-2_0You can plug it in to your methane-powered hybrid motocross hoverbike!

Then you need a place to put your gear. You’ll want your hands free, so you need a utility belt or vest. Poizen Industries makes this cute bustier with zipoff pockets and ammo holders.poizen-corset2

The craziest, most amazing utility belts and holster belts anywhere are on etsy at Jungle Tribe’s shop:JungleTribe bage




Much, much cheaper are cloth utility belts.

Five and Diamond’s Wild Card belts are fabulous. There are Wild Card holster belts, and the Skin Graft holster belts sold both at F&D and at the Skin Graft site.

Once you’ve stashed your gear about your person in all your little pockets and pouches, you can protect yourself from the toxic rain with the Blade Runner umbrella— at thinkgeek.

Of course, the accessory you need most of all is Milla Jovovich and her machete.