Category Archives: Berlin

A three-hour portrait painting.

When you live in Berlin and have a large flat, your friends send their friends to stay with you.Bryce in library by Suzanne Forbes Feb 12 2017

And when you come to stay with us, you may be asked to pose.

Bryce in library by Suzanne Forbes eb 12 2017 WIP.Bryce in library by Suzanne Forbes Feb 12 2017 WIP.

Our recent houseguest Bryce graciously agreed to pose while reading in the library with my hub.
Bryce in library by Suzanne Forbes Feb 12 2017 WIP.
Bryce in library by Suzanne Forbes Feb 12 2017 WIP.

 

Now that I have an Instagram, I’ve been trying to document my process more. It’s fun to see how fast it happens.

ryce in library by Suzanne Forbes eb 12 2017 WIP. 2 - Edited
This 15″ by 20″ acrylic on board portrait was completed in just under three hours.Bryce in library by Suzanne Forbes Feb 12 2017 face

Unterweg Drawings Nr. 3 – January!

3am on the U7 by Suzanne Forbes Jan 30 2017This is one of those Berlin moments that kind of confused me.

It was a Saturday late fairly late, and this guy was eating a sandwich in a white Tyvek jumpsuit. Was he a homeless guy, with his possessions in his cart? His cart also contained folders of papers and cleaning products, maybe he works in the subway system?

I couldn’t tell. I snuck behind the elevator shaft and drew him through its glass walls. Then I finished it a month or two later with the new greyscale markers one of my beloved Friend-Muse-Patrons gave me for my 50th birthday!80s classics come around again by Suzanne Forbes Jan 25 2017

I saw this woman last week on the U-Bahn. Everything about her took me back to the 80s.

It was an older train, she was in the classic straphanger bookworm brace position, she was reading an 80s thriller and wearing the same kind of puffer coat my mom wore in the 80s. Puffer coats came back in style a couple years ago, and I am glad because they are so fun to draw.

December Unterwegs here.

November Unterwegs here.

Drawing Amanda Palmer in Berlin!

Amanda Palmer in my kitchen, by Suzanne Forbes Halloween 2016

Our longtime beloved FriendMusePatron Whitney was on tour this fall with her longtime friend Amanda Palmer.

On Halloween she and Amanda and baby Ash and the whole delightful entourage of cool people came to our house. I made this drawing of Amanda in the kitchen. Daria drew the same moment!

Amanda and I had only met once before, almost a decade ago, so we had some sad quiet time in my bedroom talking about our mutual friend Conor. Amanda’s blog still sends a reader almost every day to my post about how Conor lost his battle with depression and addiction.

I’m grateful that her fans are reading my message about how depression is a medical illness, not a failing of character.

While we talked baby Ash, a sweet-tempered and happy baby, crawled around the coverlet and peered at the cats. He has soulful, deep-set eyes. I love him.Amanda and Whitney practising Paperback Writer in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

Then on the next day me and Daria got to go to the show and be backstage and draw and it was wonderful.

This is Whitney and Amanda practising “Paperback Writer” in the empty venue before the show. The show was at a legendary Berlin venue, Huxleys Neue Welt, and the acoustics were gorgeous. Their voices rose up pure and exquisite in the open space, and the piano was amazing.

When we came into the concert hall where Amanda was at the piano, she sang into the mike, “The artists have arrived!”. I would like to be introduced this way everywhere.

Amanda Palmer and Ash in the Green Room by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

Scotty the Blue Bunny in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016In the green room Ash was looked after by his nanny, who had been an on-point Eleven for Halloween, and old friends of Amanda’s who live in Berlin. His mother’s ear was always tuned to him, even as she got ready to perform.

Scotty the Blue Bunny, another Bay Area refugee now in Berlin, opened the show with his signature baton twirling. Amanda said she would like to be introduced this way everywhere she goes.

Amanda speaks fluent German, as you may or may not know, and fans were yelling “Your German is great!”

She spoke in German quite a bit and it went over gangbusters.

Here’s Amanda taking requests by writing them on her arm!

This is her traditional method of taking requests. The audience happily complied, yelling out song titles.Amanda Palmer taking requests in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

And Amanda playing the ukulele. I fucking love when Amanda plays the ukulele!

Here’s Daria’s. It was so great, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be there and make these drawings. You can support both me and Amanda continuing to make exactly the art that feels most authentic to us on Patreon!

Amanda Palmer playing ukulele in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

Amanda Palmer playing ukulele in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes Nov 1 2016

Amanda is in Melbourne right now, but in the US you can hear Whitney sing with group Midtown Social all over the Bay Area.

 

Patron Portrait Party!!!

So many beloved Friend-Muse-Patrons came to Berlin to celebrate my 50th birthday!

J by Suzanne Forbes Jan 8 2016I got to make portraits of lots of loved ones, it was glorious.Icka by Suzanne Forbes Dec 29 2016

For me making portraits of people I care about is a way of recording love, making it eternal.anandamayi and alexis by Suzanne Forbes Jan 6 2016

To have these wonderful people in our home and make art of them was the best birthday gift I could possibly have imagined.
neysa and ramon by suzanne forbes jan 7 2017

A new year of portrait painting.

Portrait of DIa by Suzanne Forbes Jan 4 2017I’ve known Dia for years, and made a very good drawing of them at the Edwardian Ball back in the Oughts.

Portrait of Dia by Suzanne Forbes Jan 4 2017Dia came to my Halloween party in this outfit, dressed as Desire, and I was like “Oh HELL yeah!”

I wanted to seize the opportunity to make a portrait while Dia was still in Berlin, before they headed off to New York for a new job doing important work protecting civil liberties.

I am as giddily pleased with this rock-solid powerhouse portrait as I’ve ever been with anything I’ve done. I think it’s a good indication for the New Year.

My work has always been deeply committed to queer and trans visibility, and I pledge to work as hard as I can on representation with love and respect in 2017.

If you’d like to help support my work, please visit my Patreon!

https://www.patreon.com/SuzanneForbes

If you’d like to see more of my work representing diversity, queer love, trans visibility and body positivity, click over to my flickr. Some of the drawings are VERY explicit drawings of queer love and sex, so to see all 98 images in this album you’ll have to have your “adult” safeties off!

Unterweg Drawings Nr. 2- December!

senior ladies by Suzanne Forbes December 2016 Berlin

I love how older ladies carry themselves in Berlin. So composed, so collected, so unafraid.

Working on these relaxed, experimental unterweg drawings has really given me new skills and creativity around handling backgrounds, using pattern to differentiate shapes and dropping in blacks.bus-guy-by-suzanne-forbes-2016

I saw this guy during the summer, on the bus that goes to the airport, then found the drawing and finished it just this week.

I’d like to talk more about my work, I’d like to offer more helpful insight into my process, I’d like to be more useful- but this year, this month, this week, it’s just more than I know what to do with right now. I managed to make art this month, and that took all the energy I had.

Drawing musicians is good medicine.

I love drawing musicians.

As a completely non-musical person, they are like sorcerers to me. They possess dynamic energy and their movements are both repetitive and startling. I drew this guy on the U both because I love banjos and because of his young-Frank-Zappa good looks! banjetar man november 2016 by Suzanne Forbes

These two guys performed at the delightful holiday party for the wonderful company my husband works for. It was at a totally wonderful, secret venue hidden behind a hof full of bins. I’ll get their names after the break, right now everyone is off for the holidays.aklamio-holiday-party-dec-13-by-suzanne-forbes

October/November bricolage roundup: More Extreme Gothic Crafting.

Between Halloween and the Orange Catastrophe, I never posted most of the things I made in October.OctNov Bricolage Suzanne Forbes

And of course I’ve been making more in November, because handwork is my safe place.

Suzanne Forbes crazy quilt mantel scarf Halloween 2016I worked on the beaded crazy quilt mantel scarf for quite a while after Halloween, once I finally got my sewing machine working here.Suzanne Forbes crazy quilt mantel scarf Halloween 2016

You need a step-up step-down transformer to operate a US sewing machine in Germany.

However my machine is a computerized one with great automatic thread tensioning and I was terrified that the sheer power of European wall current would fry it. Finally I nerved myself up, plugged in the transformer and it was fine. The transformer gives off a bit of a chemical smell as it heats up, but that kind of thing never bothers me.

I’m still a raging helpless amateur on the sewing machine, anything I sew looks like wombat knitting.

Of course, I’ve spent a lot of time around extraordinary couture seamtresses and costumiéres, and I know I’ll never be even a regular competent sewer. But I don’t care. Using the machine makes me feel powerful and capable and it’s just so magic and fun.

My plan is to take the mantel scarf out before Halloween every year and add more beading, embroidery and quilting.

Halloween mini top hat project Suzanne Forbes

Halloween mini top hat project Suzanne Forbes

 

This hat is one of my “Uplift” projects. I found it in a 75% off bin at Michaels the fall before we left, coming apart, and threw it in the “Halloween Crafts on Arrival” box for the shipping container.

I love to carefully glue crappy things, and fix their carelessly made bits, and then add hours of careful crystal decoration and a vintage jet bead. I had these rooster feathers that precisely matched some scraps of sequin in the sequin trim scrap bag I got at Discount Fabrics for $5 years ago. Isn’t that nuts how they match?

black-horns-suzanne-forbes-2016black-horns-detail-suzanne-forbes-2016

I also spent a lot of time adding Swarovski crystals to a deer skull.

gilt horns Suzanne Forbes 2016And gold leafing another skull. I used this weird star-patterned variegated gold leaf I got at Idée for super cheap; with my usual fingerpainting leafing technique, it didn’t really show.

After I leafed it I varnished it with acrylic glaze, then rubbed the still-tacky glaze with this pure bronze pigment powder. I bought the jar at the art-school art supply store in college in 1990 ’cause it was in a discount bin; I’ve still barely made a dent in it and I have used it for SO MANY THINGS.

Daria thought the black crystal-decorated skull was a little passé. Like, so gothsterday. Ah well, there’s no pleasing the young.

I also cleverly framed this creepy eye I painted back in February in this creepy frame.Eye painting by Suzanne Forbes 2016

passementarie-embroidered-pillow-editedCreepy, right? And I did the first test of using my machine to add passementerie trim to one of my pillows that for some unknown reason, did not already have trim on it.

I had been feeling bad for this poor, undecorated pillow for years.

target-halloween-talking-old-time-radioAlso, I got this incredible animatronic talking vintage radio at Target in the US in September, and carefully brought it home.

halloween-haunted-radioHowever, it needed work; both Daria and I felt that the way the lights flashed around the top was overkill and not so nice.

So I painted the white faux-Bakelite strip black, applied varnish, roughly gold-leafed it with the same cheap variegated leaf, then used the bronze powder on it. And then Daria distressed it with more black paint, because she said it was still too glitzy. She was right, of course.

making cupcakes Suzanne Forbes 2016I probably would have made a lot more stuff in October, but I was really busy baking for Halloween.

And in November I was so stressed before the US election and so gutted afterwards that I lost a lot of creative time. And Leonard Cohen died. What the fucking fuck, 2016.

I’m trying to catch up.

At least cats are on hand to supervise.Halloween cupcakes Suzanne Forbes 2016
cat-supervisors

Halloween 2016 recap – our first Halloween party in Berlin!

Designing, planning and cooking for Halloween parties is one of my deepest creative passions.

Halloween 2016 Suzanne Forbes photo Skye Estes

I made a bunch of vegan and gf desserts for the first time this year. Some of them were good!

I learned the white chocolate drip glaze technique to make the glazes for my beloved brother and sister in law’s wedding cake; you can see it here!

Halloween 2016 Suzanne Forbes photo Skye EstesI started my craft projects in September, and my baking October 1.

I am bugfuck crazy about Halloween.eyeball bouquet Suzanne Forbes Halloween 2016

Hallway Suzanne Forbes Halloween 2016So even though I’m still reeling with horror about the US election, I’m going to post some pictures of the creative things I did for my favorite holiday.

Hallway Suzanne Forbes Halloween 2016

Seeing other people make beautiful things and follow their passions has been sustaining to me.

I hope seeing my weird stuff feels good to you.

I decorated the house. I can no longer tell what I put up for Halloween and what was already there.fridge-ma-edited

fridge-cats-editedLike this note from my mom from last Halloween, which is basically just part of our kitchen now. And these magnets Daria got me on one of her trips. Eyeball bouquet by Suzanne Forbes Halloween DIY

I don’t even know where this other eyeball bouquet I made and the creepy hand are in the house now.

So it’s not like I could put them away.

I guess it’s all staying up! Santa hats for all the bats!

mcardle-library-2016-edited

Paper and fabric flowers by Anandamayi Arnold and Aimee Baldwin

I finally found a glass dome big enough for my bridal bouquet of paper and fabric flowers made by amazing artists Anandamayi Arnold and Aimee Baldwin. All I had to do was sand and paint the base, which was some hideous pale oak color, black.

 Daria Rhein art framed by Suzanne Forbes 2016 1 This work of art made by beloved friends displayed in our home was one of the visions I held onto tightly during our whole move and housing search.

daria-rhein-art-framed-by-suzanne-forbes-2016-2-edited

Creating a safe space to honor the works made by the cherished creative people I have known and loved is a huge part of who I am and how I am motivated.

Holding onto so many precious, delicate, completely unique things is a lot of work and a lot of stress. I used a lot of acid-free tissue and bubble wrap to get them here.

But without weird object-attachment people like me, there’d be no museums!

 

(I also made these sparkly creature-frames for Daria‘s new postcards, because I love mass production too!)

horrible OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2016I made this hideous dolly kind of in my spare time in parallel to my Gothic Burlesque Elsa Lanchester Bride of Frankenstein. Isn’t she lovely? Not so much? Oh come on, you like her right?

Bride of Frankenstein custom OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes WIP 2016Well, she came out exactly as I saw her in my head, and it’s a rare project you can say that about, especially one involving a rubber spider, hair ties, epoxy clay and faux fur.

Fun fact: the boots I used for Elsa were the boots that were on the feet of this Living Dead doll before I, um, cut them off with a hacksaw.

I packed them with epoxy clay to give my Bride more weight and structural stability at her base. And I also used epoxy clay to make a dollar-store zombie hand candleholder more normal.

You know, I just wanted a regular creepy disembodied hand.

I wish it was still the week before Halloween, before the darkness and terror of November 8. I wish I wasn’t so afraid for the US and the world. I wish I could go back in time to when I bought this poster, when it seemed impossible such a creature could win the election.  I hope and pray by next Halloween the world will be less insane. I thank you and love you for all that you do.

 

Longterm remission and recovery from severe depression IS FUCKING POSSIBLE.

This November marks my four-year anniversary of complete remission from severe, long-term Major Depressive Disorder.

Photo by Julia Wolf 2015, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo by Julia Wolf 2015, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

glucklich in berlin Suzanne Forbes 2016Despite the US election, despite my fear for my loved ones and my horror and grief at injustice and cruelty, I am deeply happy.

It’s not just that we moved to Berlin and have a better life. I felt better for several years before we left.

I entered remission in November 2012, thanks to my partner who got me on new health insurance, my mom who found me doctors when I didn’t have the strength, and a doctor who changed my meds fearlessly.

I can’t even understand how happy I am these days.

meandmaria-by-sabine-sept-6-2016I’ve been happy much of the time, and deeply content, and gleeful, and terrified, and traumatized, and overwhelmed with grief, and sick with fear, and bursting, bursting with love, the last four years. I’ve spent many, many hours in the pure flow zone of creative work. I’ve been exhausted, A LOT.

What I haven’t been, for a single day, is depressed. If you have depression, you know the difference.

I haven’t had a single day when I wanted to kill myself.

Miss Cat DVine by Suzanne Forbes July 2016Not a single day when I thought obsessively about killing myself. Not a single day when killing myself seemed like gravity, like something I was fighting every day not to be pulled into.

I haven’t had a Plan for four years. I actually almost don’t remember what it felt like to want to drink Drano or to check the windows of the car for leaks. In the last four years, there has been only one moment when I looked at the headlights of the oncoming train and felt a dizzying pull. It was two or three seconds, during the most frightening part of our move, when things seemed hopeless and like we’d have to go back to the US.

If you have long-term suicidal depression, you probably can’t imagine this.

I lived in the Bay Area for eighteen years. By the time we left, there wasn’t a single street I hadn’t driven down wanting to kill myself. I had calculated the speed I’d need to go off every embankment, through every safety rail. Every tall building and dark water had called to me. But the last two years and four months we lived there, I was indifferent to them. I had no business with them.

I tried to kill myself for the first time when I was thirteen.

photo John Garetti 1977

Paramedics had to come for my drug overdoses twice before I was twenty-one. Near the end of my years in the Bay, in January of 2012, I was very briefly 5150’d in the ER at the Kaiser Hospital for suicidal impulse. (They were super nice and they put warm blankets around you. Definitely go there if you’re in Oakland and want to harm yourself!)

I’ve been seeing therapists since I was EIGHT YEARS OLD. I have moderate OCD, Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, PTSD and a bunch of other stuff. Oh and I’m a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict sober 27 years.Suzanne Forbes Rachel Ketchum NYC SVA id 1988

 

I’ve been in in-patient treatment for chemical dependency, spent four months in a halfway house, been through the Kaiser Family program co-dependency outpatient program, been through the Kaiser outpatient program for depression, spent five years each with two therapists doing PTSD work and dozens of visits with other therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and doctors.

Most significant of all, I have spent decades in recovery communities and support groups of all kinds, which have been the biggest resource I have to grow and change.

I HATE being mentally ill.

goat by Suzanne Forbes 2007

Goats for no reason.

I never wanted to be sick and I have fought all the diseases of the mind I suffer from fucking tooth and nail all my life. I know you have too, if you have them. I know you’re not lazy, not weak and not sorry for yourself. You are incredibly brave.

You are courageous beyond words and stronger than you should ever have had to be.

You are a superhero, in the secret identity of a person who has had to spend thousands of days on the couch with a blanket. I know you don’t want to be on the couch. I know you hate it. I believe you when you say you want to be better and that you have tried everything.

I beg you, get someone to help you try one more thing.

Pony rides by Suzanne Forbes Dec 20 2015

Ponies from last December.

I would never tell you to “fight harder”. I know you’ve been fighting as hard as you possibly can your entire life. What I beg you to do is to beg someone who cares about you to help you with your life and death struggle. I didn’t have the strength, when my crisis hit its peak in summer 2012, to find new doctors.

I was exhausted by the cycle at Kaiser, where they couldn’t offer me one-on-one therapy and wouldn’t take me off the Wellbutrin/Celexa cocktail because I “wasn’t stable enough to risk it”. I was on new insurance, in the summer of 2012, thanks to the company my bf worked for including domestic partners. But I couldn’t go through the nightmare rounds of trying to find a therapist, trying to find a psychiatrist who was taking new patients, navigating the phone trees.

My mom did the phone calls for me, and it saved my life.

ugly-hippie-sandalI went to a new psychiatrist, who I did not like at all. But he was daring (or close to retirement and just didn’t care); he stopped the Wellbutrin/Celexa cold turkey and switched me to Cymbalta. Which at the time was under patent and cost like $200 bucks a month. Lucky me, I had insurance.

He said it might take longer to kick in than I thought possible. He made me wait, showing up at his office dull-eyed or weeping quietly even though I felt totally creeped out by his old feet in their ugly sandals.

Sometimes he said, wait one more day, then call me if it’s not better. I sustained my sanity during this period by reading the excellent psychiatric medicine website CrazyMeds, where they can help you “Find the Options That Suck Less”. (Sadly, the forums are not currently active as the site owner is very sick and lacks spoons to move the site to a newer host.) Reading about other people’s dogged persistence in finding medicine for their depression helped me hang in. I read about other people who Cymbalta had worked for after longer than they wanted to wait. My mom found me a therapist, and I went back to weekly therapy. For the fourth time? The fifth? Who fucking knows. I hate therapy.

One day the meds kicked in. It was as simple as that.

esdip Berlin summer illustration students Aug 20 2016 Suzanne Forbes

Drawing on the bus with my students, summer 2016.

I was following the oft-described “Most Effective Treatment for Depression”, combining medication and talk therapy. My therapist was warm but tough, and we did a fair amount of cognitive work.

I have no more information than that. I do know that nowadays I feel like I have a scaffolding of cognitive training that keeps me from destructive thought patterns, but I could never have stopped those patterns long enough to develop new scaffolding without the meds. I’ve been on Cymbalta, same dose, for four years. I”m fine, truly and utterly fine. And being fine is WONDERFUL. I make art, teach drawing, care for my husband and our cats.

Don’t think recovering addicts who take anti-depressants are really sober? Come at me!

photo-of-rachel-ketchum-1986-by-possibly-david-seligI forget to take my meds constantly and always have. I have to put them in a 14-day pill dispenser and keep it on my worktable in front of me. I don’t know about you, but I never forgot to take my drug of choice. And I was a pill-freak, I totally fetishized and obsessed about pills. Here’s a picture of me on some downer pills in 1986*. You can see the difference between me then and me now, right?

The meds are totally neutral to my addictive brain, I’ve never wanted to take more of them or abuse them.

I have never been free of depression symptoms for this long in my entire life. Predictably, once my brain got better, my body fell apart. I had to have surgery for fibroids, I had terrible problems with anemia (even now, even though I’m on the cusp of menopause now), I’ve been through crazy perimenopause symptoms. I hate being hot, and I had three years of hot flashes.

bead embroidered corset by Suzanne Forbes 2013I got calcium crystals in my ear and developed Benign Positional Disorder, an illness of the inner ear that makes you feel like you have the drunk spins. I had to go on disability from work! I had to have physical therapy for vertigo at the Vertigo Clinic in Oakland! Who even heard of such a thing? Isn’t that fucking ridiculous?

And the whole time, when I would stand up and cups of blood would pour down my legs, when all I could do was lie on the couch and hold on, I was fine. I was grateful, actually, and content. I wasn’t in pain and I was just weak like a Victorian invalid. I could embroider, I could watch Supernatural on Netflix, I could go to my half-time marketing job most of the time. I was making beautiful things with every ounce of strength I had. Just not being depressed was such a delicious, rapturous, heavenly feeling, I didn’t care about anything else.

Not being depressed feels exactly like being on heroin when you are depressed.

aklamio 5 year anniversary party berlin by Suzanne Forbes June 17 2016They told me in treatment that I had been self-medicating as best I could for the variety of symptoms I had, since I was thirteen. Now that I’ve been in remission from depression for four years, the longest period since I was seven, I have a glimpse of what life is like for people who don’t have depression.

It doesn’t mean my other symptoms went away. Actually, this summer I had totally insane PTSD symptoms. Nightmares where I kicked my husband awake or kicked myself out of bed fighting off dream attackers. Intrusive flashbacks. Obsessive thoughts. But it didn’t depress me or make me want to die- it just hurt, so I cried.

Life hurts, life is scary, sometimes I cry.

suzanne-forbes-self-portrait-berlin-fall-2016-editedThe horrible results of the US election wiped both me and my husband out; we average 14 to 18 hours of sleep in our house. My fatigue problems have cycled back. When I wake up, when I’m strong enough to sit up, I run to the work table or easel and work on art. My head is absolutely full of ideas and visions and creative projects, and I do what I can of them, as I can.

My heart is full of love. I love our life, our home, our city. I cherish my loved ones. I thrill to the cuteness of our cats, to the sound of rain, to the taste of ice cream. I am truly, truly not depressed, and it is amazing. You can get better.

You can be helped. Things can change. I promise.

Resources:
RAINN’s links for recovering from sexual violence.

The National Institute of Mental Health. Links to clinical studies, info on ECT– hey, I was desperate enough to try anything, and if you’re reading this, you might be too. Suicide Prevention. Hotlines saved my life so many times. If you don’t like the person you get or they don’t feel safe, hang up and call back to get someone else.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The NHS resource page, if you’re in the UK.

New Zealand resources.

Rob Delaney’s amazing post on depression and getting help.

Allie Brosh on depression. Her experience of depression differs from mine, but this powerful and beautiful work of art seems to help many depressives feel understood and to help people understand depression.

* I believe the photographer who took this was named David Selig, a guy who lived in the East Village in the 80s. He took some devastating, beautifully honest photographs of me.