Category Archives: Dollhouse and Dollmaking

I have an action figure dollhouse that I built myself over a decade. I also make and customize dolls, usually unpleasant ones.

Snow Queen/White Witch OOAK Doll with sledge and reindeer, finished!

Snow Queen Jadis with carriage and reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I finally finished her!

I am amazing, and amazed by myself! Jadis, The White Witch, The Snow Queen, the Ice Queen, as I always imagined her.

I’d been wanting to make a doll like this since the early 90s in St. Paul. At a fancy shop in Summit Hill I saw a teacup fairy by Stephanie Blythe and Susan Snodgrass.

The delicacy, the precision, the tiny, tiny crystals- there was something about it that moved me deeply.

I had no idea you could get such tiny materials. The thought of handling such tiny things was exhilarating to me. I imagined I could make tiny dolls of characters I loved. I could make a tiny world.

Snow Queen OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I was still waiting to start my dollhouse then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.

Snow Queen by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I didn’t want to open the door to even more collecting and supply hoarding madness, I didn’t dare try such things myself, but I bought some porcelain doll parts and kept them.

I held my love for the teacup fairy in my heart, held the space for those tiny crystals dotting her bodice in my mind, setting the image gently in my mental room for miniature art.

Every time I moved, I packed my craft materials. My porcelain doll heads and limbs, my ever-growing collection of wired ribbon and metallic organza and silver cord and microbeads and glitter, travelled from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Glenview to West O to Oakland.

In Berkeley in 2000 I began building my dollhouse at last and collecting 1/12th scale action figures.

Miniature sex toys by Suzanne Forbes 2007

I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

I met Monique Motil, dollmaker extraordinaire. I started sculpting little things with polymer clay for the dollhouse and reading about action figure customizing techniques.

I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and started making dolls.

I started my Snow Queen project in 2013.

I had been home to New York for holidays with my husband’s family and I had just seen snow for the first time in fifteen years. On a magical Christmas Eve we went to church in Freehold, New Jersey and when we came out delicate flakes were falling.

The night before In the city I’d stood at the rail of the skating rink in Bryant Park; a tween wiped out and came up laughing, clapping his cold hands over mine.Snow Queen in carriage with reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017

I fell in love with the cold again, the way the stars get lean in a winter sky and the way everything is so sharp.

I remembered the way I loved the cold in WInter’s Tale, the way it muffled my footsteps when I walked through a silent Chinatown to buy heroin on New Year’s Day in 1989, the sparkling lavender twilight of April snow at the treatment center in St. Paul.

iridescent microbeads from MorezmoreIn the dark California January I drove to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics and Beverlys and bought bags full of 90% off Christmas decor. Icicles and glitter snow and white fur and pale iridescent sequins.

I ordered Swarovski crystals in colors like Silver Shadow, Moonlight and Opal. I discovered the amazing doll supplier MorezMore. I ordered nail decals of flocked snowflakes from China and Ball-jointed Doll clothing buckles from Taiwan. I bought pearlescent microbeads and fusible fairy films.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.

tiniest-swarovski-crystalsI made the sledge first. The sledge is made of three different plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, some pvc holiday ornament pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheeting, crazy glue and balsa wood.

It’s all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. The shafts are the bow pieces of dollar sunglasses!

I got so many materials in the basement of Ace Hardware in Berkeley, in the huge model and railroad hobby section. I’d lean on the counter and talk techniques with the guys there for hours.

I primed the sledge with Krylon Primer for Plastics. You can read about my adventures with priming mixed plastics here and here. Then I spray-painted it with four shades of Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, one of the most fascinating rabbit holes of materials I went down.

I spent a lot of time on model car boards, reading about how to avoid the dread “orange peel effect” and how to clear coat.

Our back steps were my spray room, and the California drought of those years was a huge asset, I gotta admit.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI used crazy glue and Zap-A-Gap to bond the styrene, plastic and balsa elements.

I used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling, aka “decoden”, to their phones, to attach a lot of the sledge decor.

The sledge is decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, laboriously applied while watching all seven (at the time) seasons of Supernatural (twice!) and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake nail art decals. And upholstered with silver velvet, button-tufted using pretty antique silver scrapbook art brads and quilt batting over cardstock. I glued the velvet to the cardstock with my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, which is my absolute favorite for small textile work.

As any burner or steampunk can tell you, assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives.

tiny-buckles-from-RIo-Rondo

The reindeer is made of a cellulose acetate reindeer from the ’50s, legs sawed off and replaced with new sculpts, and head, body and neck heavily re-sculpted.

This kind of Frankensteining is a classic action figure customizing technique; the materials and techniques for creating the miniature harness come from the model horse customizing community, and the handling of the mohair mane from the dollmaking world.

(I’m allergic to mohair, like wool, it turns out.)

I also used the 3D Crystal to get a clear dome over his eyes and a gloss of mucus in his nostrils. The flocking on his ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeer-headshot-cu

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeerThe tiny silver leather strips for the harness came mostly from a handbag making supply company in Los Angeles; I found it on etsy. I bought many different silver cords and strings at a passementarie shop in the New York Garment district during my second trip back East for the holidays. And for four years I saved every single piece of silver stuff I got, from silver elastic on dress tags to silver pvc on packaging.

Then I had to make a Snow Queen figure!

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI was totally ok with customizing an existing figure; my many hundred hours on action figure boards has made me very comfortable with the idea of remixing sculpture.

I would never, ever, ever copy another artist’s drawing or painting- or even their style- or use elements of someone else’s drawing or photograph in one of my drawings or paintings. I just don’t do that.

But sculpture is play to me, something I do for pleasure. I like the idea that assemblage art incorporates existing elements. And dollmakers commonly use finished porcelains from well-known sculptor to paint and dress. It’s a medium where collaboration is normal.

So ultimately I decided to use the top of a commercial resin mermaid and the legs of a resin fairy to build my Snow Queen.

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI sawed and sanded as needed, then fit the two halves together, and then I used epoxy clay to bulk out her body. Because I love muscle on women’s shoulders, and a big butt, aesthetically! I left her ribcage and waist slim because they would have layers of tiny fabric corseting on them.

And she needed boobs too, sculpted to fit in a square Elizabethan type bodice. Then I had to completely resculpt her face, to give her the strength and archness she needed.

And I needed to bulk up her thighs and sculpt boots on her feet. And lengthen her fingers. And sand off and resculpt her ears. I think she was resculpted, primed and sanded about ten times altogether. Her final finish was partly achieved with Mr. Surfacer priming medium, which i learned about from Daria’s dollmaking. She is streets more advanced than my crazy haphazardness!

By December of this year, my Jadis was close to finished at last.

project-kit-Snow-Queen-OOAK-Suzanne-ForbesI got the project box I brought over in the shipping container out, intending to paint and dress her.

But I got nervous about working on the project suddenly and instead I used up some of the extra materials in the project box making Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer. Which came out great! And I used the fusible fairy film and it was super cool!

Then I made a whole bunch of other dolls!  And sculptures! And mixed media stuff! And a mantis doll! Was my poor Snow Queen doll ever gonna get finished?

faceup-Snow-Queen-OOAK-by-Suzanne-Forbes-2017Yes, she was. Because even though it was now April, and she was no longer seasonal, I had just finished my leafy green beaded Swamp Thing corset (reveal soon!), the second to last of the projects I brought from Oakland.

I really wanted to knock out the last unfinished thing and get rid of the last “project box”. So I can start all my new Berlin projects!

With that thought in mind, I nerved myself up and just went for it. I used nail art brushes I bought for 1€ to paint her face because I didn’t want to buy expensive tiny brushes. I’d never painted anything tiny before and didn’t know if I’d like it. But it went great! And I love her snotty smug 80s made-up face! She looks like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth and Mia Sara in Legend, right?

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesWigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so many tiny corsets now it’s NBD. And then she was, done, suddenly, after four years. In the green and glowing Spring, but so what? There will always be another Winter. She will look beautiful in the dark winter nights.

I’ve learned to trust the process with making art; I finish most things when it’s time for them to be finished.

What I’m saying here is, it’s okay to have a long game as an artist. In fact, the long game is pretty much the only game in town for most of us.

 

Mummified Fairy King doll!

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017This doll scares my husband. Every time he sees it he shudders.

It genuinely gives him the wig.

Which is good, right? This is one of the projects I brought in a “project kit” from the Bay Area, in the shipping container.

Faery King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I had seen this Mummified Fairy tutorial on the excellent, ancient Gothic Martha Stewart site Shadow Manor. You can find loads of Art of Darkness tutorials there.

So of course I wanted to make one! My version started out as a cheap 16″ demon skeleton I got for 75% off at Michael’s.

I washed him with soap and water, and used a glue gun to pose him. I cut his spine in half with a hacksaw to give it a realistic curve, added ears made of thin sheet styrene or cardstock (can’t remember), and used globs of glue to give the ears dimension.

I also used glue gun glue and epoxy clay to add some bulk and volume to his joints, because he was a little frail and crappily-sculpted. And to give him a bit of a bump of nose and fangs.

Then I primed him with white spray primer for plastic and sprayed him with matte ivory spray paint.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017And packed him in a box marked “Gothic Rococo Bride of Frankenstein and Fairy Mummy”.

(The Bride became a Gothic Victorian Burlesque tribute to Elsa Lancaster instead).

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017Two weeks ago I unpacked him and started revising. His skeleton was still undersized for his head, especially for a skeleton with layers of dried skin. So I added more bulk with air-dry clay (cheap but doesn’t adhere well) and use epoxy clay to secure the new, larger knobby joints.

I thickened his shin bones and arms, as well as making his pelvis more solid. I added some clay volume under his rib cage to give the nylon something to stick to there.

I also decided to snip off the demon-y claw tips on his wings, which were a little too goth.

Then I painted over the air-dry and epoxy clay with acrylic in unbleached titanium, which matched the original ivory paint well enough. After that, I added dark shadows at his joints, eye sockets, and so on, using a burnt umber.

I figured the shadows would show through the nylon pantyhose, adding depth, and so they did.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017Applying the pantyhose was exciting, in the way that things that must be done quickly and deftly are exciting.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I used UHU “Extra” alleskleber gel, which is an almost perfect sub for my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, rather than contact cement. I really should have followed the instructions and applied the pantyhose while the skeleton was disarticulated.

But I never follow the instructions for anything. So I had to do the gluing and stretching to fit over sections of the figure in situ.

The instructions say to cut the pantyhose into 12″ lengths; I wound up cutting it into roughly 5″ x 5″ pieces. The pantyhose adheres beautifully to the primed and painted skeleton, almost melting on- the first time.

Once it is saturated with glue and the glue has dried, it resists bonding, so get it right the first time. I looked at his eye sockets with the nylon stretched across them and decided he needed eyelids. I sculpted sunken eyeballs with lids out of epoxy clay, cut holes in the nylon, and pressed them in.

In the end I had some places where the pantyhose didn’t lie smoothly or wrinkled in a way that looked much more like pantyhose than desiccated skin.

I simply decided awkward areas would be covered with something in the finished piece.

And that was how he became a dressed doll with a breechclout and jewelry, and wisps of grey Tibetan lamb hair from this one piece I got at doll supplier/educator supreme MorezMore and have used for some two dozen projects. (The site’s mistress is currently engaged in a fascinating project of using stop-motion armature for a humanly-posable doll experiment!) I rifled through my fabric stash and found lots of scraps. I layered scraps of fabric, fiber, silk leaves and lace for his breechclout.

Then I got out my findings bins and made a kind of creepy chatelaine to secure it. And I made him a kind of neck piece with mixed metals that was influenced by Celtic torques and Maester’s chains.

I decided to make him lace-up shoes to cover some of the awkward patches on his shins.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I got the concept from some pins posted by my friend Alexis about to how to make Medieval shoes.

I envisioned a pattern, cut it out of leatherette and used my cuticle nippers to make sloppy holes in the the sole/back pieces.

Then I just glued the sole parts onto the bottoms of his feet and laced them up with a tan shoelace from a scrap bin.

I bought some granny boots a while back that came with tan laces; I promptly replaced them with black laces but saved the rough tan ones for… something. There was a tiny bit of black fur left from when Daria gave me a personal doll-wig-making workshop and I used that on top.

I did a little dry-brush distressing and shadowing on the nylon-covered fairy, accenting the hollow places and joints with more umber.

I also highlighted bony areas like his zygomatic arch with unbleached titanium. This was easier to me than re-spraypainting him as suggested, considering that would have required going out and getting some taupe spraypaint. I don’t really like anything to slow me down when I’m making some damn thing. I painted his eyelids to match his skull at the same time.

I had burned and melted and snagged the fabrics I used, to distress them and make them raggedy, but it wasn’t enough to knock back their color into the same taupe/ivory family as the skeleton. So I dry-brushed and distressed those too, til they faded back into his palette.

Here he is posing with some bones i made out of Model Magic, the incredibly lightweight air-dry craft clay made by Crayola.Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017

The bones are sculpted over Q-tips, and were made in 2007 for a Hubba Hubba Revue, maybe Flintstones themed? I soaked a paper towel in thinned ochre paint and wiped it over them. I don’t even know how they got in the shipping container.

Eventually I’d like to have some kind of Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy style shadow box or specimen case for him, but for now he’s living amid my majolica in the library china cabinet. Hub will never notice him there. Although if he does, he might jump.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada.

Monster dolls by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I spent sooooo much time making these dolls!

weasel claw doll by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I had a crazy rare week of being virtually fatigue-free and on a “normal person” sleep schedule, where I woke up between 7 and 9 and went to bed around 10 to midnight.

The last period I can remember like that was around 2008. I took mad advantage of the good light and the long days, and worked on the dolls ten or twelve hours a day.

I approached the project with a kind of relaxed enforced serendipity- I would just reach in the doll making drawer and grab and handful of materials. Then I’d see what I could make with the bits of legs, arms, fur and plastic bugs I’d grabbed. It was like putting together puzzles.wip doll by Suzanne Forbesbarbie faun maenad wip Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

Bricoleurs are machines that make junk into art.

There is a powerful mental image for me when I work on stuff like this. I always think of the Boxmaker in Count Zero, the AI fragments/loa that uses Tessier-Ashpool relicts to make Cornell boxes. The idea of being a machine that recycles scraps and pieces of artifacts into new artifacts is so beautiful and restorative to me.

dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017

I’ve been cutting up my dolls and making them over my whole life.

Maenad Faun Barbie by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

My best friend Victoria and I used to chop off their hair, paint them with Mercurochrome for fake blood, and drop them out the window of her parents’ loft on Great Jones St.

They would land on the hoods of the cars in the parking lot below, tiny sacrifices.spiderella dolly by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

I used to use the fireplace tongs to hold my Flatsie dolls in the wood stove at our cabin in the Adirondacks, revealing their wire armatures.

I never minded the smell of burning plastic; I was too fascinated by the structure being revealed and the way the arms melted off.

Dolls are intrinsically powerful; they come pre-loaded with content.

Add pink housewife dresses and the horns of a genderbent Herne, and you have a semiotic shorthand that anyone can parse. They are little totems, little ration packs. I lavished them with the tiniest Swarovski crystals, leftover fur from one of Daria’s dolls, velvet ribbon, and microbeads, because pretty and scary are my favorite mix.

Like many artists I know, I’ve been deeply inspired by the idea of being called a “nasty woman”.

Monster doll mouth by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I love that idea, I love the entire notion of reclaiming my nastiness and ugliness and witchiness and harpiness and shrillness and bitey-rage-creature-ness.

I am completely ready to embrace my monsterhood and the monsterwoman-ness of all the monster people of all genders and origins and being-hoods. Be maenads, and rage!

Anyone who has a problem with the furious girl-child inside me who cut the heads off dolls can take it up with my glorious, furious, terrifying grown-ass woman monster-self. Lotsa luck, as we say where I come from.Monster dolls by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

 

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer: a holiday dream of love.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes Dec 2016I got this pink Santa, with his lavender combat boots, in the 75% off bin at a Beverly’s store in Alameda.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes Dec 2016I had to have him, obviously, and I had a vague notion he could hang out with my Snow Queen and her reindeer, when I finished her.

That was in 2014, and I’m hoping to have the Snow Queen done by my 50th birthday on January 8th of 2017. Projects take what they take, it’s fine.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago I found these adorable fuchsia flock reindeer at TK Maxx, the German version of TJ Maxx. They were 1,99! Obviously, I was supposed to buy them.

As soon as I got them home I knew they were Pink Gay Santa’s reindeer.

But they needed to be fancified. Ever since I finished my workshop I’ve been tearing through long-unfinished projects, because I have instant access to all my lifelong hoard of materials. Every bit of ribbon I ever saved, every scrap of velvet, every tube of fingernail decals.naked-reindeer-editedpink-gay-santa-in-process-suzanne-forbes-edited

I’m like a cross between Smaug and Divine.

santahacksaw-editedI had to use a hacksaw on Santa’s base to fit him into the sleigh, then build the fur trim on his coat to fit the sleigh with epoxy clay.

I was so inspired in this project, and all my bricolage work, by Elizabeth McGrath. I discovered her in Culver City in 2005 at her exhibition Altarwise by Owl-Light.

I feel like she really opened my eyes and my heart to the idea that art could be both silly and mysterious, glittery and meaningful, pink and terrifying.

I love her work for showing me serious art can be completely covered in Swarovski crystals and fake fur, and for its mythic stories and secret chambers of hilarious fucked-upness.

I got on Instagram recently, and starting following her and other “Pop Surrealist” or “modern Outsider” artists. I found Mab Graves, who also makes pink things that are scary, and can both draw superbly and sculpt/make/craft. I discovered the astonishing work of Caitlin McCormack, who crochets skeletal creatures out of dissolving lacy thread. I get to keep up with the work of Jessica Joslin, an art hero of mine for years.

I’ve been finding a web of validation and confidence in the work of women artists who are successful making art that is both pretty and hideous, cute and political.

reindeerpartway-editedI’ve had so much to do the last couple months, and I’ve been so shaken by the terrible events in the US.

I fell into the sweetness and hope and joy of this project like it was a feather bed. Doing anything else felt overwhelming. Though of course I did a lot anyway.

I’ve felt that my job as a working artist who simply does some work, any work, was so essential these last five weeks.

Maybe it’s foolish to think art matters at such a precarious time, but you know, I live in Berlin.

I’ve felt a deep desire to renew my commitment and lifelong work of supporting visibility for the “othered”. I want to spend 2017 documenting queer and trans life with more beauty and tenderness than ever. I know how much the work of the Weimar artists mattered, and I am inspired to try and matter too.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa is a vision of hope and love, the Santa I pray will land lightly on a million roofs this year. He is photographed with one of my mom’s beautiful crochet pieces!earless pink gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes December 201

His list holds “Safety”, “Freedom to Love”, “Marriage Equality”, “Health Care”, “Kids”, and space for other things.

I’m mostly just an ally; I can’t know what LGBTQIA people are putting on their wish lists this year. I’ll be listening, though.

Halloween Doll Custom: OOAK Bride of Frankenstein!

I made a fabulous gothic burlesque outfit for my Bride of Frankenstein doll!Suzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom

Suzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein customSuzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom doll corsetI just finished this project barely in time for round one of our Halloween week celebrations, and I am so proud of her!

This is a Sideshow Collectibles Bride of Frankenstein that i’ve had for like a decade.

I originally got her mostly for her laboratory accessories, for my dollhouse laboratory.Suzanne Forbes action figure dollhouse laboratory

Young Elsa Lanchester Burlesque RevueI loved her face, but the slightness of her base figure model and her outfit, though very screen-accurate, bored me. Elsa Lanchester is just much more fierce.

I wanted to reference her dance training, her cabaret and Victorian numbers from her burlesque revue days.  She and Madeline Kahn had so much in common as performers, and yet you only see a glimpse of it in “Bride of Frankenstein.” She plays Mary Shelley as well, in the “Bride” prologue. Shelley calls her “an angel”, and the devil is the corner of her mouth as she smirks, “You think so.”

Sideshow Collectibles Bride of Frankenstein Doll or action figuremadeline-kahn-young-frankenstein

 

I always had the idea I’d do a custom outfit for my Sideshow Bride, something sassy and exciting.

As I began to make my Horribella dolls, I amassed tiny doll-making trims and miniature buckles.Suzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom doll corsetSuzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom doll corset

Suzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom doll bootsI got stuff from model horse tack suppliers Rio Rondo (boy, don’t try to load that site on your phone!) and BJD clothing-making suppliers all over the world.

I got amazing tiny silver leather trim from a handbag company in Los Angeles. I saved every bit of ribbon from every bag of fancy cookies, every inch of silver elastic from a dress tag, for my Snow Queen project (reveal next year!). For my mermaid doll and my corset customizing projects I got a zillion different kinds and sizes of Swarovski crystals, beads, sequins and chains.

I learned how to bulk out the hips of a figure and smoothly sculpt them with epoxy clay when I was making the tiny doll corsets for my Horribella dolls.

I give them big curves to match the silhouette of a Modern Edwardian underbust, my own favorite corset style. Then I draft a tiny corset pattern and cut and glue a miniature corset over them.

Suzanne Forbes custom doll corset

Suzanne Forbes Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom

Now that my workshop is complete, I keep powering through long-awaited projects.

So I finally made my Bride of Frankenstein Gothic Burlesque Elsa Lancaster Showgirl!

Isn’t she marvelous?

 

Horribella Mark V, a hideous Gothic-Rococo Dolly!

Horrible dolly sunlight shot Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016I had absolutely no intention of making another Horribella at 8pm last night.

Horrible dolly miniature corset laces Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016I particularly had no intention of using a single strand of embroidery floss to make tiny corset laces and tying tiny bunny loops with it, because I hate tying the tiny bunny loops. I went out the door for a night walk, and wandered a few blocks to the main shopping plaza.

I “accidentally” stopped in at TKMaxx to check out the Halloween stuff. There wasn’t much Halloween stuff (they get a little because they share inventory with the US TJ Maxx stores) but I saw this display cloche- with the base already painted blue.

Horrible dolly by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016I had an instant vision of a Gothic Rococo Horribella.

Horrible dolly hero shot Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016The last one lives in the library, because she matches the colors in there; I suddenly wanted one for the salon!  I bought the cloche and a foot massager for the hubbin and hurried home.

Then I spent the next ten hours working nonstop like a fiend on the new dolly.

Even though I’ve been teaching, drawing, painting, embroidering and writing all month. I was so excited I never even took off my bra when I got home. Normally my front door is an Instant Bra Removal Field.

Making these dollies demands a kind of flow state where I grab things and glue things and melt things without stopping to think.

If I stop to think, I remember I have virtually no training in mixed media or sculpture and never intended to make this kind of art. So I don’t stop.

During the year of packing for the move, I had episodes where I managed my stress by meticulously, dementedly organizing every scrap of craft supplies I own. It was not an efficient use of my time, but it kept me sane. I had a vision of using all this stuff, in Berlin.

dollmaking worktable Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016Horrible dolly back with miniature corset Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016That meant when my workshop was finished, all I had to do was pop all the neatly bagged/sorted/labelled supplies into the drawers, and I now know where everything is.

My workshop is a decent imitation of the greatest art & crafts workshop I know, that of my friend Monique Motil.Horrible doll wings Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016

I’m busting through projects and finally, finally using things I have had for years. Decades.

I used four different scraps of wired pink French ribbon on this dolly, and two of them dated back to the craft projects for my first marriage.

These scraps of ribbon have moved from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Oakland to Berlin. They have been in storage three times. I’ve had fifteen apartments, dozens of jobs, and three husbands.

Horrible dolly salon Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016

You know what’s fantastic about getting older, being happy and feeling safe?

Horrible dolly in salon Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016You can finally say, if not now, when? If not me, who? There will never be a better project to use any of these things on than the one in front of me right now.

Every piece of ribbon from a present I carefully saved, every pair of feet I cut off a plastic monster or pair of wings I cut off a plastic bug- all of this stuff is going in the hopper. I used a satin-covered button from a silk nightshirt I owned in 1992 to make the base of this Horribella’s hat. It took four tries, four little pieces of embroidered stag beetle ribbon used up, to get it to look right.

Don’t care! It’s my weird stuff and my weird lifelong decorator crab shell of crap, I’m gonna use it all!

Horrible dolly Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016I used eleven different ribbons/trims, four adhesives, epoxy clay, primer, spray paint, plastic toys, nail flocking powder and parts of three plastic bugs to make her, and I think she is the best Horribella yet. She is truly a Horrible Dolly. I am going to make all the horrible things.dolly feetz Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016

dolly spider Suzanne Forbes Sept 2016I didn’t just make a new Horribella last night.

I also started a hideous Spider Lady with monster feet. She is going to be truly dreadful. I have lots of tutorials to study on my dollmaking Pinboard!

Look for continued unpleasant doll developments this September.

As always, when I make a doll I am deeply indebted to the incredible inspiration of Monique, creator of the incomparably creepy and beautiful Sartorial Creatures.

Horribella Mark IV: an unpleasant Victorianish doll-thing!

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016 Look at this horrible thing I made!

I am blowing through projects that have been waiting over a year, now that my workshop is finished. It’s so easy and comfortable to use and access all my tools and materials, and the light is so good in our kitchen. I’m especially thrilled to have finished my own Horribella doll at last!

Horribella Mark 1 by Suzanne Forbes coll. Ramon

The first Horribella was made as a host gift for a fae-themed party thrown by one of my beloved friend-muse-patrons. Her wings were hand-decorated with many crystals.

I particularly like the way the corset of this one came out.

The second was bought by one of my beloved friend-muse-patrons and lives in her SOMA loft.Horribella Mark 2 by Suzanne Forbes coll. Eva

Horribella Mark 3 by Suzanne Forbes coll. AimeeAnd the third was traded to my friend Aimee Baldwin, for one of her extraordinary vegan taxidermy creations ( a mantis of course!).

I was really devastated to give up the third one, since it was so specially unpleasant, but I wanted that mantis badly.

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016 So I saved the other half of the iridescent flower at the top of the corset (originally scavenged from the wings of some drugstore fairy doll that became a mermaid in a shadowbox at least a decade ago).

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

Then I saved the particular trims I used, and enough of the superfine damson-colored leather strips I ordered from a purse company in LA, and a tiny bit of the pleated burgundy lace, and just enough of the bug-printed emerald green French wired ribbon.

 

I sculpted a new body and head and painted them, but there was a reaction between the paint and primer.

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016 trainSpray painting plastic, no matter how much time you spend on The Fwoosh, is unpredictable. So I had to scrape off the paint and reprime the pieces, and then pack them, because it was time to move to Berlin.Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

I was terrified that off-gassing primer/paint reaction could start a fire, so I waited to pack them ’til the very last day, and wound up throwing the pieces in a little box within one of the randomly packed boxes of the morning we left. Even though this project was incredibly important to me! And the materials to dress her were packed separately of course.

I am a crazy person, and sadly not always in a fun way.

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

(Yes, I started packing one year before we left, and I was still packing the DAY we left. Probably I shouldn’t have spent so many nights obsessively organizing my mixed media materials before we left. But it did make unpacking them an utter delight.)

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

 

 

 

 

So it was all horribly stressful! And I was still afraid that my Frankenstein mix of paints and solvents would start a fire and burn up our storage unit or shipping container!

But there was no fire, and the ship didn’t sink, and the train didn’t crash, and the truck didn’t go into a snowbank, and the box didn’t get dropped, and nothing got lost, and so I was able to assemble a Horribella of my own at last. She is not for sale!

As always when I make a doll, I am deeply indebted to my beloved friend-muse-Patron Monique Motil, creator of Sartorial Creatures and the most inspiring dollmaker I know.

 

June Bricolage Roundup- Crafts, crowns, and action figure customizing.

Bricolage projects by Suzanne Forbes June 2016Here are some of the things I worked on this month.

hand beaded flies Suzanne Forbes 2016First, I finished the second Uplift Fly.

I gave this one ombré wings and I could not be more pleased with how it came out. It is some hella jolie laide hanging in our hallway. hand beaded ombre wing fly Suzanne Forbes 2016

 

 

 

That bit of nonsense out of the way, I moved on to more nonsense. Note D’s childhood friend Dailee below- everyone visits Berlin!

I made Leaf Crowns!crystal leaf crown by Suzanne Forbes 2016

crown with ribbonsI got the materials to make these a couple of years ago. I don’t know why I wanted to make leaf crowns crystal_leaf_crownso much.

I guess I figure people can wear them when we finally have a Summer Solstice dinner party that uses all my leaf majolica, like maybe next year.leaf crowns by Suzanne Forbes 2016

The crystal leaf crown is made of floral-wired plastic leaf beads and opalescent and iridescent Czech beads, padded with the last of my vintage green velvet from Aimee’s grandma’s garage fabric hoard.

Action figures come in a variety of scales, from 3.75″ to 8″.

action figure customizationThe classic Star Wars figures, for example, are 3.75″. Lots of really nice figures are in the 5″ and 7″ scale, which is EXTREMELY frustrating for me. Sometimes they finally make a character I’ve wanted a figure of for years- but it’s just not quite in scale with my dollhouse.

However, a creative solution can often be found, using action figure customizing techniques.

doll hospitalThe amazing Sin City figure of Rosario Dawson was part of a set given to me as a gift by my friend Devon. I love Rosario Dawson, so I really wanted to get her into my dollhouse.

Using my mini-hacksaw, I reduced her height in the two spots that usually work best, neck and ankles. Then I sculpted new soles for her shoes to balance her and on-trend spat-style half-boots to reinforce the cut-down ankles. Now she can join the party!

The 5″ scale T-800 figure was a gift from a beloved friend-muse-patron. I could have bought a McFarlane or Movie Maniacs endoskeleton and scaled it down, but this one is special ’cause it’s from a loved one. So I extended the torso, knees, ankles and hip joints. I also lengthened the calcaneus bones to make the feet more stable and in scale. In the picture you can see how the rebuilt hip joint is drilled out for the new pegs.

alice repairThe Alice figure from the ’00s movie was beautiful, but I didn’t like the way she was posed. Her arms folded behind her back looked disempowered to me.alicebox

So I removed them and reposed them. In this picture you can see I’m building up the new sleeves in layers.

I like to use thin layers to do fine detail in epoxy clay. Then I just had to paint the sleeves and she was done!

bug hipThe motion-sensitive talking giant terror grasshopper is from Bug’s Life, a Pixar movie made just for me ENTIRELY ABOUT INSECTS that came out in the late ’90s. It didn’t prove as enduringly popular as movies about toys or animals, for some reason.

The thin plastic mounting of the screw that attaches its right leg had broken, so I repaired it by packing the hollow hip joint with epoxy clay and resetting the screw in that. When my husband saw it on the worktable he said, “WHAT the hell is THAT?!” In my perfect world, everything I own, touch or build would inspire that reaction.

Frame for Daria’s moth drawing!

moth by Daria Rhein frame by Suzanne Forbes June 2016As I mentioned in the art collab post, I traded Daria an embroidery moth for the original of this beautiful scary drawing. I wanted to make a frame that really honored how much I love the drawing. I used a 69-cent clip frame for the glass; I cut channels out of some strip wood (using my dollhouse trim miter cutter) and hot-glued them to the back of the laser cut frame.

frame in progress

 

 

 

 

Then (after spray-painting the frame with Dupli-Color Platinum) I placed the artwork over the glass, put a piece of heavy watercolor paper behind it to protect it from any acidity or anarchival agents in the backing board, and clipped the frame back together. The frame fit neatly in the channels and I could hot-glue it in place without any danger of touching the artwork.

BTW, Dupli-Color Platinum Spray-paint is my new boyfriend. It is SICK.moth by Daria Rhein frame by Suzanne Forbes June 2016

I hate weakness and entropy, and I was concerned about the structural strength of the delicate top piece, so I added a reinforcing channel of picture wire. I also used both hot glue and UHU universal glue, so that there’s a backup if one fails.

Then it was time to decorate! I’d had the Art Nouveau woman’s face since I was fourteen or fifteen, knocking around in little boxes on my dresser. I love hand-applying Swarovski crystals, like the jet ones here. It’s the most bang for your meticulous-obsessive handwork buck ever.

Lamp conversion!

lamp in salonI got this lampshade at the Anthropologie in Kansas City in like 2002. I was there with my second husband for a daguerreotype event. I carried it home on the plane, pretending it was my hat. Of course I enhanced it with lots of bead trim.Anu and Stephan Suzanne Forbes 2005

It appears in so many of my paintings; I couldn’t bear to leave it behind. But European lamps not only have different plugs and (sometimes) bulb fixtures, they have a different way of attaching lampshades.

lamp topUS lampshades use a finial and harp system attached to the lamp base, whereas here the lamps have a bracket that attaches to the bulb housing. So I bought a European floor lamp with shade, stripped the fabric and wire hoops off the shade, bent the bracket to size and attached the lampshade to it using ribbon scaffolding and lots of hot glue. I spraypainted the lamp base itself Sapphire Blue with Duplicolor.lamp bracket

I had saved a tutorial on how to do this conversion on my “Moving to Berlin” pinboard before we ever left, but of course when it came to it I never referred to it, I just figured out a way to do it.

My first husband once saw me constructing a sphere for a topiary out of styrofoam rings and scraps. He asked why I didn’t figure out how to do it with math rather than eyeballing everything and sort of jamming it together til it worked. I said, because then I would have to stop and do something that wasn’t actually doing it before I could do it. I’m like a shark in so many ways.

Remember this guy?

goat foot candleholder WIP Suzanne Forbes 2016I find sculpting the hairy fur tufts of the goat’s ankle for this goat-foot candleholder to be very tedious, so I’ve been working on it very slowly, whenever I have a bit of usable epoxy clay left over from some other project.

At this rate it should be ready for painting and gold-leafing around 2018.

Black and white bug shadowboxes!

newsprint moth shadowbox Suzanne Forbes 2016I sculpted these moths out of cold porcelain and collaged them with newsprint. I made a small edition of them as gifts for my Patrons, with a few extra for this project.

black white jewelled moth shadowboxes Suzanne Forbes 2016Both these boxes are lined with leftover fabric from my wedding dress. Monique Motil, the amazing artist who made my dress and accepts only the most creative costume commissions, is always thoughtful about returning every unused scrap.

The black and white bug brooch box is the sibling of the ones in the salon- it is the only one not made to coordinate with the salon color palette.black and white bug shadowboxes by Suzanne Forbes 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that’s it for this month, other than some random framing and hanging projects.

Update: I forgot this bug-covered lampshade. You can see it in its undecorated state on last month’s bricolage roundup.bug lampshade SUzanne Forbes 2016
bug lampshade SUzanne Forbes 2016 2

My biggest little project of all, finished at last.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my dollhouse. I built it myself, and it took over a decade.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesMy dollhouse is a memory palace for every story I’ve ever cherished, a way to hold close every character I love and the things they taught me about being human.

It’s a safe house for my dreams. It holds my recollections of the times those characters gave me strength when nothing else did, and this week it is finally, truly finished.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I’d wanted a big fancy dollhouse my whole adult life, but I had always resisted. In ’96, when I was working at Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown and living in Arlington, there was a dollhouse store nearby.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesIt shared a parking lot with the building where my recovery meetings were, and I carefully arranged to be there only when it was closed. I used to peer in the windows, and say to myself, “Not yet.”

I had never lived anywhere I could imagine staying for the rest of my life. I knew my decorator crab shell couldn’t support the financial and psychic overhead of a huge, heavy, utterly fragile dollhouse.

It was starting a collection of 6″ (1/12th scale) superhero action figures in my mid 30’s that led me to begin building my dollhouse.

I didn’t start collecting figures on purpose. A co-worker with a crush on me gave me the DC Direct Death figure, and I took her out of the package and saw that she was exactly the right size for a dollhouse. I’d heard they were going to make more dollhouse scale figures of DC and Marvel characters. I knew then I was done holding out against the completely silly business of miniatures.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

So I started collecting figures, and planning a dollhouse for them. They needed a place to live! Little did I know how long they would wait.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesI made sketches of scenes, like this one. The entire ten-year labor of my dollhouse was for this one joke. It’s still hilarious to me! I am an idiot. But a happy idiot.

The Edward Scissorhands figure is a customized mashup of the McFarlane one, for the likeness, and a Japanese figure with a generic face that was closer to the correct scale.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

In 2001 or so I bought a die-cut 1/8” plywood dollhouse kit, the cheapest and most labor-intensive kind of kit. I had fallen in love with its style, a ridiculous Addams Family mansard-roofed Victorian, and none of the easy-build kits appealed to me.

A die-cut kit is a box of plywood sheets with hundreds of pieces you have to punch out, sand, prime and paint.

I had never built any kind of kit before, so it seemed reasonable to me to start with a huge Victorian. Being as I’m not very reasonable.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesHalfway through building I learned that if I wanted to use the fancy, detailed pre-made doors and windows from HouseWorks instead of the flimsy ones that came with the kit, i would need 3/8″-1/2″ thick walls.

So I painstakingly, insanely, cut pieces of heavier wood to fit every wall of the partially assembled dollhouse. I didn’t have any power tools, so I used a hacksaw and exacto knife to cut everything.

Cutting the shingles for the roof to fit perfectly took months, because half the time they split and were useless.

Then I decided it wasn’t big enough, so I scratch-built the extension you see on the right side. This is called kitbashing in the dollhouse world.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my other favorite joke. What’s even better is what my Beloved Ex-Boyfriend Clear said about it: “I bet Constantine paid Harry to take a dive.”

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI read that soldered wiring was less likely to fail than brad wiring, so I took the mostly finished house to Jim Cooper’s Dollhouse Studio in Benicia and he taught me how to solder wiring, and I wired the whole house.

Then I started wallpapering and staining trim and painting windows and installing moldings. After a couple of years I just couldn’t stand it anymore; I absolutely hated cutting the little beveled moldings so they lined up right.

So I took the house back to Cooper’s and wonderful June Gailey, a lovely senior lady who spent her days working on dollhouse projects at Cooper’s, finished the interior detailing. It took about a year.

dollhouse_Suzanne_Forbes

June & Jim with my dollhouse when I first brought it to June.

Meanwhile, for like 7 years I’d been collecting stuff to go in it.
The weirdest stuff I could find.

dollhouse laboratory Suzanne ForbesAction Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesBabies and tiny jars to put them in, spellbooks, poison bottles, skulls, canopic jars, squid, rayguns, test tube sets and labware, sinister medical tools, urine and blood samples, gimp hoods, whips, handcuffs, stockings, and course fancy food, especially lots and lots of cake, and as many coffee makers as i could secure.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

 

 

The stuff came from four main sources:

-action figure accessories, mainly Todd Mcfarlane
-handmade by miniature artisans
-commercially made miniatures
-and Re-Ment and MegaHouse blind box miniatures from Japan.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesFriends gave me some of the most special things, like the handmade Doubtful Guest.

I made all of Bettie’s vibrators and sex toys myself- there are some mini sex toys available but they’re in 1/18 scale. That was how I began to sculpt for the first time.

And I collected a LOT of action figures. Like, a really frightening lot. They kept coming out with more, of characters I adored!Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

Who would ever have guessed they’d make an X-Men movie, and toys to go with it? Who could have imagined they’d make Lord of the Rings movies?

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesWho could have imagined that the comic/SF/Fantasy culture I’d grown up on would become popular in the mainstream, and then hugely, commercially viable? Or that adults collecting toys would go from ironic and clever to simply ordinary?

I sure as hell wouldn’t have.

dollhouse_Suzanne_Forbes

My dollhouse in 2008.

 

The house itself was finally finished in the Fall of 2008, when I had lost my (human-size) house in a divorce/real estate collapse and was living in a small apartment in Albany.

I had already boxed up some of my figures and put them in storage, so I couldn’t access the Wolverine I wanted to use for the shrubbery joke or my custom Edward.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I put an assortment of the figures I had around in the house, and realized it looked ridiculous without landscaping. I started on the flowers for the landscaping, and then the Great Recession hit.

My art business collapsed, and I moved to a smaller apartment, and then to a friend’s basement.

The dollhouse went into storage for almost three years. But life is made of second chances, and in 2011 I moved in with my now-husband, to a beautiful little Craftsmen fourplex in Oakland.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesOne of my beloved friend-muse-patrons and her husband carried my dollhouse up our narrow, twisting stairs.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI will never forget that moment, watching a small circus-athlete woman and her tall geek husband dancing around each other as they moved the single creative object I’ve spent the most time on in my life.

It was such a testament to marriage, to friendship, to love and to trust. It was goddam amazing, and they got it upstairs in perfect safety.

So I built the landscaping at last, using balsa wood for the brick walls, and finally found the perfect greenhouse on eBay.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI painted the greenhouse, cut paths out of faux brick tiles, and painted and poured the resin pond I had been planning for a decade.

I put all the furnishings and accessories back in, and restored the figures that had been in it in Albany. My Swamp Thing was still somewhere in storage.

Our little jewel-box apartment was only 800 square feet, and I didn’t dare open any of the ten boxes of figures in my storage locker.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I decided the shrubbery joke would have to wait a while longer, until I lived somewhere I could put down roots.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesPacking the dollhouse and its contents for Berlin was deranged.

I shaped tin foil shields over the furnishings attached to the walls, carefully stuffed the entire house with acid-free tissue, and built cardboard structures that precisely covered every part of the outside.

Then I bubble-wrapped it, and then I shrink-wrapped it, and then I had it professionally crated.

I sold tons of my vintage clothing collection to pay for the crating; it was the only thing we had crated.

Lifting the crate into the shipping container took three guys, including the abnormal wiry strength of SFSlim; unloading it here took four healthy young Australians.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI waited almost three months to unwrap it here, because I wanted to get most of the art hung up and stuff put away, and I needed to rebuild the enormous chambered rolling base it sits on.

But I did it, and then I screwed the dollhouse to its base for the first time.

Because we hope to live here the rest of our lives, and it was time for all my heroes to have a home.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI knelt and said prayers of gratitude as I unpacked my figures and tiny things, to everyone who’d helped me bring something so huge and yet so tiny, so silly and yet so serious, so old-fashioned and so full of plastic, to such a distant land. I have never felt so safe and so whole.

Next, I’m going to start building the underground Danger Room, superhero powers testing facilities, laboratories and stables.

I’ve got fourteen X-Men figures who’ve been waiting for a place to train for a long time.

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