Tag Archives: bricolage

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.

Horrific insect Gothic Rococo mirror project for the Salon!

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017I made this hideous pastel nightmare of a rococo mirror over last weekend.

bug bricolage art and sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017I documented the process extensively for the folks who enjoy DIY how-ya-dos and the backstory to my bricolage projects!

First, I washed the lightweight plastic mirror frame I got at our local Woolworth’s for 2,99. Then I used a glue gun to attach a selection of plastic bugs, also thoroughly washed with hot water and soap.

Always wash plastic items well before attempting to paint!

There may be mold release still on them, there could be skin oils, cooking grease, anything. And any foreign substance will reduce primer adhesion.

A glue gun is really my favorite medium for attaching plastic bugs. It makes a nice solid bond to most plastics, which many adhesives of vaunted power cannot do. There is none of the risk of frosting your surfaces which cyanoacrylates like Super Glue and Zap present. Of course, I would never use only glue gun glue, because – it melts when it gets too hot! How hot?

Many glue stick glues will soften in a hot car, at least on the dash.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017Plus, I wanted the bugs to look they were sculpted out of or onto the surface of the frame, like a bas relief. I added a bunch of plastic flowers left over from my various jewelry projects, and then I used my beloved epoxy clay, in my favored Apoxie Sculpt White (which is gray), to further secure and incorporate the bugs.

I did a rough pass with the clay, filling in gaps, and then hit the whole thing with primer. I was tormented about choosing spray primers here, because I had a good system going in the US but this is the Land of No Krylon.

It’s VERY hard to find a primer for plastic that will really bond to hard plastic items like bugs and action figures and allow you paint over it with acrylics, glue things to it and spray paint shiny finishes on it.

I’ve spent many hours reading action figure customizing sites, model car boards and model magazines, puzzling over primer and paint and plastic.

Here, I finally found and bought the Primer for Plastic by the ubiquitous (and excellent) German spraypaint company Dupli-Color. I also bought a can of Dupli-Color plain white primer. Good thing, because imagine my surprise at learning the primer was CLEAR! I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the cap was clear. Oh well.

Reading some full-size car detailing sites, I gathered it is a chemical scuff or so-called chemical sander, a surfacing agent that creates “tooth” for the paint to adhere to. People raved about the performance, but noted it’s hard to see if you’re getting good coverage with a clear primer. And since I wanted a white base, I needed to spray the whole mirror white next. Then I added color!Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo Insect frame 2017 collage WIP

The last picture is after the second color pass, with initial detail cleanup and color unification by means of dry brushing, washes and scumbling.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017Here’s a detail shot of the frame after the pearl pass, made with a sheer pearl finish acrylic from the craft company Plaid’s FolkArt line. After the pearl coat, I added black glitter in clear acrylic varnish, “Extreme Glitter“. I used the pearl on the highlights and the black glitter on the midtone transitions into dark areas, but not the dark areas themselves.

I like these crafts paints for final coatings because they have a tough finish and will go on over most surfaces.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017The last thing I added was a scattering of Swarovski crystals and iridescent crystal eyes.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017I’m really happy with how the whole thing came out!

This piece is a hilarious mix of my BFA in Fine Arts/Painting, and thousands of hours studying action figure customizing and model making techniques.

I made an earlier version of this, a round bug mirror in blue and green shades, but I finished it right before we left for Germany.

I was terrified about leaving it in a hot storage locker in San Leandro for months, because there were so many coats of primer and different solvents involved in making it- not all of which might be fully off-gassed!

So I gave it to my friend Molly, instead.  And now I have my own.

Learning to sculpt: an ongoing relationship with epoxy clay.

Sculpted goat foot candleholder by Suzanne Forbes Feb 28 2017I finally finished this terrifying goat foot candlestick!

WIP goat foot candleholder sculpted by Suzanne Forbes Feb 28 2016I started it in 2015, at our first apartment in Berlin.

I had seen something similar on some luxury housewares or design website, and I was like, I can make that! Plus, it’ll be great sculpting practice!

It’s built on a tall narrow glass caper jar, the lid of the caper jar, tin foil and wooden rings from the craft store.

It was months before our stuff arrived in the shipping container, so I used what was around!

Once I had built the base, I had to cover it with fur.

Each row of fur tufts has to harden before the next one can be sculpted (unless you want to be really careful, and I never manage to be careful enough; I always wind up squishing what I just laboriously sculpted).  So each time I worked on a project that used epoxy clay, I would save a little bit at the end to add a row of fur tufts. There are roughly fourteen rows, so that’s a lot of projects!

Once I added the last row of fur last night, I started a new project.

bug bricolage art by Suzanne Forbes 2017 WIPI bought this rococo mirror* made of some weightless extruded foam plastic during my art supply mission on Saturday.

used a glue gun to quickly affix the bugs and flowers and fill in any space between them and the frame. Then I did a first pass with epoxy clay.

I used it to reinforce the attachment of little legs (it’s very strong) and sculpt new curlicues to incorporate the bug shapes.

When we get a warm sunny day I’ll hit the whole thing with white primer for plastic (which I finally found here, in the excellent DupliColor brand) so I have a uniform surface and can add detail better. Then add paint and Swarovski crystals!WIP bug bricolage art and sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017

Done with that, I hauled out all my other sculpture projects from 2015 and started finishing them up!

Diana bust WIP sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017Diana bust WIP sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017One of the wonderful things about epoxy clay is that you can apply it directly over practically anything, including baked polymer clay, like the mantis.

You can read about the start of the mantis here, and you can read in great detail about my experience beginning to sculpt and learning to use epoxy clay here.

It’s so much easier to work on the hair of my Diana bust now that I’ve had all this experience making fur!

I’ll keep you guys posted on the process of all these projects, unless I get derailed by some new obsession and they go back in the queue!

goat foot candlestick by Suzanne Forbes Feb 28 2017 WIPWhile I was painting the goat foot with many layers of metallic paints, I mixed up too much blackened gold-umber-bronze.

When the only tool you have is a brush full of bronze paint, everything looks like it needs to be painted bronze. I changed the zombie hand I resculpted at Halloween from glitter black to bronze and FINALLY dry-brushed highlights onto the ram’s horn mirror I bought for our hallway before we left the US. Always be finishing!

*You can see the reflection of one of Daria’s drawings in the mirror, from one of our earliest art trades.

Something beautiful for a sad month: bead embroidery!

beetle embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I made this embroidered beetle to lift my heart and give me the strength that working with color and sparkle does. It was part of my automatic-writing-for-art approach this month, like the Monster doll armada.beetle embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

I just reached into my textile materials drawer and grabbed some scraps and bits, and told myself, You gotta make something with these.

bead embroidery appliques Suzanne Forbes 2017 1There are four different types of lacework fabric and delicate cotton paper layered on a blue felt base, bits left from the very first materials I bought at my earliest trips to the art store in Berlin.

I used them in my mantis project our first summer here, and in some bug embroideries with sheer wings.

The blue felt undersurface is left over from the backing of the Hearts Afire pieces I made for my Cake Level Patrons in 2016.

beetle embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017Plus bead overflow from the Green Woman corset I’m working on, which is related to the Green Leaf Crowns I made last summer! I planned that project back in 2013-14 and brought all the materials in the shipping container.

You can see my project kit* for the Green Woman project at the top of these pics; I just raided it for beads and bling! This is the mess on a day I worked for eleven hours straight, just fiending on colors and sparkle.

I learn so much from studying the work of Game of Thrones embroidery artist Michele Carragher.

bead embroidery appliques Suzanne Forbes 2017 She has really radical approaches to layering sheer or lacework materials and doing bead embroidery in three dimensions.

I look forward to exploring ideas I borrowed from her for the mantis, like a wire lattice for sheer wings. Maybe this summer!

I also learned from her to do my bead embroidery in a hoop, whether or not it’s going to remain in the hoop.

Doing bead embroidery on the surface you plan to display it on – especially clothing- is for suckers. It’s like melting chocolate in a double boiler.

Much easier, stronger, safer and neater to embroider or bead embroider on a sheer surface in a hoop. If your threads aren’t meltable you can iron a light interfacing onto the back to protect the finished embroidery, cut around the embroidery design, then sew it onto your clothes or lampshade or corset or whatever.

If your threads are synthetic and meltable, but you’re really worried about the strength/structural integrity of the piece, you can wipe a thin coat of archival gel glue on the back. Like E6000! I touched every knot on the back of this beetle with a bit of Tacky Glue, just to be sure it’s heirloom solid. I have to charge a lot for embroidery pieces, since they take a minimum of 30 hours to make, so I like to be sure they’re for the ages.

*project kit: I have a half dozen project kits still neatly boxed up and waiting in my workshop cabinets. I organize all the materials and supplies I need for a project into a “kit” that makes it easy to bust into and tackle. All those 90% off post-holiday sales at Michaels and JoAnn’s, all those years of saving every scrap of ribbon from a present, every bit of wrapping paper for a shadowbox or decoupage! I’ve been blazing through projects, I’ve finished at least a dozen since I finished building the kitchen/workshop, but I brought a LOT in the container.

Bat Monster Woman!!

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017It’s a gray day in Berlin but this gold and bronze Bat Monster Woman I just finished is glowing.

She is inspired by my beloved Archie McPhee Monster Women rubber toys, a gift from my oldest friend Victoria.

I used what may be my last scrap of silver velvet, some old-gold colored wired organza ribbon that I bought with a coupon at Jo-Ann for my first wedding, and gold tulle.

Plus my favorite Black Pearl metallic thread from Rico Design, which is the only good metallic embroidery thread available in the world.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017And two citrine Swarovski crystals for her eyes, some brass rhinestuds, a scrap of teeeny gold dollmaking braid trim, and plain dark green cotton thread, doubled, carefully stitched around the border of the design.

Using a fine dark thread to go around the edges of important shapes really helps me control and refine the line, I highly recommend it.

It’s especially great where a regular back-stitched embroidered line butts up against a satin stitch area. The tiny needle you can use for a single strand of floss or regular thread means you can stitch into the satin stitch without disturbing or spreading it, yet stabilize it at the same time.

I also added brass stud stars, both to reference Wonder Woman iconography and because I love studs.

When I was a child, about seven to nine, I had a babysitter I adored. Her name was Melissa, and although she was a hardcore drug addict and a total flake, she was so mellow and gentle with me. Some friends of her and her sister Nadine had a clothing store on 8th Avenue between 20th and 21st, a funky hippie store where everybody hung out. I don’t know if they ever sold anything but drugs.

Sitting on the floor in there under racks of fringed and embroidered and patched rocker clothes impacted my aesthetic so much.

Bat Monster Woman Embroidery by Suzanne Forbes Feb 20 2017There was a barrel of studs for your jeans or jean jackets, all different shapes and designs, stars and moons and pyramids and other shapes I can’t quite summon. Like, a barrel- they must have bought them by the kilo at some surplus place. I would run my hands through them, gently so the points wouldn’t poke me.

I felt completely safe there. Years later the friends became famous Deadhead t-shirt silkscreeners, and I went to a party at their loft on 14th st. I came home drunk at dawn and gleefully told my mom about their huge ball python Clyde who had cuddled me. They were such nice people, and such incredible artists.

Everything you do or see or feel goes in the hopper for creative work. 

Everything I remember, here in this safe-at-last place, surfaces and turns and shines under the light. I don’t know where the synthesis will take me. Or what the meeting point will be between painting and drawing, the skills I trained a decade for and made a career in, and the making things I’ve always loved.

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

 

Beauty is my medicine: Making pretty things for comfort.

 Embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 Embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017This is the second large embroidery piece I started and finished this month.

I did this one mostly over the Women’s March Weekend.

 Embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017

It’s super pink!

embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 work in progress   embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 work in progress

I really need to make things of beauty at dark times, when I’m not personally depressed but the world is frighteningly fucked up.

embroidered insect by Suzanne Forbes 2017 work in progressI’ve been posting snippets of my works in progress and moments in the life of a working artist, plus kitties, on my new Instagram account. People seem to appreciate seeing art a lot right now.

I hate being in the ecosphere of a Zuck property, but it’s the best place to keep up with my loved ones these days, and an amazing place to connect with what other artists are doing.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

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.

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