Tag Archives: dollmaking

Trans Dino-Witch, a vision of protection and safety for transmen and transwomen.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017My Trans Dino-Witch is finished at last! I’ve been working on her all month.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017 neo nazis running awayShe was a huge project for such a small work!

I am thrilled to have finished her and she gives me strength. I hope other folks will find strength in her too.

Look at those pathetic, evil Neo-Nazis running away from her mighty teeth!

Look at her group of friends who are riding along on her back to support her and enjoy the mayhem!

I made their tiny colored hair out of nail flocking powder, way cheaper than fancy “craft” flocking powder. You can get a set of 10 colors on eBay for a euro.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017 friendsShe is a companion work to my Pride piece, Queer Dino-Witch, which I made last month.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017It was harder to make her, because I had some harder feelings. I realized while making her that I often connect deeply with trans women partly for a very sad reason.

Most of the trans women I know have C-PTSD from repeated, systemic sexual violence, as I do.

Although my Trans Dino Witch is a work about Neo-Nazis, the despicable Alt-Right, I can’t make art about trans folk without thinking about the other kinds of attacks they suffer.

During the making of this piece the Orange Shitclown lashed out violently at transfolk.

He announced (on twitter, of course) that he intended to ban trans people from serving in the US military. Just yesterday he signed a formal memo. Since trans people have been serving with honor in the US military since at least 1862, lots of luck running the armed forces without them.

Also during the making of this piece, Chelsea Manning built a rainbow army of loving, celebrating followers who just won’t stop being brave and kind.

trans girl dinowitch in process by Suzanne ForbesSuck that, neo-fascist real estate golem!

I tweeted Chelsea a photo of our cat being cute on one of the particularly horrible days for trans people in August and she thanked me personally! So nice!!

She has made #WeGotThis a banner for the power of trans people and their unbelievable determination to survive and thrive.

 

I named the Trans Dino-Witch Catherine, after the late, legendary artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones.

My generation of comic artists was so inspired by Jeffrey Catherine Jones and her commercial and comics artwork that always transcended the commercial.  I hope she would like this tribute.

Catherine is a work built on a legacy of artists who inspire me. First, the incredible sculptor and assemblage artist Elizabeth McGrath. In 2005 I saw her show Altarwise By Owl Light at Billy Shire Fine Arts in Culver City.

She is the artist who opened my eyes to the power of modern assemblage and pop-surrealist artists. Her works are creepy, adorable, mythological and emotionally meaningful.

And some of them have little railroad miniature people in them! And they’re full of fake fur and Swarovski crystals and weird shit she found somewhere! And they’re like being hit in the heart with a bus.

So finally using tiny railroad people in a piece is my tribute to Liz McGrath.

I was also very influenced by the constant miniature close-ups on the Instagram feed of Jake and Dinos Chapman. The group of works by these YBAs called “Hell” is an intensely political anti-Nazi work that took them two years to complete and used 60,000 toy soldiers.

I decided to do dinosaur witches for Pride because of Mab GravesDinoKitty show at Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans this year.

I thought, Dino-Kitties! That’s a fine idea. I wonder why you never hear about Dino-Witches

Mab Graves has been hugely inspiring to me as an artist who never apologizes for making paintings, illustrations, sculptures (in a craft-identified medium iike needle felt!), commercially produced prints and diffusion line mass produced t-shirts all at once.

I love that she gets to make unique fine art objects and show them at the national level and sell melamine plates in her Etsy store.

She controls it all and completely owns her brand, despite enduring years of suffering from endometriosis, which she has been courageously transparent with her fan base about. Inspiring as fuck! I can’t work as hard as she does, but I am working as hard as I can.

Most of all, Catherine the Trans Dino-Witch was inspired by the Degenderettes LGBTQiA flag baseball bats made by Scout Tran.

Seeing those clear, bright flag stripes pass by in my Instagram feed day after day – seems like queer people are playing a lot of baseball lately, or something – is surprisingly comforting.

I give back 10% of my Patreon income to young queer and trans cartoonists and comic artists. Scout is one of them. So is Sam Orchard. Because fuck, the only people who have a harder and shittier time making a living as artists (especially comic artists) than women are trans people.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017My Patrons made it possible for me to spend fifty hours sculpting, painting and dressing Catherine. I hope she gives back some strength and inspiration.

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

 

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.

 

First Berlin Art Collab!

Wallmural2016DariaRheinSuzanneForbesYesterday I helped my friend Daria Rhein paint a mural in her entry hall.

Vertales Ball Jointed DollsI met Daria because she took two of my classes, and I did my first Berlin art trade with her. She works in games and makes incredibly beautiful ball-jointed dolls; I’m now the proud owner of one of these Vertales dolls.

She is an extraordinarily talented draughtswoman whose figure drawing skills just blow my mind.

blaukatze tee

 

She has a cartoon style as well as a realistic one, and I begged her til she made this t-shirt she designed available last week.

Daria Rhein Original TattooAnd she just bought a tattoo machine and learned to tattoo her exquisite designs, in her spare time this past month!Vertales Steampunk BJD

Collaboration is so nurturing to me as an artist.

Wallmural 2016 Daria Rhein Suzanne ForbesI had wonderful collaborators and peers in the Bay, deeply committed, hardworking and wildly creative muses like KB and Miss Never, and fantastic artist friends I did costume parties and installation projects with. I often enjoyed drawing events and parties while my friends Audrey Penven and Neil Girling shot them, a kind of amazing parallax view.

But my great peer as a draughtsperson, the superb artist Marc Taro Holmes, moved back to Montreal after I’d enjoyed just a year or two of drawing at parties with him. So it is simply thrilling to know working artists like my new friends Daria and Rafa Alvarez, another one of my students who can just draw like blue hot holy hell.

Daria is a native Muscovite from a remarkable Moscow family of artists, designers, photographers and writers. She has talent just coming out of her ears! So I was thrilled that she suggested another trade, me helping her paint an eerie forest in the small foyer of her Neukolln penthouse apartment. We did it in just a couple hours, listening to The Kooks and Danny Elfman, without any kind of plan or preparatory drawing or cartoon on the walls. We switched places as we worked so our different styles would mix organically. One of the trees has tiny legs and is running away!

Because she is as fearless as I am, as confident and powerful in her drawing skills, it was easy.

It’s not done yet; Daria is going to put a background wash over it and paint her little scary-cute cartoon spirit animals on the branches. But it was a damn good start. I hope it will be the first of many international collaborations in this city of artists.

More Mermaid Madness!

Evil Mermaid by Suzanne Forbes 2016I decided to rework a mermaid sculpture because I wasn’t really satisfied with it. For one thing, her boobs were really noticeably different sizes.

Evil Mermaid 2011 Suzanne Forbes(This is her before.)  In the intervening few years, I’d learned a bit about doll-making materials and acquired soooo much mermaidy stuff. This was an opportunity to play with some of these materials and techniques.

The wonderful thing about polymer clay is that you can sculpt new clay onto a piece and rebake it, even some years later. #fixedthoseboobs.

I mean, one of mine is a little smaller than the other, it’s not like I was judging her- it just looked super awkward in her particular pose.Evil Mermaid by Suzanne Forbes 2016

 

And I’d learned you can sand the cured clay, which is great for super-smooth fleshly areas. So I improved the sculpt, and then I gave her some fancy swag to wear!

I also used a mixture of materials, which I talk about in this “Learning to Sculpt” post. I made the driftwood tree out of a tinfoil armature covered with epoxy clay and painted. Fork tines made the bark lines, though that was the end of that fork!

Evil Mermaid by Suzanne ForbesI used Liquid Sculpey on her fingertips and webbing to make them more unpleasantly translucent. I also varnished her to up the translucency of the “Transparent” Fimo, and I used Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer to put a dome of clear gloss over her eyes.

As you can see her boobs look very nice now. Ten years ago I was at a miniatures show, admiring a beautiful naked fairy, when the artist who made her surprised me.

“Check out her bodacious ta-tas”, the lady in her seventies said, “I always make sure the nipples are nice and pink!”. No reason a doll can’t have a nice bosom!

 

Evil Mermaid by Suzanne ForbesI also made her hair ombré so she could be on trend.

In the end I am enormously pleased with her and her mean little face! Here she is in her dome prison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tentacle Grotto Mirror by Suzanne ForbesI STILL had mermaid stuff left over, so I made this evil tentacle grotto mirror.

Learning to sculpt.

Sculpture Suzanne Forbes 2015I had sculpting classes in art school; I submitted to them ungraciously.

I considered sculpting an unnecessary detour, an obstacle to my mission of learning to draw as well as possible, as fast as possible, as soon as possible. I wasn’t comfortable with the visceral, touchy-feely quality of sculpting either; as a young artist I was rigid and frightened of anything where my success or failure couldn’t be quickly quantified.

I was especially frightened by anything abstract. In one class we used blocks of soapstone and chiseling tools, and I watched in awe as a classmate confidently set into her piece. “How do you know where to carve?” I asked her. “I just look at the natural rock, and let it tell me what forms want to emerge.” I found that terrifying. I did not want to hear about anything “emerging”. I wanted to draw the X-Men.

I wasted those opportunities, but luckily, sometimes both ars and vita are longa.

I got interested in sculpting in 2000 or so, after making a lot of fancy cakes with gold-leafed marzipan dragons and fondant-and-royal icing Fabergé eggs. I was “retired” as an artist at the time, not drawing or painting, just compulsively making things.

I was reading about customizing action figures on these clunky yahoo forums, and I heard about epoxy clay. Epoxy clay sounded great: a strong self-hardening clay that would adhere to nearly anything and hold fine detail with no shrinkage, and you could buy it at TAP in El Cerrito. I bought some, but then I got so consumed with my dollhouse build I left it in the craft cabinet for a long time.

At some point I started making things (link NSFW) for my dollhouse in polymer clay.

Polymer clay has a slightly, faintly greasy feel in the hand which I can tolerate, but don’t love, and it has other flaws. You have to bake it, and if you want to incorporate things that would melt in the oven in your sculpt, you’re screwed. The cured clay isn’t a neutral surface- you can paint it with acrylics, but only some varnishes, adhesives and primers adhere to it.

So eventually I did try the epoxy clay. It’s a two-part putty that you knead together- equal size balls of resin and hardener- which firms up gradually over an hour or so. It’s hard to the touch in a day and fully cured in a week or two. It comes in various basic colors; I started with the “natural” or grey. I found it okay to the touch, and I loved the self-hardening property, but there was a granular quality to the handling and finish I disliked. I gave my stash of it to the sculptor Aimee Baldwin, who uses it on the beaks and feet of her incredible “vegan taxidermy” birds, and moved on to other projects.

Art, like life, is made of second chances, even when it doesn’t feel that way.*

There’s always another opportunity to fall in love. And since I am a materials geek as an artist much more than a tools or techniques geek, I kept reading about resins, adhesives and clays. When I started my really just fully insane Narnia Jadis-and-her-sleigh aka Snow Queen project in 2013, I realized epoxy clay was the perfect thing to join together disparate materials. (below, first preview ever published of the reindeer and sledge!)Snow Queen miniature reindeer and sledge Suzanne Forbes 2014

The sledge is made of 3 plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, pvc ornament sleigh pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheet, crazy glue and balsa wood, all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. (And painted with Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, another rabbit hole of materials I went down!) It’s decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake decals meant for nail art.

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 used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling to their phones, aka “decoden”, to get a clear dome over its eyes and a gloss of mucus in its nostrils. The flocking on its ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!

During this process I learned the secret of working with epoxy clay: water.

Epoxy clay is exactly like natural clay in the sense that it’s water soluble; water instantly smooths and softens it. As long as you keep a cup of water (clearly labelled DO NOT DRINK) next to your work surface, all those issues with the granularity of the material disappear. The clay smoothes and holds detail exquisitely. It sticks to itself and to pretty much anything else.

Suddenly, I was in love with sculpting. It’s all about the right material.

Original bust of DIana WIP Suzanne Forbes 2015So this summer I decided to make some freehand original epoxy clay sculpts. The goat-foot candlestick is something I’m making not because I wanted to make it, but because I want to have it. It’s built on an armature of tinfoil and a glass caper jar, plus some wood rings.

The figure of Diana will be a horned, armored bust, holding a bow, attached to an iron candlestick (which I got at TK Maxx); she is built on an armature of wire and tinfoil. The idea is her horns will cast shadows as the candle flame flickers.

Original bust of DIana WIP Suzanne Forbes 2015I was wrong, in college. Sculpting is priceless to the draughtsman.

Just working on the Diana figure for a few months I’ve learned so, so much about representing the figure. So much about planes and mass and the way the figure occupies space.

Speaking of mass, the self-adhesion properties of epoxy clay come in handy as I just keep packing muscle mass onto her shoulders. Because that’s what I love to see in women. (With the [still unfinished, beautiful and evil] Snow Queen, I used a tiny fairy figure as her base, and I kept adding booty to her booty.) Seriously, I wrote a paper in college about the differences between the classically sculpted face and modern beauty standards, and yet making this piece has given me far more understanding.

The other thing about sculpting that’s wonderful for me is that it’s SLOW. For a person who draws and paints as fast as I do, making work that takes deep patience is wonderfully relaxing. There’s something heavenly about just taking my time.

Epoxy clay, though delicious to work with, also has drawbacks.

Original bust of DIana WIP Suzanne Forbes 2015It’s very, very expensive to get over here, so I use tinfoil to create as much of the bulk of the sculpt as possible. You can also sub in polymer clay for some parts of your sculpt- people on the internet say it’s perfectly safe to bake cured epoxy clay, so of course I did. But I didn’t like the contrast of the materials.

When the plumbers came to fix our sink they used epoxy clay to seal the tiles back in; I should have asked them where they get it, but they don’t speak a word of English and insist on asking their Siri to tell me everything, which drives me nuts.

And it has potential as an allergen, possibly one with a lifetime body burden tipping point.

I had that experience with black hair dye- happily gothing it for years, then one day I left it on too long, and then every time I tried from then it got worse. I gave up on black hair the day I had to pull my car over because lymph fluid was dripping from my broken scalp into my eyes. Oy, what an idiot. Not doing that again. If I start to have a reaction to epoxy clay I’ll give it up.

Meanwhile, I find doing the mixing together of the two elements with gloves on seems to reduce its adhesion to my hands while actually sculpting. Some people use barrier creams to protect their hands. I use silicon sculpting tools, because if you use metal they just become lumps of epoxy clay! During the process of these two pieces I switched from “natural” clay to “White”, which is actually still grey.

I found the white clay to be much finer textured, better for holding fine detail and not faintly translucent the way the natural clay is. You can see traces of the natural clay around Diana’s nose. With the Snow Queen, I periodically sprayed her with Krylon Fusion to get an allover finish; this let me check the symmetry and shape of the sculpt more easily, and the clay just stuck right on over it. But this is the Land of No Krylon. I may paint her with white artist’s acrylic instead, before I do more work on her. I want to get some Rio Rondo teeny tiny carbide files, too, to drill out her nostrils.

I like Apoxie Sculpt white better than Magic-Sculpt, which was the first epoxy clay I tried, although I like the Magic-Sculpt better than the natural Apoxie. Magic-Sculpt has no greasy feel at all, which I appreciate; the white Apoxie has much less than the natural. They have metallic epoxy clay now too, which I crave but can’t get on Amazon.de. YMMV; there’s miles of debate on these materials out there. I love materials research, so I read a LOT of it, but ultimately the magic of epoxy clay, like natural clay, is that to know it you have to use it.

Sculpting with a material that hardens involves time, and handling, and learning the sweet spots in the hardening process for each technique.

Like baking bread, you just have to practise sculpting- so that’s what I’m doing. It may be a year before these pieces are done; I have time.

“Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.”

*quote from a beloved friend/muse/patron