Tag Archives: portrait painting

Finished mixed media pastel portrait of Shakrah!

Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018I committed to the pastel learning journey!

When we had our first sitting for a planned pastel portrait, I knew I needed colors to depict Shakrah Yves. A 1920s jazz singer and former professional costumier, she has an absolute treasury of gorgeous outfits she has created, with matching accessories.Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018 detail

Iris Perez by Suzanne Forbes Jan 2018There was no way I could do justice to her emerald sparkles with the nervous forays I’d made into pastel color thus far.

You can see the results of our first sitting, in sepia and umber colors accented with black and white, here.

I got two sets of new pastels, oil and chalk, and some mixing stumps, as a birthday gift. I took a trial run at adding color by enriching the portrait of Iris Perez, left, before her partner took it back to the Bay Area for her.

When Shakrah arrived for our second sitting, I was ready. SO many colors!

I rarely set up my paint palette with more than fifteen, and here I had at least 70. I added color to the drawing with chalk pastels first, as they are easier to remove, layer over and blend without muddiness. The chalk pastel also behaved well with the white gel pen highlights from the previous sitting. The gel pen ink seemed to act as a resist, sealing the surface of the paper. That meant I didn’t lose the highlights.

I’m using Canson Mi Teintes, which is gelatin-sized and has some kinda crazy microscopic hyper-surface-area (mechanical resistance) to attract and hold pigments.*

Then I put oil pastel over the chalk, because I am punk as fuck.

Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018 detail cuI was careful because past experiences with oil pastels had taught me that things get muddy fast. You can lose color purity quickly with oil pastels, and wind up with tints you can’t shake.

While chalk pastel is close to painting in the sense that it has limited additive/subtractive properties, oil pastel is less flexible.

You can scrape it back down, but the surface will be permanently stained.

When you apply oil pastel over chalk pastel, the chalk slides like graphite dust under the stick.

It takes some focus to control the resulting mix, but it gives a rich color, including the deep darks I want from a picture. I don’t think I have the patience or discipline to become the kind of chalk pastel user who can get true dark values from chalks. Same way I don’t have the spoons left to properly learn watercolor. I love mixing media, though, and I feel like there are tremendous possibilities. Particularly in terms of the speed that is always of primary importance to me.

Of course I’m concerned about the archival properties of the works, particularly when using markers as solvents for oil pastels.

Star Trek the Original Series artwork by Suzanne Forbes AKA Rachel Ketchum AKA Rachel Forbes Seese

the effects of paste-up, non-acid-free tape and Letratone adhesive on some of my original Star Trek comic artwork.

The data that exists on the preservation of mixed media is not much more than a century old.

Gel pens are only a few decades old, and my hundreds of drawings made for Frank Wu are on printer paper and use correction tape, which isn’t intended for art material use at all.

Artists have the responsibility to be educated about the archival and lightfastness properties of their materials to the extent that the information exists.

As an artist who always intended to be a commercial artist creating work for reproduction, I’m willing to see some of my work deteriorate.

That the reproduction, or the digital record, is the true version of the work and the actual physical art is ancillary. And of course, when I sell these mixed media works, it’s crucial to be transparent about the fact that they may get Pollacky in a few decades. In the age of the digital record, collectors understand this much more easily. Time is a medium too.

So I am gonna keep experimenting!

With the layers of media and their varying specularities, this portrait is hard to photograph except in raking light. You can see a video of it on my Instagram!Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018 angle

*reading about the properties of Mi-Teintes reminded me of learning about pasta-making at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley when I worked there in 1997. We had a superb employee education program, and during one lecture we learned that the best Italian dry pasta is still extruded from antique bronze dies, which create a microscopic pitting on the surface of the pasta. This sponge-like texture grips sauce far better than pasta extruded from steel dies.

All knowledge is worth having!

A wedding gift couples portrait on the third day of the new year.

A and C wedding portrait painted by Suzanne Forbes Jan 3 2018Our friend A. comes to Germany for a certain hacker event every year, eleven years running.

Every year he says he’s not coming to Berlin for New Year’s Eve afterwards, and every year I hear his voice in the hallway at our Hacker Open House on New Year’s Day.A and C wedding portrait by Suzanne Forbes Jan 3 2018

This year he brought his bride to be.

And for the second year running, a box of still warm cinnamon rolls from Zeit für Brot nearby. I like both of these and wish both to become tradition!

A and C WIP by Suzanne Forbes Jan 3 2018I told them that of course we had to paint a wedding portrait, and we could do it in four hours or less.

They promptly agreed and spent the day on January 3 hitting Berlin goth shops for appropriate attire.

A and C wedding portrait A detail by Suzanne Forbes Jan 3 2018A and C wedding portrait A detail by Suzanne Forbes Jan 3 2018(Not everyone chooses the route of D & E, who wore their underwear for their New Year’s wedding portrait!)

A and C wedding portrait C detail by Suzanne Forbes Jan 3 2018I loved having a little time to get to know C., who is an amazing gift to the Bay Area community.

I am so happy for these two and the adventures that lie ahead of them as a family. The portrait was started and finished in three hours, all in, plus an additional hour for talking and planning beforehand. Making it my first Four Hour Portrait of a couple in many years!

The reason I can spontaneously make a work like this is that I am a Patreon-powered artist.

My amazing Patrons on Patreon, a subscription platform for supporting artists, contribute money every month to make it possible for me to make art. As a disabled person, I wouldn’t be able to be a working artist without Patreon. You can help, for as little as a dollar a month!

Click here to join the team who makes my work happen.

Work in Progress: a second sitting for Q and Companion.

q and p Jan 2 2018 by Suzanne ForbesFinally got a chance to have another sitting with our friend Quinn and her companion.

CU WIP Q and P by Suzanne Forbes Jan 02 2018Who I refer to as P. or PASR, which is a private joke between two women nearly of an age. We are both much alike and extremely different, she and I.

We’ve had uncannily similar traumas, and we each have our own ways of surviving them. She is completely an LA girl, and I am a New Yorker for life, but we are both robust survivors, absurdly resilient and determinedly creative.

I posed them in the library instead of the salon because the palette suits her Autumn coloring best; this sitting was extra special because her extraordinary child was with us. Ignoring us, like any reasonable teen would!

The day before we painted I said to her, you were one of the reasons I gave my guy a shot.

I figured any guy who had a woman friend like you had to be a guy worth checking out.

“Remember what I said when you got married?” she said, and we laughed. Knowing remarkable people over a lifetime is the first greatest treasure of life. Watching their remarkable children grow up is the second greatest.

Detail WIP Q and P by Suzanne Forbes Jan 02 2018

Finishing my big new portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux!

Portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux before bifurcation by Suzanne Forbes Oct 17 2017

Portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux before bifurcation by Suzanne Forbes, Oct 17 2017

I finished my biggest painting in like twelve years!

At 30″ by 80″ (76cm by 204cm), these conjoined canvases form a fine large surface. I could have gone the traditional route, setting my sitters deep within the pictorial space with plenty of air around them. But I wanted something more demanding of my abilities and more interrogative of the viewer, a compressed space with an exploded perspective that tips the viewer into the painting’s world.

Portrait Sadie Lune cu by Suzanne Forbes Oct 17 2017Into the dangerous, powerful air breathed by artists Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux.

Portrait of Sadie Lune by Suzanne Forbes Oct 18 2017I set up the perspective of the picture with the idea that Sadie and Jo should take up as much space in it as possible.

At some point in the 90s I read a quote from Roseanne Barr, where she advised young actresses to “take up as much space as you possibly can.”

I think this is a great idea for women, to just occupy space with our presence and authority and strength and certainty, and in Sadie’s case, coiled professional menace.

I had done a painting that utilized an exploded perspective in 2005, the portrait of Khris Brown that is still one of my favorite things I’ve ever done (below right).

I approached the portrait I did of Rah Hell this summer the same way, opening and flattening the pictorial space to force the viewer to acknowledge her carelessly confident drummer’s body (below left). Our Art Nouveau herringbone wood floors work even better for distorting the perspective than the floors in my Berkeley Craftsman did.Portraits by Suzanne Forbes 2005 and 2017

To get the exaggerated foreshortening of my model’s forms, I simply alternate between sitting and standing with the easel very close to the model.

Then I make decisions about scale and positioning, as described in the previous post, and position one foot to break the frame, my signature! This is a straightforward way of suggesting that the power of the woman in the portrait can’t be contained by the picture plane. And it also references my career in comics and my love for comic panel design.

You can see here how close I was to the model chair.After the third sitting Sadie and Jo WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2017

During the long third sitting, Sadie and Jo and I talked about art and sex and power.

Sadie and I reminisced about the wonderful Oughts’-era climate for sex-positive kinky art in San Francisco. We talked about the many performances and shows we did for Madison Young’s queer art gallery Femina Potens and the events, like Sadie’s birthday party, at the Center For Sex and Culture. For a while the background of the painting looked like the Leather Pride Flag!After the third sitting Sadie and Jo WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2017

Jo, who is a photographer, told us an amazing story of when she met Nan Goldin.

The whole process of making the painting has been nourishing and strengthening, a collaborative meeting of minds and talents. Sadie and Jo both brought their A game to the work, serving tremendous presence and face and great physical stamina.

Portrait of Sadie and Jo detail by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2017After the final sitting I dug in and sorted out the background and details. As much as I liked the Leather Pride colors, I wanted to paint the realistic space of my salon, to ground the figures in a real world and place the viewer in it with them.

I adjusted the perspective of the floor over and over, to give the immanence I wanted to Sadie and Jo.

And I repainted Jo’s hands like a million times, so they would only be substantial artist’s hands, not disorientingly large! I had fun painting the Autumn goddess head-dresses of leaves and rosehips Jo and Sadie wore to Folsom Europe for a performance this year.

I very carefully composed the shadows at Sadie’s feet to guide the eye to the vicious tip of her singletail, which actually is the dark blue and black colors I painted it.

I gave Jo a branch to hold because I was like, “Needs moar witch!” Once the details were done, it was time to separate the two canvases for transport to Ludwig, where they will be shown. I didn’t know what would happen once they were separated; the painting looked finished and resolved with them conjoined but….

With the canvases separated, the blue background wall panel behind Jo (right side) became a dead space!Portrait of Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes before and after Oct 18 2017I had to activate it visually with shadows.

Which was good, really, as it made the unused pink velvet boudoir chair more significant. I like to include pink velvet furniture, like my sadly lost dusty rose velvet model’s armchair, in my paintings. Not only is pink velvet a great visual reference to pussy, it references a powerful moment in my experience as an artist.

In 1993 I went to Philadelphia with my first husband. We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we saw the Cornells, Duchamp’s Étant donnés and the Degas known as both “Interior” and “The Rape”. I can’t begin to describe the impact that group of works had on me, but I can tell you the most important thing I carried away: that women need to make paintings of women.

Jo Pollux detail by Suzanne Forbes Oct 18 2017For decades I have been both inspired by the great male painters and furious that men have made most of the great paintings of women.

My spiritual master as an artist, John Singer Sargent, was not sexually involved with women. He made pictures of them as beings. Numinous, sensual, prickly, elegant, fearless beings. I am hoping in the next few years to really move into my abilities as a painter, and to begin painting women with all the strength I see in them.

It really helps to make big paintings, when you want to depict strength and grace, and I hope this diptych is a step towards that.

This work was made possible by the generosity of my Patrons on Patreon, who contribute monthly support to enable me to make art. I am so, so grateful.

You can help for as little as a buck a month!

In Berlin and wanna see it in person and hear me and Sadie talk about art, gender, portraiture as service and more? Come to Ludwig this Sunday, Oct 22, at 8pm for an artist’s talk and vernissage!

Sadie and Jo are both brand-new on Patreon, you can help them make feminist art!

 

 

The big diptych – work in progress! My portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux.

wip Portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017Now we’re at the stage where I make serious refinements to scale and positioning.

You can see I’ve scaled down Jo’s body significantly and adjusted the room and furnishings as well. I made her enormous hands much smaller, although enormous hands are cool! I had made them so large I had to repaint them twice to get them normal size 🙂

One foot of at least one model always breaks the frame in every one of my portraits, and it was best if it was Sadie’s new Fleuvog boot, so I moved Jo’s knee and feet back.

WIP Portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes color clarification pass Sept 24 2017You can see the previous pass of post sitting work above, the color clarification pass where I clean up muddy colors from the first sitting.

WIP portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes Sept 24 2017And the first sitting, which I painted almost entirely with sponges from the euro store and sponge brushes, in 2.5 hours.

More info in the first post!

First Sitting: A really big new portrait, my first diptych!

WIP Portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes color clarification pass Sept 24 2017This Sunday I started a big new portrait of my dear friend Sadie Lune and her wonderful partner Jo.

WIP Portrait Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes Sept 24 2017This is my first diptych painting. It is being done on two canvases, which will be hung together or separately at the choice of my curator Thorsten at @ludwig.berlin when we show the works in early October!

Sadie is wearing her beautiful black leather Alexandra corset by  @darkgardencorsetry. Jo, a photographer, is wearing a marvelous outfit of a little ruffled white dress and a cage harness of black elastic, which I will paint in at the next sitting. And they will have Autumn headdresses of rosehips!

Sadie Lune at her birthday party CSC October 2008 by Suzanne ForbesI have wanted to paint Sadie since I met her at “Nude Aid”, an art benefit for the Center for Sex and Culture, in 2007. She is an artist, performer, sex worker and activist and has marvelous style and presence. The day I met her she was working as both artist and model as she often does. She was wearing a cloche, I remember it so vividly!

As the drawings were all sold that day for a fundraiser, I don’t have a picture of it, alas.

We talked that day about a portrait collaboration, but with our busy, frantic, community-focussed, subsistence working lives as Bay Area artists, we were never able to make it happen in the US.

Art of Restraint 5 16 2009 Sadie Lune performs

I did make several drawings of her at events, like the one above of her at her birthday party (also at the CSC) in a latex dress. That party was full of amazing performances, like Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich doing a work from their Twincest collaboration with blood-drinking and fisting.

Sadie invited the audience to use her body as a canvas for “birthday bites” and we all decorated her with bite marks!

I drew her again in 2009, when she performed with her snake at Art of Restraint, a regular fundraiser for queer art gallery Femina Potens. Here’s Violet Blue’s photo of the scene. and her shot of me drawing Fivestar.

Suzanne Forbes drawing at Midori performance at Femina Potens photo by Zille Defeu Sept 29 2010

Suzanne Forbes drawing at Midori’s “Taken” performance at Femina Potens/ Photo by Zille Defeu Sept 29 2010

We both were constantly donating time and art to fundraisers for the sex-positive and queer art community in the Bay Area in 2006-2010. My policy for five years was, if someone in the community asked me for any art or art labor, I said yes. So we were doing the same events in the scene all the time. Here’s another shot of me drawing at another Art of Restraint. You can see my red flowered head in this one from another Nude Aid. These events were so beautiful and magical, so queer and body-positive and great for community resources. They didn’t leave us as much time for personal projects as we would have liked, though!

Sadie moved to Berlin years before anyone else I knew, and was a great inspiration to me.

Portrait of Sadie Lune by Suzanne Forbes in progress Sept 24 2017She was tremendously helpful in the year before we moved here, providing critical advice about how to prepare for life here and apply for an artist’s visa. (By the way I was granted a two-year artist’s visa of my own on August 28th!)

It has taken us until now to sort out doing a portrait at last, because we both face health challenges and Sadie has a little one, who is now four.

And that’s fine. It takes time to come together for personal-project portraits.

it took a year to schedule and another two years to finish the sittings for my portrait of Midori, for example!

WIP portrait of Sadie Lune and Jo Pollux by Suzanne Forbes Sept 24 2017I believe it always happens at exactly the right time.

My big new portrait finished and hanging at Ludwig!

Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017I am so proud of this painting of Rah Hell I hate to be separated from it even to exhibit it!

painting of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes at Ludwig photo by Suzanne Wegh

Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes at Ludwig. photo by Suzanne Wegh

Rah Hell ukelele from portrait by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017However I am thrilled to have it shown at Ludwig, where Thorsten took such great care in hanging it and positioning the lighting.

Ludwig is a beautiful queer space in Neukölln where art is really respected. I was so grateful to see my work handled with care. It will be the first thing visitors to our show this Saturday see upon entering!

Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017 black and white versionIt is the first big personal project portrait I’ve done in Berlin.

I see it as a companion piece, à pendant, to this big portrait I did of friend/muse/Patron Khris Brown in 2005, when I had just returned to painting after a thirteen-year hiatus. This portrait, one of many I did of Khris, is probably my favorite thing I’ve done to date. And this picture of Rah is right up there.

Portraits by Suzanne Forbes 2005 and 2017I painted Rah on a pink ground.

That means before she arrived, I painted the primed canvas an allover bright pink. I used to do this occasionally in college, but had forgotten about it until I saw the work of Natalia Fabia. She is one of the wonderful modern figurative artists I’ve discovered on Instagram. She very often paints on a pink ground.

It adds so much warmth, plus serving as a light mid-tone. Not entirely unlike the many drawings I’ve done on Kraft paper in the last few months! Since I paint alla prima and leave a few areas of bare canvas on every painting I make, you can see the pink peeking through at the edges.

Modern technology makes it so easy to photograph your work, even if you are as bad a photographer as I am.Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017 detail

I’m amazed at how easy it to record and share my new pieces. You can see the details of how I paint easily, the scumbling and bits of impasto. I used quite a bit of gel medium in this work, to get translucent layers that would capture Rah’s luminous youth. Young people’s skin has so much subsurface specularity!

You can see it in progress here and here.

This painting didn’t exist a month ago, and now here it is, on the internet and hanging at Ludwig. My Patrons made it possible.Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017 detail

I’m incredibly proud of it and so grateful to Rah for posing for three long sittings. I am so very grateful to my Patrons who support me on Patreon and make it possible for me to do this work.

If you’re in Berlin, come see our show at Ludwig, opening August 19, 2017! Check out Rah performing in Donut Heart! Celebrate queer Berlin!! YAY!!!!

Playing with pastels, drawing loved ones.

l in berlin by Suzanne Forbes Aug 1 2017When you live in Berlin, everyone comes to visit!

Many Patrons will know the beautiful face of this loved one, visiting Berlin for a week or two. L. and I got to spend some sweet quality time visiting in my Berlin kitchen while I took it slow making this drawing.

As I continue to experiment with pastels, they become more integrated into the drawing as a whole. I really considered their usage and merits for the first time as I worked on this, trying to actually work with the medium a little. As opposed to riding roughshod over it and entirely imposing my comic-book aesthetic and technique, the way I usually do.

Maybe someday I’ll even make a traditional style, true pastel painting, with no ink at all!

Like I used to do at the Art Students League as a ten-year-old.

But that day is not today, as you can see from this drawing of the hubbin sleepin. I was so fired up from drawing L. that later that night I snuck in and drew my husband in the dim light of our bedroom. Hub is so used to me sneakin in and drawing him, he just opened his eyes, shrugged, and went back to sleep, being careful not to change his pose!D sleeping August 1 2017 by Suzanne Forbes

More mixed media experiments on some life drawings from Drink and Draw Berlin.

Masked woman by Suzanne Forbes July 30 2017Just playing around, experimenting wildly with mixed media, composition and values.

Well, wildly for me. Since I spent my six-plus years of art school totally focussed on becoming a comic book artist, I never experimented with anything unless they forced me to, as a student.

I had some left over unfinished drawings from when me and Daria and Marina went to Drink and Draw Berlin earlier this year. I thought I’d finish them up by adding some big dark areas and sharp contrasts. I was like, hey, this mixed media stuff is mostly going well, why don’t I add paint to the drawings? Daria adds paint and ink and watercolor sticks and even coffee and tattoo ink to her drawings all the time and they come out absolutely beautiful.

Shhhh girl by Suzanne Forbes July 30 2017Ha ha ha NO. I added some highlights in unbleached titanium, which seems like a pretty innocuous thing to do…

It looked clumsy and awkward and tragic. Oh well! Pastels have some limited additive/subtractive properties so I just covered up the paint! It was on the top and bottom ones, for the curious. I think they look fine now.

Honestly, I think they look terrific. I’m having a blast. An artist I know from Instagram, an extraordinary young French courtroom artist and illustrator named Emilie Oprescu, said nice things about them. Since I have mad enormous respect for her work, I feel good about these playful experiments.

boy drawing by Suzanne Forbes July 30 2017Gonna keep messin around! It’s just art! Nobody’s heart is open on the table!

One of the producers used to say that, when I worked as a production coordinator at a VFX studio. He’d say, “It’s just a movie! Nobody’s heart is open on the table!”. Wise words.

Big new portrait, coming along sweet!

Rah second sitting med by Suzanne Forbes July 19 2017Pretty damn pleased with myself and my amazing rockstar model @rah_fookinhell after our second sitting.

Rah second sitting by Suzanne Forbes July 19 2017You can see the first sitting here!

I love the small portraits I’ve done this year, every one of them. However this is the first large personal project I’ve done since moving to Berlin and it is thrilling.

Having a big canvas and a model who really fits my aesthetic is like a deep dive into the source of my strength.

I’ve struggled to find muses like my amazing Bay Area loved ones here. That I was able to find such great working chemistry with such gorgeous and powerful people seems like a miracle to me now. That so many made time to work with me, some of them over and over, was such a gift.

Nearly all my paintings these last two years in Berlin have been of Bay Area folks who were visiting!

In Germany, even in Berlin, it’s not as easy to ask a total stranger or acquaintance to just come to my house and sit still for hours.

Rah second sitting longshot by Suzanne Forbes July 19 2017I feel absolutely blessed to have met Rah, who has a true feel for the work and also keeps the same hours I do!

She is very young, as was my Never-Muse when I began painting her, and it is really fun to be painting a fiery young person again. I was able to work for four hours straight in the second sitting, which is a big deal.

The Great Recession, my last bout of severe depression and treatment, and my devastating second divorce seemed to have broken my strength as an artist.

I haven’t been able to paint for more than a couple hours for years. Let alone for for two or even three four-hour sittings in a day as I did in 2005, when I first went back to working as an artist and committed to portraiture. I finished dozens of paintings a year, along with hundreds of drawings, the first four years.

But in 2009 things were sputtering to a halt and in 2010 I was working for another startup. My two 2010 paintings, the couple 2011 and 2012 paintings, one 2014 painting and four 2015 paintings were done in multiple short sittings. I just didn’t have the stamina.

Now I am recovering, at last. Yesterday I taught gesture drawing class AND drew at an event for four hours. I know it’s my Patrons and the freedom they give me that’s making this possible.

I am so very grateful to my #Patrons who support me on @patreon and make it possible for me to do this work.