Tag Archives: Suzanne Forbes artist

A New Mutants Love Story, or why I got into drawing comics as a woman.

New Mutants Rahne and Dani slash by Suzanne Forbes 2017This week the news broke that Maisie Williams has been cast as Rahne Sinclair in Josh Boone’s New Mutants movie.

Rachel Ketchum with a New Mutant cosplayer thanksgiving 1985

With an early (perhaps the first) New Mutant cosplayer, NY Creation Con, Thanksgiving 1985

It had been rumored for a long time, and I had been hoping and praying.

I love Maisie infinitely because of her amazing journey as Arya Stark and her completely rad dignity and coolness growing up in the public eye. There is no one I’d rather see play one of the two characters most important in the world to me.

I feel like the story that matters more than any other to me is in safe hands with Josh Boone. After 33 years, the New Mutants will be on the big screen! Who on earth could have imagined this? Certainly not me, in 1984, when I read my first New Mutants comic.

My girlfriend asked me to bring her a comic book at boarding school.

NEW-MUTANTS-18 cover by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz

New Mutants 18 cover by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz

She was going to Simon’s Rock, an elite private school that was part of Bard College. I missed her terribly, so I took a bus from Port Authority to Great Barrington, Massachusetts to visit her.

She had gotten into this comic book series, “The New Mutants”, and she desperately needed me to bring her the next issue.

I vaguely knew there was a comic book store up on 23rd st., so I walked up there. In the acrid smell of mouldering paper I asked the big unkempt man where “the new New Mutants” was to be found, and bought it.

It was issue #18, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz. SinKEVitch.

As every student of comics knows, New Mutants #18 was one of the issues that broke open the history of comics.

It was part of the revolution in comic art and storytelling that would culminate in 1986’s Dark Knight and Swamp Thing and Moonshadow and Watchmen.

I had seen 1980s comics before, when my boyfriend Paul lived with me and my mom in the West Village when I was fifteen. He brought a duffel bag with Frank Miller Daredevils and the Byrne/Claremont X-Men run. But I didn’t read them, then; just looked at the covers. They were sealed up in slippery poly-bags.

Me and Pam, NYC 1984

So I packed the New Mutants comic in my suitcase along with my long skirts and my bottles. At Port Authority I was drinking Midori from the bottle, calling Pam from a payphone, so excited.

On the bus I took out the comic book. I was planning to be a children’s book illustrator or a fashion illustrator back then.

I had dropped out of Stuyvesant and was taking adult ed fashion drawing classes at Parsons, waiting to be old enough to be admitted to the BFA program. I wasn’t especially excited about becoming a commercial artist; it was just a practical career choice given my drawing ability.

Most of my energy and ambition in my teens went to finding beautiful boys and seducing them.

Pamela was my dear friend and sometimes lover, the only girl I’ve ever truly been in love with.

Boston 1984 Me and Pam

Me and Pam in Boston, October 1984

She was brilliant, absurdly smart – we met at Stuyvesant when I was a junior and she was a freshman- and in terrible pain. It was just a few months after her first hospitalisation, that day in 1984 when I headed to Simon’s Rock.

She had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, like her father and brother, and begun a lifetime of Stelazine treatment and disability.

I loved her profoundly, intimately, with a depth entirely unlike my relationship with my boyfriend and whoever I was cheating on him with. She was shy, furious, poetic, inhibited, intensely loving. We only had sex when I pulled a boy for a threesome or she was really drunk or I’d given her some pills.

But we were always physically close, always touching. She was queer as fuck, but she didn’t have parents who were like, “being gay is totally normal”, the way I did. She lived in Staten Island with her crazily messed up family, so she spent days at a time in Chelsea at the safe haven of the apartment I shared with my mom. And then she got a scholarship to this fancy prep school program, and I had to go visit her.

On the bus I opened the comic book, and I met Danielle and Rahne and Sam and Illyana and Kitty and a red-haired girl named Rachel.

Rachel's first appearance, New Mutants 18 by Chris Claremont and Bill SienkiewiczLater, when my friendship with Chris Claremont was known in the comics community, people thought he’d named her after me. But I didn’t meet Chris til 1986.

On my 18th birthday, NYC.

You probably can’t imagine, in the 21st Century with a million YA novels about disenfranchised traumatized gifted outsider teens out there, in a post-Buffy pop culture world, what it felt like to read The New Mutants in 1984. It was like coming home to a sanctuary I had only seen in dreams.

I was an obsessive science fiction reader, but I connected with the ideas, not the characters. Larry Niven never wrote about anyone who was my age and full of pain. Chris wrote about how wounded teens could be at a loss for how to navigate the world and find a bearing with their friends.

The story in #18 was disjointed, haunting, full of bad dreams and traumatized teens on the run.

Rachel’s confusion about the timeline felt like my mornings after a blackout. Dani’s night terrors matched my own. The ending was terrifying, dark as hell.

When Pam picked me up at the bus stop the first thing she asked was if I had her comic. “What IS this??! What the hell IS this??” I babbled at her. She told me she and her new friend Mery had just started reading it recently, but were obsessed. Ah, Mery- I would have been so jealous of how Pam loved her, if she hadn’t been so fucking cool and easy to love herself. We talked about the New Mutants a lot that weekend, the three of us.

When I got back to the city I went and bought all the New Mutants comics there were- all 18 of them- and that led me right into the X-Men comics.

Of which there were 184 issues, plus Annuals and a couple of cross-overs.  Getting my hands on those was a project. The X-Men led me to the rest of Marvel, and then the TItans led me to DC.

I drew cartoon versions of the New Mutants and the Hellions featuring Pam and Mery guesting as “Scallions”. (I have no idea why the idea of them being onions was funny, but for some reason it was at the time.) Then I started…drawing the New Mutants.

New Mutants core four 1984 or 1985 by Rachel Ketchum

By Christmas I was making up pages with them. And I had decided that Rahne and Dani were definitely going to fall in love, even if the writer didn’t know it yet.

My mom, always completely supportive of my obsessions and ambitions, had gone to comic stores all over town with a list of X-Men back issues I needed.

There were stacks of comics under the tree with all the science fiction paperbacks. I gleefully tore open the wrapping on each one, incredulous- “You found #146?? Ma!!!”

I never cared at all about their condition; I just wanted to read them and look at the art.Early New Mutants drawings by Rachel Ketchum 1984 or 5

My older friends came home from college for the holidays and I showed them all my new comic drawings. All I could talk about was comics. All my letters had been about comics.

Someone said, “Hey, you should do this for a living”. “Somebody has to draw them, right?” someone else chimed in.

I actually have a photo of me from that night. I had enough life experience at seventeen to recognize a moment when the forces of the universe gather around you and give you a push.

I was reading a copy of Playboy my friend John gave me because it had Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics in it!

 

When I turned 18 in January and matriculated at Parsons my entire career and educational plan was laser-focused on becoming a comic book penciller.

New Mutants page attempt prob 1985 by Rachel KetchumRahne and Dani slash by Rachel Ketchum prob 1985character study Dani 1985 or soWhich was not a popular idea in art school, then. I was pretty much treated like a crazy person for wanting such a low-brow career. Mainstream awareness of comics was a year in the future.

The amazing woman who ran the Parsons Illustration Program, I think her name was Debra Diamond, was friends with Art Spiegelman and Gary Panter, and cool with the alternative comics in RAW.

But superhero comics were considered unbearably lame. Genre comics were just not something real artists talked about.

It was a job you did as punishment, when you couldn’t find something else in the world of illustration! Something more remunerative and more dignified and less laborious.

Rahne and Dani page pool prob 1986 Rachel KetchumAlthough my teachers thought i was crazy for wanting to do comics, they loved how hard I worked and how I could draw like hell.

I signed up for every figure drawing class available, with the toughest teachers, and took night classes from comics professionals around town. I found the comic artists I loved and followed their work obsessively; my longboxes were labelled and sorted by penciller, not book. José Luis García-López. Steve Rude. Gil Kane. Alan Davis. Paul Smith. John Romita and JRJR. It was a litany of men, but I was confident i could be as good.Rahne and Dani by Rachel Ketchum 1985 and 1986

I bought every book my teachers recommended and spent hundreds of hours studying Burne Hogarth and George Bridgman (Andrew Loomis was out of print in those days, pages photocopied from library books passed around between comic artists like contraband).

I started out terrible and I got better fast. I studied perspective like a maniac. Even though I wanted to tell stories about superheroes in love, I expected to have to draw a lot of buildings. The Marvel Universe was based in New York, after all.Rahne and Dani by Rachel Ketchum probably 1986

In 1985 and 1986 I was chipping, doing heroin only on the weekends, and during the week I just went to school and drew.

Dani by Rachel Ketchum probably 1986I threw myself into the work like a demon. I wanted to draw comics more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. I think wanting it so badly is a huge part of why I didn’t die in those years. So was the saving grace of the New Mutants, the X-men and the Teen Titans.

Loving something the way I loved those comics, changes you, I’m convinced. It’s a source of strength. Having my mom back my dream 100% mattered enormously – soon I had my huge drawing table and lightbox set up in the living room! I was so lucky to be at Parsons, where traditional drawing skills were still valued and where technical perspective and anatomy were still taught.

Chris gave Danielle a horse, and I was like, great!! I can draw horses! Then he had her attacked by drunken bros and nearly raped. I was enraged, and I drunkenly sent Marvel a telegram to express my feelings.

There were precious few women artists working in mainstream comics in 1985. Maybe even less than now.

Glynis Wein was the colorist on the New Mutants, and Cindy Martin had drawn Star Wars, as had Jan Duursema, who’d also done a variety of superheroes at DC. June Brigman had created Power Pack with Weezie. Mary Wilshire had done Red Sonja. Marie Severin was on Special Projects at Marvel, drawing Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies for Star instead of superheroes. Trina Robbins was working for Marvel’s Star imprint too, drawing Misty, a grown-up Millie the Model. Wendy Pini and Colleen Doran were doing popular and much-loved independent work, but I wasn’t interested in creating my own characters or the tiny reach of the independents. I wanted to be in the big leagues.

Comics Journal 99 1985In ’85 there were some women on the production and editorial side, Weezie and Ann Nocenti and Bobbie Chase and Jo Duffy and Carol Kalish at Marvel, Jenette Kahn and Karen Berger at DC. Jan Mullaney had co-founded Eclipse., and Cat Yronwode was editor in chief there.

Heidi MacDonald had put Chris on blast in the Comics Journal, and would soon take on Alan Moore. She’s still fighting the good fight. But wherever I went in New York, whatever comic store or con I went to, I was the only woman.

In 1986 things started to change for women in comics. Mary Wilshire did several issues of the New Mutants, after Bill left, then got the Firestar mini-series.

Lynn Varley colored Dark Knight. Ann and Weezie were writing superhero stories. Mindy Newell wrote a Lois Lane mini-series. Cat and Trina’s book, Women and the Comics, got mainstream press. Trina became the first woman to draw Wonder Woman.

And comics as an industry was exploding.

Rahne and Danielle by Suzanne Forbes Rachel Ketchum 1986New comic stores were opening all over the country, some of them even clean; the mainstream press was starting to write about the writers and creators who were changing the industry.

Storylines were getting darker, wilder, more mature. No one had done a mainstream comic with queer people in it, but John Byrne had wiggled around Shooter’s prohibition on gay characters with Northstar, and I believed the time was coming when you could show young lesbian mutants in love.

Which I just kept drawing! There was no tumblr, no deviantart, no Ao3; as far as I know I was the only person drawing New Mutants slash art in the 80s.

In February 1986, at a Creation Con at the Roosevelt Hotel, I met Chris Claremont.

I was working at a booth for my friends Chris and Gary who had a comic store in the Meatpacking District. I was walking back to the ballroom in one of my Betsey Johnson bondage dresses. I recognised the man sitting on the floor writing in a stenographer’s notebook. It was during a period when his writing was being dragged hard in the comics press (all two of it), both for its excesses and its problematicness.

“Whatcha writing?” I asked him brusquely. “X-Men plot.” “Is it any good?”

Rahne and Dani 1986 by Rachel KetchumHe gazed up at me, unruffled. I sat down with him on the carpet. and told him I wanted his job. I was nineteen and like JIm Kirk I feared nothing. I razzed him about the bdsm references in the X-Men. I was pretty problematic myself in those days.

Chris was thirty-four, and we became not quite lovers but passionate friends. He believed in my work. He treated me as a person he believed could work in comics. “I don’t think of you as a fan, I think of you as a nascent pro”, he said.

Rahne and Dani slash art by Rachel Ketchum prob 1987His huge apartment in Riverdale was such a refuge, such a heaven for me. He gave me stacks of X-Men and New Mutants scripts, Marvel paper to draw on, walked me around the Marvel offices, which were a short walk from my house. In the summer of 1986, hanging around Marvel in my Fifties dresses, wearing Keds and with huge skateboarding bruises on my knees, I was a unicorn.

One time we sat in the hallway with Bill Sienkiewicz and I taught Bill the basics for drawing a horse.

New Mutants meeting prob 1986What a time. I had a new boyfriend, a serious artist, who loved comics as much as I did, and he was so supportive and excited for me. Every week we went to the comic store and got all our new books and sat down to read them together. He wasn’t jealous of Chris, or Pam. Everything was in place, but that’s not how life always works.

I didn’t get to draw the New Mutants for Chris.

rahne and dani in their undies prob 1987 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThat summer I went to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time, and although Chris looked after me as much as he could, everything fell apart.

At the Marvel 25th Anniversary Ball I sat with Chris and Stan Lee,  and a young artist from Eclipse got drinks from the open bar for me after I was carded.

Later, blind drunk, high on pills and coke someone had given me in the bathroom at Dave Sim’s party, I was violently, anally raped in my hotel room by an inker. That Friday in New York my amazing boyfriend died of an overdose, though I didn’t find out til Sunday night.

I came back to New York out of my mind with fresh PTSD and whatever shot i had at keeping it together long enough to actually work was gone. It wasn’t ever much of a shot, then; I had an appointment with an addict’s bottom and the timeline just got sped up a lot. Chris held me while I cried hysterically during a Christmas party that winter.

“Take a taxi”, he’d say, and I’d take a cab all the way up to his apartment in Riverdale and we’d sit on the floor talking X-Men while the cats paced around us. Things I said showed up in the book, thrilling me. He kept giving me scripts. But I lost touch with him and everyone else once I became a daily heroin user, a year or so later. Pam was in trouble, on disability, heavily medicated, experimenting with cults.

By the time I got sober, in January of 1989, Chris wasn’t writing the New Mutants anymore.

New Mutants sample page Rachel Ketchum 1992He left the book in 1987, and what it became was…nothing that meant anything to me. I still wanted to work in comics, despite everything, even though the scene was changing fast.

It was a harrowing, exhausting process to break into the industry from St. Paul, where I’d gone to treatment. I was constantly travelling to the cons and being constantly sexually harassed.

That hadn’t changed at all. It was horrible, and some of the editors were fucking pigs.

The first Marvel editor who gave me a sample script mailed it with a letter on Marvel letterhead. The script opened with a splash page of a dead girl, and the letter commented explicitly on my physical appearance. Another (married!) editor asked me, in front of the San Diego Marriott, if he could masturbate in front of me.

There were so many more women around, though, and women were getting work as the full-time pencillers on monthly books. More comics were being published and sold than anyone had ever thought possible. I met people who helped me, people who backed me. Rest in power, Kim Yale!! There were men around who were clearly, obviously committed to helping women get work. Virtual hugs, Rob Simpson! I met a woman writer, Sarah Byam, and we became friends. I met a woman inker named Pam Eklund! I met Jill Thompson, who had Dave the Thune painted on her leather jacket! I never, ever considered giving up.

Rachel Ketchum aka Rachel Forbes-Seese with first Star Trek 1993 - EditedIt took three more years, before an editor gave me a chance. In 1993 a woman editor, Margaret Clark, hired me to draw Star Trek The Next Generation #72.

And then a TNG Annual, and then the prize of prizes for a comic artist: the regular penciller gig on a regular monthly book, Star Trek The Original Series.

I did an issue that was inked by Pam Eklund, at my suggestion; it may still be the only mainstream comic ever pencilled, inked and edited by women.

In 1995 Chris had been doing some work for DC and we sat together at the DC table at the Chicago Comic-Con, signing comics, our faces blown huge up on a wall of monitors. It was good to see him.

And I was a pro, just as he promised, just as I promised Pam.

star trek tng annual 5 p6 suzanne forbes rachel ketchum 1994Not very many people get to have their life’s ambition come true when they’re only 26. Even now, less than twenty women have ever been full-time monthly pencillers for an ongoing book at one of the Big Two. I’m proud to be one of them.

The industry collapse that happened in 1995 didn’t change the basic character of the business. There are a few more big companies where you can kind of earn a living now, yet things haven’t really gotten better for women working in comics. Sadly, what safety there is for women is mostly the ability to name and share the names of bad actors in the system and protect themselves pro-actively.

But things have gotten a little better for queer and trans visibility in the stories themselves.

Shan, Karma of the New Mutants, is canonically a lesbian and even crushed on Kitty! Northstar married his boyfriend in the X-Men! When DC refused to let Batwoman marry her longtime girlfriend, the creative team walked. Wonder Woman and John Constantine are canonically bisexual, at least right now. Iceman is gay! The new Aqualad is gay! And that’s just the beginning.

The comics I imagined, where teenage mutant girls can love happily even if the rest of their world is insane, seem within reach. If creators can just keep fighting the toxic forces around them and their own demons to tell those stories. I couldn’t; I had to leave comics. Today, drawing real people is the best way for me to tell stories. Teaching drawing is the best way to honor my teachers and the work I put in to become a comic artist.

But today, at least I can tell my story, and the story of how much I loved superhero comics. How they saved me.

How much I loved the New Mutants, in the 80s.

 

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.

 

My first art show in Berlin – what a wonderful night!

Vernissage Suzanne Forbes photo by Sarah Kilcoyne May 12 2017

Thanks to my amazing friend Daria Rhein, who is a tattoo artist there, I met the lovely folks who own Tremuschi Ink Tattoo and Art Gallery in Friedrichshain.

vernissage tremuschi ink for Suzanne Forbes May 12 2017 by Uschi Tremuschi

vernissage for Suzanne Forbes May 12 2017 by Uschi Tremuschi

I was invited to show my works and we had a vernissage (that’s what we say in Europe instead of opening!) on Friday night.

The night before, Daria and her sib from another crib Marina helped me hang the show.

What a wonderful, glorious time we had! So many dear ones new and old attended.

Here you can see Miss Natasha Enquist chatting with a fellow whose name we couldn’t pronounce!

Nathan and Daria in front of Darias mural at Tremuschi Ink by Suzanne Forbes May 12th 2017Our friend Nathan, who was hub’s acupuncture doctor in the Bay, was in Berlin for re:publica, working his awesome new Makerspace networking startup, MakerNet.

He took care of Daria’s headache problem! One of my old lovers who lives in Berlin came and bought a piece. Our friends Ben and Ursula came and took the hubbin over to Santa Cantina, and returned with delicious Mexican food for me to nom.

vernissage for Suzanne Forbes at Tremuschi Ink May 12 2017My ESDIPBerlin fam came and represented, as well as new internet friends like curator Suzanne Wegh and Rah Hell of Berlin Uke rock band Donut Heart.

Several of the hub’s co-workers made it, as well as cool hackers from CCC, and lots of Berlin-based or soon to be Berlin-based programmers and Burners we hadn’t met before.

Half a dozen pieces sold immediately. I simply had the most wonderful time. I am happier here in Berlin with my hubbin than I have ever been in my life. Fifty is amazing; I am so grateful I lived, so grateful to be in long-term remission from depression, and to be able to make art.

My Patrons on Patreon make it all possible, so take a bow, supporters of the arts! I love you.

 

I made Bughead Serpent Queen Betty Riverdale-Grease mashup fanart.

serpent betty bughead fan art by suzanne forbesThis is the first fan-art I’ve made since my New Mutants Rahne-Dani slash art in the 80s.

May the dark gods that live under the earth forgive me. And the actors, for using their likenesses. And the intellectual property owners, for using their IP.

Have you watched Riverdale? Riverdale is amazing. The first episode was called “River’s Edge”, and it’s loaded with deep cuts from the 80s like a cover of “Kids in America”, which probably only I remember from the Aidan Quinn/Daryl Hannah movie “Reckless”. Archie is played by a teen genengineered in the Kiwi branch of the CW’s perfect-young-person lab. He has impressive abs and the usual CW shirt allergy, which I approve of, and he is thoroughly likeable, like the version of Veronica portrayed by Camila Mendes.

Betty is played by a wonderful young actress named Lili Reinhart, who is hilarious on twitter AND shows extraordinary courage in talking publicly about her battle with depression. She is worthy of great admiration and a brave young woman. Jughead is played by a guy named Cole Sprouse, who apparently was a child star on Disney. And is now a photographer and model and a painfully hot woke bae. He looks exactly, uncannily, like Jughead as drawn by the magnificent Fiona Staples. People call Betty and Jughead together (the “ship”) “Bughead.”

Riverdale, and Betty and Jughead’s relationship, is made for people from the 80s like me. It is the most delightful thing ever in the world.

So I was compelled to make some fan art after the finale. I didn’t copy any actual photographs, as of course I am morally opposed to that. And it’s a pretty innocent scene. But I still don’t know if it’s right to use the actors’ faces without their consent, even though I do not intend to profit in any way from it.

When I worked on Star Trek, the actors had consented to the use of their likenesses, they were licensed as brand identities.

It was my job to represent them in a way they’d give approval for (the ones that had likeness approval, that is). I did pretty well, except for *cough* Patrick Stewart that one time. As a portrait artist, I always always want people to feel good about the images I make of people. I want them to see how beautiful they are to me, and how unique they are at that moment in time. Which is part of why I never do portraits from photographs except for charity fundraisers. Spending time with the people is a huge part of making the portrait.

However…cough…I just had to draw this. If I get a takedown notice I’ll take it down. My husband says if you’ve never gotten a takedown you’re doing something wrong.

Unterwegs Nr. 6- April 2017.

french kids by Suzanne Forbes April 27 2017 Just a couple finished up this month, as I have been sick for twenty-five of the thirty days of April.

These beautiful French kids were having a great time heading to Friedrichshain.

phone guy by Suzanne Forbes April 27 2017This guy was reading a graphic novel and I was curious if it was one I knew but too busy drawing to ask.

These were actually started probably in March, but finished and signed in April. Let’s hope May offers better health and more travel!

You can see loads more unterwegs drawings if you like.

March 2

March

January

December

November

Learning to sculpt: an articulated mantis sculpture cause I just love bugs.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017I started this mantis sculpture the summer before last.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017I don’t stress about when things get done; the project queue has no hierarchy.

So I went back to this pretty girl when I started to feel sculpty, a couple months ago. I used some epoxy clay to strengthen her limbs and smooth awkward areas.

The internet says it is perfectly safe to rebake polymer clay sculptures that have epoxy clay added to their armatures, and lots of sculptors use a mix of epoxy clay and polymer clay for strength. But I wouldn’t be like me and do it in your home oven. I am an unreliable guide on the subject of chemicals; after all, I put liquid LSD in my eyes when I was 14.

Here you can see Sally (which is the mantis gal’s name) with greyish-white epoxy clay added all over her and areas of plain and green Translucent FIMO still showing.

bug bricolage art and sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017I had been disappointed and frustrated by the performance of the colored FIMO transparent clays when first baking Sally.

There were a lot of “plaques” and cracking. Probably because I carelessly globbed the clay over the armature without making sure there were no air gaps, and didn’t have an oven thermometer yet, and didn’t let the oven preheat for a solid hour first.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017 Forgiveness not Permission is my making mode, and I figured try it first, see what happens.

So when I returned to Sally, I first thought I’d just cover her with epoxy clay and paint her and call it a day. But I found I still liked the transparency of her limbs and didn’t want to give up the bright greens of the clay after all. So I painted the epoxy clay areas shades of green to match and did another pass with a mix of colored translucent clays, adding some of my wonderful new Sculpey Premo Opal Accent Clay.

2016 Patron gifts by Suzanne ForbesThe Sculpey Opal clay is a new product and I ordered some from the US last Fall (I almost lost my mind waiting for it to come, checking the mail every day). I used it for the first time to make this piece and my 2016 Cake Level Patron gifts, here to the right.

It performs so amazingly well. It is very soft, and blends and smears beautifully, and it makes almost watercolor effects over other colors.

It is quite translucent, so it can be mixed with translucent colors to add opal glitter and soften and improve them. I mixed it with some dark green and some lavender for Sally, covered some of her epoxy clay areas and did an initial bake at the temp recommended for the Sculpey Opal clay. The results were amazing.

Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017No plaques, beautiful translucency, just great. So I continued to add a little more volume and opalescence here and there, mixing with both solid colors and FIMO translucent colors. I kept rebaking, for thirty minutes each time, until I was satisfied with both Sally’s shape and her opalescence.

I put her Siam colored Swarovski crystal eyes on before the second to last bake. Once the circles of clay that held them in were baked I used Sculpey Bake and Bond to smooth the eye sockets nicely onto her skull.

I use my fingertip to smear the Bake and Bond; probably unwise. But it’s so goopy and hard to use!

I reinforced a crack in her abdomen with Bake and Bond.

The air trapped in the tinfoil I used to provide bulk with less weight had expanded during baking and caused a crack. I also added balls of clay to the top of her head to hold her antennae, poking the wire in to make a hole but leaving the wires out til later because they hit the roof of the oven! Then I did the last bake, and there she was. Articulated mantis sculpture by Suzanne Forbes April 2017

I am really pleased with her, honestly.

A special portrait of a Bay Area legend, Kitten on the Keys!

SuzXSuz Suzanne Ramsey by Suzanne Forbes April 27 2017What a treat to host the lovely Suzanne Ramsey as a visiting artist in our salon.

I have known Suzanne tangentially for years through my beloved friend-Patron-muse Monique Motil. Monique makes exquisite costuming and custom clothing for both of us. But in the busy Bay Area club/performance/burlesque scene, I never got to spend more than a few brief minutes with Suzanne.

Monique Motil dolls by Suzanne RamseyRecently I’d started following Suzanne on my new Instagram account, and totally loving her amazing photos of Bay Area life, vintage postcards, and recently her stay in Paris.

So I reached out and suggested she come to Berlin, and she did!

Here in Berlin, where I am always in the kitchen/craftroom working, there is time to really talk with visiting friends. Suzanne and I got to talk and visit, even though I was unfortunately sick while she was here. She is so talented, beautiful and kind, and knows everyone.

She took care of me and went to the Apoteke to get me medicine. She took lovely pictures of our house. And on her last night, when she came in around 1am after a dinner with some of her many friends who live in Berlin, I drew the portrait above. We both felt it truly captures her.

Suzanne Ramsey with Miss NatashaHere is Suzanne meeting up with Miss Natasha (see my last post for our recent adventures!), who has been a fan of hers for years! They had their first IRL meet at Frau Behrens Torten, an absolutely delightful cake shop near our house.

Ah, what could be better than sharing Berlin with loved ones?

A night at the KitKat!

At the KitKat garderobe by Suzanne Forbes April 23 2017I finally made it to KitKat after two years in Berlin.

I was lucky to be escorted by the lovely Miss Natasha Enquist, who knows everyone in Berlin. So there was a long line at the entrance when we arrived at 1am, but we just whisked past it and in the door.

I felt completely at home immediately.

Pup in a swing at KitKat by Suzanne Forbes April 23 2017 The vibe at KitKat is so relaxed, so all-ages and all-genders and all-bodies, and there is such a mix of attire.

There was everything from people in latex fashion to tourists who have stripped down to their underwear to meet the dress code.

I had certainly hoped to see more high fetish fashion, especially given that Berlin Fetish Weekend is just a week away, but then again KitKat is so chill it’s hard to imagine anyone laboring over their look.

This pup is apparently a regular and artists always draw him, I was told by a friendly woman my own age!

I was so inspired by this beautiful rope suspension tableau by Alex Dermatis of 6mmjute.

He had suspended a lovely young woman who was deep in peaceful subspace and was caring for her meticulously, tipping water into her mouth, constantly checking pressure points on the rope, checking in with her and spraying her with water from a bottle.

A rope suspension at KitKat by Alex Dermatis Drawn by Suzanne Forbes April 23 2017The rope patterns were very beautiful.

I asked his permission to draw- which I would never have done at a club in the US, but things are different here- and I was so glad he said yes. While I drew I immediately felt that sense of connection and certainty and skill; I knew it would be a good drawing.

Dancing on the Bar at the KitKat 4am by Suzanne Forbes April 23 2017People stopped to watch, to look over my shoulder and yell “Schön!” over the music.

Lots of people do urban sketching, a few people draw in clubs, and a few people draw at sex clubs, but absolutely no-one does it like me.

Although KitKit isn’t really a sex club, either. There were a few people having various sext acts here and there, but it was 99% Berlin dance club, with really excellent Berlin dance music. This guy dancing on the bar was at least my age, but clearly healthy and energetic.

The sex club part seemed to be mostly about people being some variety of naked or fetish, and physically very casual. I got kissed on the cheek by various strangers, and women would stand next to me and fan me with their fans (a necessary Berlin club accessory, since there’s no fucking air conditioning anywhere).

Nobody hassled me or bothered me in any way, and most people were happy to switch to English to chat. Which is different than much of my life in Germany, since we live in the West!

DJ Alice Oldenburg, performing in the downstairs, was amazing.Alice at KitKat by Suzanne Forbes April 2017

I had a very nice time at KitKat and hope to visit again when my hubs is feeling well enough. Thanks Miss N.!

Drawing women in Berlin.

Charite lady by Suzanne Forbes April 4 2017I love seeing women out and about in Berlin.

This city feels so safe, so lively and manageable for a woman on her own, and women of all ages go everywhere all day and night. This woman in a waiting room was so pretty.

Dining alone by Suzanne Forbes March 15 2017This woman eating dinner by herself with a book, as I love to do, was extremely content.

It was like the opposite of a Hopper moment. She was self-assured, self-sufficient, full of purpose and certainty about her place in the world.

Working at night by Suzanne Forbes March 1 2017This woman was working on a chilly night in Schoneberg, in her Han Solo pants.

She shook her head firmly at a guy who spoke to her and he walked away. Rates are non-negotiable, jerk!

Charite Tennesee Waterfall by Suzanne Forbes April 4 2017This woman has what is called a “Tennessee Waterfall”. I learned that on The Walking Dead.

Which I always swear I’m gonna stop watching after the current season. But, Carol and Maggie and Michonne!

Hacker waffles!

Ursula in the library by Suzanne Forbes April 12 2017Our friends came all the way from Friedrichshain to make us waffles!

On a Sunday afternoon friends of ours who the hub knew back in SF came over with an enormous waffle iron. Ursula set up a new laptop and chatted geek talk with the hub while Ben made a yeast-raised batter. The waffles were amazing, ethereally light yet toothsome. We had them mit erdbeeren, himbeeren and schlagsahne. As you do.

Ben told me some crazy stories about hacker camp Iron Chef contests!

He chilled out after waffle-making, while Ursula checked hub’s German-learning progress. You can see her showing him some pronunciation tips when we first arrived here.

Ben resting after making us waffles by Suzanne Forbes April 12 2017

I am so glad to know awesome women in tech like Ursula here in Berlin. There’s plenty of tech jobs for women here, in case you didn’t know!