Suzanne Forbes, an expat New Yorker in Berlin. Made possible by the generous support of her Patrons. https://www.patreon.com/SuzanneForbes. Former DC Penciller for Star Trek, former courtroom artist, painting portraits and teaching drawing.
No, not emotional perspective, silly! Perspective drawing, the technique for translating three-dimensional space seen by the artist into a two-dimensional picture plane.
Perspective as a system for artists was mostly devised by the painter Paulo Uccello, in the late Middle Ages. He was obsessed with the vanishing point, and also birds (cute!).
You can see him working out the concept in his most famous painting, The Battle of San Romano, where the fallen spears on the ground are used as perspective lines towards the single vanishing point. But these days artists most often use a two-point or even three-point perspective to draw a scene.
Last week I gave my students a horrible unpleasant homework assignment, and a tool to help.
I had them draw an U-Bahn or S-Bahn car interior from one end, which is the worst kind of observed perspective drawing- a deep, narrow space with many rectangular objects. In order to draw something like this, you need to accurately measure the angles of the objects in the scene as they appear to you.
Measuring the angles is hard, even using the traditional tool of a long paintbrush or pencil, because your brain is fighting you.
Your brain says, but I know that seat is really horizontal, it only appears to be angling away from me at 45 degrees. Your brain pushes the angle down, tries to make you draw it too shallow. I thought there had to be a way to fight this tendency of the brain to convert the visual information observed by the eye back into what it knows the space to be. So I made a little tool!
You can make this tool too, in about three minutes. All you need is the clear plastic lid of a takeout food container, a Sharpie, and a round dish.
Cut off the edges of the lid so it’s a flat plane, and trace the circle of the bowl (or any other round thing about 9cm/4″ across) onto it using your Sharpie.
Then draw a clock face on it. Include the numbers! Take your plastic pane and use the hour hand of the clock face to measure the angles of the space you’re drawing, and say to yourself, 3pm, or 8pm, as you measure.
This will help you retain the information more accurately as you go to use it in your drawing.
In class I set up a diorama with the plastic kitchen organizer shelves I use to display my action figures and a 6″ Spidey figure. You can set up a diorama to practise this at home with any rectangular objects on a table, before you go out into the world to practise it in a cafe or bus.
This kind of precisely observed perspective drawing is like wheatgrass for your draughtsmanship. Do a couple of these, and your next drawing will be better. I promise.
I decided to rework a mermaid sculpture because I wasn’t really satisfied with it. For one thing, her boobs were really noticeably different sizes.
(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.
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!
I 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!
I 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.
I STILL had mermaid stuff left over, so I made this evil tentacle grotto mirror.
I’m not a vegan. I’m not even a vegetarian, except for a few years as a teenager.
But I’m honored to be part of a human race that has vegans in it. I’m proud to have friends who brave everything from significant daily inconvenience and expense to contemptuous discrimination in order to celebrate the sanctity of all life.
While I kill bugs all the time- I grew up in New York City, with cockroaches!- I generally only kill them if we’re competing for resources.
Otherwise, I let them be.* In fact with spiders I even chat a little, like hey, thanks for your good work around the house. And as anyone who has been to my house knows, I am OBSESSED with bugs as a design motif. A friend visiting my apartment for the first time in ’98 said, “Wow, this place is insectaLICIOUS!”, and it’s only gotten buggier.
I think bugs are Nature’s jewelry. Put a bug on something and it’s dressed to go out!
I love preserved bugs aesthetically, but I’m just not that thrilled about buying lots of them as a consumer choice. I have a few cherished preserved bugs, and that’s good enough for me. So I got the idea about ten years ago to use vintage metal stampings to make a bug gallery.
Like many of my bricolage projects, the urge to work on it ebbed and flowed for a few years. I collected up a couple dozen bug stampings from different eBay and etsy dealers, and I had some shadowbox frames ready. Then I suddenly got the idea to make some with bug jewelry too.
So I collected some….a really serious totally crazy lot… of beautiful glittering beetle brooches, new and vintage, from eBay.
I had a price ceiling of $5 per bug, and so I lost dozens of auctions, but I won enough. Then I got derailed by embroidering bugs! Ha ha, that year went by fast! Anyway, six months before we left Oakland I finally started putting the bugs in the shadowboxes. I used vintage fabrics I had lying around to line them, and Quick Grab/Quick Grip (my absolute favorite adhesive) or a glue gun to put them together. I was making the boxes and packing them as I made them, right up til the DAY WE LEFT.
Because I am a crazy person, and making things is my smoking pot.
Did I know what I would do with all these bug shadowboxes? Did I have a plan? I had a goddam ferocious vision, which is what I generally use to get to a plan. During the Spring and early Summer last year, when the bug boxes were in storage in San Leandro and I was coursing all over Berlin looking for our flat, I was also worrying at the decision about the wall colors of our rooms. In Oakland I had the dark brown walls and Dan had the mahogany panelling and indigo walls.
But in Berlin, I finally decided, I would have teal walls in my salon and Dan would have green in his library/study.
(Pinterest boards demonstrating the innumerable hours of visualisation). Painting huge rooms with twelve-foot ceilings was ridiculously gruelling for a creaky ship like me, but I was powered by my lust for my vision. And the German paint performed really well, very high-hiding and deeply pigmented.
I worked with a furious under-the-bridge troll at the home improvement store, a tiny old German man whose generalized rage only softened when he realized I actually understood paint.
My greatest fear during the utterly terrifying, exhausting 14-hour day of loading the shipping container was that my paintings would be damaged.
I packed them with as much care as I possibly could in glassine paper, bubble wrap and cardboard boxes, but I simply couldn’t afford to have them crated.
We loaded the paintings at the very end, when SFSlim and I had been loading alone and stumbling in the marine fog and dark for hours after everyone else had to leave.
I was so afraid they were vulnerable, that the cardboard had softened in the damp. I was most worried about the large painting you see here, the largest painting I did in the Bay Area. For five weeks, while the ship was on the ocean, I lay awake at night and worried about that painting.
It took a crew of six guys six hours to unload our 400+ boxes and all my artwork from the container parked in the street.
When they’d drunk their last Club Mates and headed out, I unpacked a dozen boxes of my husband’s books. Then I took a scissors and cut open the biggest box. The painting was fine.
Slim’s fifteen years on Burning Man Crew had worked some kind of magic. “Burning Man is like vacation for people with a moving fetish”, he quoted that awful night. One of many cheerful comments he tossed off to keep my morale up, when I was so frightened of my life’s work being ruined or lost.
James, our cool Australian handyman, helped me hang the painting on our hundred-year-old concrete walls.
Then I went to town hanging bugs! I had carefully planned the embroidered works I made during the flat search to co-ordinate with the color scheme. I’d used some of the same vintage velvet for both lining boxes and embroidering bugs before we left. The colors move through the gallery in waves, teal and burgundy and pale lime green, reiterating and reinforcing each other.
The color scheme was also inspired by the 2015 Fluevog spring shoes, with their palette of burgundy, hot pink, Tiffany blue and greyed-out teal.
The ceramic bug knob on the curio was designed by the artist Anna Collette Hunt for Anthropologie. The large photo was a mid-’30s birthday gift from the artist Cara Judea Alhadeff, who I knew in the early days in the Bay. The small Mexican paper-maché and wire scorpion was bought at the Bone Room in the ’90s, and glued to bits of hoarded ribbon and a scavenged gilt frame from the Berkeley Flea Market. The curio cabinet and couch were scored on German eBay for so little money I can’t even tell you.
To see my vision finally realized, to look up from the couch where I read and see the bug gallery, is one of the incredible satisfactions and profound joys of this time in my life.
I hope you like it! Anybody could make one! I think the cost of making the entire gallery was about $200, much much less than a similar number of actual preserved specimen boxes.
*except for silverfish silverfish must die fucking die die