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.
Morgan, our smart cat, is ravishingly sleek and pretty, and frighteningly bright. She controls our entire household. She regards its members as “Daddy” (highly valued and fun to torment), “Not-Daddy” ( a useful servant), and “The Pet Thing She Beats On and Sometimes Washes” (luckily Viviane is covered in luxuriant fluffy fur, which protects her from much of the daily abuse.)
Recently, the bad cat has developed a habit of climbing up from my lap (her sleeping place from two to five a.m.) and biting my arm in the same kind of neat, not-quite-breaking-the-skin, dainty but not pleasant bites she uses to indicate dissatisfaction with petting method. She bites in a row, little bites, until I wake up, go to throw this attacker off me, realize that it’s Morgan and she’s honoring me with her attention, and attempt to return to sleep while being bitten.
She also uses this method to neatly, row by row, shred boxes and documents (see picture). The things we do, and put up with, for love.
You can see D is smiling in his sleep because he’s not the one she’s bothering. “Do it to Julia Suzanne! Do it to Suzanne!”
We tolerate Morgan’s abuse because our household practices the religion of Cat Non-Disturber.
I lived for two years in a Cat Disturber household, where if a cat got on your lap right when you were going to get up you just casually removed the cat from your lap. Well, not my lap, of course, but the Disturbers’ laps. Every time I saw them do it I felt like the universe was going to crack apart and explode.
Of course, our house also practises “Cat Scooper-Upper“; one of my beloved friend-muse-patrons has a Consent-Based Cat Interaction household, where scooping a kitty up into your arms is heresy. We all choose our own way to worship; not judging anybody else’s. Just trying to get along with Herself, day to day. What’s your Cat Religion?
To celebrate, I walked over to the doctor and paid nothing, and took my prescription to a random Apoteke and paid 7.73€ for my Advair Diskus (copay $35 on Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO when we left), no waiting. Then I went to a supermarket and bought couverture, candied orange peel and Kerrygold Irish butter (all expensive luxury items in the US).
I also bought a Kinder Egg for my husband. We live in the land of the free.
Then I came home to our beautiful flat, where soon D. will arrive to enjoy his four-day Easter weekend. Tomorrow we’re going to an Easter Friday dinner at the home of Australian friends who live across the street from the goth club in Prenzlauer Berg. I’m making chocolate orange flapjacks, with Lyle’s Golden Syrup I got at KaDeWe. I feel like we won the lottery, every day.
I have this new thing I do, since our shipping container arrived. I lie in bed next to my hubby, listening to the silence of our building and the courtyard, and I just…relax. I lie there, completely at peace and unafraid, with everything in the world I need. I listen to the silence in my own head, where for so many years there was a cacophony of terror.
I can’t begin to express our gratitude to the family and friends who got us here and helped us stay. You saved our souls, our health, and maybe our lives.
Glücklich in Berlin by Anna Depenbusch.*
Hello, how nice you here to go good to see, it seems you I think you are happy in Berlin Your big dream to many years finally be many seems true Part of me wishes you good luck THEREFOR And a part of me wants you here her back
Yes, it’s nice if you tell me who you meet and so you had play In dieser city you know your way I mean who longs as home? A part of me is very happy for you And part thinks: Berlin War ‘Not for me
Too big, too small, too close, too far The one goes, the other remains I envy you was’ somehow lied but it’s great, you have hit the jackpot
You say you’re now in the middle because everything else makes no sense Because here begins the wide world and it sounds true life Part of me wonders What is the whole search And part hopes that you are happy
Too big, too small, too close, too far The one goes, the other remains Part of me wishes you luck with all your heart And a part of me wants you here her back
Too big, too small, too close, too far The one goes, the other remains Part of me wishes you good luck Part of me wants you back to envy would ‘somehow lied but it’s great, you have hit the jackpot
Hello, how nice you here to go good to see, it seems you I think you are happy in Berlin
*lyrics courtesy google translate. I am sure I could get a better translation, but I really like this one.
*ps if you’re coming to visit though could you bring me some American deodorant. German low-aluminum-content stuff is no match for perimenopause sweats and I smell like a horse sometimes.
You might not think 400 bucks a month would make much of a difference. You’d be wrong.
Last summer there were some scary times. Moving to Berlin cost us much more than we imagined or planned for, despite my years of careful planning. There were unexpected disasters. In May I had to go on twitter and beg my community for help to pay for my meds, because we weren’t on German health insurance yet and were paying hundreds of euros out of pocket each month for asthma meds, antidepressants, and thyroid meds.
Several beloved friends (also artists) strongly suggested I get a Patreon set up so I’d have a reliable source of income, and pledged to support me.
Before that, I knew about Patreon and in fact already supported several friends on it, but I was like, but what if no-one cares about my work? What if it’s a humiliating failure? I couldn’t support myself as a freelance artist in the Bay Area; doesn’t that prove people don’t want the kind of work I do? WIth the encouragement of my friends and the crisis fresh in my mind, I went ahead and did it anyway. And people signed up! The feeling was incredible.
I felt like, these people think my life’s work has merit. They want me to be able to do it AND buy groceries.
And in Berlin, 400 bucks buys a LOT of groceries. I set my Patreon up as a per-piece of content subscription, so I can do as much or as little work as I want. I know how much money I’ll bring in based on how much I work. Each month, the money has been incredibly helpful, even as our situation has grown more secure and stable.
Each month, the money comes in at the same time- I can budget with it!
I have never had anything like that ever in my life as an artist, except when I worked for DC on Star Trek. When I was a courtroom artist, whether I would work on a given day was completely unpredictable. (It depended on witnesses, juror selection etc. ) As a portrait artist, getting commissions is completely, entirely random, and the timeline for finishing portraits includes complex scheduling. When I taught drawing on Capitol Hill, it was only a supplement to my day job at Dean&DeLuca, so the money didn’t impact my budget much.
SImply to know that there is money I can count on, I can measure, for my work, is so nurturing.
I can use Patreon flexibly, based on my (teeny) other income as an artist. Last month I was crazy busy with unpacking our stuff from the shipping container, so I didn’t post as much.
This month, I’m posting more because the class I’m teaching pays only about 50€ per session (it’s a small class).
I can go ahead and teach a small class, because I know that I can use Patreon posts to develop the course material and post it as tutorials.
Like the “Let’s Talk about Skulls” post which is the foundation for the first class, which I’ll be teaching tonight. The trip to ESDIP, where I teach, is about 2.5 hours round-trip, so I can use the time on the U-Bahn to draw more course materials.
Knowing this makes me feel so supported, so safe, so valued. I can’t thank you enough for the way this has changed how I work.
Your support has made an incredible difference in my self-esteem and peace of mind.
Thank you, and I love you.
Sales Pitch: As my Patreon has grown, I’ve been able to post less if I need to take more time for each post. This is a big deal for an artist who is disabled and has issues with having enough spoons.
If my Patreon grows just a little more, I can start doing some video tutorials. That might mean I only post once or twice that particular month, but the content would be amazing and useful to so many people! And eventually, I might have a Youtube channel, which would also help me buy groceries!
I was just started to mess around with adding beads and fabric to my embroidered works when we left the States, as seen in my mermaid pinup piece. In the interregnum between then and our stuff arriving, I really started to experiment with materials like plastic wrap and Swarovski crystals.
Now I’m unpacking my lifetime stash of beads and crystals and ribbon, and this beetle is just the beginning!
lagniappe: I use gold paint to freehand sketch the outline of the works on black felt. I wanted the gold to show through here and there with this one, and it didn’t quite work out, so I’m going to try it again with maybe another subject.
Yesterday I helped my friend Daria Rhein paint a mural in her entry hall.
I 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.
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.
And she just bought a tattoo machine and learned to tattoo her exquisite designs, in her spare time this past month!
Collaboration is so nurturing to me as an artist.
I 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 artistMarc 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.
You might think, if you read my twitter or saw me in person, that my love affair with Berlin is blinding.
That I accept and adore every facet of the culture here, and have no complaints about my new life. Nah. I’m still a miserable, paranoid, hypervigilant grouch from New York, and there are plenty of things I HATE about Germany.
1. The fucking timers on the lights.
Lights in most public places that are occupied intermittently- apartment building lobbies and stairwells, public bathrooms and the hallways leading to them, etc.- are on timers. Their default status is OFF; you have to push the light button (no switches here) to turn them on, and they turn off automatically after some short, always too short, amount of time.
This seems insane to me, and it terrifies and enrages me. Don’t they care about women’s safety? Is the precious nectar of electricity more valuable than preventing muggings and rapes? Well, of course, there’s a lot less mugging and rape here than in a big city in the US. But still. And apparently this bullshit is now Europe-wide.
2. The fucking locks.
For some reason, apartment door locks in Germany (and presumably business locks as well) have a weird system where you have to turn the key in the lock counter-clockwise twice to lock the deadbolt, and you can’t unlock the deadbolt without a key. That means if you’re in your apartment and you deadbolt the door, you can’t get out without inserting the key. But if you leave the key in the door in case of fire, your husband can’t use his key to get in. If you leave the key in overnight in case of fire, your husband will have to take it out when he leaves for work, and may accidentally pocket your keys as he locks the door, locking you in the apartment for the day.
3. The fucking front door locks.
Also, it’s customary to deadbolt the front door of your building from the inside after 8pm or 10pm. That means:
A. if there’s a fire, only people with keys can get out. Of course, you’ll be carrying your keys, since you had to use them to turn the lock twice to get out of your apartment.
B. You can’t buzz your friends in after 8pm. You can try leaving the door un-deadbolted, but a helpful neighbor will lock it and remind you how important it is to keep it locked. Because twenty years ago junkies used to shoot up in the lobby.
4. The fucking doors.
Doors to businesses in Germany open in, not out. You push- drücken– to get in, rather than pull, ziehen. The doors are clearly marked with this information, but because doors that open in and trap you in case of fire are stupid, I am constantly forgetting. All-glass modern doors frequently open both ways, at least.
5. The fear of air-conditioning.
Germans think air-conditioning makes you sick, because of the shock to your system of changing temperature suddenly. Even though every single indoor space in the entire country is deliciously warm in winter, while it’s freezing cold outside.
6. The fear of harsh cleaners.
Germans don’t believe in using cleaning chemicals, like bleach. The whole country is like one of those Bay Area cleaning services that only uses natural stuff like vinegar and elbow grease to “clean”. I, however, believe absolutely in bleach and ammonia and Lysol and Comet, and I habitually sterilize my home. I don’t clean much, but I do sterilize the dirty places!
I have a devil of a time finding bleach spray and the like here. So our sinks develop a grubby patina when I run out, composed of calcification from the hard water and other mysterious mineral residues. A bottle of SoftScrub would fix it in a heartbeat, but that’s like trying to find skirt hangers or Epsom salts or….
7. The preciousness of Ibuprofen.
You can’t casually buy ibuprofen, or a lot of other things you can just buy in any drugstore in the US, here. You have to go to the Apoteke, and request it politely at the counter. The pharmacist will ask if you if you’ve used this drug before, and go over the dosages, and then consent to let you have a box of eight blister-packed tabs, for like eight fucking Euros.
8. Last but not least, and worst of all: The fucking mail failure.
Wow, you’ve never seen anything like how bad mail and delivery services are in Germany. It is a seriously third world situation. It appears to be deeply corrupt, involving kickbacks to neighborhood holding stations and drivers who are paid by the unverified attempt, not the delivery.
I would rather be waiting for a packet of letters on a whaler rounding the Horn than be waiting for cat litter from Amazon.
Your odds go like this: one out of three times you’ll get your package, if you live in a good neighborhood near businesses and on the ground or first floor. One out of three times you will never hear about your package at all- no delivery notice, no doorbell ring, no tracking email. If you follow up with the sender, they’ll tell you that the package was delivered to the PaketShop affiliate or Post Office in the neighborhood since you weren’t home, and you never picked it up, so it was returned to sender or just lost. Then you can pay for shipping again to have your package redelivered.
And one out of three times, you’ll get a notice saying your packet was taken to the PaketShop, since you weren’t home (you were home, actually). Then you have to go to the PaketShop and claim it. But guess what? The notice or email only tells you which PaketShop or Post Office your package is at about half the time. If you call and ask, if they speak English, they have no idea which PaketShop, it should be on the notice. So you walk or take the bus around to the different PaketShops, asking about your package. Usually you don’t have a tracking number or know which service the sender used, so you just have to tell them your street and give them your passport, and then they hunt around. It’s astonishing.
And let’s not even get into what happens if you get a package from outside the EU. Which I do not ever intend to do if I can possible avoid it. Please, please don’t mail me anything bigger than a letter. And not anything important- the regular letter mail was on strike all of last summer.
9. Oh and one more: the fucking cat litter.
For some reason, Germans use only clay and this CatSan clumpenstreu crap. Catsan is made of quartz sand and chalk. It not only doesn’t work, it makes the odors worse. Luckily, you can order pine and other effective modern litter options from online pet stores, and they actually do generally deliver it.
Of course, these few things do not deter me from being blissfully happy here. They are merely the grit in the oyster.
Your skull? My skull? Anybody’s skull? We’ve all got skulls inside our heads.
I’m getting ready to teach a class on drawing faces, and the foundation of the face is understanding the skull. Skulls are beautiful and amazing, and much of how our faces appear is produced by their hard shapes, under our skin. So when I draw people, I start with a construction that represents the hard stuff- the lovely round top and the boxy jaw.
I come from a traditional school of illustration where a system for drawing the figure is always based on a construct, a manikin you build inside your own head. The great drawing teachers of the 20th century, such as Andrew Loomis and Burne Hogarth, each had their own system for creating the manikin. And many basic drawing classes start with the idea of representing the head as the simplest possible form, as a circle or oval.
I’d like to share my personal system for drawing the head, which is based on neither a circle nor an oval.
I treat the head as a ball or sphere with a little shape attached- a shape like the box strawberries come in, or the basket you ride in below a hot-air balloon. The ball has a line drawn around its latitude and longitude.
The jaw shape or plate claps onto the front of the ball, like the hinged faceplate of a suit of armor. It attaches halfway down from the latitude line. The longitude line continues down the front of the jaw plate as well.
Becoming comfortable with visualizing and rotating a simple construct like this can give an artist much greater confidence in drawing the head.
My system also creates placement for the ears, attaching to the head at the latitude line and the top of the jaw plate. I know if I’ve drawn the latitude line curving around the ball carefully and I place the top of the ear along it, the placement of the ear will be believable.
The jaw plate creates a surface for the mouth, which is set at the middle of the plate. Its curved surface follows the curve of the sphere, which is very helpful when projecting placement of the mouth in upshots and downshots.
Having a base model as a starting point is also helpful in portraiture. I use it to measure the distinctive features of an individual as well, by the amount they might vary from the base.
I believe you should take what you like and leave the rest, so if my base model doesn’t feel natural to you, why not try Loomis or Hogarth?