Monthly Archives: April 2016

My biggest little project of all, finished at last.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my dollhouse. I built it myself, and it took over a decade.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesMy dollhouse is a memory palace for every story I’ve ever cherished, a way to hold close every character I love and the things they taught me about being human.

It’s a safe house for my dreams. It holds my recollections of the times those characters gave me strength when nothing else did, and this week it is finally, truly finished.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I’d wanted a big fancy dollhouse my whole adult life, but I had always resisted. In ’96, when I was working at Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown and living in Arlington, there was a dollhouse store nearby.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesIt shared a parking lot with the building where my recovery meetings were, and I carefully arranged to be there only when it was closed. I used to peer in the windows, and say to myself, “Not yet.”

I had never lived anywhere I could imagine staying for the rest of my life. I knew my decorator crab shell couldn’t support the financial and psychic overhead of a huge, heavy, utterly fragile dollhouse.

It was starting a collection of 6″ (1/12th scale) superhero action figures in my mid 30’s that led me to begin building my dollhouse.

I didn’t start collecting 6″ figures on purpose. I had some female superhero action figures in the 90’s 5″ scale around, X-Men women and an Invisible Woman I got when I was driving the truck of my belongings from DC to Berkeley in ’97. In ’99 a co-worker at a San Francisco start-up who had a crush on me gave me the DC Direct Death figure, and I took her out of the package and saw that she was exactly the right size for a dollhouse.

I’d heard they were going to make more dollhouse scale figures of DC and Marvel characters. I knew then I was done holding out against the completely silly business of miniatures.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

So I started collecting figures, and planning a dollhouse for them. They needed a place to live! Little did I know how long they would wait.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesI made sketches of scenes I imagined the dollhouse including, like this one. The entire ten-year labor of my dollhouse was for this one joke. It’s still hilarious to me! I am an idiot. But a happy idiot.

The Edward Scissorhands figure is a customized mashup of the McFarlane one, for the likeness, and a Japanese figure with a generic face that was closer to the correct scale.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

In 2001 or so I bought a die-cut 1/8” plywood dollhouse kit, the cheapest and most labor-intensive kind of kit. I had fallen in love with its style, a ridiculous Addams Family mansard-roofed Victorian, and none of the easy-build kits appealed to me.

A die-cut kit is a box of plywood sheets with hundreds of pieces you have to punch out, sand, prime and paint.

I had never built any kind of kit before, so it seemed reasonable to me to start with a huge Victorian. Being as I’m not very reasonable.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesHalfway through building I learned that if I wanted to use the fancy, detailed pre-made doors and windows from HouseWorks instead of the flimsy ones that came with the kit, i would need 3/8″-1/2″ thick walls.

So I painstakingly, insanely, cut pieces of heavier wood to fit every wall of the partially assembled dollhouse. I didn’t have any power tools, so I used a hacksaw and exacto knife to cut everything.

Cutting the shingles for the roof to fit perfectly took months, because half the time they split and were useless.

Then I decided it wasn’t big enough, so I scratch-built the extension you see on the right side. This is called kitbashing in the dollhouse world.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my other favorite joke – Tim Hunter and Harry face off. What’s even better is what my Beloved Ex-Boyfriend Clear said about it: “I bet Constantine paid Harry to take a dive.”

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI read that soldered wiring was less likely to fail than brad wiring, so I took the mostly finished house to Jim Cooper’s Dollhouse Studio in Benicia and he taught me how to solder wiring, and I wired the whole house.

Then I started wallpapering and staining trim and painting windows and installing moldings. After a couple of years I just couldn’t stand it anymore; I absolutely hated cutting the little beveled moldings so they lined up right.

So I took the house back to Cooper’s and wonderful June Gailey, a lovely senior lady who spent her days working on dollhouse projects at Cooper’s, finished the interior detailing. It took about a year.


June & Jim with my dollhouse when I first brought it to June.

Meanwhile, for like 7 years I’d been collecting stuff to go in it.
The weirdest stuff I could find.

dollhouse laboratory Suzanne ForbesAction Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesBabies and tiny jars to put them in, spellbooks, poison bottles, skulls, canopic jars, squid, rayguns, test tube sets and labware, sinister medical tools, urine and blood samples, gimp hoods, whips, handcuffs, stockings, and course fancy food, especially lots and lots of cake, and as many coffee makers as i could secure.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes



The stuff came from four main sources:

-action figure accessories, mainly Todd Mcfarlane
-handmade by miniature artisans
-commercially made miniatures
-and Re-Ment and MegaHouse blind box miniatures from Japan.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesFriends gave me some of the most special things, like the handmade Doubtful Guest.

I made all of Bettie’s vibrators and sex toys myself- there are some mini sex toys available but they’re in 1/18 scale. That was how I began to sculpt for the first time.

And I collected a LOT of action figures. Like, a really frightening lot. They kept coming out with more figures, of characters I adored!Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

Who would ever have guessed they’d make an X-Men movie, and toys to go with it? Who could have imagined they’d make Lord of the Rings movies?

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesWho could have imagined that the comic/SF/Fantasy culture I’d grown up on would become popular in the mainstream, and then hugely, commercially viable? Or that adults collecting toys would go from ironic and clever to simply ordinary?

I sure as hell wouldn’t have.


My dollhouse in 2008.


The house itself was finally finished in the Fall of 2008, when I had lost my (human-size) house in a double-whammy divorce/real estate collapse and was living in a small apartment in Albany.

I had already boxed up some of my figures and put them in storage, so I couldn’t access the Wolverine I wanted to use for the shrubbery joke or my custom Edward.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I put an assortment of the figures I had around in the house, and realized it looked ridiculous without landscaping. I started on the flowers for the landscaping, and then the Great Recession hit.

My art business collapsed, and I moved to a smaller apartment, and then to a friend’s basement.

The dollhouse went into storage for almost three years. But life is made of second chances, and in 2011 I moved in with my now-husband, to a beautiful little Craftsmen fourplex in Oakland.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesOne of my beloved friend-muse-patrons and her husband carried my dollhouse up our narrow, twisting stairs.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI will never forget that moment, watching a small circus-athlete woman and her tall geek husband dancing around each other as they moved the single creative object I’ve spent the most time on in my life.

It was such a testament to marriage, to friendship, to love and to trust. It was goddam amazing, and they got it upstairs in perfect safety.

So I built the landscaping at last, using balsa wood for the brick walls, and finally found the perfect greenhouse on eBay.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI painted the greenhouse, cut paths out of faux brick tiles, and painted and poured the resin pond I had been planning for a decade.

I put all the furnishings and accessories back in, and restored the figures that had been in it in Albany. My Swamp Thing was still somewhere in storage.

Our little jewel-box apartment was only 800 square feet, and I didn’t dare open any of the ten boxes of figures in my storage locker.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I decided the shrubbery joke would have to wait a while longer, until I lived somewhere I could put down roots.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesPacking the dollhouse and its contents for Berlin was deranged.

I shaped tin foil shields over the furnishings attached to the walls, carefully stuffed the entire house with acid-free tissue, and built cardboard structures that precisely covered every part of the outside.

Then I bubble-wrapped it, and then I shrink-wrapped it, and then I had it professionally crated.

I sold tons of my vintage clothing collection to pay for the crating; it was the only thing we had crated.

Lifting the crate into the shipping container took three guys, including the abnormal wiry strength of SFSlim; unloading it here took four healthy young Australians.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI waited almost three months to unwrap it here, because I wanted to get most of the art hung up and stuff put away, and I needed to rebuild the enormous chambered rolling base it sits on.

But I did it, and then I screwed the dollhouse to its base for the first time.

Because we hope to live here the rest of our lives, and it was time for all my heroes to have a home.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI knelt and said prayers of gratitude as I unpacked my figures and tiny things, to everyone who’d helped me bring something so huge and yet so tiny, so silly and yet so serious, so old-fashioned and so full of plastic, to such a distant land. I have never felt so safe and so whole.

Next, I’m going to start building the underground Danger Room, superhero powers testing facilities, laboratories and stables.

I’ve got fourteen X-Men figures who’ve been waiting for a place to train for a long time.

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Momos in Neukölln

momos in Neukolln Suzanne Forbes April 2016I had a pretty rough day yesterday.

But today when I went to the bank at Hermannplatz, an incredibly handsome man was serving momos from a food truck.

I love Tibetan food second only to Mexican food in the whole food. I am a momo fiend. So when I walked along the sunny, bustling plaza to Momo Master, I was pretty excited. imagine how excited I was when I saw the beautiful man serving them!

Yeah, yeah, I’m shallow. But I’m a portraitist- human beauty is my raison d’être.

I asked if I could draw him and he said yes! It’s perspective drawing crunch time as I develop the teaching materials for my next class, Perspective for Masochists, so I made it a seriously challenging spatial drawing. It was two hours of hard-core angle-gauging to get the truck.

The momo gentleman was wearing the trifecta of boy-hotness clothes: a v-neck sweater over a button-up henley, sleeves pushed up to the elbows, and a thin necklace. Guys, you know wearing long sleeves and rolling or pushing them up make you look great, right? And that a necklace is a socially acceptable gender-fluid signifier that is as charming to women as guyliner? Whether it’s a spiritual article, like red thread or a crucifix, or just a strand of beads! With an open-neck shirt, magic.

I don’t mean to be dehumanizing by objectifying this extremely nice total stranger. I don’t know if the female gaze can operate in the theater of the historic male gaze without accruing its toxins. But I know that actually Rob, whose loss hit me again so hard yesterday, and ALL of my husbands have genuinely enjoyed my pure aesthetic delight in male beauty.

My drawing only barely suggests how great-looking this person is, but I did what I could. And the momos were delicious!

Waiting on a lady.

graffitiresto by Suzanne Forbes April 28 2016I made this drawing while waiting for a lady from my recovery program and feeling a lot of grief and frustration about the inexorability of death.

My boyfriend Rob died thirty years ago, but I still don’t know how to fit his death into the world. Experiencing spring in a place with a New York climate again brings it all back like a freight train.

I found the invite to Ava and Conor’s wedding in my papers yesterday. They were so goddam scintillating. So clever, so beautiful, so young. At least Conor left Finn in the world.

Most of Rob’s art was public, because he was a graffiti artist, and the last of his big pieces disappeared from Soho years ago. I look for his tags in every photo of 80s New York I see, but don’t find them. Kim Basinger walks past one on Spring St. in 9½ Weeks. I dream about walking New York, looking for his pieces.

The longer I’m sober, the safer I am, the more I can experience things; some of those things are really hard.

I came home from the restaurant (which is our neighborhood bistro, called…Graffiti) and just sat and cried for two hours. Just crying, just tears flowing out of me like they had all the time in the world. There is nothing I can do but keep doing, keep trying to do the best I can to be a better person, to make the best art I can, to be the best friend and wife and teacher I can. But Jesus, I miss him.

Venus finished, and an eye painting study.

I finished the painting of Bunny just a day after she left, in a sugar-fueled dawn-light sprint.

enus of Wilmersdorf by Suzanne Forbes April 21 2016

Venus of Wilmersdorf by Suzanne Forbes April 21 2016

Although I much prefer to paint my models at night, in electric light, I often finish the details of paintings in as much bright daylight as I can tolerate. While I was working on the details, I remembered a couple of things from when she was here.

As we worked, during the second sitting, Bunny talked about her days with the Glamour-Bombing group. And when she left, she paused in the hallway to take a long look at one of my very few creepy paintings, the one called Chupacabra.enus of Wilmersdorf by Suzanne Forbes April 21 2016

So I decided to give her fey eyes.

Or rather, the brush decided for me, surprising me, and I was pleased.

enus of Wilmersdorf by Suzanne Forbes April 21 2016


enus of Wilmersdorf by Suzanne Forbes unfinished 2016








On the left you can she has a large, centered single highlight on each pupil and on the right, one small and one large on each pupil. You can also see the shadowing of her corneas has increased slightly on the left, making the the highlights seem brighter. This gives the effect that the pupils reflect light the way a cat’s eyes do (which is because the back of their eyeball has this reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum).

Then, because I was still thinking about the “spooky eyes” phenomenon today, I made a couple of eye studies.Suzanne Forbes eye study April 2016


As you can see, the highlight in the “regular” eye is offset to the left and double. In addition, it is placed below the shadow meridian cast by the eyelid. The whites of the cornea are most prominent to the sides of the pupil, while in the “spooky” eye the brightest whites gather below the pupil, emphasizing the reflective property of the eye.

I’m not a fantasy artist, but I thought this analysis, based on the style of old-school horror and fantasy artists like Bernie Wrightson and Jeffrey Catherine Jones, might be helpful!


The Venus of Wilmersdorf- preview

bunnyWIP Suzanne Forbes April 2016Bunny came to Berlin and I painted her!

Bunny is an artist of circus and theater and design and drawing, who has also worked as a professional model, both art and fashion, for many years. She was flown to Milan to work as a performer in an interactive promotional symposium for global food brands, as best I can understand it. She was an alien robot maîtresse de maison, in a chic Blade Runner style.

Then she came to Berlin, and we worked. We’ve worked together before, with this picture:

Bunny Holmes by Suzanne Forbes- photo by Neil Girling

Bunny Holmes by Suzanne Forbes- photo by Neil Girling

Which was an extremely strenuous picture to do, as Bunny actually posed balanced on the tightwire for it the entire time.

It took multiple short sittings, but since in Oakland we lived five minutes from her warehome slash studio slash performance space, that was fine.

bunny WIP Suzanne Forbes April 2016


This time we worked much more intensely, two 2.5 hour sessions of pure flow state with no breaks and no hesitation. I had hoped to have some of the folks from my classes join us, but we wound up working wildly late at night, starting each sitting at 11.

I wanted to make a picture that was more about Bunny as a working artist and athlete than as a beautiful woman.

It was very important to me to show the bottom of her feet and the muscle in her calves. We tried just a couple of poses before finding this one, with her feet propped on a pink velvet boudoir chair I bought at my antique dealer’s in Neukölln and brought home on the U-Bahn.

It wasn’t until the painting was half-done that I realized how explicitly it references Manet’s Olympia.

And in turn the Venuses that Olympia references, like Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Victorine Meurent, the model for Olympia, was of course both a significant artist in her own right and a professional artist’s model. So the title is an art history joke on multiple levels. Wilmersdorf is the neighborhood we live in!

The painting is almost done; I’ll post more pics as soon as I finish the details.

I am so grateful to my Patrons for your support, giving me the wherewithal to begin painting here, and to be able to pay Bunny for her work on it. I love you, and I am happier than I have ever been.


Bunny on Instagram and her website.


Five-Car Fender-Bender Fruit and Nut Flapjacks, which are gluten free.

flap1I was introduced to British flapjacks years ago when staying with one of my friend/muse/patrons in London.

He said they were pretty easy to make, and the ones he made were definitely delicious.

There are lots of good German bakeries in our neighborhood (six in a one-block radius), a very good French bakery downstairs, but no American or British style bakeries for miles. So I thought I would make some flapjacks.

In my perfect world, desserts consist of butter, sugar, chocolate and cream binding nuts, whole grains, seeds and fruit. This is what happens when a libertine grows up surrounded by hippies.

flap2I took the most popular, ultra-easy flapjack recipe from BBC Good Food and adapted it, guided by feedback from other bakers in the comments as always. This was the first recipe I made using a scale, weighing ingredients instead of measuring them.

Now, the best American baking book authors have for decades inveighed against measuring and urged American cooks to switch to the European method of weighing ingredients.

But I think very little has shifted. (Not surprised; after all, I was in grade school at the time of the Metric Conversion Act, and saw it fail). I’ve worked in a lot of commercial kitchens, yet none of them had made the switch. The pastry chefs who contribute recipes to fancy books and magazines with weights instead of measures are working in the very top-level patisseries and restaurants.

There are meaningful advantages to weighing for bakers.

For one, you can get an exact quantity of flour without the whole “sift and then measure?” “Scoop and level?” drama. And you can weigh amounts of lumpy irregular things like chopped nuts more accurately. I would encourage anyone who has a digital kitchen scale to try weighing ingredients. Until then… below, my recipe for flapjacks for the US baker.



1 cup Oats (can be gf)

1 stick of butter, the best you can find- I use Kerrygold Irish butter, and the higher butterfat of European style butter makes a huge difference. I use salted, but you can go either way.

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, the best you can get- I use Billington’s Unrefined Dark Muscovado.

3 Tablespoons of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, or dark corn syrup.

Optional protein boost:

1/4 cup hazelnut or almond meal and one egg.


1 Tablespoon vanilla and/or cinnamon, 1/4 t orange oil, good pinch sea salt

Up to 2 full cups of your choice of mix-in goodies: I used about 1/4 cup each of chopped dark chocolate (since chocolate chips aren’t available here), white chocolate, hazelnuts, golden raisins, dried superfruit mix with cranberries, blueberries etc., sliced almonds, candied orange peel, and this delicious “Basic seed mix”* you can buy at the grocery store here.


1 microwave-safe bowl or 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup

1 medium mixing bowl

1 large cake pan (12×16 or 11×15) or two 8×8 pans or a large rimmed* baking sheet

Parchment paper, 1 sheet per pan


Measuring cups and spoons

Sharpish knife


Butter your pan(s), then line with parchment and butter the parchment. Set aside.

Set oven for 350.

Put the sugar, butter and syrup in your microwavable container and nuke for a couple minutes, keeping an eye on it. You want the butter to not be fully melted when you pull it out. Stir thoroughly, until mixture is well mixed. If you’re adding vanilla, sea salt, orange oil and/or salt, stir them in now. Set aside.

Put the oats in your bowl. Pour the sugar/butter mix over and stir in thoroughly, making sure the oats are completely wet.

If you’re using the nut meal and egg, crack the egg into your gooey unwashed microwavable container, add the nut meal, stir well, and scrape into to the oat mix.

Then go nuts adding your mix-in treats! The mixture will be chunky and gloppy. Press it into your lined pan or pans, using your hand or the back of a wet spoon to compress the mixture and get it nicely level. Use the back side of the knife to lightly score the leveled mixture into bars of your desired size- you don’t have to drag the knife all the way to the bottom of the pan, just make indents.

Bake for at least fifteen minutes.

The amount of time is HIGHLY variable, but here is the secret: when you smell it, check it. I learned this from a chef years ago and it has governed my baking, nut toasting and pizza baking ever since. There is a turning point in oven baking where ingredients volatilize, and that means your baked item is almost done.

Flapjacks are done when they’re not burned; how much you want them cooked beyond enough to solidify is really up to you. I bake mine about 20-25 minutes. However you may want to check them if you’re going for that long, as the raisins may puff up and burn.

Cool in pan for fifteen minutes, then lift out with the parchment and cool in fridge for another fifteen minutes, or long enough to set up the melty chocolate. Then cut fully into bars. These bars are very firm, in fact hard, when fully chilled, so you’ll want to serve them at room temperature. I have no idea how long they keep, because people eat them right up, but I would imagine at least three days air-tight at room temp.

*Basic seed mix is sesame, flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds; it’s my favorite thing ever. You can use whatever mix-ins you want, but I really like the addition of seeds. The basic seed mix and the chewiness of the oats ensures that it takes a while to eat one of these things, giving your body time for the fat and fiber to hit. Even though they’re basically fibrous candy delivery vehicles, it’s hard for me to eat too much of them.

That’s good, because eating too much flapjacks is a lot like eating too much baklava- it will make you pretty sick. I made amazing baklava once, in the early ’90s. I couldn’t eat baklava again til the 2010s, and i’m nowhere near making it again yet. If you’ve ever had sugar burn on your tongue, a kind of horrific experience I think mostly bakers testing recipes have, you know what I mean.

*Rimmed. That’s what they’re called. Christ, you guys.

My first watercolor in 25 years!

Aktion drawing party Alte Finanzamt by Suzanne Forbes April 3 2016I bought a watercolor set yesterday.

One of my beloved friend/muse/patrons has pastel hair at present, and I feel like watercolor is really the medium with which to approach this phase of her beauty.

I did maybe two watercolors in all of my art school career, and three after, and i haven’t touched them since. But seeing what Marc Taro Holmes is doing on has really inspired me, as has working with so many beautiful transparent colored materials in my mixed media work.

DR in neukolln by Suzanne Forbes April 3 2016Today I went to Neukölln to meet up with an amazing artist I met through one of my classes, Keir, then went to an Aktion Drawing Party to meet my artist friend Daria Rhein. Here she is drawing at the event, which was at the Altes FInanzamt art collective.

It was lovely, with a bunch of artists playing around with different materials, dogs and babies on hand, music of course, and two old-school projectors for live psychedelic wall art. As you can see above!

The watercolors felt easy and comfortable to use until I abruptly relearned how important it is to have a lot of water to keep your brush clean and the colors from getting muddy. The cup of tea I was using wasn’t making it, so I switched back to ink to draw Daria. But it was a fun experiment well out of my comfort zone.

On the way back I was so relaxed and loose I could see the big forms and shapes that make up a scene really clearly, and they seemed so beautiful to me. So I made this super-fast sketch of the people on the U-Bahn. It pleases me greatly although it’s quite obvious I don’t understand how bicycles work.
Sunday U7 Suzanne Forbes 2016

Berlin is basically artist heaven.