Monthly Archives: July 2016

July Bricolage Roundup

Lampshade and lamp cords: Have you ever used spray-on fabric dye?

blue sinkI’d only used it once before. I needed to dye just the white pique cotton cutwork cuffs and collar of a black maid uniform I bought at the San Francisco uniform store red, for a “Servant of The Devil” costume. It worked pretty well in red. So I got some in blue and used it for a lampshade!

Kare lampI’d waited a year, constantly surveying prices, ’til I found a deal and bought this beautiful chandelier for the hallway. Then i found it  wasvery out of scale for even our huge hall. But it was perfect for the enormous salon.IMG_1853 - Edited

I still wanted the style for the hallway, though, to help sell its Alice theme. So I found a smaller model (Butler’s 30% off coupon- only a couple times a year, but I’m insanely patient!).

Unfortunately the smaller model had one white shade, and white cords.


lamp2I sprayed the lampshade in the sink and the cords on a turquoise towel. It worked pretty well- the white fixture got faintly blue, which I probably could have removed with a solvent, but twelve feet up in the dark hall, it was good enough for me.

IMG_1851 - EditedYou can set the dye with heat, either in an oven or by ironing; since neither of those was an option I used a blow dryer and hoped. James didn’t get blue hands when he hung it up, so I assume the dye is sufficiently set. It rinsed out of the sink with just a little bleach.

More furniture: gel stain on raw wood.

wardrobeWe have a place to put coats at last. This wardrobe was my first time using gel stain on raw wood. And as wonderful as it is on already stained surfaces, it’s a thousand times better on raw. It doesn’t raise the grain of the wood. You don’t have to sand between coats.

It’s almost aggressively nontoxic. You can put it on with a foam roller- the secret is to roll it on, then immediately drag the roller over the rolled area to smooth the finish. As a product, it’s highly mistake-tolerant. If you accidentally leave a thick rope of glopped-on stain, you can sand it and re-stain the same day. If you wipe it over an area of raw wood you didn’t mean to cover, you can wipe it off back off so it’s nearly undetectable.

Gel stain is an incredible product for someone like me, who does projects at breakneck speed and is also highly mistake-tolerant.

dresserI assembled and stained another Amazon-score dresser for our hallway, on the left- looks good, right? Gel stain, I’m tellin ya.

I remember spending hours in my mom’s backyard in my early twenties, using tradional stain and shellac, staining and sanding and staining and staining and sanding the cage for my first iguanas. It was horrible. I became intensely stain-phobic.

But now I’ll stain anything. Keep an eye on your dog around me.

My DIY modus is predicated on the 3 Laws of TV News:

  1. Get it Done

  2. Get it Right

  3. Make it Interesting

I learned them from a CNN reporter when I was a courtroom artist, and have since applied them to many things. Particularly to the next project:

My Passementerie Obsession and my glue gun love affair.

What is passementerie? It’s French for dust-catching textile! Ha ha no. Here is what it is.passementerie

Suzanne Forbes paintings with pink model chair 2005 09


I love adding trim to things; I will add trim to anything (see: keep an eye on your dog, above). The fastest and most effective way to do this to upholstered furniture is with a glue gun.

I had trimmed a lot of the furniture in my house in Berkeley in burgundy (burgundy is the goth khaki) bullion fringe to match the bullion fringe on my window treatments. It helped bring together the disparate thrift-shop and craigslist pieces while adding Victorian detail.

We left all that furniture behind in Oakland, including one piece I hadn’t planned to leave.



Tragically, I had to leave my pink model chair behind.

pink model chair Mark II - EditedThe terrible night of the shipping container loading, when for the last few hours Slim and I were alone in the dark trying to get everything in, it didn’t fit.

Although it was just a crappy yardsale 80s dusty mauve wing chair with twenty bucks worth of trim, it had appeared in a dozen or more paintings and I loved it. I had to ditch it outside the Hayward Salvation Army the next day, and I’m still grieving it.

So I was determined to get a new pink model chair.

blue chairThe one you see here was also stalked online for over a year, ’til the magic 30% Butlers coupon. The blue armchair and little bench I got earlier, with a 40% off BonPrix coupon! Subscribing to email newsletters and the patience to open every single one so your spam filter doesn’t start grabbing them, my dudes.vivienne on bench 2016 - Edited

I got the trims from UK eBay, another thing Brexit will ruin.

Suzanne Forbes bug frame 2016 So mostly furniture this month for making-stuff, besides Horribella, except this little frame I made for a dollar-store lenticular picture.



Berlin Graphic Days Nr. 8, July 2016

Daria and I had a table at the Summer Session of Berlin Graphic Days.Berlin Graphic Days Suzanne Forbes July 1 2016

Patrons Berlin Graphic Days July 1 2016 by Suzanne ForbesWe chose to be there only for the Night Market on Friday from 6pm to 2am, which was the right choice given my health challenges and Daria having a full-time art job.

However, there was definitely not as much action Friday night as there is during the Saturday session, and we missed some amazing fellow artists who didn’t make the Friday event. We both sold a few things (Daria’s cool F*ck u I’m Evil bags sold out instantly) and met some lovely people, and friends came to see us. You can see the delightful scene here– be warned the link takes you to Facebook 😛


I made some drawings of people with fabulous hair.

Suzanne Forbes July 1 2016 Berlin Graphic Days

It was the first time I’d tabled at an event in quite a few years, maybe since 2009, and in between I’ve had some ridic-ass health issues that mean my energy level seems to be permanently much lower. I’m a spoonie, at least for now, and just can’t do all the things I’d like to.

Suzanne Forbes July 1 2016 Berlin Graphic Days


Still, at the end of the night Daria and I were whipping out portraits for people, and it was heavenly.

And I got to visit Urban Spree at last. And it is amazing, a crazy fuck-you honey badger of a venue where artists rule and the feasting and drinking goes til dawn.

Fast sketching Tiepolo-style!

aklamio 5 year anniversary party berlin by Suzanne Forbes June 17 2016Here’s a sketch from the five-year anniversary party of the wonderful company my husband works for.

sketch with midtone Suzanne Forbes July 17 2016This is how I did it- first pencil sketch for structure and gesture, then a 50% grey pen to spot in midtones, then fine line outline, then brush pen strokes for the heavy line weight on the undersides of things and solid blacks.detail pg 27 Advertising Layout Techniques by Harry Borgman 1983

This approach is a callback to the old-school commercial illustrators’ pen and marker techniques I learned from books in the 80s.  Scan to the right: detail of pg. 27 from “Advertising Layout Techniques” by Harry Borgman, pub. 1983.

I loved this style of rendering because it was about drawing– it was didactic as hell, a formatted iconography for storytelling through pictures. The audience had been taught to read the visual language of illustration and comics over decades. They had an encoded understanding of what kind of mark-making represented what textile, what line weight meant highlights.

I have a whole collection of books in my art library that offer instruction in now-obsolete techniques like Prismacolor and Chartpak markers and beloved, vanished Zip-A-Tone. The earliest layers of my library reveal just how little I ever intended to be a fine artist- I just wanted to be a working stiff journeyman illustrator.

Detail pg 18 from New York The Big City by Will Eisner 1986

Detail pg 18 from New York The Big City by Will Eisner 1986

Comps Storyboards and Animatics by james Fogle and Mary E Forsell 1989








The grey-scale rendering methods of the great 20th Century advertising artists were already disappearing from the curriculum of art schools in 1989, when I left New York. They stayed alive in comics for a few years longer, because of the specific exigencies of comic printing before direct digital and the Black-and-White Boom.

By the time I was sober and enrolled in the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, in 1990, the career emphasis had shifted to digital graphic production. There were computer labs and programs like Illustrator and Photoshop and the illustration program at MCAD was skeletal. Teaching drawing for commercial art was over.

Tiepolo_angelLucky for me, I was able to become a painter. I pivoted to FIne Art in the MCAD curriculum just to get enough teaching in things I cared about, but there were many hidden benefits to leaving the commercial illustration track, and I had some fine teachers.

Tiepolo Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra

Tiepolo Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra

One of my painting teachers at MCAD told me my preparatory sketch for a painting reminded him of Tiepolo‘s ink wash drawings. He showed me what he meant and I was amazed at how modern an eighteenth-century drawing could look.

Of course, we don’t know how Tiepolo produced these works- he might have done the pencil sketch and line-work first, then added the midtone wash. Either way, the grey-scale (or sepia-scale!) is a thing of beauty.



I hope to do some ink-wash drawings utilising grey scale values later this summer, as well as some chalk drawings on grey paper. I’ve been thinking about how Sargent said if you get the midtones right, everything else falls into place. I’ve never been a midtone person; I’ve always focused on line quality and hard black and white values. But people change 🙂



Drink+Draw Drawings

Suzanne Forbes drawing from Drink and Draw Berlin June 25 2016I made quite a few drawings at the last Drink+Draw Berlin.

Dothraki cosplay drawing Suzanne Forbes June 25 2016 (Maybe my lack of drinking helps!) However, it’s taking me a while to clean them up and scan them. I don’t always touch the drawings from an event afterwards; in fact mostly I just scan and post them.

In this case, I chose probably the darkest spot in the otherwise nicely lit room to draw in, so I wanted to touch up some lines.

Plus, many of the costumes were highly detailed, like the bellydancers’ outfits and this dude who was cosplaying a Dothraki.

So I took the time to finish off more costumes and the fabulous 1001 Nights-themed set that I’d only sketched in.

There’s one more batch, which hopefully I’ll get to soon.

So grateful to the Drink+Draw crew and main model Miss Cat D’Vine, and all the volunteer models, the musicians, djs and the incredible artists I was thrilled to be working in the same room with.Suzanne Forbes June 25 2016 Berlin


Horribella Mark IV: an unpleasant Victorianish doll-thing!

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016 Look at this horrible thing I made!

I am blowing through projects that have been waiting over a year, now that my workshop is finished. It’s so easy and comfortable to use and access all my tools and materials, and the light is so good in our kitchen. I’m especially thrilled to have finished my own Horribella doll at last!

Horribella Mark 1 by Suzanne Forbes coll. Ramon

The first Horribella was made as a host gift for a fae-themed party thrown by one of my beloved friend-muse-patrons. Her wings were hand-decorated with many crystals.

I particularly like the way the corset of this one came out.

The second was bought by one of my beloved friend-muse-patrons and lives in her SOMA loft.Horribella Mark 2 by Suzanne Forbes coll. Eva

Horribella Mark 3 by Suzanne Forbes coll. AimeeAnd the third was traded to my friend Aimee Baldwin, for one of her extraordinary vegan taxidermy creations ( a mantis of course!).

I was really devastated to give up the third one, since it was so specially unpleasant, but I wanted that mantis badly.

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016 So I saved the other half of the iridescent flower at the top of the corset (originally scavenged from the wings of some drugstore fairy doll that became a mermaid in a shadowbox at least a decade ago).

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

Then I saved the particular trims I used, and enough of the superfine damson-colored leather strips I ordered from a purse company in LA, and a tiny bit of the pleated burgundy lace, and just enough of the bug-printed emerald green French wired ribbon.


I sculpted a new body and head and painted them, but there was a reaction between the paint and primer.

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016 trainSpray painting plastic, no matter how much time you spend on The Fwoosh, is unpredictable. So I had to scrape off the paint and reprime the pieces, and then pack them, because it was time to move to Berlin.Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

I was terrified that off-gassing primer/paint reaction could start a fire, so I waited to pack them ’til the very last day, and wound up throwing the pieces in a little box within one of the randomly packed boxes of the morning we left. Even though this project was incredibly important to me! And the materials to dress her were packed separately of course.

I am a crazy person, and sadly not always in a fun way.

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016

(Yes, I started packing one year before we left, and I was still packing the DAY we left. Probably I shouldn’t have spent so many nights obsessively organizing my mixed media materials before we left. But it did make unpacking them an utter delight.)

Horribella Mark 4 by Suzanne Forbes July 2016





So it was all horribly stressful! And I was still afraid that my Frankenstein mix of paints and solvents would start a fire and burn up our storage unit or shipping container!

But there was no fire, and the ship didn’t sink, and the train didn’t crash, and the truck didn’t go into a snowbank, and the box didn’t get dropped, and nothing got lost, and so I was able to assemble a Horribella of my own at last. She is not for sale!

As always when I make a doll, I am deeply indebted to my beloved friend-muse-Patron Monique Motil, creator of Sartorial Creatures and the most inspiring dollmaker I know.