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.
This corset is one of those projects I’ve been planning for years.
I brought all the raw materials for it to Berlin in the shipping container. It took a decade to collect all the velvet leaves, beads and leaf-shaped lace.
I have no idea what I’ll do with it when it’s done. Who cares, it’s the making of it that’s the incredible joy.
Maybe we’ll have a Midsummer dinner party and I’ll wear it, maybe I’ll get a red wig and go to some comic thing as Victorian Gothic Poison Ivy.
This is my third heavily beaded/embroidered corset project, and I’ve learned a few things. Such as to do the heavy beading on a sheer fabric on a hoop first, to save wear and tear on my hand/wrist and reduce the amount of crappy random stitchery on the back. (You can see the previous two corsets here. The blue mermaid one is the same corset model as this one.)
I learned this from the generous and amazing website of Games of Thrones textile artist Michele Carragher. She creates the incredible, breathtaking detail of the costumes for GoT and other productions.
If you have never looked at these works in detail I cannot encourage you strongly enough.
I love her story because although she has a degree from the London College of Fashion she also has had a somewhat meandering career and is suddenly achieving great success well into her professional life. I wonder if she has a helper like I do?
An off-the-rack corset like this one from Orchard Corset has only a 10-12″ difference between waist and hips, so I have to modify it to add an additional four inches at the hips. That will be the next stage, after I finish seasoning it. I don’t usually bother to season corsets, because I’m lazy, I have a very corset-shaped body and I know exactly how to buy an OTR corset that fits me really well. (Don’t be like me! Season your corset!) In this case however I want to make sure changes in the shape happen before there’s additional decorative stitching, so as not to strain it. I started the beading first though, cause I needed its comforting, trancelike pleasure.
Although my daytime PTSD symptoms are much better now that the anniversary of Rob’s death and San Diego has passed, I’m still having sleep trouble. I have been kicking my husband awake fighting off nightmare assailants. I have to be very careful about how much I embroider since the tendonitis problems of 2013, but I’m clocking as much as I can.
I am so grateful I can work on this wonderful, soothing project. Hope you like it so far!
Here’s one of my beloved friend-muse-patrons with her little guy Felix.
Here’s a girl I glimpsed on the subway platform and had to draw because something about the way she delicately picked a strand of hair out of her face reminded me of my friend Victoria’s daughter Dalia when she was younger.
Here’s a throwback- a drawing I did of Victoria in ’93 that she recently sent me.
Here’s a guy I drew on the U-Bahn cause he looked like my boyfriend David when I lived in DC.
And here’s a note I left for my middle-aged German biker furniture movers, who don’t speak a word of English but can be relied on to go anywhere in Berlin and collect something I bought on eBay, then deliver it and gruffly mock me for “kaufen, kaufen!”. We would have no furniture without them.
We’ve had a few undesirably hot days here in Berlin, and today was the hottest.
I bought a portable A/C from a Brit who was leaving town last year, because we don’t do well with heat. I set up the A/C in the library and painted the hubbin while he did whatever he does on Reddit.
This watercolor thing is getting to be FUN. Probably if I’m gonna keep doing it I should buy a better watercolor block than this one from the stationary store around the corner, and maybe some real watercolors. Maybe even a new Windsor & Newton Series 7 Sable, nobly though the one I bought when I was at Parsons thirty years ago has served.
Maybe I should actually take a class and learn HOW one does watercolors.
I had one class where we had one watercolor assignment, in school. Unfortunately I didn’t think painting in colors was worth my time, then; it was just an useless tangent for a person who was going to be a comic book penciller and have a colorist to take care of such things.
So I did a sloppy job of the assignment, and showed up late and drunk to class, with my very drunk boyfriend Richie tagging along.
My teacher was furious. I felt at the time that he was furious about the banal quality of the green grass I’d painted. It seemed like he was just really disgusted that I’d painted such bad grass. But I know better now. I still think the grass really bothered him, but I bet it bothered him more that I had wasted a priceless opportunity to work and learn.
I forgive you for yelling at me, Parsons teacher whose name I’ve forgotten. I forgive you for being a medium I didn’t know how to use, watercolors. I forgive you for being drunk and sloppy when you were 20 years old, Suz.
There are multiple stages to moving to Berlin. Which ones you trigger first has a lot to do with your goals. If you just want to live here for a while, you can skip many of them. But since a huge, huge part of the benefits of living here come from integrating into the system, you should seriously consider it.
Benefits of living in Berlin as a peripatetic foreigner: housing still much cheaper than London, Paris, New York. Bars don’t have a closing time. Doner kebab for 3 euros.
Benefits of living in Berlin as a person whose hope is to become a citizen or permanent resident: incredible state or “public” healthcare plans much better value than private insurance, state pension, disability and long-term care plans, unemployment insurance, state-subsidized healthcare plan for artists, fantastic rent-control and tenants’ protection, 12-14 months parental leave and four weeks vacation for full-time employees, strong employment protections, the crazy concept of perfect credit as a default state.
I won’t lie to you: integrating into the system is a significant, front-loaded hassle.
But once you’re in, SO MANY of the things in your life that made you miserable in the US will be either gone or easier, cheaper and better. You just can’t imagine how much better things will be until you experience it. Unless you’re Canadian.
Let’s talk about the stage that I see the least discussion of outside of Germany: registration.
To reside in Berlin, rather than visit, you must be registered with your local burgeramt. You can do this without a visa, which is good, because you should do it within two weeks of moving into a new home. Whenever you move, you have to do it again, within two weeks. That’s right, you have register where you live with the German government. Sounds injudicious at best, huh? But it turns out that a) it’s the first stage of a cascade effect of integrating into the system that has many benefits and b) you have to do it. Just stop thinking about it and do it.
How? You go to the burgeramt. It’s like the neighborhood administration center.
Whether you have to go to the one in your neighborhood or any burgeramt in Berlin seems to be in flux; check (gag) Facebook* for the latest status. Whether you can make an appointment online or you have to go and wait for hours also seems to be in flux. Your burgeramt might be in a huge government building, or it might be a little office in a mall. Again, check Facebook. Bring your passport.
You’ll need your passport for everything you do in the beginning. And technically, as a foreigner, you’re supposed to carry your passport at all times.
I had a passport card made when I got my latest passport, and I carry that. But our bank, for example, finds it unacceptable. For registration you’ll need a form called Einzugsbestätigung des Wohnungsgebers from the person who is the primary lease-holder or owner of the place you’re staying. You should prolly bring your lease too.
Registration generates a German Identification number for foreigners, aka Tax Number. You will need this number for most things. Registration starts the clock for so much; you simply can’t truly live here until you do it.
When registering, you MUST record your religious or non-religious status. If you leave the Religion box blank, you will not be subject to the 8-9% Kirchensteuer or Church Tax. (You also won’t be able to get married in a church or take communion. Not kidding. This is all real.) There is also a place on the form to put “VD” or “Verschiedene”, which means godless heathen I guess?
Bring someone who speaks German to every amt you go to. “Everybody” speaks English in Berlin, if they work in a third-wave coffee shop.
Nobody speaks English at any of the -amts, unless you get really lucky. And even if they do speak English, they won’t speak it with you. Why? Because Germans are stern judges about their English skills; they don’t speak it as a first choice unless they speak it really well. Or they may be pissed about you and your kind driving up the rents, or they just don’t like speaking English. I like to ask, “May we speak English?” before I say anything in English. It’s a tip from some blog I read; it gets consistently good results.
Here is the insane part of bureaucracy in Germany: it has a totally different end goal than bureaucracy in the US.
Here, the goal is to provide services to people. That’s it. There’s no catch. The lady at the burgeramt or health insurance company may *seem* rude and obstructive, but she’s just concerned with following the exact process she’s supposed to. Because following the process is seen as an intrinsic, collective good. She doesn’t want to prevent you from getting services. She doesn’t want to make you go away so she can move on to the next person, make a quota of denied claims, or protect her job from your possible lawsuit.
If you show yourself to be unbothered by the fact that there is a process, and willing to follow the correct procedure, you’ll be working together to get what you need in no time. If you say you need this thing, and you didn’t know you did the wrong step first or you should have had an appointment, she will sigh heavily, roll her eyes, possibly actually yell at you, but she will help you. There’s no benefit to her in blocking you- in a social welfare state, it all works better when everybody gets their needs met.
Get off on the right foot by respecting the fact that you’re a guest in their country.
Indicate you respect its rules and its love of rules. Then they’ll consider breaking them for you. What? Yeah, Germans break their systemic rules all the time. They just want to know the reason.
*Facebook is so useful for expats that I had to open an account, after having deleted my US one a while back. The new one is under my legal name and is strictly for useful stuff; I hope to delete it soon.
*Note: I realize the joke of the drawing is in questionable taste. Once I thought of it I had to draw it, and I might have resisted posting it except it came out so well….
What an incredible pleasure it’s been working with the talented group of students we had!
I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have met these gifted young women (and one fellow!) and shared some of the knowledge I worked so hard for. Although the ESDIP Summer Illustration program was over, I couldn’t say goodbye to these amazing artists yet.
So we went on a bus ride on the M29 and did some drawings.
drawing by Shine – Hyungbok Shin August 20 2016
bus M29 by Ana Vigueras
Then we got off the bus and went to my house! Where we made more drawings.
If I was one-tenth as helpful and supportive to these women as Trina Robbins was to me at their age, I’ll be delighted.
Visiting Trina and her much younger partner Steve Leialoha in their Mission house in 1986 and 1997 had a huge impact on me.
Trina’s warmth, her humility even though she was already a comics legend, her compassion and kindness- all inspired me to become to a person who would have something to give to the next generation of women artists.
And the fact that she lived with a tall thin dark-haired younger man in a big magical apartment full of history and mystery, in a cool city, may have been formative for me as well.
I watched Xena Warrior Princess with Trina one time; you could not ask for a better moment to shape you.
I have so much hope and excitement about what these young artists will do. I can’t wait to see!
My Never-Muse comes to Berlin all the time. I had been planning watercolors of her since she went pastelgoth last year. I hadn’t painted a watercolor portrait in a very, very long time- 25 years. I did do a little watercolorexperimentation to warm up earlier this summer.
I started the painting above, then set it aside to dry for a while and did this other one. When I came back to the first painting, we were talking about some very heavy things, and that’s why she looks so sad.
I feel like sadness is a part of life and sharing it with friends is a way to make peace with it, so I don’t mind that she looks sad.
I’m glad we did two though.
I was so happy to spend a day making art with my Never-Muse again.
I’ve been pretty much reeling with exhaustion after the sprint to finish (95%!) the house for the party, so I haven’t done that much art this month.
I opted to ease back in with bead embroidery, which is the most pleasurable creative work imaginable to me.
Painting a portrait for me feels like a mix of a final exam you’re decently prepared for, a job interview ( I like job interviews though), a workout-to-exhaustion with weights, and learning to rollerskate (which I have not succeeded in).
Making a drawing varies from feeling like going to the office midway through a tough project that you have a good handle on, with co-workers you like, to going to the gym for aerobic exercise (which I hate doing but never regret having done).
Bead embroidery is like a cross between eating a delicious black-currant mousse cake and getting a back rub.
I’d say it’s my version of smoking pot, except I quit smoking pot when I was fourteen because it did NOT agree with me- I fall in the very paranoid from thc camp. After the very, very bad month I had in July with PTSD and nightmares, I needed soothing art-making, and this project delivered.
I’m thrilled with how the flourishes of beadwork on the sides came out- I foresee quite a foray in this direction.
This one is not for sale, as I chose the colors specially for the salon, using the very last scrap of lime velvet from Aimee‘s grandma’s garage, but I could easily (and pleasurably) make similar ones, in the color themes of your choice.
The big reveal: our actual house! Holy cow, I worked so hard! Seriously, I thought I was going to pass out 11 feet up on that ladder, so many times.And I hate painting walls.But my easel has a home again.
I finished the hub’s room first, so he could relax in it. 13 boxes of his books were the first thing I unpacked when the shipping container came.
I’ve been obsessed with designing, collecting and curating my environment since I was a tiny child.
I have always been terribly interested in things. Things made by hand, things that were kitsch, things that were weird, things that were old, things that were dead.
We finally have a home big enough for all of my weird stuff, and all my husband’s weird books.
Painting our house and the furniture I bought for it on eBay, and planning and building our kitchen and workshop (I designed it and constructed the cabinets but the actual building was done by the amazing Handyman For Berlin, James!) took about ten months.
Along with unpacking the 480 or so boxes that arrived on January 24 in the shipping container (again thanks to James, whose moving crew of good-natured Ozzies ran everything up the stairs).
Decorating, hanging, and installing window treatments was in there too. James hung all the heavy artwork and other stuff, with me handing the tools up to him, and installed the window treatments, because I’d sworn I’d never fucking do it myself again.
James also installed all the light fixtures, which sometimes necessitated a hilarious degree of resourcefulness. Not only does your Berlin apartment come with an empty room with pipes sticking out instead of a kitchen, it comes with wires sticking out of the ceiling instead of light fixtures.
James hung endless hooks for things using his “Super-Drill”, an impact drill which is the only way to hang things on foot-thick, crumbly altbau concrete walls.
I bought the ram’s horn, porthole and ouroboros mirrors right before we left, knowing Berlin altbau apartments tend to long hallways and envisioning a Hall of Mysteries that would recall the one in The Dawn Treader.
The tin fish was listed on my packing list and shipping manifest as “fish from Gail’s abortion”, which is an even stranger and sadder story than you can possibly imagine. Eventually the fuse box door will be wallpapered in some quirky-ass FlavorPaper or Timorous Beasties print I can only afford a meter of. I also plan to wallpaper the salon double doors, and just haven’t got there yet.
I’d say my overall decorating scheme is at 95% here.
James rewired this 1970s lamp I bought for ten bucks at the Berkeley Flea Market in 1998, as well as half a dozen other lamps. (European current and plugs and sockets are very, very different.) I gold-leafed five-euro mirrors from the discount store. I glue-gunned trim to all my eBay-score and email coupon chairs and sofas. I painted tables.
I assembled and stained countless pieces of heavily discounted furniture, and attached Anthropologie knobs I’d been hoarding for a decade. I repaired broken things I bought for cheap with epoxy clay and paint. I made more shadowboxes, and frames, and converted lampshades. I built a new base for my dollhouse, and finished filling and decorating it at last.
I dug through boxes of my husband’s childhood mementoes to find his snowglobe collection, his piggy bank collection, his signed baseball and his sports trophies.
My birthday gift to him was getting the special limited edition poster from HOPE 11 he brought home framed and hung immediately (above, sorry it’s blurry). On July 30 we had our housewarming/husband & Daria’s birthday party and revealed it to the world.
It was fantastic and joyful, and afterwards we slept for a combined total of 42 hours in a 24-hour period.
James came and took these pictures a day or two later, wisely recognising that parties are the only time our house is really clean.
That’s why there are like ten thousand bottles of wine on the counter- when you give a party in Europe, everyone brings booze. I’m ferrying it over to Daria a backpackfull at a time, since we have no use for it. The workshop is really a fine example of how beautifully James realized my crazy ideas.
The kitchen is going to be amazing once I sew and hang all the newsprint-patterned curtains over the open shelves. And once we get our dryer.
Because you can buy a dryer here, it’s just that people don’t, because the planet or something.
Wow, I’m so tired from writing about how much work this was that I have to go lie down. Anyway, our house (except for some final details and making the bedroom nicer)!