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.
I love to draw musicians. They are among my most favorite subjects.
As a non-musical person, being able to create music is like some kind of sorcery to me. So when I was invited to draw live at the party for the release of Donut Heart‘s new video I was very excited. Look at Alfred Ladylike and Rah Hell tearing it up!! The songs are hilarious, “Dude Band” is possibly my favorite. Rah used a heavy piece of chain for percussion at one point, which is not a thing I had ever seen. Although I dated a drummer for two years in my teens!
What a great time I had! Such a wonderful circle of people, and such delightful performances.
I helped Rah glaze the vegan donuts because if there is one thing I know, it’s getting sweet treats ready for a party. There were many highly drawable attractions at the Donut Heart event, as you can see.
Kay was a boylesque Jesus, and kindly expiated one of my many sins.
Natascha did body painting like this cupcake on my bosom!
You can see her here body painting live on stage. She is an artist on non-human canvases as well.
David sang “Chocolate Jesus” from the Holy Book of Tom Waits.
It was grand!
Ludwig is a wonderfully cozy clubhouse of a bar/gallery, staffed by barefoot punks in skirts!
It feels like your friend’s living room. Look how chill the altar boys are, enjoying their beers.
Kelsey in mask she made at Drink and Draw Berlin by Suzanne Forbes May 2017
Daria, Marina and I went to the Drink and Draw party.
The theme was “Secret Society”, emphasizing “Eyes Wide Shut” and occult iconography.
The organizers had decided not to hire any professional models or performers, so all the models were volunteers.
The only ones I was really intrigued and moved by were those who’d put some work into their costumes. Like illustrator Kelsey Bass, above and in the top image, who made her amazing goat mask completely out of recycled materials (Amazon boxes!).
And corsetiereEmma Caponi, who designed and made her astonishing deco gown out of exquisite eyelash lace she got on a trip to China. Her pretty boy killed the suspenders-no-shirt look, too.
These lovers posing later in the night were especially pretty, even without any effort at costuming.
You can see my drawings from the previous Drink and Draw Berlin party here and here.
I’ve been following Laurence on Instagram and delighting in their Non-Binary Portrait Series. These luminous works are alive with compassion and love. With Laurence’ permission, one of the works is reproduced below. It doesn’t compare to seeing them in a bright gallery, printed large, though! They are so fucking exhilarating.
Each work was exhibited with the model’s name and their pronouns of choice. You can see the bts video here! The show was at coGalleries on Torstr., in our old neighborhood. I bought a piece and also snapped up a zine from Kink.cz. Which Laurence signed!
Thanks so much for letting me draw you on your first trip to Berlin, Laurence!
Portrait by Laurence Philomene from the Non-Binary Portraits Series, 2017 Copyright the artist, all rights reserved.
Broadly has a nice interview with Laurence here, and there’s a story on CBC Arts here. You can buy prints here on Society6 and here on Post Collective.
If you are interested in gender study, trans pride, portraiture, or color photography, Laurence Philomene is seriously someone to watch. Thank you Laetitia and Suzanne for curating their work in Berlin!
Miss Natasha Enquist invited me to see her perform at the Berlin Music Video Awards opening, but I missed her!
I was teaching at our ESDIP Illustration Program, and there are no cabs in Friedrichshain! At least not at 6pm on a Thursday. I thought I could just come out of Grunberger Hof and grab a cab, like you can where we live in the West.
Nope! Seriously, in our neighborhood you can get a cab in 30 seconds. Not in the East! So I got to The Nuke Club late. But I saw Natasha in her wonderful golden sequin hot pants and fishnets outfit, and met Amanda, who let me draw her, seen above.
I asked her if I could draw her portrait, and she was like, no I’m sorry I’m working, I manage the VIP bar, I’m just grabbing a smoke and a drink and a snack then I gotta go back to it.
I was like, “Don’t worry! I can easily draw you in the time it takes you to have a snack and a smoke!” She was super-nice and friendly. Her mom is a painter!
I also got to draw this nice young man, who caught my eye for his gingery coloring in the Berlin sun. He was shooting for the event, so he filmed me while I drew him!
This is one of the fastest portraits I’ve ever done, less than five minutes in the crowded courtyard at Nuke Club!
I finished up two May unterwegs as well on Thursday. How I love the faces and characters of Berlin.
This week the news broke that Maisie Williams has been cast as Rahne Sinclair in Josh Boone’s New Mutants movie.
With an early (perhaps the first) New Mutant cosplayer, NY Creation Con, Thanksgiving 1985
It had been rumored for a long time, and I had been hoping and praying.
I love Maisie infinitely because of her amazing journey as Arya Stark and her completely rad dignity and coolness growing up in the public eye. There is no one I’d rather see play one of the two characters most important in the world to me.
I feel like the story that matters more than any other to me is in safe hands with Josh Boone. After 33 years, the New Mutants will be on the big screen! Who on earth could have imagined this? Certainly not me, seventeen in 1984, when I read my first New Mutants comic.
Why did I read it?
My girlfriend asked me to bring her a comic book at boarding school.
New Mutants 18 cover by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz
She was going to Simon’s Rock, an elite private school that was part of Bard College. I missed her terribly, so I took a bus from Port Authority to Great Barrington, Massachusetts to visit her.
P. had gotten into this comic book series, “The New Mutants”, and she desperately needed me to bring her the next issue.
I lived in Chelsea with my mom; I vaguely knew there was a comic book store up on 23rd st., so I walked up there. In the acrid smell of mouldering paper I asked the big unkempt man where “the new New Mutants” was to be found, and bought it.
As every student of comics knows, New Mutants #18 was one of the issues that broke open the history of comics.
It was part of the revolution in comic art and storytelling that would culminate in 1986’s Dark Knight and Swamp Thing and Moonshadow and Watchmen.
I had seen 1980s comics before, when my boyfriend Paul lived with me and my mom in the West Village when I was fifteen. He brought a duffel bag with Frank Miller Daredevils and the Byrne/Claremont X-Men run. But I didn’t read them, then; just looked at the covers. They were sealed up in slippery poly-bags.
Me and P., NYC 1984
So when I went to Simon’s Rock I packed the New Mutants comic in my suitcase along with my long skirts and my bottles. At Port Authority I was drinking Midori from the bottle, calling P. from a payphone, so excited.
On the bus I took out the comic book. I hadn’t brought anything else to read. I was planning to be a children’s book illustrator or a fashion illustrator back then, career-wise.
I had dropped out of Stuyvesant and was taking adult ed fashion drawing classes at Parsons, waiting to be old enough to be admitted to the BFA program in Illustration. I wasn’t especially excited about becoming a commercial artist; it was just a practical career choice given my drawing ability. Commercial artists had job security.
Most of my energy and ambition in my teens went to finding beautiful boys and seducing them.
P. was my dear friend and sometimes lover, the only girl I’ve ever truly been in love with.
She was brilliant, absurdly smart – we met at Stuyvesant when I was a junior and she was a freshman- and in terrible pain. It was just a few months after her first hospitalisation, that day in 1984 when I headed to Simon’s Rock.
She had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, like her father and brother. They were both well into lifetimes of Stelazine treatment and disability, and that was certainly what the medical establishment intended for her.
I loved her profoundly, intimately, with a depth entirely unlike my relationship with my boyfriends and whoever I was cheating on them with. She was shy, furious, poetic, inhibited, intensely loving. We only had sex when I pulled a boy for a threesome or she was really drunk or I’d given her some pills.
But we were always physically close, always touching. She was queer as fuck, but she didn’t have parents who were like, “being gay is totally normal”, the way I did.She lived in Staten Island with her crazily messed up family, so she spent days at a time in the city, at the safe haven of the apartment I shared with my mom. And then she got a scholarship to this fancy prep school program, and I went to visit her.
On the bus I opened the comic book, and I met Danielle and Rahne and Sam and Illyana and Kitty and a red-haired girl named Rachel.
Later, when my friendship with Chris Claremont was known in the comics community, people thought he’d named her after me. But I didn’t meet Chris til 1986.
You probably can’t imagine, in the 21st Century with a million YA novels about disenfranchised traumatized gifted outsider teens out there, in a post-Buffy pop culture world, what it felt like to read The New Mutants in 1984. It was like coming home to a sanctuary I had only seen in dreams.
I was an obsessive science fiction reader, but I connected with the ideas, not the characters. Larry Niven never wrote about anyone who was my age and full of pain. In the New Mutants and X-Men, Chris wrote about how wounded teens could be at a loss for how to navigate the world and find a bearing with their friends.
The story in #18 was disjointed, haunting, full of bad dreams and traumatized teens on the run.
Rachel’s confusion about the timeline felt like my mornings after a blackout. Dani’s night terrors matched my own. The ending was terrifying, dark as hell.
When P. picked me up at the bus stop the first thing she asked was if I had her comic. “What IS this??! What the hell IS this??” I babbled at her. She told me she and her new friend M. had just started reading it recently, but were obsessed. Ah, M.- I would have been so jealous of how P. loved her, if she hadn’t been so fucking cool and easy to love herself. We talked about the New Mutants a lot that weekend, the three of us.
When I got back to the city I went and bought all the New Mutants comics there were- all 18 of them- and that led me right into the X-Men comics.
Of which there were 184 issues, plus Annuals and a couple of cross-overs. Getting my hands on those was a project. The X-Men led me to the rest of Marvel, and then within a year I found the TItans and they led me to DC.
In the Fall of 1984 I drew cartoon versions of the New Mutants and the Hellions featuring P. and M. guesting as “Scallions”. (I have no idea why the idea of them being onions was funny, but for some reason it was at the time.) Then I started…drawing the New Mutants.
By Christmas I was making up pages with them. And I had decided that Rahne and Dani were definitely going to fall in love, even if the writer didn’t know it yet.
My mom, always completely supportive of my obsessions and ambitions, had gone to comic stores all over Manhattan with a list of X-Men back issues I needed.
There were stacks of comics under the tree along with all the science fiction paperbacks. I gleefully tore open the wrapping on each one, incredulous- “You found #146?? Ma!!!”
I never cared at all about their condition; I just wanted to read them and look at the art.
My older friends came home from college for the holidays and I showed them all my new comic drawings. All I could talk about was comics. All my letters had been about comics.
Someone said, “Hey, you should do this for a living”. “Somebody has to draw them, right?” someone else chimed in.
I actually have a photo of me from that night. I had enough life experience at seventeen to recognize a moment when the forces of the universe gather around you and give you a push.
I was reading a copy of Playboy my friend John gave me because it had Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics in it! That’s John and Donna above, looking at my sketchbook of comic art.
When I turned 18 in January and matriculated at Parsons my entire career and educational plan was laser-focused on becoming a comic book penciller.
Which was not a popular idea in art school, then. I was pretty much treated like a crazy person for wanting such a low-brow career. Mainstream awareness of comics was a year or two in the future, when Dark Knight broke.
The amazing woman who ran the Parsons Illustration Program, I think her name was Debra Diamond, was friends with Art Spiegelman and Gary Panter, and she was cool with the alternative comics in RAW.
But superhero comics were considered unbearably lame. Genre comics were just not something real artists talked about.
It was a job you did as punishment, when you couldn’t find something else in the world of illustration! When you couldn’t find something more remunerative and more dignified and less laborious.
Although my teachers thought i was crazy for wanting to do comics, they loved how hard I worked and how I could draw like hell.
I signed up for every figure drawing class available, with the toughest teachers, and took night classes from comics professionals around town. I found the comic artists I loved and followed their work obsessively; my longboxes were labelled and sorted by penciller, not book. José Luis García-López. Steve Rude. Gil Kane. Alan Davis. Paul Smith. John Romita and JRJR. It was a litany of men, but I was confident i could be as good.
I bought every book my teachers recommended and spent hundreds of hours studying Burne Hogarth and George Bridgman (Andrew Loomis was out of print in those days, and pages from his books photocopied from library books were passed around between comic artists like contraband).
I started out terrible and I got better fast. I studied perspective like a maniac. Even though I wanted to tell stories about superheroes in love, I expected to have to draw a lot of buildings. The Marvel Universe was based in New York, after all.
In 1985 and 1986 I was chipping, doing heroin only on the weekends, and during the week I just went to school and drew.
I threw myself into the work like a demon. I wanted to draw comics more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. I think wanting it so badly is a huge part of why I didn’t die in those years. So was the saving grace of the New Mutants, the X-Men and the Teen Titans.
Loving something the way I loved those comics, changes you, I’m convinced. It’s a source of strength.
Having my mom back my dream 100% mattered enormously – soon I had my huge drawing table and lightbox set up in the living room!
I was so lucky to be at Parsons, where traditional drawing skills were still valued and where technical perspective and anatomy were still taught.
In the New Mutants Chris gave Danielle a (flying) horse, and I was like, great!! I can draw horses!
Then he had her attacked by drunk bros and nearly raped.
I was enraged, and I drunkenly sent Marvel a telegram to express my feelings.
I meticulously explained to the telegraph operator over the phone how to address it to the specific letter column group for the New Mutants, “Report Card”.
There were precious few women artists working in mainstream comics in 1985. Maybe even less than now.
Glynis Wein was the colorist on the New Mutants, and Cindy Martin had drawn Star Wars, as had Jan Duursema, who’d also done a variety of superheroes at DC. June Brigman had created Power Pack with Weezie. Mary Wilshire had done Red Sonja. Marie Severin was on Special Projects at Marvel, drawing Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies for Star instead of superheroes. Trina Robbins was working for Marvel’s Star imprint too, drawing Misty, a grown-up Millie the Model. Wendy Pini and Colleen Doran were doing popular and much-loved independent work, but I wasn’t interested in creating my own characters or the tiny reach of the independents. I wanted to be in the big leagues, to work for one of what have always been called “The Big Two”.
In ’85 there were some women on the production and editorial side, Weezie and Ann Nocenti and Bobbie Chase and Jo Duffy and Carol Kalish at Marvel, Jenette Kahn and Karen Berger at DC. Cat Yronwode was editor in chief at Eclipse.
Heidi MacDonald had put Chris on blast in the Comics Journal, and would soon take on Alan Moore. She’s still fighting the good fight. But in 1985, wherever I went in New York, whatever comic store or con I went to, I was the only woman.
In 1986 things started to change for women in comics. Mary Wilshire did several issues of the New Mutants, after Bill left, then got the Firestar mini-series. Colleen Doran was on the Legion, as mainstream superhero as it gets, and had drawn a historic issue that delved into trans identity.
Lynn Varley colored Dark Knight. Ann and Weezie were writing superhero stories. Mindy Newell wrote a Lois Lane mini-series. Cat and Trina’s book, Women and the Comics, got mainstream press. Trina became the first woman to draw Wonder Woman.
And comics as an industry was exploding.
New comic stores were opening all over the country, some of them even clean. The mainstream press was starting to write about the writers and creators who were changing the industry.
Storylines were getting darker, wilder, more mature. No one had done a mainstream comic with queer people in it, but John Byrne had wiggled around Shooter’s prohibition on gay characters with Northstar, and I believed the time was coming when you could show young lesbian mutants in love.
Which I just kept drawing! There was no tumblr, no deviantart, no Ao3; as far as I know I was the only person drawing New Mutants slash art in the 80s.
In February 1986, at a Creation Con at the Roosevelt Hotel, I met Chris Claremont.
I was working at a booth for my friends Chris and Gary who had a comic store in the Meatpacking District. I was walking back to the ballroom in one of my Betsey Johnson bondage dresses.
I recognized the man sitting on the hallway floor writing in a stenographer’s notebook; I had seen his picture in the Comics Journal. It was during a period when his writing was being dragged hard in the comics press (all two of it), both for its excesses and its problematicness.
“Whatcha writing?” I asked him brusquely. “X-Men plot.” “Is it any good?”
He gazed up at me, unruffled. I sat down with him on the carpet. and told him I wanted his job. I was nineteen and like Jim Kirk I feared nothing. I razzed him about the bdsm references in the X-Men. I was pretty problematic myself in those days.
Chris was thirty-four, and we became not quite lovers but passionate friends. He believed in my work. He treated me as a person he believed could work in comics.
“I don’t think of you as a fan, I think of you as a nascent pro”, he said.
His huge apartment in Riverdale was such a refuge, such a heaven for me. He gave me stacks of X-Men and New Mutants scripts, Marvel paper to draw on, walked me around the Marvel offices, which were a short walk from my house. In the summer of 1986, hanging around Marvel in my flowered Fifties dresses, high on heroin, wearing Keds and with huge skateboarding bruises on my knees, I was a unicorn.
One time we sat in the hallway at Marvel with Bill Sienkiewicz and I taught Bill the basics for drawing a horse.
What a time, summer 1986. I had a new boyfriend, a serious artist, who loved comics as much as I did, and he was so supportive and excited for me.
He wasn’t jealous of Chris, or P.. He took the picture of P. and I below, and came in the car when my mom drove me up to Chris’s. Every week Rob and I went to the comic store and got all our new books and sat down to read them together. Swamp Thing was our most special shared passion and my mom would tease us about reading a comic with such a silly name.
Everything was in place, but that’s not how life always works.
With P., summer 1986
I didn’t get to draw the New Mutants for Chris.
That summer I went to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time, at Chris’s suggestion, and although Chris looked after me as much as he could, everything fell apart.
At the Marvel 25th Anniversary Ball I sat with Chris and Stan Lee and John Romita, and a young artist from Eclipse got drinks from the open bar for me after I was carded. I had never seen an open bar before; I had three Long Island Ice Teas lined up in front of me at that table.
Later, blind drunk, high on pills and coke someone had given me in the bathroom at Dave Sim’s party, I was violently, anally raped in my hotel room by an inker.
That Friday in New York my amazing boyfriend died of an overdose, though I didn’t find out til Sunday night.
I came back to New York out of my mind with fresh PTSD and whatever shot i had at keeping it together long enough to actually work in comics was gone. It wasn’t ever much of a shot, then; I had an appointment with an addict’s bottom and the timeline just got sped up a lot. Chris held me while I cried hysterically during a Christmas party that winter.
“Take a taxi”, he’d say, and I’d take a cab all the way up to his apartment in Riverdale and we’d sit on the floor talking X-Men while the cats paced around us. Things I said showed up in the book, thrilling me. He kept giving me scripts. But I lost touch with him and everyone else once I became a daily heroin user, a year or so later. P. was in trouble too, on disability, heavily medicated, experimenting with cults.
By the time I got sober, in January of 1989, Chris wasn’t writing the New Mutants anymore.
He left the book in 1987, and what it became was…nothing that meant anything to me. I still wanted to work in comics, despite everything, even though the scene was changing fast.
It was a harrowing, exhausting process to break into the industry from St. Paul. I’d gone to treatment there, and stayed on the advice of the halfway house. So I was constantly travelling to the cons and being constantly sexually harassed.
That hadn’t changed at all. It was horrible, and some of the editors were fucking pigs.
The first Marvel editor who gave me a sample script mailed it with a letter on Marvel letterhead. The script opened with a splash page of a dead girl, and the letter commented explicitly on my physical appearance. Another (married!) editor asked me, in front of the San Diego Marriott, if he could masturbate in front of me.
There were so many more women around, though, and women were getting work as the full-time pencillers on monthly books. More comics were being published and sold than anyone had ever thought possible. I met people who helped me, people who backed me.
Rest in power, Kim Yale!!
There were men around who were clearly, obviously committed to helping women get work. Virtual hugs, Rob Simpson! I met a woman writer, Sarah Byam, and we became friends. I met a woman inker named Pam Eklund! I met Jill Thompson, who had Dave the Thune painted on her leather jacket! I never, ever considered giving up.
It took three more years, before an editor gave me a chance. In 1993 a woman editor, Margaret Clark, hired me to draw Star Trek The Next Generation #72.
And then a TNG Annual, and then the prize of prizes for a comic artist: the regular penciller gig on a regular monthly book, Star Trek The Original Series.
I did an issue that was inked by Pam Eklund, at my suggestion; it may still be the only mainstream comic ever pencilled, inked and edited by women.
In 1995 Chris had been doing some work for DC and we sat together at the DC table at the Chicago Comic-Con, signing comics, our faces blown up huge on a wall of monitors. It was good to see him.
And I was a pro, just as he promised, just as I promised P.
Not very many people get to have their life’s ambition come true when they’re only 26.
Even now, less than twenty women have ever been full-time monthly pencillers for an ongoing book at one of the Big Two. I’m proud to be one of them.
Sadly, what safety there is for women is mostly the ability to name and share the names of bad actors in the system and protect themselves pro-actively.
But things have gotten a little better for queer and trans visibility in the stories themselves.
Shan, Karma of the New Mutants, is canonically a lesbian and even crushed on Kitty!* Northstar married his boyfriend in the X-Men! When DC refused to let Batwoman marry her longtime girlfriend, the creative team walked. Wonder Woman and John Constantine are canonically bisexual, at least right now. Iceman is gay! The new Aqualad is gay! And that’s just the beginning.
The comics I imagined, where teenage mutant girls can love happily even if the rest of their world is insane, seem within reach. If creators can just keep fighting the toxic forces around them and their own demons to tell those stories. I couldn’t; I had to leave comics. Today, drawing real people is the best way for me to tell stories. Teaching drawing is the best way to honor my teachers and the work I put in to become a comic artist.
But today, at least I can tell my story, and the story of how much I loved superhero comics. How they saved me.
How much I loved the New Mutants, in the 80s.
* Here‘s a beautiful piece about queer-girl subtext in the X-Men and New Mutants by Sigrid Ellis. In it I learned that in 2002 Chris wrote a series called Mechanix, where Kitty actually comes out as bisexual!
I am amazing, and amazed by myself! Jadis, The White Witch, The Snow Queen, the Ice Queen, as I always imagined her. She, her reindeer and her sledge, all done! Isn’t she lovely and evil?
I’d been wanting to make a doll like the White Witch since the early 90s in St. Paul. When I lived there I saw a teacup fairy by Stephanie Blythe and Susan Snodgrass at fancy shop in Summit Hill.
The delicacy, the precision, the tiny, tiny crystals- there was something about it that moved me deeply.
I had no idea you could get such tiny materials. The thought of handling such tiny things was exhilarating to me. I imagined I could make tiny dolls of characters I loved. I could make a tiny world.
I was still waiting to start my dollhouse back then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.
I didn’t want to open the door to even more collecting and supply hoarding madness, I didn’t dare try such things myself, but I bought some porcelain doll parts and kept them.
I held my love for the teacup fairy in my heart, held the space for those tiny crystals dotting her bodice in my mind, setting the image gently in my mental room for miniature art.
Every time I moved, I packed my craft materials. My porcelain doll heads and limbs, my ever-growing collection of wired ribbon and metallic organza and silver cord and microbeads and glitter, traveled from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Glenview to West O to Oakland.
In Berkeley in 2000 I began building my dollhouse at last and collecting 1/12th scale action figures.
I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.
my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011
I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and startedmaking dolls.
I started my Snow Queen project in 2013.
I had been home to New York for holidays with my husband’s family and I had just seen snow for the first time in fifteen years. On a magical Christmas Eve we went to church in Freehold, New Jersey and when we came out delicate flakes were falling.
The night before In the city I’d stood at the rail of the skating rink in Bryant Park; a tween wiped out on the ice and came up laughing, clapping his cold hands over mine.
I fell in love with the cold again, the way the stars get lean in a winter sky and the way everything is so sharp.
I remembered the way I loved the cold in WInter’s Tale, the way fresh snow muffled my footsteps when I walked through a silent Chinatown morning to buy heroin on New Year’s Day in 1989, the sparkling lavender twilight of an April snowfall at the treatment center in St. Paul.
In the dark California January I drove to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics and Beverlys and bought bags full of 90% off Christmas decor. Icicles and glitter snow and white fur and pale iridescent sequins.
I ordered Swarovski crystals in colors like Silver Shadow, Moonlight and Opal. I discovered the amazing doll supplier MorezMore. I ordered nail decals of flocked snowflakes from China and Ball-jointed Doll clothing buckles from Taiwan. I bought pearlescent microbeads and fusible fairy films.
I learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.
I made the sledge first. The sledge is made of three different plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, some pvc holiday ornament pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheeting, crazy glue and balsa wood.
It’s all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. The shafts are the bow pieces of dollar sunglasses!
I got so many materials in the basement of Ace Hardware in Berkeley, in the huge model and railroad hobby section. I’d lean on the counter and talk techniques with the guys there for hours.
I primed the sledge with Krylon Primer for Plastics. You can read about my adventures with priming mixed plastics here and here. Then I spray-painted it with four shades of Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, one of the most fascinating rabbit holes of materials I went down.
I spent a lot of time on model car boards, reading about how to avoid the dread “orange peel effect” and how to clear coat.
Our back steps were my spray room, and the California drought of those years was a huge asset, I gotta admit.
I used crazy glue and Zap-A-Gap to bond the styrene, plastic and balsa elements.
I used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling, aka “decoden”, to their phones, to attach a lot of the sledge decor.
The sledge is decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, laboriously applied while watching all seven (at the time) seasons of Supernatural (twice!) and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake nail art decals. And upholstered with silver velvet, button-tufted using pretty antique silver scrapbook art brads and quilt batting over cardstock. I glued the velvet to the cardstock with my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, which is my absolute favorite for small textile work.
As any burner or steampunk can tell you, assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives.
The reindeer is made of a cellulose acetate reindeer from the ’50s, legs sawed off and replaced with new sculpts, and head, body and neck heavily re-sculpted.
This kind of Frankensteining is a classic action figure customizing technique; the materials and techniques for creating the miniature harness come from the model horse customizing community, and the handling of the mohair mane from the dollmaking world.
(I’m allergic to mohair, like wool, it turns out.)
I also used the 3D Crystal to get a clear dome over the reindeer’s eyes and a gloss of mucus in his nostrils. The flocking on his ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!
The tiny silver leather strips for the harness came mostly from a handbag making supply company in Los Angeles; I found it on etsy. I bought many different silver cords and strings at a passementarie shop in the New York Garment district during my second trip back East for the holidays. And for four years I saved every single piece of silver stuff I got, from silver elastic on dress tags to silver pvc on packaging.
Then I had to make a Snow Queen figure!
I was totally ok with customizing an existing figure; my many hundred hours on action figure boards has made me very comfortable with the idea of remixing sculpture.
I would never, ever, ever copy another artist’s drawing or painting- or even their style- or use elements of someone else’s drawing or photograph in one of my drawings or paintings. I just don’t do that.
But sculpture is play to me, something I do for pleasure. I like the idea that assemblage art incorporates existing elements. And dollmakers commonly use finished porcelains from well-known sculptor to paint and dress. It’s a medium where collaboration is normal.
So ultimately I decided to use the top of a commercial resin mermaid and the legs of a resin fairy to build my Snow Queen.
I sawed and sanded as needed, then fit the two halves together, and then I used epoxy clay to bulk out her body. Because I love muscle on women’s shoulders, and a big butt, aesthetically! I left her ribcage and waist slim because they would have layers of tiny fabric corseting on them.
And she needed boobs too, sculpted to fit in a square Elizabethan type bodice. Then I had to completely resculpt her face, to give her the strength and archness she needed.
And I needed to bulk up her thighs and sculpt boots on her feet. And lengthen her fingers. And sand off and resculpt her ears. I think she was resculpted, primed and sanded about ten times altogether. Her final finish was partly achieved with Mr. Surfacer priming medium, which i learned about from Daria’s dollmaking. Daria is streets more advanced than my crazy haphazardness!
By December of this year, my Jadis was close to finished at last.
I got the project box I brought over in the shipping container out, intending to paint and dress her.
But I got nervous about working on the project suddenly and instead I used up some of the extra materials in the project box making Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer. Which came out great! And I used the fusible fairy film and it was super cool!
Yes, she was. Because even though it was now April, and she was no longer seasonal, I had just finished my leafy green beaded Swamp Thing corset (reveal soon!), the second to last of the projects I brought from Oakland.
I really wanted to knock out the last unfinished thing and get rid of the last “project box”. So I can start all my new Berlin projects!
With that thought in mind, I nerved myself up and just went for it. I used nail art brushes I bought for 1€ to paint her face because I didn’t want to buy expensive tiny brushes. I’d never painted anything tiny before and didn’t know if I’d like it. But it went great! And I love her snotty smug 80s made-up face! She looks like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth and Mia Sara in Legend, right?
Wigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so manytinycorsets now it’s NBD. And then she was, done, suddenly, after four years. In the green and glowing Spring, but so what? There will always be another Winter. She will look beautiful in the dark winter nights.
I’ve learned to trust the process with making art; I finish most things when it’s time for them to be finished.
What I’m saying here is, it’s okay to have a long game as an artist. In fact, the long game is pretty much the only game in town for most of us.
Our friend Nathan, who was hub’s acupuncture doctor in the Bay, was in Berlin for re:publica, working his awesome new Makerspace networking startup, MakerNet.
He took care of Daria’s headache problem! One of my old lovers who lives in Berlin came and bought a piece. Our friends Ben and Ursula came and took the hubbin over to Santa Cantina, and returned with delicious Mexican food for me to nom.