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.
Here’s three portraits of women friends I made during the winter semester of 1990, my first semester back at art school after I got sober.
I was nearly a year sober when the semester started, and living with Anita, who appears above, in all her grace and strength. I had taken an adult ed painting class in St. Paul, the previous Fall. The class was offered through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where I wound up enrolling in the BFA program in January 1990.
It was really an accident I took the painting class, the accident being that it was the one art class available in St. Paul that Autumn of 1989 that fit my work schedule. I was working full time in a bakery so I took a night class. I had never been interested in being a painter, professionally.
I was bored and resentful in my color theory classes at Parsons and particularly unhappy in the one watercolor class I had to take. I did take a portrait painting class in my last semester at Parsons, but we only worked in sepia tones, not full color, and we spent the entire semester painting a single male model’s face. It was the atelier approach; it was not for me.
And the class terrified me; I would get so wasted to go that I would wind up too high to walk, let alone stand at an easel, and spend the day nodding in a lounge across the street at The New School instead.
But in Fall 1989, having a supportive woman teacher and being sober changed everything, and I began a visceral love affair with painting.
I signed up for my teacher’s regular undergrad painting class in my first semester at MCAD, and she seriously had my back. The fact that I trusted her mattered so much. Although figurative art was generally spurned at MCAD,the painting teachers were really good. Somehow I got into painting on masonite during my first year painting. It was easily and cheaply bought at the school store. Masonite is a gorgeous surface to paint on, with a perfect mid-tone. (Unfortunately, it’s also insanely heavy and the sheets of masonite are a total hassle to haul around and nearly impossible to hang.)
The painting of Anita in black uses the natural color of the masonite as a base; the one below of her in pink uses a bright pink ground.
These paintings have heavily scumbled surfaces, as I was using tube acrylics on disposable wax paper palettes, and the paint dried fast.
The scumbling is cool, in retrospect. But when I discovered the Masterson Sta-Wet Handy-Palette a year later, it transformed my painting, by keeping my paint moist.
Anita posed for me whenever I asked, during the short few months we lived together. I painted the picture of her in black in our scantily furnished living room, over a couple of hours on a winter night. Our friend Tom was staying with us, and he looked at it and said “Wow! I didn’t know you could paint like that!” I looked at it, and I was astonished; I said, “Neither did I.”
After Anita was gone, I started to ask other people to pose for me.
This is a woman I knew in that first year of sobriety. We weren’t close friends, but I loved her style. She was what they called in the Twin Cities a “darksider”, a kind of goth. I was always much more interested in painting women than men, because women’s faces are so much harder and their clothes tell so much more.
We never had a second sitting for this picture, so it remains unfinished. But it looks kinda good that way! It’s a fucking banger of a painting.
It is such a tribute to my belief in the value of my work that I have dragged these paintings all over the US and now to Europe, through my fifteen different official residences and the three times everything I owned has been in storage, through two divorces, a bankruptcy, twenty years of crippling depression and fifteen of ill health. I believe that my work matters, and that these images of these women matter. And yet until I took the pictures for this post, there were no modern media records of them. If we had a fire, they would just have been gone forever.
I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.
In 2001 I used to sit at my desk at ESC, the visual effects company where I worked on the Matrix sequels, and read about “orange peel” and paint rub.
Painting plastic has evolved over the years, but it’s still unpredictable. And moving from the US to Germany meant everything I’d learned about Krylon and Rustoleum had to be thrown out the window and relearned with Dupli-Color. Dupli-Color, founded in the US but now the ubiquitous hardware store spraypaint of Europe, has several different formulations for priming and painting plastic.
For the last four years I’ve been trying to learn all their tricks; I talk a lot about techniques I used for my last bas-relief insect project here. So when I wanted to make a seat for our hallway, I felt pretty confident.
Because we don’t have cell phones, but we do have a landline, we needed a little seat for the telephone in the hall.
We’re always dragging a chair in from the library when we need to call a doctor or something. I had the idea of buying a simple boudoir stool on Amazon and decorating it to fit the hall, which is perhaps the creepiest part of our whole creepy house. I ordered it and it arrived. I removed the seat, which I planned to re-cover, and wiped the whole stool down with cleaning wipes, then damp paper towels. I used the glue gun to adhere a bunch of plastic bugs and resin flowers around the existing bas-relief floral decorative elements. I had previously washed the bugs and primed them with Dupli-Color clear primer for plastic.
Then I used epoxy clay to really blend the new elements onto the base. Thinking I could expedite things (epoxy clay is a beautiful material for conjoining disparate materials, but expensive and slow) I also used some regular tube spackle for some of the big gaps. To smooth and unify all the surfaces, I painted many areas with Mr Surfacer500, a Japanese gap filler/primer product for model builders. Its grey surface is supposed to function as a primer, so I wasn’t worried about it not adhering or not accepting paint. Then I sprayed the areas with the bugs again, with the Dupli-Color primer. Here’s the original stool out on the balcony at that stage, last July.
Then I spraypainted the whole thing. WOOOOOO what a mess.
Yeah that did not work. There was some kind of reaction between the painted cast resin decorative elements of the stool and the plastic primer, or between the Mr Surfacer500 and the spackle. Tiny bubbles appeared all over the work I’d done, the areas where I’d filled crevices around the bugs to make them look carved from the surface.
Plus, the paint on the original resin elements had become tacky, which means disaster for a mixed-media work. It means there is a reaction preventing the curing of the paint, and that area will never harden and will attract dust for all time. Possibly a reaction between overspray of the Dupli-Color clear plastic primer, which is a chemical scuff, and the paint used on the resin elements.
My project was fucked. I took the picture above to show the chunky, unevenly cured surface, but you can’t see all the damn bubbles!
So I decided I’d remove the paint and re-prime the entire thing.
Guess what, I had primed the bugs and new flowers so effectively that the paint was virtually inseparable from them. And the original curliques and flowers just got gunkier with every solvent I tried. In the end I was trying orange oil and baking powder, which will take off damn near anything, and scraping sections with a dental probe, because I just hated the idea that this was a thing that had to be thrown away.
I could not get a clean surface. I could not get the paint off. I did salvage and scour one centipede, because plastic centipedes with a flat underside are hard to find. Here it is soaking in olive oil to remove the last of the paint.
Luckily, I got a new dollhouse which took my mind off the maddening primer/solvent/paint mess, and eventually I brought myself to throw the bug stool base out. Because it had so many different materials on it, it couldn’t go in any of our German recycling bins. It bothered me.
But it bothered me even more that we were still dragging a chair into the hall to use the phone!
So I decided to try again. I ordered the same stool, and set to work. But this time I tried a new approach, from a new action figure customizing blog. A bunch of incredible tutorials had gone up in December on a site called Action Figure Art. One of them suggesting sealing acrylic paint with Mod Podge! I was ready to try this new approach.
I had used Mod Podge as a primer for a plastic toy exactly once, back in about 2002, to prime a little cat figure for the top of a wedding cake I was making. But I’ve used it for various other projects over the years, mostly for decoupage. It is popular for furniture as a glue, primer, sealer and finish, and comes in different formulas. I ordered the matte finish for the bug seat, because I wanted to paint on top of it with acrylic paints.
Of course I did the usual prep of washing the bugs with hot water and soap, and I used the glue gun to attach them again. I took my time filling in around and under the bugs with Apoxie Sculpt.
This second attempt was during my Make-Cation, so I had plenty of time.
Here you can see the stool in progress along with some other projects, including the Baroque Bug Frame, which I used the same technique for. Pictures of the frame finished here!
Mod Podge is a like a rubbery plastic coat you are sealing everything under, a form of isolation coat. That’s why it prevents chemical reactions between plastics and paints. Because it’s thick, it also does some gap filling and overall smoothing. I used about five coats over the panels with the bugs. Then I spraypainted the whole thing, with Dupli-Color Next in Berlin Berry.
Dupli-Color Next is a “universal” spraypaint, one of the new class of acrylic lacquer spray formulas that’s supposed to go on almost anything without primer.
A similar product is Krylon ColorMaxx. I have found Next to be inconsistent in finish – some areas dry shiny, some matte – but it’s easy to use, with flexible recoating time and low-odor/toxicity. Since I was planning to put a gloss acrylic sealer coat over everything, I didn’t care about the problems with inconsistent finish. It took about two cans total to really cover the whole stool, which is a good example of how spraypaint is actually an inefficient and expensive way to paint things! However, the paint adhered to the Mod Podge finish really nicely.
Then I started painting on the details.
Because Next spray is acrylic lacquer, not enamel, I could paint on top of it with regular artists’ tube acrylics. I did layers of black wash, then dry-brushing highlights, then lowlight passes. In between the accent paint layers, I added additional layers of Mod Podge. This ensured each batch of highlights was sealed under a protective coat. If I went too heavy with a highlight, I could wipe it off without disturbing the black wash underneath. I can’t even tell you how many layers of this I did – gotta be at least ten. Each Mod Podge layer helped the bas-relief, carved-on effect.
I also did some sponge-painting effects and scumbling on the panels themselves, to give a nice Impressionist quality. You know how those Impressionists loved cockroaches.
At the very end I used an acrylic-based (rather than solvent-based) gold marker to add a few more highlights. Cause I’m so subtle. Then I let it all cure for a couple days. I had also spraypainted the legs of the stool, with the Berlin Berry, and let them cure too.
Then it was time to spray the fuck out of it with Gloss Acrylic Sealer Coat!
The outrageously comprehensive Mod Podge craft site Mod Podge Rocksrepeatedly states that to truly get a hard, non-tacky finish on your Mod Podge project, you need to seal it. That seems pretty shady, since Mod Podge itself is supposed to be a sealer, but I wasn’t taking any chances at this point. Acrylic sealer it was, and four coats!
Finally, I attached the recovered seat with the incredible velvet death’s-head moth fabric.
Wow that fabric was a close call. It’s actually a cut-up dress from a goth clothes company called Killstar.
I ordered the largest size they had praying it would cover the seat without a seam, and it just barely did. Killstar have a lot of custom fabrics made and I knew I would never, ever find this fabric anywhere else. It was a hard call to buy a brand-new dress, for forty euros (of course I used a coupon, you know me!), and immediately cut it up. But I knew that the pleasure of seeing the fabric on the stool, day in and day out, would be far greater than having a dress in the closet.
The velvet-and-gilt purple upholstery braid I ordered from the UK covers the places the fabric doesn’t quite stretch!
Big Broad Revue is co-produced by Dotti Moscati, who gave a quick talk about how much she values diversity and inclusion in burlesque.
Same, queen! It’s all about the big, embracing tent. I love a show that welcomes all folx. The next BBRevue show is looking awesome too, I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it with the vast amount of medical procedures both hb and I have in June but I am gonna try like hell. The venue, Zum böhmischen Dorf, is very cool as well!
Liliana did her new comedy routine about redacted cause spoilers, you gotta see it yourself and wore two different bespoke latex outfits! Sadly, I could only draw this transp. burgundy and black one. You can catch Liliana’s comedy every Sunday, no matter what, at Sunday Slips.
She is hilarious, sexy and luminous. She threw knives in her underwear.
We also enjoyed several other performers including local legend Cadbury Parfait and violin-playing contortionist Ellie Steingraeber, whose drawings I will get up shortly- I still gotta get some reference for their costumes 🙂
Wynton mixes harmonica, synthesizers and vocals for a sound that is totally unique. I love to hear him perform. There was a rather drunk guy at the show who also clearly loved Wynton’s sound, and he got out of hand and started hollering about “One more! One more!” Liliana, who is both Latina and a former New Yorker, told the dude to chill out in a very firm way. Do Not Mess 🙂 More Liliana and Wynton drawings here.
It is only possible for me to create and share my documentary art of Berlin life because ofmy Patrons on Patreon. Their monthly financial support allows me to make this art!
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when I glanced at Instagram and saw my friend Dia was about to perform at Tipsy Bär, on the other side of town.
I hadn’t seen Dia work their moves onstage since we lived in the Bay, so I grabbed my art tools and jumped on the train. I made it just in time to catch Dia’s second act as well some other fabulous people!
Ebony Rose Dark danced so gracefully, so delicately on those 6″ heels. She was amazing!
And she casually kept them on after her performance! We had a minute to chat and she told me about some of the other performances she does, including one in pitch dark with fellow visually impaired performers. Now I really want to go to Worn and Felt and draw in the dark.
Vivienne P. Lovecraft was a vision of serenity in opal pastels, performing about Steven Universe I believe?
Which is a tv show that so many people I love are into, but I have never seen. I feel slightly guilty about that!
During the trivia contest, the question “What do the H. and P. in H.P. Lovecraft stand for?” was asked and Dia yelled, “Highly Problematic!” Another audience member pointed out that Lovecraft was from Rhode Island, which is hysterical, during Drag Brunch.
I loved her rainbow flag stole and a tender performance to Björk’s “All is Full of Love”, where she came out and hugged all the audience members. It was really comforting and hopeful. As Ms. Jupiter pointed out, a Sunday afternoon drag show may seem silly, but taking space this way is always, always a political act.
I’m grateful I can document moments like this in Berlin, thanks to my Patrons on Patreon whose monthly financial support allows me to make this art!
It’s because I can’t ride one, I don’t understand the basic mechanics. But people bring their bikes on the U-Bahn, and their dynamics with the bikes are interesting, so I occasionally try to draw them.
When I did the drawing above I was thinking about the looseness and easy mark-making of my pre-comics drawing style.
I recently scanned some drawings from 1990-91 for my archives, and realized how much rigidity I developed while I was formatting my drawing style for comic inking and printing. I want to try and rediscover that sketchy early 90s style.
I wouldn’t say this drawing succeeded at that, but it’s been a long road here and it’s ok for it to be a wander to try and go back abit.
At least I drew this goofy hand, which is barely drawn at all!
In Berlin homeless people spare-changing on the U-Bahn announce themselves and say their names loudly as they enter the train.
That’s what the guy you see here is doing. There’s a sort of script panhandlers follow. It’s not clear to me if this is custom or required by some regulation. It does serve the purpose of giving people a chance to dig in their purses/pockets for change, if they are so inclined. I panhandled daily to support my heroin habit in the last year of my active using; I understand doing anything you can to ease the mechanics of asking strangers for money.