My very earliest portraits.

As I’ve said before, I didn’t try to draw people until I was thirteen.

Before that, it was 99% horses. But when I turned fourteen and became part of the Stuyvesant Freaks, I suddenly had so many friends and boyfriends and girlfriends.

Sketchbook 1981 or 1982 future portrait of Rachel and Gilly by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesAnd I had sketchbooks around, of course, since I was going to be an artist, either a children’s book illustrator or a fashion illustrator.

So soon enough I was trying to draw my loved ones.  Above is a picture of me, left, and my bestie Gilly, as I imagined us when we were the age I am now. (If you had told me I would be fifty-five and fat, and fine with it, I would have snarled in your face!) Drawn/attempted to paint in either late 1981 or early 1982. Abandoned in frustration with the watercolors, like many drawings then.

Self portrait with Gix 1981 or 1982 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is the companion, drawn around the same time, of us as we were when I was fifteen and Gilly seventeen.

(More self-portraits from the 80’s here. ) It’s actually a good likeness of Gilly!

Portrait of glam Jenny 1981 Rachel KetchumThe one above is my friend Jenny, made around early 1982. For some reason I drew her all dressed up, but again, abandoned the effort.

Below, my boyfriend Ben, who left Stuyvesant and moved up to his mom’s in Maine, summer 1982.

It is actually quite a good drawing of Ben, getting his proportions just right, but the colors made me miserable. Ben arriving in Maine spring 1982 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

You can see even before I decided to become a comic book artist, I hated coloring my own drawings!

Below is a picture that tried to capture some of my boyfriends to date, in 1982. Not that they would ever have lounged around like that, of course, that was just my fantasy 🙂

For this I tried using the Design markers that I, like all graffiti artists, kept around. They were just as frustrating as the watercolors.

Sketchbook 1982 boys I loved by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe notes I made for the colors as I wanted them to look remind me of later on leaving notes for the inker and colorist, when I worked in comics.

But instead, I was leaving notes for my future self, someone I imagined could find a way to draw all these colors and get it to look right.

When I worked as a courtroom artist, I used markers and a little bit of colored pencil, and I hated it. I had to have color, and markers were neater than the pastels others used. Plus they let me treat the drawings as colored line art, a daily practice for the career in comics I wanted so much. But I did not like coloring the drawings, and I did not like the effect of the markers at all.

It’s a miracle, and thanks to the support of my Patrons on Patreon, that I ever started making color portrait drawings again.

Using Rapidographs for the initial line drawing was part of the problem!

I tried to draw Jenny with my 000 refograph, in 1982.

Trust me when I say this looks nothing like her. Yes, I was probably drunk and high, but still.

The most successful of my early portraits are just pencil.

Cecile and Jason May 1984 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumMy friend Cecile and her son Jason, in 1984.

This is actually an exceptionally good likeness of Cile, harder to say about Jason. Babies have never been my wheelhouse.

Chris in the Meadow 1984 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesMy friend Chris, in Sheep’s Meadow.

Spring 1984. Again, this is actually a very good likeness; anyone who saw it recognized him. I was starting to get the hang of portraits a little bit.

This is my boyfriend Stefan, in early 1984, when I was seventeen.

Funny story, Stef was applying to RISD for college, and needed to draw a self-portrait. But he was not a figurative kind of drawer.

So I drew him, at our local laundromat on 8th Ave between 20th and 21st.

He sort of re-drew it in his style. He got in!

Stefan is still active doing creative work in New York, and has a cool project you can check out on Youtube, called “The Death of Art“.

I feel like this drawing of Stef was one of those moments you have as an artist, when you flash ahead to the future of your work.

Maybe you access a level of ability you won’t have consistently for another year, or decade.

Maybe you have insight into a way of working that will eventually become the core of your work.

This is a known phenomenon among visual artists (I can’t speak for other kinds, but I bet it’s the same) – the flashforward into your future artistic self. Drawing Stef in the laundromat was definitely a wormhole into what became my life’s work and vocation, portraiture from life.

Most of these drawings had never been photographed; until now, no record of them existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

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