Category Archives: Dollhouse and Dollmaking

I have an action figure dollhouse that I built myself over a decade. I also make and customize dolls, usually unpleasant ones.

A huge new tiny project: a School for Gifted Youngsters at last.

Primed dry build Gables DollhouseOh my word, I am building a new dollhouse.

Dollhouse planning drawing Suzanne Forbes Aug 30 2018

Dollhouse planning drawings by Suzanne Forbes, Aug 30 2018

My first dollhouse became a kind of Valhalla, a safe haven for all the characters and stories I love. it is a large, unwieldy, fragile metaphor for healing, hope and closure.

I imagine the School for Gifted Youngsters will work in a similar way, but more specific. My feelings about the X-Men and The New Mutants are my strongest of all and there is a lot of processing happening within even starting this project.

Also, my first dollhouse took ten years to complete, so I must be out of my mind. But actually, not so much; I have a plan.

I knew from pretty early on in the construction of my first dollhouse, around 2000, that I would need a second dollhouse. I already had too many action figures, even then, and too many weird geek jokes and visual puns and obscure heart-wrenching vignettes to tell with them.

Plus, as more and more X-Men action figures were made, it became clear the X-Men and the New Mutants would need their own house.

As I searched for a second dollhouse over the last ten years, I knew I wanted it to look a certain way. More “mansion”, less Victorian curio. Designed to be front-opening and kept for display against a wall in the English “Dolls House” style rather than open in the back for play like an American “Dollhouse”.

And I wanted it to be a “quick-build” routed MDF style, for fuck’s sake, rather than the insanely laborious die-cut kits that are now almost completely replaced by slightly less laborious laser-cut kits.

I never want to do a die-cut kit again, though I’m glad that I did get the very last Cambridge Dollhouse available on the West Coast in 2000. (For some reason I was obsessively determined that the Cambridge was superior to the nearly identical Greenleaf Beacon Hill).

There’s an excellent explanation of the different types of dollhouse kits here on Mysterious Miniatures for anyone curious about the hell that is punching out and sanding hundreds of die-cut pieces from a stack of 1/8″ plywood sheets. You can also see lots of pictures and read more about the process of building my first house here.

Below, the far superior routed/sawn MDF pieces of my Gables Dolls House kit, primed and laid out yesterday.

primed Gables Dolls House parts Aug 2018

The reason I pulled the trigger and bought my first dollhouse kit was that the model I had been eyeing suddenly disappeared from the tiny pool of online shops that existed then.

Windows for the new house primed and drying before painting.

Panicked, I called all over, looking for a Cambridge, and actually found one, the last one, at The Hobby Co. of San Francisco on Geary. I hauled the box home in triumph and terror, and spent the next three years just building the structure.

Of course, I “kitbashed” the hell out of it too, custom building the extension, rebuilding the dormers and adding new walls and high quality Houseworks wooden windows and doors.

To use routed wood doors and windows I had to reinforce all the interior and exterior walls individually, from 1/8″ to 3/8″, cutting all the pieces to size. Without power tools.

I had to learn to solder to use tape wire for the electrification, because it didn’t have grooves for round wire. It was insane, and I said “I am never doing this again”.

So I kept an eye out for a front-opening, high-quality, quick-build dollhouse that was also really cheap. For a decade.

During that time several models I liked went on and off the market. I didn’t have the wherewithal, on many levels, to acquire any of the models I liked. I finally completely finished the first house and added the landscaping, walls and greenhouse in Oakland around 2013, but  I waited to secure it to its base because I knew we were leaving the US.

I knew if we moved to Europe I’d have access to a completely different dollhouse kit supply chain, the mother lode of front-opening English dollhouses. And when we did, I started researching and pinning and comparing all the houses available. I got my first house set up and truly finished here in 2015.

Then this year, I finished the underground laboratories. It was time to be seriously thinking about a new house.

It had to fit a very specific space, and be a very specific style. After two years of research, I had pretty much settled on The Gables kit from The Dolls House Workshop, a family-run British company.

It was gorgeous, it fit the space next to the first house perfectly, it had big rooms, it had an entry hall, it had bay windows, it had an attic for Ororo, and it was the very epitome of quick-build, including channels routed for the goddam wiring.

Most of all, it was incredibly cheap for a heirloom dollhouse kit, only £209 when they can run to the thousands.

So I was thinking about it, but I am cheap and terrified of spending large sums, so I was hesitating.

Then it started disappearing from the four online sites I had it pinned from. Marked “Discontinued”, then “Permanently Discontinued”. It was still listed on the company’s own site, so after a week of nerve-wracking waiting til my Patreon money came in, I wildly took the plunge and ordered it. Two days of euphoric planning and excitement later, I got an email from DollsHouse Workshop.

They politely explained the kit had been discontinued some time ago and it shouldn’t have been on the site.

They would process me a refund. I was crushed and at a loss. I just didn’t know what to do next. None of their other models had the turned wood windows l love, were the right size, or even had grooves for the damn wiring. The other companies’ houses didn’t move me the same way.

After a couple of days of moping, I emailed the company to check on the refund, which hadn’t shown up. I mentioned that I was devastated, that I had really wanted that particular house. I don’t why I did, I guess I just figured it couldn’t hurt to share my truth!

Later that day, I got an email back from Kelly Wiltshire-Tokeley, co-director of the company, saying she had tracked one down and it would ship that week!

What an angel! Isn’t that amazing?

Oh joy! Oh happiness! The X-Men will have a home at last!

Seriously, this is such a big deal. And of course, such a big project.

Even a quick-build dollhouse is a huge DIY project, with many stages, many decisions, and many materials involved. First I did a dry build, to check for fit and parts.

Then I had to prime. The MDF walls had to be primed with a specialty MDF primer, and the turned wooden parts primed with a wood primer.

On the left you can see some of them! Our whole house smells like primer right now. The stairs will be stained with gel stain, which I’ve ordered.

I have all the paint ready for the exterior and have ordered all the wallpaper and carpets. Putting those in before actual final assembly will make a difference of at least a hundred hours’ labor between this house and the first house.

I will use modern battery powered LED lights and run a single wire through each room rather than tapewiring the whole thing.

Plus, this house has a perfectly simple rectilinear floor plan, rather than the incredibly complex layout of House #1. Which I think I will call SlurkCroft, from now on.

So I’m not making any promises or predictions, but I’m hopeful that the School for Gifted Youngsters will be open by Christmas.

Dollhouse underground Machine shop by Suzanne Forbes photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory finished, and the Reveal party!

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

I finished the Underground Superpowers Laboratory beneath my action figure dollhouse, after almost twenty years.

Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

And gave a super-fun party to reveal it to friends and the Patreon Patrons  whose monthly support makes my art possible. It was so lovely to show off this ridiculous project, completed after so many years, to people who really got it and enjoyed it.

I was especially lucky that Daria was there to take these beautiful photographs with her clever new lens which clips onto her belt like a superhero gadget.

As you can see, there are brocade panels that fit into the dollhouse base, covering the individual laboratories. They have grosgrain ribbon tabs, allowing them to be quickly removed, revealing the LED-illuminated rooms behind them!

Doc Ock and the Lizard having a shouting match in the back of the Tube Room is my idea of a hilarious joke.

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Because you know the old-school tweaker Spider-man Rogue’s Gallery would bitchily fight over everything from the brand of coffee in the break room to the voltage for galvanic experiments.

It wasn’t til I put him in the Tube Room that I had the idea of someone leaving their coffee on Han. Hilarious, right???

I got the excellent resin cast copy of the Han Solo in Carbonite convention exclusive on eBay. It’s from one of the artisans who does action figure casting. I painted him myself, an easy job.

The amazing Creature figure is from Resurrection of Monstress, definitely the best action figure series ever.

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

My other favorite joke is Vasquez from Aliens and Aeryn Sun from Farscape as the Veterans of Very Foreign Wars. There is an individual LED over the operating theater, which offsets the extreme Cool White of the LEDs in the surgery, but I forgot to turn it on in all the excitement.

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes, photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

The black-haired figure on the gurney is the one who started it all. She was an accessory to the Cabinet of Dr. Caligali figure from Mezco’s Silent Screamers series who I got in 2000 or so.

Something about her hospital-blue gown which opened at the back gave me the idea of this super-powers laboratory, a Human Augmentation center. The wings which fit her perfectly turned up at the same time; I cut them off some other figure. The gurney came from the McFarlane X-Files figures.

I found a resin Christmas ornament dog with matching wings soon after.

I decided the dog should go in the Animal Sciences/gym room, as surely poor Franklin Richards needs a dog! After all the child has been through quite a lot.

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Then I gave the dog a pet pangolin because why not?

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

I thought it would be nice if Reed was doing something useful and nurturing for a change so that’s why he’s making food for the animals.

Once I get the new Walgreen’s Exclusive Marvel Legends Reed with stretch arms I’ll have him using his powers to make the food.

When I realized the tiny spandex workout clothes I had from the 00’s American Girl 1/12th scale dolls would fit She-Hulk I was over the moon.

She-Hulk waving the weight bar around wondering how anyone expects her to exercise with such tiny weights- hilarious!

Truly, I am easily amused.

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

The Machine Shop/Break Room came out really well.

It is so pleasing to me to have made this. It is so satisfying to have nearly twenty years of collecting and searching and planning finished at last. It is sillier than the dollhouse itself, less of a sacred repository for the stories that saved me. It’s more about the visceral thrills of science fiction and comics, the ooky body-horror of mutation and the exhilarating potential of Frankenstein’s monster. The Batman tv show I watched as a child, with the super villain lairs and gadgets, played a part too. Olaf Stapleton’s Odd John and Sirius.

All the transcendent wonder and horror of the notion that we can change our bodies and become more…something.

Dollhouse underground Machine shop by Suzanne Forbes photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse underground Machine shop by Suzanne Forbes photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Thanks so much to Daria Rein for the photos! Including this gorgeous one of the Vegan Chocolate Cake with Vegan Chocolate Mousse I made 🙂

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse. Photo by Daria Rein.

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse. Photo by Daria Rein.

 

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory: Work in Progress Part 2

Action figure dollhouse laboratory surgery WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018Dang, I have been consumed with this long-delayed project!

SOOO much to do. So many things to figure out. So much foamcore to cut and glue. So many pipes to make out of styrene and straws!

Action figure dollhouse laboratory tube room WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018But I am really making serious progress.

Three of the rooms are almost complete, the operating theater (above), the Tube Room, and the Machine Shop.Action figure dollhouse laboratory tube room full view WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018

Action figure dollhouse laboratory cryo tube WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018What on earth is a Tube Room, you might ask.

Well, in the 90s I had a dear friend named Rob Simpson, who was an editor at DC. We were talking about superhero powers, as we did so often, and he said there was a simple solution to most things in comics.

Somebody loses their powers/needs superpowers? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody is dead and needs to be restored to life? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody has an evil entity possessing their psyche and needs to be held in stasis so they don’t destroy the world? “Put ’em in a tube!”

Tubes are also known as pods or stasis chambers. Basically they are a MacGuffin where anything can happen. The McFarlane Toys X-Files line from the Oughts provided most of these tubes.

They were intended for alien containment of some kind. I built out the structure around the one above using illustration board covered with chrome selbstklebefolie, which is like contact paper you can’t remove, styrene tubes and the various lids of things painted chrome. Action figure dollhouse laboratory machine shop WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018

The Machine Shop also contains the break room/coffee bar.

Action figure dollhouse laboratory making stanchions WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018I figured people would be constantly bothering the engineers in the shop for things they want fixed anyway, so they might as well get their coffee while they’re there. The two women robots are “Platinum” from the Metal Men and Angie Spica, “Engineer” from The Authority.

All the rooms are missing a lot of signage and posters (I’m working on figuring out how to get the best results from the self-adhesive inkjet-printable paper I’m using) plus safety tape.

On the right you can see I’m making stanchions for a safety rail using dowels, epoxy clay and blue pearl half-rounds I kept for eight years because I had a feeling I might need them for something.

Most importantly, all the labs need their ceiling panels and lights.

My beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil, a fellow creator of Small Art, will bring the lights in May, and then I’ll figure out how to install them, woohoo!

Yes, there will be a “Safety Third” sign!

First Laboratory post is here. Main dollhouse post here.

Work in Progress: the underground superpowers laboratories beneath my dollhouse.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 Wow, this project has been a long time coming!

I’ve had the plan for it for at least a decade, and the specific structure set up for a good six years. And I’ve had some of the props for it for TWENTY FREAKING YEARS.

Original floorplan underground laboratories Suzanne Forbes 2014Well, I like to say that the older I get, the longer my game gets.

Sometimes in art it takes as long as it takes, and that’s fine.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 I figured out how to build the wheeled base for my action figure dollhouse back in Oakland, using IKEA Kallax bookshelves.

I assembled them, and hired a taskrabbit to help me with the construction of a platform to attached them to so they could support the dollhouse.

But it seemed crazy to ship IKEA furniture to Berlin, so I took the base apart when the dollhouse was professionally crated, and we sold the Kallax shelves on Craigslist.

“Doc, it hurts when I go like this!” “So don’t go like that.”

That meant I had to get new ones here, assemble them, and then build a new base. (I did keep the high quality wheels with brakes I bought!)

For a person who is as deeply lazy as me, I have created a life that often involves a fucking lot of work.

For the past two years I’ve been working on getting all the other projects I brought with us done, and finishing the full-size house (still at 95%). Most importantly, I’m making new art, working on building our community and growing my Patreon.

Finally, the dust is clearing enough to tackle the laboratories.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 I have so much cool stuff to put in them! There’s just a bunch of diorama-building, model-building, scratch-building and electrifying work to get them ready to hold my two decades of collected weird body-horror, super-power, Island of Dr. Moreau mad scientist STUFF.

floorplan action figure dollhouse laboratories by Suzanne Forbes 2016I’m not really crazy about the actual construction part of model and dollhouse-building, but I value the workout it gives my brain. Since everything is scratch-built or Frankensteined from components of other things, each part requires a new solution. I have to learn about new materials, source them as cheaply as possible, figure out what I have that can be salvaged, scrapped or rebuilt. And everything has to be customized to work together.

This is an example of how existing stuff can be enhanced: these amazing display screens are accessories for figures from a Dr. Who spin-off show.

However, all Dr. Who toys are 5″ tall or approximately 1/18 scale, rather than the normal dollhouse scale of 1/12 (one inch to one foot).

So I built up the bases to make them the right height for 6″ action figures. I just need to paint them to match.

Same with the little water cooler; I built it a styrene platform. I hadn’t used styrene in a long time, and I’d forgotten how amazing it is.

You score it and it breaks perfectly cleanly; you can glue it or paint it so easily. I used balsa wood for the kitbash of the dollhouse itself, and only got into styrene during the sleigh build. Going forward I plan to use styrene a lot more.

I built the bases and the upper platforms, which make it easier to see the things at the back of the deep cubbies, out of foamcore.

surgery buildout WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018Foamcore is a material I’m not experienced with, but in this case it’s a good solution. The dollhouse-scale molded tile floors (I got the beige and black one for the Tube Room at least eighteen years ago, and have been saving it!) are attached with double-sided carpet tape. Almost any glue will heat up enough during curing to warp the thin, vacuum-formed plastic.

The side walls are illustration board covered with white vinyl contact paper, which gives a nice satin sheen. It’s cheaper and faster than dollhouse wallpaper, and perfect for this kind of industrial/medical look. The ceilings will be foamcore with leds embedded in them for lighting. When I built the dollhouse I learned to solder and used tapewire, but miniature lighting has improved tremendously in the last twenty years.

LEDS, which don’t heat up, last practically forever, come in the tiniest sizes and all kinds of colors, can be embedded directly in surfaces.

My beloved friend-muse-Patron Monique Motil is coming to visit in May, and has graciously agreed to transport my lights from Model Train Software.

Just as beloved friend-muse-Patron Barbara brought my miniature subway, and my mama brought eight million figures and accessories last Fall!

Because anything you mail from the US takes forever and/or gets lost. Seriously, don’t ever mail us anything bigger than a postcard.

I’ve been waiting for some Tacky Wax (museum wax) I ordered from Amazon, thinking it shipped from the EU, for three weeks.

sketch action figure dollhouse tube room laboratory Suzanne Forbes 2017I used aluminum tape to get some clean metal stripping here and there.

It’s tricky to use and tends to mark up and wrinkle over large areas, so I’m sparing with it. Same with the clear styrene panels that divide the upper and lower areas: it scratches easily so I use it mostly as an accent. I have rhinestuds that will become rivets, fine yellow wire for extension cords, and so much weird stuff to put in the cabinets, once I get my dang Tacky Wax.

More developments soon!

February 2018 Bricolage Roundup, with creepy dolls!

Dollhouse shadowbox by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2018It wouldn’t be February without creepy dolls, right?

Creepy doll shadowbox Suzanne Forbes Feb 2018Here’s a little dollhouse shadowbox I made. I customized a vintage Living Dead doll by giving her antlers and the shiny chrome arm projecting from her chest I’ve always wanted myself.

Come on, haven’t you ever wanted a slightly smaller, heat resistant velociraptor arm that pops out of your chest to grab the spilling pot when both your hands are already full?

The antique dolls are wearing little dresses I made them.

 

Cicada shadowbox by Suzanne ForbesI also made a couple of bug shadowboxes, cause you can never have enough of those!

And more bug earrings, with tiny cast glass cicadas I found. You can see the Valentines Monster Doll Armada, which I was consumed with making for much of last February, here. Some of them are still available to purchase. The February 2016 Scary Mermaid doll post is here. And the previous batch of bug bricolage is here.Insect earrings and shadowboxes by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2018

The gothest action figure custom ever.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017Even though I don’t know much about this Nico Minoru character, I had to snap up the adorbs babybat action figure of her!

Hasbro did an incredible job with her, as they have with so many female Marvel Legends figures in the last few years. She’s so goth!

But…I felt she could be MORE goth.

I started this project as a proof of concept for the absurdly male-dominated world of action figure collectors and customizers.

I wanted to demonstrate that there are fantastic customizing resources available in lady-land. Like nail art decals, nail art stripes, nail art “dotters”, flocking, etc.

These materials are cheap, widely available and already scaled tiny as fuck. They’re perfect for action figure customs.

So I began with using nail art decals to enhance Nico’s gothic lace.

I LOVE nail art decals because they remind me of Letratype and LetraSet! Old school! The tiny packets of decals are so cheap, you can get a hundred sheets on eBay for a euro.

I masked the areas I didn’t plan to decorate off, with a cut up rubber glove and tape. Then I sprayed the figure with my clear primer for plastic.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes wipOnce she was dry, I added glitter piping to her corset, more lace to her shirt, lace thigh-highs over her stripey stockings, and so on.

And that was great! Though very subtle.

Then I realized I could use the same miniature making materials I used for my Snow Queen and other mini projects, such as my Horribella Dolls.

Like tiny eyelash picot trim and wired ribbon and elastic ruffle tape.

And all my tiny little rhinestones and crystals and stars and moons! And my little tiny top hats!!!!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017I just went bananas. I decided to dress Nico full-on San Francisco Goth, Circa 2005.

She would be an homage to all the amazing goth-girls I’ve known, all the beautiful and amazing muses I had the privilege to draw and paint in the Bay Area goth scene for ten years.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Six more hours of ferociously focused detail work and one enormous mess later, there she was!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

She reminds me of the ur-goth image all little girls of my generation imprinted on, Sara Crewe in her outgrown mourning dress.

That Classic Victorian ragamuffin look commingled with circus and harlequin style in the early years of the new century, in the Bay.

My muses wore stripes and bustles and tiny top hats, and so did I. We all looked fucking great!

That look was replaced by the great wave of Steampunk starting in 2007. I loved the Steampunk just as much, so it was alright!

Look how amazing she looks on the Sorcerers’ Porch of my Action Figure Dollhouse.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes porch with Magic Watch

Toy customizers, please note that I was able to preserve full shoulder and waist articulation under the miniature clothing. Use of stretch fabrics and gluing the clothes only to strategic, rigid areas of the figure allow her a full range of posability.

Oh, action figure customizers and Instagram toy photography bros who find this page by googling, I pity you. They’re dolls, dude. Accept it.

A poseable toy figure of a human with cloth clothing is a doll.

As is often the case, what appears to be a simple doll-making project has a deep cultural wound behind it.

Like most of the toy industry, amazing toy company Mezco (who I love and have supported since their beginnings with Silent Screamers in 2000) has a gender problem. They make dolls, and have from the early days: they make Living Dead Dolls.

They also make action figures, and since 2015, they’ve been combining the two with the 1:12 Collective, a 6″ (DOLLHOUSE) scale line of action figures with cloth clothing. (In action figure parlance, dolly clothes are called “cloth applications”.) They started slow, with a Frank Miller Dark Knight Batman (red flag? more likely the chunky design was an easy pilot project).

Then in 2016 they started releasing a cavalcade of fantastic cloth-costumed takes on the heavy hitters of the Marvel and DC universes, plus Classic Trek! These figures are unreal. They are crazy good. For 2017 they announced even more upcoming licenses and figures. Ghostbusters, Space Ghost, Universal Monsters and more. But there was only one planned female figure announced in 2016 – Harley Quinn.

Mezco Harley Quinn figure pre orderI was on their Instagram hassling them for months before she was announced, asking, “What the hell, dudes?”

Once she was announced, I thought we’d see a wave of female figures. In 2017, as the success of the Wonder Woman movie exploded on mainstream media, they announced a 1:12 Wonder Woman. But neither Harley Quinn or WW have shipped yet.

And no other female figures have been announced, despite the release of multiple male Classic Trek figures and Marvel heroes AND villains. *cough*Uhura*cough*Storm*. Know who is expected to ship by December? The Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? He is a fucking Nazi.

That’s right, 1:12 toy collectors will get a NAZI before Wonder Woman.

As a woman, as a comics fan and former DC comics professional, as a serious lifelong toy collector, I gotta say, the optics are bad.

Mezco Wonder Woman 1 12Do better, Mezco. Do better, toy industry.

Meanwhile, guess I gotta make my own action figures with doll clothes “cloth applications”. Been plunging into male-dominated spaces since I became a graffiti writer in 1980, a hardcore comics fan in 1984 and a comics pro in 1993. Been genderqueering the toy space since the 1970s, when me and my best friend Bradley played with my Dawn Dolls. Not gonna stop, despite Nazis.Rachel Ketchum and Bradley Jankowitz 1974

See my mini projects that use similar techniques here:

Early Horribella dolls

Action figure customizing, June 2016

Berlin Horribellas: Mark V, Sept 2016, Mark IV, July 2016

and my Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom, October 2016.

A very old 12″ Living Dead Doll converted to a horrifying spider monster woman, October 2016.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer, December 2016.

1:12 scale gilt insect carriage and harness, June 2017.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada, February 2017.

1/12th scale Snow Queen/Jadis of Narnia, May 2017.

Using epoxy clay, November 2015.

 

Snow Queen/White Witch OOAK Doll with sledge and reindeer, finished!

Snow Queen Jadis with carriage and reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I finally finished her!

I am amazing, and amazed by myself! Jadis, The White Witch, The Snow Queen, the Ice Queen, as I always imagined her.

I’d been wanting to make a doll like this since the early 90s in St. Paul. At a fancy shop in Summit Hill I saw a teacup fairy by Stephanie Blythe and Susan Snodgrass.

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.

Snow Queen OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I was still waiting to start my dollhouse then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.

Snow Queen by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I 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, travelled 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.

Miniature sex toys by Suzanne Forbes 2007

I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

I met Monique Motil, dollmaker extraordinaire. I started sculpting little things with polymer clay for the dollhouse and reading about action figure customizing techniques.

I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and started making 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 and came up laughing, clapping his cold hands over mine.Snow Queen in carriage with reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017

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 it muffled my footsteps when I walked through a silent Chinatown to buy heroin on New Year’s Day in 1989, the sparkling lavender twilight of April snow at the treatment center in St. Paul.

iridescent microbeads from MorezmoreIn 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.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.

tiniest-swarovski-crystalsI 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.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI 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.

tiny-buckles-from-RIo-Rondo

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 his 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!

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeer-headshot-cu

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeerThe 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!

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI 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.

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI 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. She is streets more advanced than my crazy haphazardness!

By December of this year, my Jadis was close to finished at last.

project-kit-Snow-Queen-OOAK-Suzanne-ForbesI 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!

Then I made a whole bunch of other dolls!  And sculptures! And mixed media stuff! And a mantis doll! Was my poor Snow Queen doll ever gonna get finished?

faceup-Snow-Queen-OOAK-by-Suzanne-Forbes-2017Yes, 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?

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesWigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so many tiny corsets 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.

 

Mummified Fairy King doll!

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017This doll scares my husband. Every time he sees it he shudders.

It genuinely gives him the wig.

Which is good, right? This is one of the projects I brought in a “project kit” from the Bay Area, in the shipping container.

Faery King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I had seen this Mummified Fairy tutorial on the excellent, ancient Gothic Martha Stewart site Shadow Manor. You can find loads of Art of Darkness tutorials there.

So of course I wanted to make one! My version started out as a cheap 16″ demon skeleton I got for 75% off at Michael’s.

I washed him with soap and water, and used a glue gun to pose him. I cut his spine in half with a hacksaw to give it a realistic curve, added ears made of thin sheet styrene or cardstock (can’t remember), and used globs of glue to give the ears dimension.

I also used glue gun glue and epoxy clay to add some bulk and volume to his joints, because he was a little frail and crappily-sculpted. And to give him a bit of a bump of nose and fangs.

Then I primed him with white spray primer for plastic and sprayed him with matte ivory spray paint.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017And packed him in a box marked “Gothic Rococo Bride of Frankenstein and Fairy Mummy”.

(The Bride became a Gothic Victorian Burlesque tribute to Elsa Lancaster instead).

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017Two weeks ago I unpacked him and started revising. His skeleton was still undersized for his head, especially for a skeleton with layers of dried skin. So I added more bulk with air-dry clay (cheap but doesn’t adhere well) and use epoxy clay to secure the new, larger knobby joints.

I thickened his shin bones and arms, as well as making his pelvis more solid. I added some clay volume under his rib cage to give the nylon something to stick to there.

I also decided to snip off the demon-y claw tips on his wings, which were a little too goth.

Then I painted over the air-dry and epoxy clay with acrylic in unbleached titanium, which matched the original ivory paint well enough. After that, I added dark shadows at his joints, eye sockets, and so on, using a burnt umber.

I figured the shadows would show through the nylon pantyhose, adding depth, and so they did.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017Applying the pantyhose was exciting, in the way that things that must be done quickly and deftly are exciting.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I used UHU “Extra” alleskleber gel, which is an almost perfect sub for my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, rather than contact cement. I really should have followed the instructions and applied the pantyhose while the skeleton was disarticulated.

But I never follow the instructions for anything. So I had to do the gluing and stretching to fit over sections of the figure in situ.

The instructions say to cut the pantyhose into 12″ lengths; I wound up cutting it into roughly 5″ x 5″ pieces. The pantyhose adheres beautifully to the primed and painted skeleton, almost melting on- the first time.

Once it is saturated with glue and the glue has dried, it resists bonding, so get it right the first time. I looked at his eye sockets with the nylon stretched across them and decided he needed eyelids. I sculpted sunken eyeballs with lids out of epoxy clay, cut holes in the nylon, and pressed them in.

In the end I had some places where the pantyhose didn’t lie smoothly or wrinkled in a way that looked much more like pantyhose than desiccated skin.

I simply decided awkward areas would be covered with something in the finished piece.

And that was how he became a dressed doll with a breechclout and jewelry, and wisps of grey Tibetan lamb hair from this one piece I got at doll supplier/educator supreme MorezMore and have used for some two dozen projects. (The site’s mistress is currently engaged in a fascinating project of using stop-motion armature for a humanly-posable doll experiment!) I rifled through my fabric stash and found lots of scraps. I layered scraps of fabric, fiber, silk leaves and lace for his breechclout.

Then I got out my findings bins and made a kind of creepy chatelaine to secure it. And I made him a kind of neck piece with mixed metals that was influenced by Celtic torques and Maester’s chains.

I decided to make him lace-up shoes to cover some of the awkward patches on his shins.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I got the concept from some pins posted by my friend Alexis about to how to make Medieval shoes.

I envisioned a pattern, cut it out of leatherette and used my cuticle nippers to make sloppy holes in the the sole/back pieces.

Then I just glued the sole parts onto the bottoms of his feet and laced them up with a tan shoelace from a scrap bin.

I bought some granny boots a while back that came with tan laces; I promptly replaced them with black laces but saved the rough tan ones for… something. There was a tiny bit of black fur left from when Daria gave me a personal doll-wig-making workshop and I used that on top.

I did a little dry-brush distressing and shadowing on the nylon-covered fairy, accenting the hollow places and joints with more umber.

I also highlighted bony areas like his zygomatic arch with unbleached titanium. This was easier to me than re-spraypainting him as suggested, considering that would have required going out and getting some taupe spraypaint. I don’t really like anything to slow me down when I’m making some damn thing. I painted his eyelids to match his skull at the same time.

I had burned and melted and snagged the fabrics I used, to distress them and make them raggedy, but it wasn’t enough to knock back their color into the same taupe/ivory family as the skeleton. So I dry-brushed and distressed those too, til they faded back into his palette.

Here he is posing with some bones i made out of Model Magic, the incredibly lightweight air-dry craft clay made by Crayola.Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017

The bones are sculpted over Q-tips, and were made in 2007 for a Hubba Hubba Revue, maybe Flintstones themed? I soaked a paper towel in thinned ochre paint and wiped it over them. I don’t even know how they got in the shipping container.

Eventually I’d like to have some kind of Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy style shadow box or specimen case for him, but for now he’s living amid my majolica in the library china cabinet. Hub will never notice him there. Although if he does, he might jump.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada.

Monster dolls by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I spent sooooo much time making these dolls!

weasel claw doll by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I had a crazy rare week of being virtually fatigue-free and on a “normal person” sleep schedule, where I woke up between 7 and 9 and went to bed around 10 to midnight.

The last period I can remember like that was around 2008. I took mad advantage of the good light and the long days, and worked on the dolls ten or twelve hours a day.

I approached the project with a kind of relaxed enforced serendipity- I would just reach in the doll making drawer and grab and handful of materials. Then I’d see what I could make with the bits of legs, arms, fur and plastic bugs I’d grabbed. It was like putting together puzzles.wip doll by Suzanne Forbesbarbie faun maenad wip Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

Bricoleurs are machines that make junk into art.

There is a powerful mental image for me when I work on stuff like this. I always think of the Boxmaker in Count Zero, the AI fragments/loa that uses Tessier-Ashpool relicts to make Cornell boxes. The idea of being a machine that recycles scraps and pieces of artifacts into new artifacts is so beautiful and restorative to me.

dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017

I’ve been cutting up my dolls and making them over my whole life.

Maenad Faun Barbie by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

My best friend Victoria and I used to chop off their hair, paint them with Mercurochrome for fake blood, and drop them out the window of her parents’ loft on Great Jones St.

They would land on the hoods of the cars in the parking lot below, tiny sacrifices.spiderella dolly by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

I used to use the fireplace tongs to hold my Flatsie dolls in the wood stove at our cabin in the Adirondacks, revealing their wire armatures.

I never minded the smell of burning plastic; I was too fascinated by the structure being revealed and the way the arms melted off.

Dolls are intrinsically powerful; they come pre-loaded with content.

Add pink housewife dresses and the horns of a genderbent Herne, and you have a semiotic shorthand that anyone can parse. They are little totems, little ration packs. I lavished them with the tiniest Swarovski crystals, leftover fur from one of Daria’s dolls, velvet ribbon, and microbeads, because pretty and scary are my favorite mix.

Like many artists I know, I’ve been deeply inspired by the idea of being called a “nasty woman”.

Monster doll mouth by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I love that idea, I love the entire notion of reclaiming my nastiness and ugliness and witchiness and harpiness and shrillness and bitey-rage-creature-ness.

I am completely ready to embrace my monsterhood and the monsterwoman-ness of all the monster people of all genders and origins and being-hoods. Be maenads, and rage!

Anyone who has a problem with the furious girl-child inside me who cut the heads off dolls can take it up with my glorious, furious, terrifying grown-ass woman monster-self. Lotsa luck, as we say where I come from.Monster dolls by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

 

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer: a holiday dream of love.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes Dec 2016I got this pink Santa, with his lavender combat boots, in the 75% off bin at a Beverly’s store in Alameda.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes Dec 2016I had to have him, obviously, and I had a vague notion he could hang out with my Snow Queen and her reindeer, when I finished her.

That was in 2014, and I’m hoping to have the Snow Queen done by my 50th birthday on January 8th of 2017. Projects take what they take, it’s fine.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago I found these adorable fuchsia flock reindeer at TK Maxx, the German version of TJ Maxx. They were 1,99! Obviously, I was supposed to buy them.

As soon as I got them home I knew they were Pink Gay Santa’s reindeer.

But they needed to be fancified. Ever since I finished my workshop I’ve been tearing through long-unfinished projects, because I have instant access to all my lifelong hoard of materials. Every bit of ribbon I ever saved, every scrap of velvet, every tube of fingernail decals.naked-reindeer-editedpink-gay-santa-in-process-suzanne-forbes-edited

I’m like a cross between Smaug and Divine.

santahacksaw-editedI had to use a hacksaw on Santa’s base to fit him into the sleigh, then build the fur trim on his coat to fit the sleigh with epoxy clay.

I was so inspired in this project, and all my bricolage work, by Elizabeth McGrath. I discovered her in Culver City in 2005 at her exhibition Altarwise by Owl-Light.

I feel like she really opened my eyes and my heart to the idea that art could be both silly and mysterious, glittery and meaningful, pink and terrifying.

I love her work for showing me serious art can be completely covered in Swarovski crystals and fake fur, and for its mythic stories and secret chambers of hilarious fucked-upness.

I got on Instagram recently, and starting following her and other “Pop Surrealist” or “modern Outsider” artists. I found Mab Graves, who also makes pink things that are scary, and can both draw superbly and sculpt/make/craft. I discovered the astonishing work of Caitlin McCormack, who crochets skeletal creatures out of dissolving lacy thread. I get to keep up with the work of Jessica Joslin, an art hero of mine for years.

I’ve been finding a web of validation and confidence in the work of women artists who are successful making art that is both pretty and hideous, cute and political.

reindeerpartway-editedI’ve had so much to do the last couple months, and I’ve been so shaken by the terrible events in the US.

I fell into the sweetness and hope and joy of this project like it was a feather bed. Doing anything else felt overwhelming. Though of course I did a lot anyway.

I’ve felt that my job as a working artist who simply does some work, any work, was so essential these last five weeks.

Maybe it’s foolish to think art matters at such a precarious time, but you know, I live in Berlin.

I’ve felt a deep desire to renew my commitment and lifelong work of supporting visibility for the “othered”. I want to spend 2017 documenting queer and trans life with more beauty and tenderness than ever. I know how much the work of the Weimar artists mattered, and I am inspired to try and matter too.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa is a vision of hope and love, the Santa I pray will land lightly on a million roofs this year. He is photographed with one of my mom’s beautiful crochet pieces!earless pink gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes December 201

His list holds “Safety”, “Freedom to Love”, “Marriage Equality”, “Health Care”, “Kids”, and space for other things.

I’m mostly just an ally; I can’t know what LGBTQIA people are putting on their wish lists this year. I’ll be listening, though.