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.

Women of the X-Men’s World: Lila Cheney and Lilandra.

Lilandra and Lila Cheney action figure customs by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2019The amount of X-Men action figures being produced this year is BANANAS.

Yet some more obscure characters still may not get their own full figures. So Hasbro, the toy company that has the mass-market 6″ scale Marvel license, is making kit-bashable assets for fans to DIY.Lilandra action figure custom in library by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2019

Marvel Legends Mystique picture from TheFwoosh!

Lilandra, Majestrix Sh’iar, was on the 90’s cartoon, so she’s fairly well known. Well enough to justify making her head and including it with shape-shifter Mystique. (Visit SUPERB action figure site The Fwoosh for their review of this fig, which I stole this photo from!)

Mystique was released around the same time as an old school Spider-Man villainess, Silver Sable. Hasbro correctly assumed collectors would combine the two, as even mass-market figures are designed for easy head and hand swaps these days. Hasbro gets sell two Silver Sables, and collectors get a quick-fix Lilandra by removing Sable’s tactical pouches and adding a cape.

A similar principle is in effect for obscure and weird 80s villainess Typhoid Mary, whose release as a toy is inexplicable until you consider how toy releases are tied to tv/movie deals and behind-the-scenes Marvel Studios machinations.

Typhoid Mary figure pic from OAFE.net, an action figure site worth your visit!

Mary, a character I never liked, is a natural dupe for New Mutants/X-Men foe/ally Lila Cheney, who you can see above with her friend Dazzler, putting on some makeup!

All she needed was some rocker glitz and a poufy mini-skirt! I already had experience using ribbons, nail art elements, and miniature horse tack parts to fancy up a teen action figure, Nico Minoru. (Lot more discussion of action figure gender politics in that post!)

Typhoid Mary pic stolen from OAFE.net, a really good action figure site run by cis guys who are trying hard!

I even follow them on twitter!

My vision of Lila in full 80s rockstar regalia was exhilarating!

I jumped on it. All I had to do in terms of painting Lila was paint her face so it was an even color, matching her body, paint her hair black, and add some purple 80s makeup.Lila Cheney action figure custom in bathroom with Dazzler and Longshot by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2019

Her likeness already landed perfectly between Joan Jett and Sage Montclair, who plays Lila in the video you can see a bit further down.

Sculpting wise, I removed the figure’s bizarre forelock, resculpted the ends of her hair, and added a thicker flange around her hip joints so I’d have some surface to attach her skirt to.

If you have love in your heart for the New Mutants and X-Men of the 80s, and you haven’t seen this video, I implore you to watch it.

It is the most charming thing you will ever see.

I’m super pleased with my Lila figure!

Since I am not a professional customizer, I didn’t seal her face – the satin finish of the artist’s acrylic was such a good match shine-wise for her existing flesh areas.

So if she falls over she might get a paint rub on her nose. But since she will live in my X-Men dollhouse where everything is glued down, I hope she will be ok.

The belt stars and studs are little brads from Rio Rondo, the model horse tack supply company, who still haven’t updated their website. the belt is Illyana’s, and the padlock is from ebay. The two sizes of tiny studs on her jacket are from a nail art set I got for like a euro on ebay.

I lost the collar Typhoid Mary came with while removing her head at some point (it happens, with tiny things). I had intended to stud it for Lila’s signature look. Now I have to buy ANOTHER Typhoid Mary figure, which is ok because I can use the parts for other projects. Then Lila’s little star necklace will become a classic 90s “Y necklace”!

For Lilandra, I decided to go the extra mile and use my fave epoxy clay, Apoxie Sculpt, to build out her cuirass, stomach armor plate and hip flanges.

Oh and her boot tops. Oh and her sword arm armor. And paint her dark blue bodysuit. And repaint all her armor in a uniform silver. Since this was my first time painting any body paint on a figure, I was nervous! But sculpting the detail enabled me to paint clean lines really easily.Lilandra action figure custom in process Suzanne Forbes Sept 2019

I used Liquitex Matte Varnish, which is similar to Testor’s Dullcote in performance, to prime Lilandra’s figure and Lila’s head.

It created a surface with good tooth for adhesion of the regular artist’s acrylic I used for the painting.

I did push the boat out and order Tamiya Chrome Silver model paint for Lilandra’s armor, and it was kinda overkill; I think I would have been satisfied with the results from any silver tube acrylic.

Or my universal-surface acrylic craft spraypaint. It’s called Dupli-Color Deco-Matt, but isn’t available in the US. Here’s a good piece on UK sprays for plastic!

Evil but sexy goth-twink figure of Reeve Carney from Penny Dreadful holds his glass of absinthe in one hand and the drying cape of my Lilandra custom action figure in the other.

I have seen real customizers get gorgeous results with proper model paint, but for midnight blue metallic I just mixed the same kinda acrylic interference paint I used in art school in 1990 with blue artists acrylic.

I have said this before, but making one‘s own #actionfigurecustoms is a fool‘s errand, even with a full professional artist setup.

Just pay a professional customizer like @christinaconan, @facecustoms or @rafaelo.customs ! Don‘t drive yourself nuts like me.

There’s a really good article about interference paints on Golden’s site. It’s super relevant in this time when “color-change” and “chameleon” finishes are so popular.

The tiny learning I have acquired about painting tiny things with a tiny brush: move the paint, not the brush.

You need to have a bolus of fairly liquid paint well towards the tip of the brush and touch that to your piece, then gently move it around with the brush. You really don’t want the tip of the brush to touch the surface, because then the fibers it’s made of splay out. You lose the value of the “point” of the brush, and you lose your control. This is actually the same principle used in painting edging and trim in house-painting. When I was eleven feet up on the ladder trying to paint up to the ceiling molding in our library, I experienced it over and over. Don’t get lazy and try to use all the paint on the brush, so the brush fibers touch your surface; keep enough paint on the brush so you’re moving the line of the paint, not the brush.

The big learning I’ve made about model painting: always, always quit while you’re ahead.

You can always make it worse, and faster than you’d believe possible. With the microscopically delicate layers of paint and tiny details, fixing a fuckup is really hard. It’s not like portrait painting, where the “Rubik’s Cube Effect” is often part of my learning a subject’s face. Lila was the third face I’ve painted; Rahne was the second and my White Witch/Ice Queen was the first.

My Rahne and Dani lovebird customs

Douglock!

Projects for the X-Men Dollhouse – a blackboard for the library

The X-Men Dollhouse – nearly finished, and the goddam lighting

The X-Men Dollhouse – stairs and lighting

The X-Men Dollhouse – wallpaper and assembly

The X-Men Dollhouse – getting started!

My first dollhouse, SlurkCroft.

X-Men Dollhouse Update: scratch-built miniature library blackboard!

Scratchbuilt dollhouse miniature blackboard and eraser by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019It was a bit of a bear to make this, but I’m glad I powered through!

In general, I prefer having miniature things to making them. And I am very good at sourcing things. But I couldn’t find a big, school-style blackboard from any of my usual miniature sources. It needed to be scaled to Dr. Hank McCoy, who is a big figure! So I built it from scratch.

Scratchbuilt dollhouse miniature blackboard and eraser in dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019Luckily, I save every single piece of miniature wooden trim!

I cut a backing board from illustration board and then framed it with several different trims to get the ledge for the chalk and eraser.

I had to miter cut the trim with my miniature miter-cutter, which I hate doing. I packed and moved the miter-cutter to Berlin knowing I would need it, and I have. But damn, it drives me nuts.

I pleated a piece of felt and glued it to a strip of trim, then cut it down, to make the eraser. Pesky!

X Men dollhouse library by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019For the board surface I used self-adhesive chalkboard vinyl.

It may not be as archival as chalkboard paint would have been, but it was neater and faster. I used two layers, for opacity, and I still only needed a tiny bit; I can give the rest to my friend with little kids.

X Men dollhouse library through window by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019And white gel pen was perfect for the writing – it even smears.

Part of the blackboard was copied from All-New X-Men #30, drawn by the crackerjack, spectacular, amazing Sara Pichelli. I liked the timeline diagram a lot.

I did some work on the facade of the house today too; the whole thing is coming along. It’s damn near completely done, in just about a year. And then, the front garden, with gates. And then the Danger Room, underneath, and the Morlock subway tunnels under that, just like the laboratories and subway under the other dollhouse. I gotta make a custom Callisto…

More custom gay mutant action figures for Pride: Douglock!

Custom Doug Ramsey Cypher action figure by Suzanne Forbes June 2019From the beginning it was clear that teen mutant Doug Ramsey and Warlock, a techno-organic being who was identified as “he” upon arrival on Earth, were in love.

Art from New Mutants #21 by Bill Sienkiewicz and Glynis Wein, one of the most charming scenes from a charmed run.

You don’t call just anybody your “selfsoulfriend”. Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher, was the local computer nerd – until he met an alien teen robot who lived on lifeglow and they were suddenly thisclose and loving it.

One of the most wonderful things about the X-Men and New Mutants for me as a queer kinky teen in the 80s was how casually gay and freaky everybody was.

Custom Doug Ramsey Cypher action figure in X Men dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes June 2019Sure, it’s totally ok to be in a deep psychically linked relationship with your (assigned as) same-sex team-mate, even if they’re sort of a robot and from outer space! Or a werewolf!

It’s all good, and safe, inside the X-Mansion.

Custom Doug Ramsey Cypher action figure by Suzanne Forbes June 2019The safe harbor that those 80s stories represented for queer teens reverberates forward through time, to the young people who continue to discover them.

I myself was extraordinarily blessed to live with a mother whose radical acceptance of me and my freaky friends created an IRL safe harbor.

I was blessed enough, in the 80s, to have a mom who would take me and my girlfriend to brunch.

But most queer teens didn’t have that in the 80s, and so many still don’t have it today.

Especially for trans kids, Warlock’s total control of his physical form is an exhilarating notion. His gender was clearly only assigned as male because of the limited thinking of the era; to today’s non-binary kids it’s obvious ‘Lock is a they. In the age of tumblr (RIP) and AO3, Doug and Warlock as lovers are an arena of profoundly creative and experimental sexual ideation.

I wanted to honor those young people who love these characters by the way Doug and ‘Lock are represented in my X-Men dollhouse. And also gently acknowledge what a funny, square little geek Doug was in the ’80s. He had a wholesome quality that really flared against the teleological darkness of characters like Illyana. And his hair was SO 80s!

Spidey in civvies action figure custom by Jacobs Toys

I had been saving a variety of boy heads for Doug as long as I’d been saving the heads for Rahne, Dani and Sam – nearly twenty years. Trying to find a really young-looking teen face.

But then just recently I saw a custom by Jacob’s Toys on Instagram that totally inspired me.

He’d used a Tom Holland Spider-Man head and a Lex Luthor body to create a Peter Parker in civilian clothes.

The recipe, as action figure customizers call it, was perfect for my version of Doug. (‘Lock, a Build-A-Figure released last year, was already perfect).

Doug should be in civvies, of course – his uselessness in the field was legend. I don’t know why they ever gave him a uniform!

And Tom Holland’s face has exactly, exactly the boyish handsomeness of Michael J. Fox and Matthew Broderick in the 80s. He sells the wide-eyed mischief and wonder of a teen with super-powers in the most incredible way. (I loved Homecoming! Gonna go see the next one next week!)

Painting New Mutants action figure customs in progress by Suzanne Forbes March 2019So I sculpted Doug’s swoopy flipped hair and popped polo shirt collar out of my preferred brand of epoxy clay, Aves’ Apoxie Sculpt, painted his hair, brows, and shirt, and called it a day!

Well, actually I also filled in the peg-holes on the bottom of his shoes and gave them sneaker texture, also with Apoxie Sculpt, because he’d be sitting crosslegged and I am slightly a perfectionist 🙂 And I also covered hair and shirt with Matte Mod Podge and then sprayed them with Matte Acrylic Sealer, as I learned on this excellent customizing site, to protect the paint.

I hope this sweet pair of lovebirds pleases the folx who love Doug and Warlock, and love their queer, trans, geek-robot love.

 

Rahne and Dani custom New Mutants Marvel Legends action figures – Wolfsbane/Moonstar slash figures for Pride!

Rahne Sinclair and Dani Moonstar action figure customs on balcony by Suzanne Forbes June 2019 heroesThese two gay teen mutants were my OTP, my original ‘ship.

And not just mine. Queer subtext for Rahne and Dani is epic. And incredibly, people who weren’t born when the comics came out are as invested in their relationship as I was in the ’80s.

You can read about how I came to know and love these characters, how they led to my career in comics, and my friendship with their creator, Chris Claremont, here.

There’s even a cameo by Bill Sienkiewicz in the Marvel hallways in 1986. But it’s not an easy read, be warned.

As soon as I was gonna have an action figure dollhouse, I needed New Mutants action figures, and particularly Rahne and Dani.

Because my emotional investment in these particular characters was so profound, they needed a safe home in the Valhalla of my dollhouse even more than the other avatars of story-people who helped me survive. I started accumulating parts to make the customs, like heads, almost as soon as I started collecting Marvel Legends scale figures. I have literally had the heads for Sam and Dani since at least 2003.

I got my first 6″ (dollhouse) scale action figure in 1999.

She was a DC Direct Death figure, a gift from a boy at work who liked me, and kept giving me terrific comics-related gifts, even though I was married. That Death figure released the lifelong lust for a dollhouse I’d managed to contain until age 32. I found out that action figures were being made in one-twelve scale, and it was the tipping point.

I could bear not having a dollhouse with dolls in it – but I couldn’t bear not having a dollhouse with super heroes in it.

I didn’t finish the dollhouse for a good fifteen years, but I started collecting super hero action figures like a fucking fiend right away.

1999 began the first heyday of 6″ scale action figures, the early days of ToyBiz Marvel Legends and DC Direct and McFarlane, plus LOTR figures and various other genre properties that were being done in 6″ scale.

It genuinely shocked me, the obscure characters that began appearing as the adult collector market developed. But I knew no-one would ever make New Mutants figures for adults, that was TOO obscure.*

It was incalculably thrilling to me to see the new X-Men figures released with the first film in 2000.

I remembered standing in my NY comic shop on 23rd St. in 1985, playing with the Secret Wars Wolverine figure by Mattel.

It was lying around the store as a joke object. Because it was so funny, so ludicrous that a character as fucked up as Wolverine, from a property as weird and obscure as the X-Men, could have been made into a plastic toy a child could buy in a regular toy store.

And because the idea that comic book readers would buy toys of their favorite characters was unimaginable.

I bought the first Wolverine action figure, though, and I still have mine, though his snap-on claws are lost.

Because it was hilarious and insane that this secret world of ours had extrojected itself into real space, but it was also magic.

A small but passionate group of collectors have been crying for New Mutants figures for decades. Hasbro toyed (ha ha, I’ll be here all week) cruelly with the emotions of collectors in 2013, announcing a Danielle Moonstar Marvel Legends figure and then never releasing it. Lots of collectors have done their own customs of Danielle, like Kyklos, and Masterpiece made a beautiful Moonstar as well as two gorgeous customs of Rahne in her transitional form. There’s even a movie now, but it can’t seem to get released!!!

Of course when a base figure that worked for the New Mutants girls was released, it was in a box set.

In 2014 an “original style” Jean Grey was released as part of an old-school X-Men Marvel Legends box set.

I took my time getting my hands on these, because I was waiting to see what else might happen, and eventually the Jean figures started popping up individually on the secondary market.

I wound up paying at least thirty bucks for each of the three figures I bought, but they are so terrific, it’s hard to be upset.

The body for Dani was a Marvel Legends version of Kitty Pryde released in 2016. The sculpt was way too tall and lean for Kitty (though appropriately less bosomy) and perfect for Dani. I used the Jean Grey body (“buck” in action figure talk) for Rahne, Shan and Illyana. Illyana, insanely enough, was recently actually released as an action figure. Dani is just the right amount taller than the other girls. ‘Lock was remade in action figure form last year, and look how great he is!

By 2018, so many X-Men action figures had been released I needed to build a new dollhouse.

ahne Sinclair and Dani Moonstar action figure customs living room with Shan by Suzanne Forbes June 2019So I built a School for Gifted Youngsters, seen above.  It was a huge effort that took about a year, but it’s 99% percent done. The kids, of course, are relaxing in the living room.

I made Rahne’s head from a resin dollhouse doll, sanded and resculpted with my beloved Apoxie Sculpt. Painting her teeny little face took me, a professional portrait artist, a total of over three working days. it was worth it to me because my emotional investment was vast. But… it was DERANGED.

If you want a custom action figure, contact a professional action figure customizer like Christina Conan or FaceCustoms or Rafaelo Customs.

Whatever they charge you is a bargain. The work involved in doing it yourself, even as a professional artist in a fully equipped craft space, is bananapants.

Where are the boys?? Doug is done, coming soon, and I’m working on Sam. I plan to use a Miles Morales head for Bobby, and they cost a mint, so I’m working on it.

I should probably say more about how I made them, and I will. But it was so emotionally wrenching to make them, and such a relief and mercy to be done and place them safely in the X-Mansion, that I’m done for now.

Enjoy these amazing gay teens in the safe harbor I have built them, as I slowly build a safe harbor for my own amazing gay teen self in the ship of my adult life.

*breaking news out of San Diego, July 19 2019: Hasbro is releasing a New Mutants Marvel Legends Dani Moonstar figure with Karma and Wolfsbane heads! But actually, I like mine better 🙂 Of course I’ll buy the Hasbro Dani Moonstar figure anyway! I totally want a furious badass version of Dani and a transitional Rahne action figure and a Shan with a headband!

New dollhouse progress!

Work in process X Men dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019Did the X-Men make it home for Christmas?

They did, though they were stuck in the dark! The new action figure dollhouse isn’t quite finished yet, but it is through no fault of mine. Boy howdy, are dollhouse lights a pain in the ass. I was so thrilled about my decision to go with battery-operated miniature LEDS and external battery adapters, as detailed in this post. LEDs last forever, stay cool, and use so little power!Work in process X Men dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019

But I never considered that some battery powered dollhouse LED lights might not FIT the external adapters!

That’s right, some take smaller batteries, and some just have incompatible housings. So it turned out that some lights I ordered, and waited forever for the arrival of, were incompatible. And then I had to order more external housings, not because I needed more battery boxes – I think four is fine for the 20-odd lights – but because I need the adapter plates. Which don’t seem to be available anywhere, at least not yet.

This is why you NEVER USE A TRANSITIONAL TECHNOLOGY FOR A PERMANENT INSTALLATION!

But I never considered that some battery powered dollhouse LED lights might not FIT the external adapters!You can see one of the adapter plates and the light fixture housing it sits in to the left, in the library. This one is for a tabletop lamp, which why it has a long cord and is loose in the room.

Another problem is that the adapter plates are reliant on a minuscule thread of live wire and a tiny dot of solder to make their connection, and can easily (especially in the process of ceiling installation) be twisted so the connection is broken. I got mad and took one apart, and I haven’t been able to get it to work again. I am fairly good at things like this – I used to rewire antique lamps I bought at Berkeley Flea Market – so I am really peeved. So peeved I’m gonna get a new soldering iron (I gave my old one to beloved friend-muse-Patron Monique Motil) and started reinforcing all the adapters I install from here on.

dollhouse wiring with external adapter for LED lights Suzanne ForbesWhich is…four of twenty-odd. Because the others are installed, and the carpet laid over them, and the door frames over that, and then the moldings. This system, which is the time-honored method of giving dollhouses a clean finish, means that the floor covers up your messy wires, the door frame goes in next so you know how much to cut the moldings on either side of it, and the moldings provide a clean edge where floor meets wall and cover any imperfections in floor-cutting. I made a diagram, above! It’s a great system, except when you’re dealing with wiring, because if something goes wrong with the wiring, you have to tear everything out.

I am not pleased, now that I have seen that fragile dab of solder my electricity hinges on.

I did this whole thing to avoid the fragility and propensity to failure of tape-wire dollhouse lighting, which is what the old house has. When I built the old house I learned to solder and soldered all the tapewire connections, because tapewire is notorious for failure when you use the system of brads it comes with. Anyway, tapewire is being deprecated in the States, where it’s much more commonly used than the round wire you see in the UK and Europe. Because of the LED lights coming in.

Work in process X Men dollhouse interior by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019But nobody has designed a system for someone who wants to wire a whole house with battery LEDS and operate it from one switch.

YET. Never use a transitional technology for a permanent installation. Sigh. As you can see, the house is now mostly lit, but most of the light fixtures are cheap round placeholder lights. It seems I can only really get the compatible lights from Canada. And, the mail is so much worse than usual.

I normally order most of my dollhouse stuff from the UK, because we don’t have to pay duties (until March 29, and then who knows what the hell happens, Theresa May sure has no fucking idea). But ordering stuff from the UK four Sundays before Brexit, while DHL is even more fucked up than usual…well. It certainly does mean a lot of days stuck in mail jail, which is what we call it in Berlin when they say they’re bringing your package and you don’t dare leave the house cause if they leave it with a neighbor or a paketshop you’ll have no idea which one.

Lucky for me, folks visiting from the US are kind enough to bring me things 🙂 Among the things brought by friend & Patron Dan Shick after the holidays are the roof shingles, which I’ve been putting on. You can see them below, I love how they look!Work in process X Men dollhouse bay windows by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019

Hopefully the light sich will get sorted out and finished soon!

A “Reserved Parking for Eliza” OOAK spell doll!

Eliza Gauger doll by Suzanne Forbes Dec 30 2018 with Problem GLyphs bookI made this doll as a sort of summoning spell/eidolon/telepresence device for my friend Eliza Gauger.

Eliza lived in Berlin at one time, and may return someday. The idea is that the doll holds a space for her here, whenever she’s ready to return, and when she does arrive she can have it as a gift. Until then, it will sit on my shelf with my Alien figures from a beloved friend/muse/Patron and cards from friends.

Eliza is, of course, the artist/creator of the Problem Glyphs open source art project and book. Which is a healing spell of love and sacrifice, a work of sustaining power.

Eliza Gauger doll by Suzanne Forbes Dec 30 2018Eliza was also one of the people who sent us money when we were desperate, the first couple months in Berlin, cause Dan couldn’t work and we had to pay cash for my meds.

And Eliza had a hard year, this year. You can support her work on Patreon and download open source Problem Glyph art here, buy your own copy of the Problem Glyphs coffee table book here, buy Problem Glyph t-shirts here, request a sigil for your own problem here, buy original art and prints here, and follow her shitposts on twitter here.

I started the doll months ago, when I noticed one of the porcelain fairy heads I bought at a craft store in St. Paul, Minnesota in the early 90s reminded me of Eliza. At the same time, in the doll parts drawer, my gaze fell on a little leather jacket. It was from a Living Dead Doll I bought in the early Oughts, which I had cut up and redressed for some other project. The vision of the Eliza Reserved Parking doll came together in minutes, scrabbling through the drawer.

But – there were no arms in the doll drawer! Just a grubby baggy of taxidermy weasel feet.

Video of this disappointing moment on my IG video here. I found the elongated, fairy-like mint-colored arms, from a Monster High body sold withouten any head, online. The arms have ball joints and pegs, which I inserted into shoulder pieces of epoxy clay, thus meaning the doll has some posability.

Weasel feet in the doll parts drawerTheir body (the doll is definitely non-binary) is made with the traditional batting-stuffed cotton body, and their legs are porcelain ballerina legs that I made stockings for and gave boots from a totally different Monster High doll. I used grey nail flocking, just like the flock I used on the White Witch’s reindeer’s ears, to give the doll’s head some pale, glinting texture. Adhesive testing for micro rhinestuds Suzanne Forbes Dec 30 2018

During the time I was making the doll, Eliza got a dog.

A gallumphing nightmare beast of a lolloping moor-rambler, with glowing eyes and black fur. Luckily, while searching through a box of action figure bases for Sentinel parts for my upcoming Danger Room project (which will go under the School for Gifted Youngsters), I found a nice black wolf. Maybe he came with a Wolverine figure? Idk.

Terror Goggie for Eliza doll modified by Suzanne Forbes Dec 30 2018Anyway I had exactly enough left of the deep purple glove leather trim I got from an LA handbag manufacturer on etsy back in 2005 to make the terror goggie a harness. And while I used silver Sharpie and a bit of drybrushed gray acrylic to reduce the albedo of the micro-rhinestuds on the doll’s jacket, I left the ones I glued on the dog’s eyes alone. Hence, the glittering.

So here it is, “Parking Space Reserved for 3Liza”, a work which will hold a space of love and protection here until such time as Eliza collects it. 3Liza doll on shelf by Suzanne Forbes Dec 30 2018

School for Gifted Youngsters Update!

X Men Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Nov 28 2018 work in progress foyerBeing at home sick has given me a lot of time to work on the new dollhouse.

X Men Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Nov 28 2018 work in progressWhich is good, because it is a long fiddly-ass business building a dollhouse!

I have made great progress on the days when I was strong enough to sit up or stand up.

As you can see the first light is in! I have cut nearly all the floors, cut and installed the first floor floors and moldings, and installed the first floor staircase. Some of the floors are stained wood, some vacuum-formed plastic faux-tile, and some carpet.

The stairs are painted to imitate stain (being solid MDF, they didn’t take stain well) and carpeted. And the staircase banister rails and newel posts are stained and varnished.

I built a foamcore base to go under the stairs and wallpapered it. X Men Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Nov 28 2018 work in progress stairs

My dollhouse building principle is, if you can’t see it, it doesn’t have to look good!

Things like this are”intuitively constructed”, i.e. assembled cheaply and quickly from materials on hand, with absolutely no planning. My first husband once saw me quickly making a styrofoam globe out of random foam pieces I was carelessly cutting and gluing to shape on the fly. He said, “Why don’t you do that with math, you know, and measuring?” I said, “Because that would get in the way of getting it done.”

I am using battery-operated LED lights with adapters to make them externally controlled.

Dollhouse lighting is in a transition phase right now. Manufacturers and hobbyists are switching over from the round wire or tapewire powered 12 volt systems that have been used for decades to LEDS.

LEDS last far longer and are far safer, but so far are only available as bulbs, strips, or battery-operated individual fixtures. You can’t buy fixtures that take LED bulbs and are designed to wire into your house. So the market provides adapters.

Here are the adapters/light holders installed in the ceiling of the dining room. The light fixtures just snap into them. Below are the wires for the adapters/holders, running in the channels routed in the floor of the room above. There are three sets of wires here, the wires for the lights for the foyer and the wires for two light holders/adapters in the dining room, but all three sets fit in the tiny channel because they are tiny wires! Stripping them and making connections is quite challenging.X Men Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Nov 28 2018 work in progress wiring

I had to buy quite a lot of these adapters, in order to light a whole big house.

Usually people buy just one, to light a roombox or small project where they don’t want to have to reach the tiny on/off switch on the fixtures or change its little watch battery. But they are not terribly expensive. At least, until Brexit! I get absolutely everything I can from two excellent UK sellers, Tumdee Miniatures and Melody Jane Miniatures.

X Men Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes Nov 28 2018 work in progress bedroomAnd here’s test fitting the furniture for Kitty and Illyana’s room.

I couldn’t find the dresser style I wanted (vaguely dated, boarding-school quality) in the same finish as the beds and nightstands so I bought unfinished ones. Then I had to use three different shades of brown and red markers, then stain, then satin polyurethane varnish, to get them to match. I am a crazy person, like many artists. But look how comfy ‘Lock is!

Anyway, getting close to done here. Still think the X-Men can be home for Christmas.

previous posts on the School for Gifted Youngsters:

School for Gifted Youngsters Update!

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

School for Gifted Youngsters Update!

Action figure dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018The new house is coming along very well.

It is now fully wallpapered, permanently assembled and has a base, thanks to power assists from my husband and mom. The grooves in the floor are for the wiring for the lights.X Men dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018 interior

Action figure dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018 kittyGetting it put together wasn’t *hard*, per se, at least not in terms of structural complexity – but there were a lot of pieces that had to be glued in the right order, and the gluing had to happen all within a very short time.

The house itself is really superbly machined and designed, I can’t say enough good things about The Dolls House Workshop, where I bought it.

Any errors were mine, in terms of not quite lining up the wallpaper perfectly here and there, but luckily trim covers a multitude of sins.

If you’re willing to stain, sand and miter-cut it, that is!

Oh, how I hate staining, sanding and miter-cutting trim.
X Men dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018 staining components

I also hate putting on dollhouse wallpaper, but it had to be done.

X Men dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018 wallpapered wall panels before assemblyI used Streets Ahead dollhouse wallpaper paste for this house, instead of Yes! paste, and it did not have the greatest adhesion.

It was repositionable and didn’t warp the papers, though.

I skipped the step of spraying all the papers with matt fixative to strengthen and waterproof them this time, and I shouldn’t have, as they tore a little here and there when wet with paste. X Men dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018 Logan and wallIt was fixable or not noticeable, but that step is worth doing. I did the wallpapering before the final assembly of the house, on the panels, rather than once the house was assembled, like my first house.

I kind of think there are pros and cons to each way.

There was a huge amount of measuring and cutting, which I do not like.

I guess actually I like having a finished dollhouse to create a work of art in, and planning and choosing the components to build and decorate the dollhouse, but I don’t actually like the building the dollhouse at all. Ah well! It must be done!!

At least there’s no soldering now I’m using LED lights with battery converters. More about that next time.

Action figure dollhouse WIP by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2018 kit detailMeanwhile, my beloved mama came to Berlin and brought the perfect 80s kitchen I found in Canada and had shipped to her (it would have cost about a million dollars to ship it here!) It arrived missing a piece but luckily I found that piece from a UK seller and it should get here this week.

I need to put a final coat on the front panels, install them, install the windows and front door, install the wiring for the lights, and then miter cut ten million pieces of ceiling trim and floor trim.

Oh and put the stairs together and install the floors and carpets and the ceiling paper and…

I still think it can be done by Christmas. I’d hate for the X-Men to spend another holiday in storage 🙂

 

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, photo 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 winged 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.