Tag Archives: acrylic portrait painting

Archiving some very early portrait paintings.

Portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum fall 1989One of the very first portraits I ever painted.

In late summer or early Fall 1989 I did this painting of my beloved, cherished friend John Talbot Wallis. He was staying with me at my little basement apartment in St. Paul, trying to kick heroin. It didn’t work out for him, and he went back to NY and relapsed immediately. I desperately hope he is still alive. Last I heard, in the mid-90s, he was very deep in addiction and had apparently lost most of his teeth. The odds aren’t good, but we junkies are tough as cockroaches. I’ve said a prayer for him every night for almost thirty years.

This was one of the earliest portraits I ever painted, though I had drawn quite a few by this point. To get ready for going back to art school full time, I was taking a painting class in downtown St. Paul, an extension class from the Minneapolis College of Design, with a wonderful woman professor.

I started out painting in acrylic, though there is tremendous bias against acrylics in the figurative and especially portrait painting community.

I really appreciated my teacher’s willingness to let me use acrylics. I was afraid I would have problems with my sobriety if I used oil paints, which involve solvents. I had never been an inhalant abuser, but I was less than a year sober and I wasn’t taking any chances!

I liked acrylics and it turned they are perfectly suited for my run-and-gun, punk rock style of painting, so I’ve never looked back. Detail portrait of John Talbot Wallis by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1989My palette was a lot more Fauvist early on, partly because I didn’t know how to mix colors or how to see color temperature in shadows.

I had never intended to be a painter – I was gonna be a comic penciller, and have colorists to take care of that!  So I had paid little attention to my color theory class at Parsons and stubbornly avoided working in color as much as possible. It was really an accident that led me to becoming a painter, that the only class in the extension program that Fall was a painting class, and that I loved my teacher.  I also just really love Fauvism, and I still think my early paintings are terrific examples.

This portrait of John, an homage to The Green Stripe aka Portrait of Madame Matisse, is probably one of the top ten likenesses I’ve ever achieved.

This IS John, who I met at Stuyvesant a day or two after my fourteenth birthday and was close friends and sometimes friends with benefits with til I was 23. He was literally the jolliest drunk I have ever met, a vibrant, loving, wildly creative guy without a mean bone in his body. He was a drummer, an artist, a rapper, and a lover who adored pleasing women.

He turned me on to NWA and The Tubes, and we walked thousands of miles together over Manhattan Island in the 80s. We logged thousands of hours hanging out, writing graffiti, drinking beer, roaming the city or watching MTV. We used to do acid and heroin and watch Jaws 3 in 3D with the colors on the television reversed, laughing hysterically. He had a heart the size of Central Park. Merciful Goddess, I hope he is still alive.

detail Portrait of Brad Geiken by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum Fall 1990Another redhead, fellow MCAD painter Brad Geiken.

I painted this in the fall of 1990, I think, when Brad and I were together. Brad was a terrific, terrific painter and a really nice boyfriend. He looks mean here but that is the fault of me as the painter, not the man. Or he was mad because I was a shitty girlfriend and he deserved better. He had the most beautiful red hair.

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

Until today, no record of these paintings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

Work in progress: Painting Shakrah, while being photographed by Mirella Frangella!

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

Shakrah and I had our second sitting for the new portrait the day before I was in a bus crash.

Work in Progress portrait of Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes June 2018It was very lucky timing, as we had also scheduled with amazing portrait photographer Mirella Frangella.

Mirella is a career photographer whose personal work focuses on intimate character studies.

My friend Miss Natasha Enquist met her when Mirella’s photos of gauchos in South America were exhibited at The Ballery.

Mirella did a shoot with Miss Natasha, and was looking for other artists to photograph. Natasha suggested me!

Mirella came to the house and photographed me in fancy clothes the week before last.

She wanted to do another session, while I was actually working, so we set up a time with Shakrah, who I had recently started a second portrait of.

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

I love Mirella’s work and her way of using available light and her handheld flash to capture a close and realistic view of her subject.

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

We were so relaxed and comfortable with her presence as she worked.

During the sitting, at one point Shakrah was lounging elegantly on my boudoir chair while Mirella shot some close-ups of me.

I looked up and saw her and I yelled, “THAT is the look!” and grabbed my brush to make superfast big changes to the painting.

I changed her pose from standing to sitting in about ten minutes!

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

Suzanne Forbes painting Shakrah Yves photographed by Mirella Frangella June 2018 all rights reserved

As you can see, I changed the painting quite a lot. I don’t often make such big changes between the first and second sittings, unless some new aspect of my model just captivates me. Or I accidentally painted my model standing on the wrong leg, like in this portrait of my beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Ramon!)

WIP Portrait of Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes first and second sittings 2018Somehow I feel like you have more of a sense of Shakrah as a singer in the new version even though I haven’t painted the mike in yet, like she’s pausing by your table in the cabaret.

You can hear Shakrah singing vintage jazz here and see Mirella Frangella‘s beautiful portraits here.

We had such a lovely time working together with Mirella, it was amazing. Once my hand is healed enough for the cast to come off Shakrah and I will reconvene and finish the painting!

You can see our first sitting here and the previous portrait Shakrah and I did together here. Thanks so, so much to my beautiful Patrons on Patreon for providing the monthly sponsorship that allows me to tell women’s stories and collaborate with women artists!

A Visit to the Vault – Self-Portraits.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 smokingI was trained in art school to archive and document my work.

But although I am a excellent archivist and curator (and collector and hoarder), I am a terrible photographer. I took photography in the analog days, and learned how to focus a camera and develop film, both in the Illustration Program at Parsons and in the Fine Arts Program at MCAD.

I hated it. At MCAD, having slides of your paintings prepared was part of your grade, and I got my boyfriend at the time to do some of the work. I still have very nearly all the art I’ve ever made except what I’ve sold, but even with the advent of digital cameras, I haven’t photographed very much of it. Until today, no photographic record of these works existed whatsoever. If we had a fire, they would just be gone.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989I did scan a lot of what would fit on the scanner back in 2009, and you can find it here.

I find handling a camera physically exhausting and stressful, but scanning is just tedious.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 smoking detail faceA couple years ago my bestie Daria gave me a proper digital camera.

She had upgraded, and brought me her Lumix from her flat in Moscow (she made sure to change all the settings to English from Russian!) I hadn’t had one for a while and it took me forever to find out what kind of cable it needed to connect to the computer (Daria couldn’t find hers) and then to order it on eBay.

But the computer I had until January was an ancient Chromebook, and it didn’t have the power to run photo editing programs or any storage.

So I had another excuse to put off documenting the archives of work I have here in our flat and in my artwork storage locker north of the city.

Even though the pressure to do it has been growing for years, as much of it is on newsprint paper or cardboard and it is not archival.

In January a friend and patron gave me a new-to-me computer, a proper ThinkPad with vast memory. (As my friends and Patrons know, I hate to buy technology and hardware and almost always get it as gifts from my tech-loving loved ones!) It’s time.

I hope my patrons will find the process interesting; I plan to do one or two archive posts a month.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 smoking detailThese two self-portraits were done in my earliest painting class, I believe, in Fall 1989. I was 22.

It was a class I took when I was less than a year sober, waiting to get into the full-time BFA program at MCAD, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I had gone to St. Paul, Minnesota to follow up my initial 34-day drug treatment for alcoholism and heroin addiction with four months in the Hazelden halfway house, Fellowship House.

Getting out of the halfway house, I decided to stay in Minnesota, as all the New York junkies I knew who went back to New York relapsed.

Self Portrait Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Forbes Fall 1989 2 detail braidSo I needed to finish art school in the Midwest, and there was only one: MCAD, a school much more focused on Fine and conceptual art than Illustration.

I took the painting class because it was in St. Paul rather than Minneapolis and I didn’t know how to drive or have a car yet!

I was just barely learning to handle the brush and the physicality of the paint and had done almost no work in color.

They are both on cardboard and are large, 18″ x 24″ (close to A2). I love them, honestly, for how fearless and crude they are!

One of them has another painting on its back, of Kathleen, a superb life model who did a lot of work for MCAD.

Portrait of Kathleen Rachel Ketchum Suzanne Rachel Forbes Fall 1989I am so grateful to my Patrons on Patreon for supporting my work.

I hope you find this process of documenting my history and development as an artist interesting!

Work in Progress: a second sitting for Q and Companion.

q and p Jan 2 2018 by Suzanne ForbesFinally got a chance to have another sitting with our friend Quinn and her companion.

CU WIP Q and P by Suzanne Forbes Jan 02 2018Who I refer to as P. or PASR, which is a private joke between two women nearly of an age. We are both much alike and extremely different, she and I.

We’ve had uncannily similar traumas, and we each have our own ways of surviving them. She is completely an LA girl, and I am a New Yorker for life, but we are both robust survivors, absurdly resilient and determinedly creative.

I posed them in the library instead of the salon because the palette suits her Autumn coloring best; this sitting was extra special because her extraordinary child was with us. Ignoring us, like any reasonable teen would!

The day before we painted I said to her, you were one of the reasons I gave my guy a shot.

I figured any guy who had a woman friend like you had to be a guy worth checking out.

“Remember what I said when you got married?” she said, and we laughed. Knowing remarkable people over a lifetime is the first greatest treasure of life. Watching their remarkable children grow up is the second greatest.

Detail WIP Q and P by Suzanne Forbes Jan 02 2018

My big new portrait finished and hanging at Ludwig!

Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017I am so proud of this painting of Rah Hell I hate to be separated from it even to exhibit it!

painting of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes at Ludwig photo by Suzanne Wegh

Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes at Ludwig. photo by Suzanne Wegh

Rah Hell ukelele from portrait by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017However I am thrilled to have it shown at Ludwig, where Thorsten took such great care in hanging it and positioning the lighting.

Ludwig is a beautiful queer space in Neukölln where art is really respected. I was so grateful to see my work handled with care. It will be the first thing visitors to our show this Saturday see upon entering!

Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017 black and white versionIt is the first big personal project portrait I’ve done in Berlin.

I see it as a companion piece, à pendant, to this big portrait I did of friend/muse/Patron Khris Brown in 2005, when I had just returned to painting after a thirteen-year hiatus. This portrait, one of many I did of Khris, is probably my favorite thing I’ve done to date. And this picture of Rah is right up there.

Portraits by Suzanne Forbes 2005 and 2017I painted Rah on a pink ground.

That means before she arrived, I painted the primed canvas an allover bright pink. I used to do this occasionally in college, but had forgotten about it until I saw the work of Natalia Fabia. She is one of the wonderful modern figurative artists I’ve discovered on Instagram. She very often paints on a pink ground.

It adds so much warmth, plus serving as a light mid-tone. Not entirely unlike the many drawings I’ve done on Kraft paper in the last few months! Since I paint alla prima and leave a few areas of bare canvas on every painting I make, you can see the pink peeking through at the edges.

Modern technology makes it so easy to photograph your work, even if you are as bad a photographer as I am.Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017 detail

I’m amazed at how easy it to record and share my new pieces. You can see the details of how I paint easily, the scumbling and bits of impasto. I used quite a bit of gel medium in this work, to get translucent layers that would capture Rah’s luminous youth. Young people’s skin has so much subsurface specularity!

You can see it in progress here and here.

This painting didn’t exist a month ago, and now here it is, on the internet and hanging at Ludwig. My Patrons made it possible.Portrait of Rah Hell by Suzanne Forbes Aug 2017 detail

I’m incredibly proud of it and so grateful to Rah for posing for three long sittings. I am so very grateful to my Patrons who support me on Patreon and make it possible for me to do this work.

If you’re in Berlin, come see our show at Ludwig, opening August 19, 2017! Check out Rah performing in Donut Heart! Celebrate queer Berlin!! YAY!!!!

Big new portrait, coming along sweet!

Rah second sitting med by Suzanne Forbes July 19 2017Pretty damn pleased with myself and my amazing rockstar model @rah_fookinhell after our second sitting.

Rah second sitting by Suzanne Forbes July 19 2017You can see the first sitting here!

I love the small portraits I’ve done this year, every one of them. However this is the first large personal project I’ve done since moving to Berlin and it is thrilling.

Having a big canvas and a model who really fits my aesthetic is like a deep dive into the source of my strength.

I’ve struggled to find muses like my amazing Bay Area loved ones here. That I was able to find such great working chemistry with such gorgeous and powerful people seems like a miracle to me now. That so many made time to work with me, some of them over and over, was such a gift.

Nearly all my paintings these last two years in Berlin have been of Bay Area folks who were visiting!

In Germany, even in Berlin, it’s not as easy to ask a total stranger or acquaintance to just come to my house and sit still for hours.

Rah second sitting longshot by Suzanne Forbes July 19 2017I feel absolutely blessed to have met Rah, who has a true feel for the work and also keeps the same hours I do!

She is very young, as was my Never-Muse when I began painting her, and it is really fun to be painting a fiery young person again. I was able to work for four hours straight in the second sitting, which is a big deal.

The Great Recession, my last bout of severe depression and treatment, and my devastating second divorce seemed to have broken my strength as an artist.

I haven’t been able to paint for more than a couple hours for years. Let alone for for two or even three four-hour sittings in a day as I did in 2005, when I first went back to working as an artist and committed to portraiture. I finished dozens of paintings a year, along with hundreds of drawings, the first four years.

But in 2009 things were sputtering to a halt and in 2010 I was working for another startup. My two 2010 paintings, the couple 2011 and 2012 paintings, one 2014 painting and four 2015 paintings were done in multiple short sittings. I just didn’t have the stamina.

Now I am recovering, at last. Yesterday I taught gesture drawing class AND drew at an event for four hours. I know it’s my Patrons and the freedom they give me that’s making this possible.

I am so very grateful to my #Patrons who support me on @patreon and make it possible for me to do this work.