Tag Archives: acrylic portrait painting

Portrait of the artist’s mother in West Berlin.

Portrait of Pat Ketchum by Suzanne Forbes work in Process Oct 11 2019Got a chance to paint my precious mama on this visit, which was her longest so far.

I did a drawing on each of her previous visits – here and here– and this time I wanted to try a painting even though I have very little strength these days.

Painting takes a lot out of me physically, and with the endless upper respiratory infections I’ve had on top of my Hashimotos this year, I am always at zero physically.

I was willing to go into spoon-debt and suck up the recovery time for this though!

We did the sitting on the last night of her visit, so I could collapse after taking her to the airport the next day.

Here she is sitting in our salon, reading her Kindle.

Books are such a huge part of my mom and me’s life together, from the beginning. We shared books when I was a teen – Ed McBain, Dean Koontz, Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, and most of all Dick Francis. In the 80s, we read every single thing every one of those writers had written.

And every Christmas there were stacks of paperbacks under the tree for me, all the Anne McCaffery and Isaac Asimov and Larry Niven and Heinlein. (Problematic as hell, but geek teens took what they could get!)

My mom still reads voraciously and lightning-fast, though I no longer do – I am too tired most of the time.

She discovers new writers, or new to her old writers, and burns through their work. The Kindle is great for her, as it is for another power-reader loved one, my Friend-Muse-Patron Barbara North.

My mom wore this pink striped sweater earlier in the week, and I asked her to wear it again for the sitting, I thought it would be nice against the pink model chair and the purple of her Kindle.

I need to do some finishing work on her sweater and paint in her hands properly, but I’m well satisfied with the likeness and how much I got done in the two-hour sitting. I took some photos of her jewelry and sweater for reference – as you all know, I never take reference photos for faces.

Even if I didn’t have a principle against it, I got enough of that on Star Trek!
Portrait of Pat Ketchum by Suzanne Forbes work in Process Oct 11 2019 detail
I did some work on the backgrounds of two other paintings in progress the next day, even though I was dazed with tiredness – the portraits of Shakrah and Cadbury are now much closer to done. Having a palette with fresh paint on it was too much to resist!

I’m so grateful to my Patrons (including my mama and mom-in-law!) for supporting my work and making paintings like this possible.

Painting Cadbury Parfait, second sitting.

It’s been a busy summer for performer/producer Cadbury Parfait, and I’ve been sick an awful lot, so it took a while to schedule our second sitting.

It went great though!

Portrait of Cadbury Parfait second sitting by Suzanne Forbes August 21 2019Cadbury is a total professional and working with her is terrific.

The painting is coming along very well.

I have a new tool, a USB-powered LED light bar with multiple color temperatures.

It replaces the bulky, expensive full-spectrum OTT-Lites I used in the US, which I donated to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse when we left for Berlin. My new light has LED bulbs and is much lighter and smaller. It’s working great, and was super cheap.

Cadbury’s next Berlin solo show as a performer is at Zum Starken August on August 31.

And this Fall there is gonna be a fantasy-themed Extravagant Shambles, which I’m super excited about!

 

Portrait of Cadbury Parfait, first sitting!

Portrait of Cadbury Parfait work in process June 2019 by Suzanne ForbesThe minute I met Berlin burlesque producer and performer Cadbury Parfait, I wanted to paint her picture.

She is exceptionally beautiful, and she has fantastic personal style, grace and power. She performs and produces wonderfully naughty, sexy, political, intersectional burlesque shows. Plus, she’s funny!

So we scheduled a sitting, which is challenging because she’s one of the busiest people in the Berlin burlesque scene, and got started. I had a fine large canvas given to me by one of my Patrons, and it is thrilling to be working large again.

I really prefer to paint on the biggest canvas possible for a home studio, so the subject’s figure is one third to one half life-size. We settled on her 1930s style Voodoo Vixen gown in sapphire blue velvet for Cadbury’s outfit, and kept everything else simple and natural.

As sometimes happen, I lost the thread during the process – I made good headway to capturing her likeness and proportions, then screwed it up. This is an almost inevitable part of the portrait painting process; there’s generally at least one point where I almost have it and then lose it, either by accident or design.

So while much of the structure you see is a good foundation, the essential spirit and humor of Cadbury’s personality is currently AWOL. Working back in forth in that uncertainty of recovering the good bit, tolerating the fact that you’ve fucked it up, is part of the process. Keats called our ability to tolerate uncertainty the “negative capacity”.

Whistler used to wipe down the canvas to a shadow after every sitting, then start over.

His process was the process of seeing the sitter and painting the sitter, and he stopped when he did it enough times to hit the sweet spot, know it and call it. I often have to explain this to my sitters, who may be startled that what looked like a really promising portrait has turned weird, or awkward, or lost an arm. Cadbury, who has a striking way with words, got it instantly and phrased it this way: “It’s like the Rubik’s Cube – you have to destroy it in order to fix it! You almost have it except that one orange square – but you have to break the whole thing to get that part right.”

That’s exactly, exactly how it is. I’m used to it, so I trust the process.

Cadbury’s next production is the all-queer-performer

Extravagant Shambles Presents: Pride, Not Prejudice on July 25 at Monster Ronsons!

and all profits from this show are going to an LGBTQ+ cause! And it’s at beloved East Berlin queer clubhouse Monster Ronsons, which has some shitty A/C, which is 200% better than 99% of Berlin venues! Some of my very fave local performers will be onstage, like Noeline la Bouche, as well as breathtakingly gorg out-of-towners like Betty Fvck and Lily Lustre, both of whom I’ve drawn once and been simply CRAVING to draw again!

This is a can’t-miss Pride event, and I’m so excited!

Archiving: my very earliest portraits of women friends.

Portrait of Anita in black on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumHere’s three portraits of women friends I made during the winter semester of 1990, my first semester back at art school after I got sober.

I was nearly a year sober when the semester started, and living with Anita, who appears above, in all her grace and strength. I had taken an adult ed painting class in St. Paul, the previous Fall. The class was offered through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where I wound up enrolling in the BFA program in January 1990.

Portrait of Anita detail acrylic on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumPortrait of Anita in pink on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum detailIt was really an accident I took the painting class, the accident being that it was the one art class available in St. Paul that Autumn of 1989 that fit my work schedule. I was working full time in a bakery so I took a night class. I had never been interested in being a painter, professionally.

All I cared about was being a comics penciller, and I always intended to have a colorist to handle color for me.

I was bored and resentful in my color theory classes at Parsons and particularly unhappy in the one watercolor class I had to take. I did take a portrait painting class in my last semester at Parsons, but we only worked in sepia tones, not full color, and we spent the entire semester painting a single male model’s face. It was the atelier approach; it was not for me.

And the class terrified me; I would get so wasted to go that I would wind up too high to walk, let alone stand at an easel, and spend the day nodding in a lounge across the street at The New School instead.

But in Fall 1989, having a supportive woman teacher and being sober changed everything, and I began a visceral love affair with painting.Portrait of Anita sm detail acrylic on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum

I signed up for my teacher’s regular undergrad painting class in my first semester at MCAD, and she seriously had my back. The fact that I trusted her mattered so much. Although figurative art was generally spurned at MCAD, the painting teachers were really good. Somehow I got into painting on masonite during my first year painting. It was easily and cheaply bought at the school store. Masonite is a gorgeous surface to paint on, with a perfect mid-tone. (Unfortunately, it’s also insanely heavy and the sheets of masonite are a total hassle to haul around and nearly impossible to hang.)

The painting of Anita in black uses the natural color of the masonite as a base; the one below of her in pink uses a bright pink ground.

Portrait of Anita in pink on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumThese paintings have heavily scumbled surfaces, as I was using tube acrylics on disposable wax paper palettes, and the paint dried fast.

The scumbling is cool, in retrospect. But when I discovered the Masterson Sta-Wet Handy-Palette a year later, it transformed my painting, by keeping my paint moist.

Anita posed for me whenever I asked, during the short few months we lived together. I painted the picture of her in black in our scantily furnished living room, over a couple of hours on a winter night. Our friend Tom was staying with us, and he looked at it and said “Wow! I didn’t know you could paint like that!” I looked at it, and I was astonished; I said, “Neither did I.”

Portrait on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumAfter Anita was gone, I started to ask other people to pose for me.

This is a woman I knew in that first year of sobriety. We weren’t close friends, but I loved her style. She was what they called in the Twin Cities a “darksider”, a kind of goth. I was always much more interested in painting women than men, because women’s faces are so much harder and their clothes tell so much more.

Portrait on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum detailWe never had a second sitting for this picture, so it remains unfinished. But it looks kinda good that way! It’s a fucking banger of a painting.

It is such a tribute to my belief in the value of my work that I have dragged these paintings all over the US and now to Europe, through my fifteen different official residences and the three times everything I owned has been in storage, through two divorces, a bankruptcy, twenty years of crippling depression and fifteen of ill health. I believe that my work matters, and that these images of these women matter. And yet until I took the pictures for this post, there were no modern media records of them. If we had a fire, they would just have been gone forever.

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

Portrait of Shakrah, third sitting.

Portrait of Shakrah Yves work in process third sitting by Suzanne Forbes April 29 2019Sometimes a portrait changes a lot during the process!

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 was frustrated with this portrait of my friend Shakrah Yves because it’s on a small canvas (about 40x50cm) and I usually paint quite large.

I just couldn’t get comfortable with the composition.

Plus, during the second sitting, which was photographed by Mirella Frangella, I radically changed Shakrah’s pose and completely repainted her face.

But we convened for a third sitting last week and it came together, finally. WIP Portrait of Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes first and second sittings 2018

Here are the results of the first two sittings, above.

Really different right?? It’s not done yet, but Shakrah’s time-traveler beauty is emerging. In the ten months since we last worked on this picture, Shakrah and I have spent time hanging out, and I have come to know her face much better. I was truly feeling like her character and her beauty weren’t captured by the portrait to date, and seriously considering abandoning it. Plus, the pink velvet salon chair she was sitting on was destroyed by a giant hacker during our New Year’s Day epic brunch, so we needed to use a different chair!

But she was up for posing, after my work hiatus caused by the bus accident and after her very busy year, and I decided to see how it went. Because I know her face better, when I returned to the painting, I could see what was salvageable and good about the second iteration, and build on it. And we decided to remove her headpiece, even though she made it and it is beautiful, because its scale overpowered the small painting.

I’m glad I didn’t give up on this one! I posted the latest on my Instagram and one of my Patrons commented,

Portrait of Shakrah after third sitting detail by Suzanne Forbes April 29 2019 2

“Thank you for sharing your frustrations as a professional artist. It gives the rest of us newbies perspective and that we too should keep trying.”

I was glad to be of service, and also surprised. I started earning money as an artist when I was sixteen, so I’ve been working within my own insecurities and frustration my whole life. That’s why it’s WORK!

I guess I assume everybody knows that professional artists struggle constantly with not being as good as they want! Or not being able to resolve a piece! Or not being able to capture someone or something beautiful!

That’s the greatest frustration to me, that I can never capture the beauty of my subjects the way I see it.

I will never be able to show you exactly how beautiful and luminous and unique you are before me, but I will get closer and closer til the day I die, Goddess willing.

And I am able to do this because of the help of my Patrons on Patreon who provide the monthly sponsorship that allows me to tell women’s stories and grow as an artist!

 

New portrait painting: Lolita in Latex!

Work in process detail Lolita Vavoom by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019The moment I saw Lolita Vavoom performing, I knew I wanted to paint her.

She is a VERY busy person, with producing the Berlin Burlesque Week, Jews! Jews! Jews! and touring all over as a performer, so it took time to schedule. We got started with a first sitting last night though, with Lolita wearing custom latex by a local artist.

Work in process face detail Lolita Vavoom by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019I actually took pictures of the process periodically, which I don’t often remember to do.

I thought my Patrons on Patreon, who provide the funding for my art, might enjoy them.work in process 4 stages of portrait of Lolita Vavoom by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2019

I reconvene with Lolita at the end of the month, as she’ll be touring all over between now and then.

Here’s her Insta for peeks! Meanwhile, if you’re in Berlin, mark your calendars for Berlin Burlesque Week in May! Here’s the Instagram for updates and news! And here’s my first drawing of Lolita, performing with Full Moon Cabaret – speaking of which, some pretty exciting Full Moon drawings coming soon 🙂

Almost finished: a portrait of our friend Sebastian!

Sebastian with his portrait by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018And just in time, as Sebastian has gone home to Australia.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Nov 28 2018Our family will miss him a lot, and we hope he comes back to Berlin soon.

In the meantime, he’s posting awesome pictures of Melbourne graffiti!

I still want to work on this some more, as his arms need resolution, the background is a little unresolved and there is some teeny tiny thing I need to fix with his face.

He is wearing his mom’s scarf and arm warmers she knitted, which I think is so nice.

And I’m sorry I can’t get a better picture, it’s Berlin in the winter and it is very dark in our house 🙂

We like it dark but it does make taking photos challenging!

Portrait of Sebastian detail by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Nov 28 2018I hope to do some more work on this next week, as I’m feeling a little better than I have for most of November.

New portrait painting in progress: Sebastian in brights.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018I am super pleased with how this portrait of a new friend is coming along.

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018 detailSebastian is a circus performer and producer who comes from the Oz steampunk scene and has some fabulous outfits.

He calls this one his “Snow White” colors and I love how the brights pop against the soft colors of the salon.

I have had more of a challenge finding people who are into dressing up for fun in Berlin than I did in the Bay Area. This isn’t a dress-up town, alas.

I love people who love clothes and fashion and performative identity and was happy to find another collaborator!

Above is after the second sitting. Here’s after the first.

Using a canvas toned gray the way Sargent did has speeded up my painting even more. You can see the edge of the gray along the right side below!

Portrait of Sebastian by Suzanne Forbes work in progress Oct 30 2018 first sitting

This portrait will be done in one more sitting I expect.

And then I need to get back to the painting of Shakrah, which was interrupted for a long spell by the bus accident and my hand injury!

 

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!