Suzanne Forbes, an expat New Yorker in Berlin. Made possible by the generous support of her Patrons. https://www.patreon.com/SuzanneForbes. Former DC Penciller for Star Trek, former courtroom artist, painting portraits and teaching drawing.
It 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.
Luckily, 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!
For 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.
And white gel pen was perfect for the writing – it even smears.
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…
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.
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.
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.
So 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.
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!
In 2001 I used to sit at my desk at ESC, the visual effects company where I worked on the Matrix sequels, and read about “orange peel” and paint rub.
Painting plastic has evolved over the years, but it’s still unpredictable. And moving from the US to Germany meant everything I’d learned about Krylon and Rustoleum had to be thrown out the window and relearned with Dupli-Color. Dupli-Color, founded in the US but now the ubiquitous hardware store spraypaint of Europe, has several different formulations for priming and painting plastic.
For the last four years I’ve been trying to learn all their tricks; I talk a lot about techniques I used for my last bas-relief insect project here. So when I wanted to make a seat for our hallway, I felt pretty confident.
Because we don’t have cell phones, but we do have a landline, we needed a little seat for the telephone in the hall.
We’re always dragging a chair in from the library when we need to call a doctor or something. I had the idea of buying a simple boudoir stool on Amazon and decorating it to fit the hall, which is perhaps the creepiest part of our whole creepy house. I ordered it and it arrived. I removed the seat, which I planned to re-cover, and wiped the whole stool down with cleaning wipes, then damp paper towels. I used the glue gun to adhere a bunch of plastic bugs and resin flowers around the existing bas-relief floral decorative elements. I had previously washed the bugs and primed them with Dupli-Color clear primer for plastic.
Then I used epoxy clay to really blend the new elements onto the base. Thinking I could expedite things (epoxy clay is a beautiful material for conjoining disparate materials, but expensive and slow) I also used some regular tube spackle for some of the big gaps. To smooth and unify all the surfaces, I painted many areas with Mr Surfacer500, a Japanese gap filler/primer product for model builders. Its grey surface is supposed to function as a primer, so I wasn’t worried about it not adhering or not accepting paint. Then I sprayed the areas with the bugs again, with the Dupli-Color primer. Here’s the original stool out on the balcony at that stage, last July.
Then I spraypainted the whole thing. WOOOOOO what a mess.
Yeah that did not work. There was some kind of reaction between the painted cast resin decorative elements of the stool and the plastic primer, or between the Mr Surfacer500 and the spackle. Tiny bubbles appeared all over the work I’d done, the areas where I’d filled crevices around the bugs to make them look carved from the surface.
Plus, the paint on the original resin elements had become tacky, which means disaster for a mixed-media work. It means there is a reaction preventing the curing of the paint, and that area will never harden and will attract dust for all time. Possibly a reaction between overspray of the Dupli-Color clear plastic primer, which is a chemical scuff, and the paint used on the resin elements.
My project was fucked. I took the picture above to show the chunky, unevenly cured surface, but you can’t see all the damn bubbles!
So I decided I’d remove the paint and re-prime the entire thing.
Guess what, I had primed the bugs and new flowers so effectively that the paint was virtually inseparable from them. And the original curliques and flowers just got gunkier with every solvent I tried. In the end I was trying orange oil and baking powder, which will take off damn near anything, and scraping sections with a dental probe, because I just hated the idea that this was a thing that had to be thrown away.
I could not get a clean surface. I could not get the paint off. I did salvage and scour one centipede, because plastic centipedes with a flat underside are hard to find. Here it is soaking in olive oil to remove the last of the paint.
Luckily, I got a new dollhouse which took my mind off the maddening primer/solvent/paint mess, and eventually I brought myself to throw the bug stool base out. Because it had so many different materials on it, it couldn’t go in any of our German recycling bins. It bothered me.
But it bothered me even more that we were still dragging a chair into the hall to use the phone!
So I decided to try again. I ordered the same stool, and set to work. But this time I tried a new approach, from a new action figure customizing blog. A bunch of incredible tutorials had gone up in December on a site called Action Figure Art. One of them suggesting sealing acrylic paint with Mod Podge! I was ready to try this new approach.
I had used Mod Podge as a primer for a plastic toy exactly once, back in about 2002, to prime a little cat figure for the top of a wedding cake I was making. But I’ve used it for various other projects over the years, mostly for decoupage. It is popular for furniture as a glue, primer, sealer and finish, and comes in different formulas. I ordered the matte finish for the bug seat, because I wanted to paint on top of it with acrylic paints.
Of course I did the usual prep of washing the bugs with hot water and soap, and I used the glue gun to attach them again. I took my time filling in around and under the bugs with Apoxie Sculpt.
This second attempt was during my Make-Cation, so I had plenty of time.
Here you can see the stool in progress along with some other projects, including the Baroque Bug Frame, which I used the same technique for. Pictures of the frame finished here!
Mod Podge is a like a rubbery plastic coat you are sealing everything under, a form of isolation coat. That’s why it prevents chemical reactions between plastics and paints. Because it’s thick, it also does some gap filling and overall smoothing. I used about five coats over the panels with the bugs. Then I spraypainted the whole thing, with Dupli-Color Next in Berlin Berry.
Dupli-Color Next is a “universal” spraypaint, one of the new class of acrylic lacquer spray formulas that’s supposed to go on almost anything without primer.
A similar product is Krylon ColorMaxx. I have found Next to be inconsistent in finish – some areas dry shiny, some matte – but it’s easy to use, with flexible recoating time and low-odor/toxicity. Since I was planning to put a gloss acrylic sealer coat over everything, I didn’t care about the problems with inconsistent finish. It took about two cans total to really cover the whole stool, which is a good example of how spraypaint is actually an inefficient and expensive way to paint things! However, the paint adhered to the Mod Podge finish really nicely.
Then I started painting on the details.
Because Next spray is acrylic lacquer, not enamel, I could paint on top of it with regular artists’ tube acrylics. I did layers of black wash, then dry-brushing highlights, then lowlight passes. In between the accent paint layers, I added additional layers of Mod Podge. This ensured each batch of highlights was sealed under a protective coat. If I went too heavy with a highlight, I could wipe it off without disturbing the black wash underneath. I can’t even tell you how many layers of this I did – gotta be at least ten. Each Mod Podge layer helped the bas-relief, carved-on effect.
I also did some sponge-painting effects and scumbling on the panels themselves, to give a nice Impressionist quality. You know how those Impressionists loved cockroaches.
At the very end I used an acrylic-based (rather than solvent-based) gold marker to add a few more highlights. Cause I’m so subtle. Then I let it all cure for a couple days. I had also spraypainted the legs of the stool, with the Berlin Berry, and let them cure too.
Then it was time to spray the fuck out of it with Gloss Acrylic Sealer Coat!
The outrageously comprehensive Mod Podge craft site Mod Podge Rocksrepeatedly states that to truly get a hard, non-tacky finish on your Mod Podge project, you need to seal it. That seems pretty shady, since Mod Podge itself is supposed to be a sealer, but I wasn’t taking any chances at this point. Acrylic sealer it was, and four coats!
Finally, I attached the recovered seat with the incredible velvet death’s-head moth fabric.
Wow that fabric was a close call. It’s actually a cut-up dress from a goth clothes company called Killstar.
I ordered the largest size they had praying it would cover the seat without a seam, and it just barely did. Killstar have a lot of custom fabrics made and I knew I would never, ever find this fabric anywhere else. It was a hard call to buy a brand-new dress, for forty euros (of course I used a coupon, you know me!), and immediately cut it up. But I knew that the pleasure of seeing the fabric on the stool, day in and day out, would be far greater than having a dress in the closet.
The velvet-and-gilt purple upholstery braid I ordered from the UK covers the places the fabric doesn’t quite stretch!
It was my beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil who came up with the idea of “Make-Cation”.
Monique has always been my inspiration for mixed media and assemblage art, and I learned so much about how to trust my creative impulses around materials watching her work evolve over the years. I did my first Make-Cation in Fall 2017, and for eight days in March I did it again! It was a glorious time of renewal, full of energizing fiddling, fooling, fussing and gluing! Nothing makes me happy like taking a hacksaw to a plastic toyl!
It may surprise some people but drawing and painting isn’t “fun” for me. It’s hard work where I put my whole identity on the line every time and demand the best I can possibly do from myself. Like going to the gym, it feels great in the sense of being healthy, rewarding and good for me.
Plus there is a huge added bonus in that it gives happiness to the people I document and helps to share their stories with the world. So it is deeply meaningful and feels like service, which I love.
However it’s hard work, and I do it pretty much all the time, so I took a week to do the art that feels like play – making stuff!
Touching and handling beautiful materials like velvet leaves, gold wire and garnet beads makes me feel nourished and exhilarated.
I started on Day One with these cheap pot metal crowns and the heaps of metal leaf charms and stampings I’ve had for years.
I used beads and pearls and resin and glass leaves too, and sewed everything in with different weights of gold wire, then secured it with blobs of E6000.
I learned about using wire to secure decorative elements when I did a Halloween party with the help of a guy who had run commercial haunted houses, in 2001. He said anytime you want something to stay put, wire it in.
I figure people can wear the crowns whenever we finally have our Summer Solstice party.
Then I gave some bugs a bath.
One thing I have learned from action figure customizing folks and Burning Man art folks is that assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives and primer coat.
The plastic bugs got a nice soak in very hot soapy water to remove any traces of mold release so they would accept paint and glue better.
Once they were completely dry I went bug crazy with the glue gun. I had been wanting to make a gothic rococo gilt frame with horrible insects for many years.
I recently found a €3,99 plastic frame at our local Woolworth’s (we still have those here!) to use as a base. I washed the frame in hot soapy water too, to remove any oils or dirt, and then attached the bugs and some resin flowers with the glue gun.
Once the glue was cooled and set I used my precious Apoxie-Sculpt to unite the bugs with the frame, smoothing their edges into the surface so they look more carved or bas-relief. (You can read more about this here.)
Then I coated the whole thing with Mod Podge, which I’ll explain in the next Make-Cation post, and then I spray-painted it gold! Few things are as gratifying as gold spray paint.
I also cut some pieces of cardstock to fit some of the gaps in the frame, because I needed to reduce the visual detail after adding the bugs – I wanted to it read clearly from a distance. To help that, I also sprayed it from below with a light mist of black spray paint.
I am so pleased with how it came out. Look how nicely the plastic spider sits at the top! I made a little decoupage piece to go in it using die-cut butterflies and some Dresden trim moons I got at Castle In the Air like 20 years ago.
I Mod-Podged them right onto the black cardboard that was the backing of the frame, because I am a deeply lazy person.
I also made some Cernunnos crowns, because you never know when you’ll need those.
I used “reindeer horns” I got on eBay and headbands from Woolworth’s for these, plus some velvet flowers and leaves and stuff that I had hoarded, some from like 1995.
I love how they came out, it is just so satisfying to use up these beautiful old materials and make them into actual things.
Of course I barely made a dent in my supply hoard, but there is world enough, and time, for more creepy assemblage art.
I made two other things, a completely insane little seat for our hallway, and a little fascinator hat, and I will post those soon!
So much love to my Patrons, who support my creating and making, and made this precious window of creative play possible <3 You can see more of my multi-disciplinary mixed media projects here.
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!
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!
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.
Which 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.
But 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!
Hopefully the light sich will get sorted out and finished soon!
I 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 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 fairy mint-colored ones, 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.
Their 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.
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.
Anyway 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.
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.
Getting 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.
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.
I also hate putting on dollhouse wallpaper, but it had to be done.
I 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. It 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.
Meanwhile, 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 🙂
This project took an entire year! About 200 hours of work! Dang!
I started this beaded corset project last fall when I got a great price on a used lilac 426 Standard mesh corset by Orchard Corset. It was always my intention to have it finished for the Motzstr. Festival, a special Pride event in Berlin in July.
Last summer, while writing this post, I realized I’d developed a lot of internal biphobia over the last thirty years.
As a person who has been married to three men and who has almost only dated men in sobriety, I felt like a “retired” queer person. I stopped thinking of myself as bisexual.
And as a “retired” queer person, I felt so much safer.
It’s terrible to know that, to realize I took some comfort in the reduction of my vulnerability that living a straight life meant. Because I never for a minute stopped being aware of the consequences and dangers of living an out gay life.
I knew I couldn’t blame my cowardice on my upbringing. When I was fifteen and my mom opened the door to my bedroom to see me and my friend Jenny in bed naked, she asked if we wanted to go out for brunch. She accepted my girlfriend Pam into our home for years without question.
And I am no fan of my father, but he took me to Stonewall and told me what happened there before I was ten.
So my change in identity wasn’t about shame, it was about fear.
I felt guilty about living in the Bay Area as what appeared to be a straight person. I felt guilty about the privilege that accorded me. But it seemed like compared to the people around me, I was functionally straight. When you regularly attend sex parties where you draw a trans man fucking a trans woman while she gives oral sex to a nonbinary person, being a married cis-femme seems really conventional.
Plus, as a portrait painter who often asks women I’ve just met to come to my home and pose for me, I felt less creepy identifying as cis-straight-married!
Then I moved to Berlin.
Living in Berlin has connected me to my youth and my New York identity in so many profound ways.
There was a jump-cut that happened when I left New York at 22, in 1989, to go to treatment.
I moved to St. Paul, where the halfway house was, for six years, and then to Hartford, then to DC, then to the Bay Area.
In all those places I drove a car everywhere, lived in wooden houses, people were polite in the stores… It was like a different world.
I had all these adventures in this different world, and then in 2015, I got on the subway and went home.
Or so it feels. To live in a big apartment building, take the subway everywhere, walk the city streets at 3 am, eat a slice of pizza in a doorway just out of the rain, be yelled at by a shopkeeper – this reconnects me to my fundamental self.
And of course, even though married and cis, my fundamental self is queer as fuck.
So over this year, over 200 hours, I made this corset, beading and sewing and hotfixing crystals. I will wear it with Pride at Folsom Europe next month, and I’ll get some pictures of me in it!
I looove pink. I decided to try something new, framing the piece under glass in a shadowbox. I got the shadowbox a while back and silver-leafed it at the same time as I was leafing the hoop for the last insect embroidery piece. Efficiency!
This God-Empress of West Berlin is sewn on a crushed panné velvet sock cut open. I get them on eBay for a euro, it’s so much cheaper than buying velvet yardage.
I used some vintage metallic pink trim for her layers of torso fur, and fine ombre silk embroidery thread and regular sewing thread for her ruff. I wanted to suggest its fluff without actually using a fluffy substance.
I did as much beading as the hoop allowed, then glazed the back with my favorite glue for fabrics so it wouldn’t buckle when I took it out of the hoop.
I glued the whole piece down onto the shadowbox backing. The velvet sock didn’t quite cover the backing – it had contracted from the heavy stitching, or I was sloppy when I checked the fit.
So I added some machine-embroidered floral applique bits I had around, already partly cut up. I’m actually delighted with the way the piece looks in the frame and may start framing them on the regular. The only other bug embroidery under glass so far is this one.
Sometimes I just have to lean into my femme-ness and go full pink!