Tag Archives: contemporary figurative art

New Portraits of friends!

Portrait of Shakrah Yves at Ballhaus Berlin By Suzanne Forbes May 31 2019My friend Shakrah Yves, dressed in emerald velvet at the Jews!Jews!Jews! show of Berlin Burlesque Week.

I had to sneak this portrait of her as she chatted with a friendly gay boy from Oz, because she looked so luminous. we went for Thai food beforehand and she looked like a movie star, I was like oh la lala, just havin some iced tea with my friend the movie star.

This is done in pastels, gel pens and other mixed media on Strathmore Toned Gray paper.

I love this paper but it’s too big for my scanner so I have to photograph the drawings and with their complex, mixed pigment surfaces they are hard to photograph. I am gonna have get a bigger scanner sometime soon!

Lady with a baby May 9 2019 by Suzanne ForbesLady with a Baby

My friend S. with her little one, just a few weeks old. She has the most amazing kids. Seriously, the most amazing, beautiful, strong, full-of-identity from birth kids. I saw this one in the hospital and he was already right there. And the older kid- her glamour, character and self-possession are already legend among the Berlin demi-monde! “I saw her having lunch with Peaches one day, when she was just five years old”, someone whispered at a party. We are planning a portrait of mama and older child later this year.

This work, of making a record of the people I know, and telling the story of a moment in their lives – I cannot think of anything I am better suited to do, or any task more honorable.

I am so deeply grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose financial support makes it possible.

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!

 

Back to work! Portrait of Daria, second sitting.

Work in progress portrait of Daria second sitting close up April 9 2019 by Suzanne ForbesI took an eight-day Make-Cation, where all I did was bricolage and assemblage.

Work in progress portrait of Daria April 9 2019 by Suzanne ForbesIt was so relaxing and fun! So I was strong and ready to dive in the second sitting with Daria.

To the left you can see the portrait about halfway through our second sitting, after an hour or so.

It is easier painting someone you know well, someone you have spent hundreds of hours with. It doesn’t actually feel easier, but better results happen without being aware of how.

So this challenging foreshortened facial view, with Daria’s head bent over her ipad, and part of her face obscured by her hanging hair, was very doable.

 

I expect we will finish in one more sitting!

You can see the first sitting here and Daria’s website and Instagram here. Her witchy boots are starting to emerge, below! I still need to paint in her jewelry and tattoos.

As always, this portrait is painted alla prima (without any preliminary drawing or underpainting), in straight-from-the-tube acrylic mixed only on the canvas. I am continuing to tone my canvas with acrylic paint to an even 50% grey before painting and absolutely loving the results as it increases my speed even more. The large painting seen below is about five hours total work.Work in progress portrait of Daria second sitting April 9 2019 by Suzanne Forbes

More Valentines beauty from Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin!

Biszhop Blaczk and Martini Cherry Furter at Red Hot Love Dr Sketchys Berlin Feb 17 2019 by Suzanne Forbes detailMore drawings from the most recent Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin production from LaLa Vox and Syren Joey, at the beautiful Ballhaus Berlin.

Above, Martini Cherry Furter in sharpest 80’s styles and BiszhopBlaczkx in a Pierrot collar and gold trunks. Below, Martini’s amazing performance, which included the audience setting her on fire.Martini Cherry Furter performs at Dr Sketchys Berlin Feb 17 2019 by Suzanne Forbes

Biszhop Blaczk in sarong at Red Hot Love Dr Sketchys Berlin Feb 17 2019 by Suzanne ForbesWe started with gesture drawings, which I love.

I added a bit of detail and color afterwards to this gesture pose of BiszhopBlaczkx in a sarong.

Valentina Demonia at Red Hot Love Dr Sketchys Berlin Feb 17 2019 by Suzanne ForbesLoving the Vampirella look from Valentina Demonia, who I will never tire of drawing.

Cannot thank you enough, @lalavox and @syrenjoey and @ballhausberlin!

and thank you, always, to my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support allows me to make art!

Previous Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin posts:

Red Hot Love number one

Kabarett der Namenlosen one

and two

Hansel and Gretel

Baba Yaga, posts one and two

Viva Lamore, à la Baroque

Betty Fvck, Trixie Tassels and More, Berlin Burlesque Week

Broken Baroque

Victorian Spiritualist edition with Valentina Demonia and Syren Joey

More Victorian Spiritualist edition

Weimar Berlin, with Le Pustra and Bridge Markland

More Weimar Berlin

and my first Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin with Viva Lamore, Syren Joey and live painting outdoors!

Jo Pollux shoots Sadie Lune’s pregnancy photos in our salon!

Jo Pollux and Sadie Lune at Sadies pregancy photoshoot Feb 13 2019 by Suzanne ForbesGetting a chance to draw these two artists as they work was a dream collaboration.

Ace photog Jo Pollux shooting Sadie Lune Feb 13 2019 by Suzanne ForbesBerlin photographer and film-maker Jo Pollux has photographed Sadie Lune so often, and so beautifully; they work together in easy harmony.Jo Pollux shooting Sadie Lune at Sadies pregancy photoshoot Feb 13 2019 by Suzanne Forbes

Sadie knows Jo will make amazing images, and Jo is gonna get the shot no matter what!

Being trusted to be present and document their process was such a privilege.

I have painted them together and drawn both Sadie and Jo often, but this was a whole new level.

Sadie is VERY pregnant with her second child! Nonetheless, she is a very experienced model and the vibe was extremely chill. She wore several pairs of SUPER high heeled Fluevogs!Sadie Lune at her pregancy photoshoot Feb 13 2019 by Suzanne Forbes

I didn’t plan for the drawings of Jo to come out all anime-superheroine, but I was working with a new type of pen and really working fast!
Jo Pollux in our library Feb 13 2019 by Suzanne Forbes
I’m super grateful to Jo and Sadie for letting me share this moment.Sadie Lune pastel portrait detail Berlin Feb 13 by Suzanne Forbes

Jo Pollux shooting Feb 13 2019 by Suzanne ForbesI did a pastel drawing of Sadie posing on the couch en déshabillé but you’ll have to go to my flickr to see it!

Sadie’s Amazon wish list for the new baby is here if you’d like to help a single parent working artist out!

If you want to follow her work here’s her Insta, her twitter and her (NSFW) website.

Jo’s website is here. You can pre-order Jo’s exquisitely beautiful erotic photobook in collaboration with Sadie, “As You Wish My Lady”, here. (NSFW 🙂

My work documenting queer culture in Berlin is made possible by my Patrons on Patreon, whose monthly financial support allows me to make art. 

You can help, for a little as a dollar/euro a month! My live documentary art is licensed Creative Commons and free for all to share and print, you can read about how that works here.

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: a second portrait of Shakrah.

Shakrah WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018 detail 2Last week I actually worked with two sitters in one day!

For the first time in at least a decade. Can’t believe I had the energy! In the afternoon I did a mixed media study of Anna, and in the evening began this second portrait of Shakrah.

Shakrah WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018For this one she is elegant in black, holding a fabulous microphone from the 30s.

Shakrah WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018 detailI started with a canvas toned gray, as I learned this year that Sargent always used a grey canvas.

It really helps, just like the toned gray and tan papers I’ve been using for my drawings! Starting with a midtone somehow makes everything easier.

I also drew a quick sketch with charcoal on the canvas to begin, which I haven’t done since college.

I usually paint completely alla prima, directly on the canvas with no underpainting or underdrawing at all. But I wanted to get the feathers in!

Shakrah’s headpiece, which she made, is so tall I knew I had to adjust the proportions and figure placement!

You can see the first portrait I made of her here. I am thrilled to be working with Shakrah again as she is excellent company as weil as visually inspiring and the sittings fly by.

 

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