Tag Archives: DIY

Is this the creepiest thing I’ve ever made?

Insect Bas Relief Boudoir Stool by Suzanne Forbes May 2019It may not be the creepiest, but it was definitely one of the trickiest!

Insect Bas Relief Boudoir Stool by Suzanne Forbes May 2019It takes a LOT for me to give up on a project. I may delay it, it may take me twenty years to finish, but for me to outright give up on a creative piece in process and throw it out is incredibly rare.

It happened with this one, though – I got well into a first iteration of this creepy insect boudoir seat and had to give up.

It was a technical problem, basically. I’ve talked a lot about how my experiments with mixed media and bricolage are informed by my interest in action figure customizing.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to prime and paint plastic items from action figure custom forums, over the last eighteen years.

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.Beetle boudoir stool back by Suzanne Forbes April 2019

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!Bug bricolage and metal crown projects wip March 2019 suzanne forbes artist

Mod Podge itself is a synthetic polymer, a polyvinyl acetate like white glue to be specific. That may sound scary, but like white glue, it’s very safe. Once I was done smoothing the bugs onto the stool with Apoxie Sculpt, and the Apoxie Sculpt was cured, I started painting coats of Mod Podge over everything. Evenly, over the whole surface of the panels of the stool, bugs and original elements and all.

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.Bug bricolage footstool wip painted March 2019 suzanne forbes artist

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.

Bug bricolage footstool wip with painted accents March 2019 suzanne forbes artistThen 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 Rocks repeatedly 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.

killstar lydia nightlife dress deaths head moth velvetWow 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!

Passementerie and a glue gun will save your gothic rococo interior decorating ass every time, just ask Tony Duquette! (sigh, you can’t cause he went to the great Paris flea market in the sky.)

Beetle Boudoir Stool by Suzanne Forbes April 2019So here is the telephone stool, in the hall, next to the ugly black plastic telephone that I will eventually replace or cover in holographic foil.

It looks like it’s always been there, right? You’d never know how tricky it was to make!

Women tattooing women at the Drink And Draw Berlin Tattoo Jam – on a boat!!

Lydia tattooing at Drink & Draw Berlin Tattoo Jam April 12 2019 by Suzanne ForbesWhat a lovely time we had!

This is Lydia, aka Lylicious Ink, tattooing a lovely lady, ON A BOAT. Lydia is a friend who is a fantastic artist who is now a tattoo artist, like Daria.

I went to the new Drink And Draw Berlin location finally, and holy heck it’s amazing. Drink And Draw’s classes and events are now held in a 90-year-old boat docked in the Historic Harbor by Markisches Museum. The atmosphere is so cozy, so charming, so superbly comfortable for drawing, I cannot even deal. I want to go back ASAP.

Here’s the Drink and Draw Berlin Insta, featuring ME!

Daria tattooing at Drink & Draw Berlin Tattoo Jam April 12 2019 by Suzanne ForbesDaria was tattooing in a mask, looking even more like an artist ninja than usual!

The woman Daria is tattooing is Fania Katz, an “illustrator and creator of weirdness from Berlin“. Fania is a native Berliner, and with Daria, a native Muscovite, and me, a Native New Yorker, sitting there, Daria said we had a mighty trinity.At Drink & Draw Berlin Tattoo Jam April 12 2019 by Suzanne Forbes

These two cool as hell friends of Lydia’s were talking about tat appointments, and one of them was also drawing.

I just was so happy there! There were groups of artists and tattooists working at tables and on couches throughout the boat’s comfy seating areas, and another woman tattoo artist, the fantastically badass Strix, working up on the stage, and people doing stick-and-poke.

Elliott doing stick and poke tattoo at Drink and Draw Berlin Tattoo Jam April 20 2019Suzanne ForbesThis is Elliott, stick-and-poke tattooing his own leg.

I knew people stick-and-poke tattooed themselves, as my incredible artist sister-in-law Caitlin has a number of beautiful works she has designed and done herself. But I’d never seen it happening live in front of me before! I was like, look, a hot boy stick-and-poking his own leg on a boat! What could possible be more Berlin? But then I remembered my friend Suz told me about a nonbinary person who stick-and-poke tattoos drunk club-goers on the party train U8 on Friday nights around 3am, and that is actually more Berlin 🙂

I had some lovely Fritz-Kola on the boat (local soft drink company well known for always sponsoring art events!) and altogether the nicest time.

Thanks, Drink and Draw Berlin! I’ll be back!

And always, my deepest and profoundest gratitude to my Patrons, who crowdfund my documentary art project of a feminist intersectional lens on Berlin life! You can help, with any amount you like per month, a dollar or euro is great 🙂

My Patrons on Patreon give monthly financial support which allows me to make this free documentary art available for all to share!

A “Reserved Parking for Eliza” OOAK spell doll!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of this disappointing moment on my IG video here. I found the 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primed dry build Gables DollhouseOh my word, I am building a new dollhouse.

Dollhouse planning drawing Suzanne Forbes Aug 30 2018

Dollhouse planning drawings by Suzanne Forbes, Aug 30 2018

My first dollhouse became a kind of Valhalla, a safe haven for all the characters and stories I love. it is a large, unwieldy, fragile metaphor for healing, hope and closure.

I imagine the School for Gifted Youngsters will work in a similar way, but more specific. My feelings about the X-Men and The New Mutants are my strongest of all and there is a lot of processing happening within even starting this project.

Also, my first dollhouse took ten years to complete, so I must be out of my mind. But actually, not so much; I have a plan.

I knew from pretty early on in the construction of my first dollhouse, around 2000, that I would need a second dollhouse. I already had too many action figures, even then, and too many weird geek jokes and visual puns and obscure heart-wrenching vignettes to tell with them.

Plus, as more and more X-Men action figures were made, it became clear the X-Men and the New Mutants would need their own house.

As I searched for a second dollhouse over the last ten years, I knew I wanted it to look a certain way. More “mansion”, less Victorian curio. Designed to be front-opening and kept for display against a wall in the English “Dolls House” style rather than open in the back for play like an American “Dollhouse”.

And I wanted it to be a “quick-build” routed MDF style, for fuck’s sake, rather than the insanely laborious die-cut kits that are now almost completely replaced by slightly less laborious laser-cut kits.

I never want to do a die-cut kit again, though I’m glad that I did get the very last Cambridge Dollhouse available on the West Coast in 2000. (For some reason I was obsessively determined that the Cambridge was superior to the nearly identical Greenleaf Beacon Hill).

There’s an excellent explanation of the different types of dollhouse kits here on Mysterious Miniatures for anyone curious about the hell that is punching out and sanding hundreds of die-cut pieces from a stack of 1/8″ plywood sheets. You can also see lots of pictures and read more about the process of building my first house here.

Below, the far superior routed/sawn MDF pieces of my Gables Dolls House kit, primed and laid out yesterday.

primed Gables Dolls House parts Aug 2018

The reason I pulled the trigger and bought my first dollhouse kit was that the model I had been eyeing suddenly disappeared from the tiny pool of online shops that existed then.

Windows for the new house primed and drying before painting.

Panicked, I called all over, looking for a Cambridge, and actually found one, the last one, at The Hobby Co. of San Francisco on Geary. I hauled the box home in triumph and terror, and spent the next three years just building the structure.

Of course, I “kitbashed” the hell out of it too, custom building the extension, rebuilding the dormers and adding new walls and high quality Houseworks wooden windows and doors.

To use routed wood doors and windows I had to reinforce all the interior and exterior walls individually, from 1/8″ to 3/8″, cutting all the pieces to size. Without power tools.

I had to learn to solder to use tape wire for the electrification, because it didn’t have grooves for round wire. It was insane, and I said “I am never doing this again”.

So I kept an eye out for a front-opening, high-quality, quick-build dollhouse that was also really cheap. For a decade.

During that time several models I liked went on and off the market. I didn’t have the wherewithal, on many levels, to acquire any of the models I liked. I finally completely finished the first house and added the landscaping, walls and greenhouse in Oakland around 2013, but  I waited to secure it to its base because I knew we were leaving the US.

I knew if we moved to Europe I’d have access to a completely different dollhouse kit supply chain, the mother lode of front-opening English dollhouses. And when we did, I started researching and pinning and comparing all the houses available. I got my first house set up and truly finished here in 2015.

Then this year, I finished the underground laboratories. It was time to be seriously thinking about a new house.

It had to fit a very specific space, and be a very specific style. After two years of research, I had pretty much settled on The Gables kit from The Dolls House Workshop, a family-run British company.

It was gorgeous, it fit the space next to the first house perfectly, it had big rooms, it had an entry hall, it had bay windows, it had an attic for Ororo, and it was the very epitome of quick-build, including channels routed for the goddam wiring.

Most of all, it was incredibly cheap for a heirloom dollhouse kit, only £209 when they can run to the thousands.

So I was thinking about it, but I am cheap and terrified of spending large sums, so I was hesitating.

Then it started disappearing from the four online sites I had it pinned from. Marked “Discontinued”, then “Permanently Discontinued”. It was still listed on the company’s own site, so after a week of nerve-wracking waiting til my Patreon money came in, I wildly took the plunge and ordered it. Two days of euphoric planning and excitement later, I got an email from DollsHouse Workshop.

They politely explained the kit had been discontinued some time ago and it shouldn’t have been on the site.

They would process me a refund. I was crushed and at a loss. I just didn’t know what to do next. None of their other models had the turned wood windows l love, were the right size, or even had grooves for the damn wiring. The other companies’ houses didn’t move me the same way.

After a couple of days of moping, I emailed the company to check on the refund, which hadn’t shown up. I mentioned that I was devastated, that I had really wanted that particular house. I don’t why I did, I guess I just figured it couldn’t hurt to share my truth!

Later that day, I got an email back from Kelly Wiltshire-Tokeley, co-director of the company, saying she had tracked one down and it would ship that week!

What an angel! Isn’t that amazing?

Oh joy! Oh happiness! The X-Men will have a home at last!

Seriously, this is such a big deal. And of course, such a big project.

Even a quick-build dollhouse is a huge DIY project, with many stages, many decisions, and many materials involved. First I did a dry build, to check for fit and parts.

Then I had to prime. The MDF walls had to be primed with a specialty MDF primer, and the turned wooden parts primed with a wood primer.

On the left you can see some of them! Our whole house smells like primer right now. The stairs will be stained with gel stain, which I’ve ordered.

I have all the paint ready for the exterior and have ordered all the wallpaper and carpets. Putting those in before actual final assembly will make a difference of at least a hundred hours’ labor between this house and the first house.

I will use modern battery powered LED lights and run a single wire through each room rather than tapewiring the whole thing.

Plus, this house has a perfectly simple rectilinear floor plan, rather than the incredibly complex layout of House #1. Which I think I will call SlurkCroft, from now on.

So I’m not making any promises or predictions, but I’m hopeful that the School for Gifted Youngsters will be open by Christmas.

My first collage!

collage by Suzanne Forbes photo by Suzanne Wegh Feb 14 2018We had a Women’s Art Lounge for Galentine’s Day.

collage detail Suzanne Forbes Feb 14 2018On February 14, a small group of female-identifying people gathered at Ludwig Berlin to make art out of a pile of magazines, glue and scissors.

With the help and support of Suzanne Wegh, I tried paper collage for the first time. What a startling process!

It was not at all like I thought it would be! It was confusing, and mysterious! I thought it would be challenging, but it was in fact quite a bit harder than it looks.

First of all, it never occurred to me that you could move the pieces of the picture around before you glued them down.

Until Suzanne explained that’s what she does! I was as startled as I was the first time someone showed me windows being minimized and moved around on a computer, in 1996. With my bricolage shadowbox projects, I glue each thing down as I go.

This idea of fluid composition broke my brain!

Then, it didn’t go the way I planned. I had some ideas, and a color scheme, and the first collage  I did was actually the complete opposite of them.

I saw this greyed out pastel flower paper and wound up choosing a palette of images and materials related to it, and then making this rococo chicken being ridden by a chicken princess.

I wanted to make a Baba Yaga! What the heck??

So I decided to just go with the process, even though for someone as afraid of artistic failure as me that was pretty scary. I’m learning things I never expected to about composition, pattern and color from my bricolage and mixed media work. I can see how those things could be put to work in making collage art, but I’m a long way from being able to do it.

photo by Suzanne Wegh from Galentines Collage night Feb 14 2018

photo by Suzanne Wegh from Galentines Collage night Feb 14 2018

I was really amazed at how the other women could make their collages look like something so easily. I mean, make them look like resolved images. The one below, which Suzanne made, is just beautiful. You can read about her experience of our collage adventure on her Patreon here.

Collage by Suzanne Wegh Feb 14 2018

Collage by Suzanne Wegh Feb 14 2018

The Medusa with butterflies at the top was actually the third I made, and the only one I felt sort of resolved into an actual picture. And that expresses my style, with its beetles and jewel colors! Why is Megan Markle’s head on fire? I have no idea! It just happened!collages by Suzanne Forbes Feb 14 2018

I don’t know if I’ll try collaging again right away; it was pretty disorienting for me. But I’m so glad and proud we created a safe space for me to try it.

November bricolage roundup- shadowboxes, passementerie and mantelpieces!

mantis bricolage shadowbox by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2017More bug stuff, because it’s not like our house can have too much creepy bug decor.

I made this mantis shadowbox using some 1970s upholstery fabric I got in Berkeley in the late 90s, some vintage velvet flowers and little bees saved from the same era, and a machine-embroidered mantis from this amazing artist in Kiev, who is doing totally innovative textile art with the digital embroidery tech now available.

Egg shadowbox by Suzanne Forbes Oct 2017I’d always wanted an egg glossary display box.

No natural history, curiosity cabinet-themed library is complete without one! I used the 70s fabric again; a glue gun is my method of choice for stretching even wrinkled fabric smoothly across the particleboard backing of a shadowbox. Some of the little speckled eggs and the grapevine nest came from topiary ball displays I made for my first wedding, in 1993 or 4.
Glue gun party by Suzanne Forbes Nov 2017

I have nights where I crash around the flat asking, “What would Tony Duquette Do?”

And the answer is always, “Glue gun, Passementarie, MORE.” I added a couple trims to this silk velvet patchwork upholstered bench. After the intensity of the first three quarters of this year, with teaching and drawing and painting and my hub becoming a cyborg and being sick quite a bit, I really need this November make-cation.

jewelry holder by Suzanne ForbesI made a display holder for some of the earrings I’ve sculpted, made and modified.

I just took the glass out of a deep frame and gluegunned fabric to the backing. I used a beautiful textured knitting yarn left over from some lovely crochet blossoms my mom made me; the texture keeps the earrings from sliding around.

And most significantly of all, I got one of my first adult textile art pieces back up on display.

mantel scarf by suzanne forbes 2000I made this mantel scarf of crushed changeant velvet and celestial Czech glass buttons and bead embroidered wire and pleated ombre ribbon cockades in 1999.

I was living with my second husband in a gorgeous Craftsman fourplex in North Berkeley. It was the first place I ever painted like I truly wanted my home to be, in insane shades of aniline violet, quinacridone red, and chartreuse. It was full of built-ins I decoupaged with gilt paper Dresden trim, Victorian frogs and lizards, and accented in burnt orange.

We gave such parties there. It was such a beautiful home. I loved my second husband, or who I thought he was, so much. 

This piece was in storage for a long time, and it hurt me every time I came across it in my increasingly desperate and disenfranchised moves.

When the Great Recession finally ebbed a bit and I moved in with the man who became my third husband, I thought about getting an electric fireplace, where it could be displayed. There just wasn’t enough room in the exquisite jewelbox Craftsman apartment in Oakland that I designed to showcase his Black Irish beauty.

Here in our home in Berlin, we have plenty of room.
mantel scarf and fearless pink Gay Santa by Suzanne Forbes 2000 2016I used my glue gun to apply an emerald botanical brocade to the top of the particleboard shelf I had attached to the top of the electric fireplace I got on eBay.

Again, using a gluegun and moving fast, smoothing the glue flat with my fingers as I go, allowed me to get a nice flat surface bonded to the mantel. Then I just gluegunned the mantel scarf onto the brocade and added a few tacks to stabilize. I’ll add some finishing gimp braid and brass upholstery tacks soon as I get around to making it to Bauhaus.

Sorry I couldn’t get a better picture in our dark haus but we like it this way :))

mantel scarf and Fearless Pink Gay Santa in salon by Suzanne Forbes 2000 2016

More interior decorating and bricolage posts:

Our home, Halloween decor, decoupage and bug shadow boxes, passementerie and staining furniture, lamps and frames, more frames, No-Kill Butterfly Gallery, bas-relief rococo insect mirror, and Fearless Pink Gay Santa, as seen on the mantelpiece.

Trans Dino-Witch, a vision of protection and safety for trans men and trans women.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017My Trans Dino-Witch is finished at last! I’ve been working on her all month.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017 neo nazis running awayShe was a huge project for such a small work!

I am thrilled to have finished her and she gives me strength. I hope other folks will find strength in her too.

Look at those pathetic, evil Neo-Nazis running away from her mighty teeth!

Look at her group of friends who are riding along on her back to support her and enjoy the mayhem!

I made their tiny colored hair out of nail flocking powder, way cheaper than fancy “craft” flocking powder. You can get a set of 10 colors on eBay for a euro.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017 friendsShe is a companion work to my Pride piece, Queer Dino-Witch, which I made last month.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017It was harder to make her, because I had some harder feelings. I realized while making her that I often connect deeply with trans women partly for a very sad reason.

Most of the trans women I know have C-PTSD from repeated, systemic sexual violence, as I do.

Although my Trans Dino Witch is a work about Neo-Nazis, the despicable Alt-Right, I can’t make art about trans folk without thinking about the other kinds of attacks they suffer.

During the making of this piece the Orange Shitclown lashed out violently at transfolk.

He announced (on twitter, of course) that he intended to ban trans people from serving in the US military. Just yesterday he signed a formal memo. Since trans people have been serving with honor in the US military since at least 1862, lots of luck running the armed forces without them.

Also during the making of this piece, Chelsea Manning built a rainbow army of loving, celebrating followers who just won’t stop being brave and kind.

trans girl dinowitch in process by Suzanne ForbesSuck that, neo-fascist real estate golem!

I tweeted Chelsea a photo of our cat being cute on one of the particularly horrible days for trans people in August and she thanked me personally! So nice!!

She has made #WeGotThis a banner for the power of trans people and their unbelievable determination to survive and thrive.

 

I named the Trans Dino-Witch Catherine, after the late, legendary artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones.

My generation of comic artists was so inspired by Jeffrey Catherine Jones and her commercial and comics artwork that always transcended the commercial.  I hope she would like this tribute.

Catherine is a work built on a legacy of artists who inspire me. First, the incredible sculptor and assemblage artist Elizabeth McGrath. In 2005 I saw her show Altarwise By Owl Light at Billy Shire Fine Arts in Culver City.

She is the artist who opened my eyes to the power of modern assemblage and pop-surrealist artists. Her works are creepy, adorable, mythological and emotionally meaningful.

And some of them have little railroad miniature people in them! And they’re full of fake fur and Swarovski crystals and weird shit she found somewhere! And they’re like being hit in the heart with a bus.

So finally using tiny railroad people in a piece is my tribute to Liz McGrath.

I was also very influenced by the constant miniature close-ups on the Instagram feed of Jake and Dinos Chapman. The group of works by these YBAs called “Hell” is an intensely political anti-Nazi work that took them two years to complete and used 60,000 toy soldiers.

I decided to do dinosaur witches for Pride because of Mab GravesDinoKitty show at Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans this year.

I thought, Dino-Kitties! That’s a fine idea. I wonder why you never hear about Dino-Witches

Mab Graves has been hugely inspiring to me as an artist who never apologizes for making paintings, illustrations, sculptures (in a craft-identified medium iike needle felt!), commercially produced prints and diffusion line mass produced t-shirts all at once.

I love that she gets to make unique fine art objects and show them at the national level and sell melamine plates in her Etsy store.

She controls it all and completely owns her brand, despite enduring years of suffering from endometriosis, which she has been courageously transparent with her fan base about. Inspiring as fuck! I can’t work as hard as she does, but I am working as hard as I can.

Most of all, Catherine the Trans Dino-Witch was inspired by the Degenderettes LGBTQiA flag baseball bats made by Scout Tran.

Seeing those clear, bright flag stripes pass by in my Instagram feed day after day – seems like queer people are playing a lot of baseball lately, or something – is surprisingly comforting.

I give back 10% of my Patreon income to young queer and trans cartoonists and comic artists. Scout is one of them. So is Sam Orchard. Because fuck, the only people who have a harder and shittier time making a living as artists (especially as comic artists) than women are trans people.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017My Patrons made it possible for me to spend fifty hours sculpting, painting and dressing Catherine. I hope she gives back some strength and inspiration.

July bricolage – glitch collage embroidered moto jacket!

Collage embroidered floral motorcycle jacket created by Suzanne ForbesI didn’t do much bricolage or embroidery this month, as I was super busy with life drawing and a new painting.

Collage embroidered floral motorcycle jacket created by Suzanne ForbesI did however drop a bunch of hours into this one project. I had been seeing these embroidered motorcycle jackets at mainstream stores, inspired by last Fall’s fashion shows.

I found one for under forty euros (in case the whole idea went badly) and ordered a bunch of commercial appliques from eBay.

Then I researched the process of sewing on appliques, learned about invisible thread, and ordered some of that from Amazon.

All of this took months of course, so it was summer by the time I finally started sewing. And the sewing on of the appliques itself took a solid thirty hours.

I just laid out the jacket, which had some embroidery on the sleeves and a little bit on the front, and started collaging appliques onto it.

Collage embroidered floral motorcycle jacket created by Suzanne ForbesI cut them up, moved them around, and tacked them down with pins.

Then I sewed them on, very carefully and slowly. It was relaxing actually. Except, to my surprise not all the collage designs worked once sewn on. Sometimes the applique was too thick and deformed or distorted the thin PU fabric, and in some places it just didn’t look cool.

Collage embroidered floral motorcycle jacket created by Suzanne ForbesSo sometimes I had to use my handy stitch picker and cut off a section I had laboriously attached.

Because it didn’t look right! On the bottom right of the back I had to try three different applique pieces to end the pattern in a way I was satisfied with. I love how it came out, though, and that mine is completely unique.

This is a project anybody could do. The only specialty skills I brought to it were a tiny bit of embroidering here and there to unify pieces and my personal aesthetic. I used colored Sharpies to tone down brights and unify colors in the applique pieces as needed. Objects we own aren’t permanent, and we get to fuck with them like we want to!

Snow Queen/White Witch OOAK Doll with sledge and reindeer, finished!

Snow Queen Jadis with carriage and reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I finally finished her!

I am amazing, and amazed by myself! Jadis, The White Witch, The Snow Queen, the Ice Queen, as I always imagined her. She, her reindeer and her sledge, all done! Isn’t she lovely and evil?

I’d been wanting to make a doll like the White Witch since the early 90s in St. Paul. When I lived there I saw a teacup fairy by Stephanie Blythe and Susan Snodgrass at fancy shop in Summit Hill.

The delicacy, the precision, the tiny, tiny crystals- there was something about it that moved me deeply.

I had no idea you could get such tiny materials. The thought of handling such tiny things was exhilarating to me. I imagined I could make tiny dolls of characters I loved. I could make a tiny world.

Snow Queen OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I was still waiting to start my dollhouse back then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.

Snow Queen by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I didn’t want to open the door to even more collecting and supply hoarding madness, I didn’t dare try such things myself, but I bought some porcelain doll parts and kept them.

I held my love for the teacup fairy in my heart, held the space for those tiny crystals dotting her bodice in my mind, setting the image gently in my mental room for miniature art.

Every time I moved, I packed my craft materials. My porcelain doll heads and limbs, my ever-growing collection of wired ribbon and metallic organza and silver cord and microbeads and glitter, traveled from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Glenview to West O to Oakland.

In Berkeley in 2000 I began building my dollhouse at last and collecting 1/12th scale action figures.

Miniature sex toys by Suzanne Forbes 2007

I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

I met Monique Motil, dollmaker extraordinaire. I started sculpting little things with polymer clay for the dollhouse and reading about action figure customizing techniques.

I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and started making dolls.

I started my Snow Queen project in 2013.

I had been home to New York for holidays with my husband’s family and I had just seen snow for the first time in fifteen years. On a magical Christmas Eve we went to church in Freehold, New Jersey and when we came out delicate flakes were falling.

The night before In the city I’d stood at the rail of the skating rink in Bryant Park; a tween wiped out on the ice and came up laughing, clapping his cold hands over mine.Snow Queen in carriage with reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017

I fell in love with the cold again, the way the stars get lean in a winter sky and the way everything is so sharp.

I remembered the way I loved the cold in WInter’s Tale, the way fresh snow muffled my footsteps when I walked through a silent Chinatown morning to buy heroin on New Year’s Day in 1989, the sparkling lavender twilight of an April snowfall at the treatment center in St. Paul.

iridescent microbeads from MorezmoreIn the dark California January I drove to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics and Beverlys and bought bags full of 90% off Christmas decor. Icicles and glitter snow and white fur and pale iridescent sequins.

I ordered Swarovski crystals in colors like Silver Shadow, Moonlight and Opal. I discovered the amazing doll supplier MorezMore. I ordered nail decals of flocked snowflakes from China and Ball-jointed Doll clothing buckles from Taiwan. I bought pearlescent microbeads and fusible fairy films.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.

tiniest-swarovski-crystalsI made the sledge first. The sledge is made of three different plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, some pvc holiday ornament pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheeting, crazy glue and balsa wood.

It’s all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. The shafts are the bow pieces of dollar sunglasses!

I got so many materials in the basement of Ace Hardware in Berkeley, in the huge model and railroad hobby section. I’d lean on the counter and talk techniques with the guys there for hours.

I primed the sledge with Krylon Primer for Plastics. You can read about my adventures with priming mixed plastics here and here. Then I spray-painted it with four shades of Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, one of the most fascinating rabbit holes of materials I went down.

I spent a lot of time on model car boards, reading about how to avoid the dread “orange peel effect” and how to clear coat.

Our back steps were my spray room, and the California drought of those years was a huge asset, I gotta admit.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI used crazy glue and Zap-A-Gap to bond the styrene, plastic and balsa elements.

I used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling, aka “decoden”, to their phones, to attach a lot of the sledge decor.

The sledge is decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, laboriously applied while watching all seven (at the time) seasons of Supernatural (twice!) and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake nail art decals. And upholstered with silver velvet, button-tufted using pretty antique silver scrapbook art brads and quilt batting over cardstock. I glued the velvet to the cardstock with my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, which is my absolute favorite for small textile work.

As any burner or steampunk can tell you, assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives.

tiny-buckles-from-RIo-Rondo

The reindeer is made of a cellulose acetate reindeer from the ’50s, legs sawed off and replaced with new sculpts, and head, body and neck heavily re-sculpted.

This kind of Frankensteining is a classic action figure customizing technique; the materials and techniques for creating the miniature harness come from the model horse customizing community, and the handling of the mohair mane from the dollmaking world.

(I’m allergic to mohair, like wool, it turns out.)

I also used the 3D Crystal to get a clear dome over the reindeer’s eyes and a gloss of mucus in his nostrils. The flocking on his ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeer-headshot-cu

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeerThe tiny silver leather strips for the harness came mostly from a handbag making supply company in Los Angeles; I found it on etsy. I bought many different silver cords and strings at a passementarie shop in the New York Garment district during my second trip back East for the holidays. And for four years I saved every single piece of silver stuff I got, from silver elastic on dress tags to silver pvc on packaging.

Then I had to make a Snow Queen figure!

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI was totally ok with customizing an existing figure; my many hundred hours on action figure boards has made me very comfortable with the idea of remixing sculpture.

I would never, ever, ever copy another artist’s drawing or painting- or even their style- or use elements of someone else’s drawing or photograph in one of my drawings or paintings. I just don’t do that.

But sculpture is play to me, something I do for pleasure. I like the idea that assemblage art incorporates existing elements. And dollmakers commonly use finished porcelains from well-known sculptor to paint and dress. It’s a medium where collaboration is normal.

So ultimately I decided to use the top of a commercial resin mermaid and the legs of a resin fairy to build my Snow Queen.

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI sawed and sanded as needed, then fit the two halves together, and then I used epoxy clay to bulk out her body. Because I love muscle on women’s shoulders, and a big butt, aesthetically! I left her ribcage and waist slim because they would have layers of tiny fabric corseting on them.

And she needed boobs too, sculpted to fit in a square Elizabethan type bodice. Then I had to completely resculpt her face, to give her the strength and archness she needed.

And I needed to bulk up her thighs and sculpt boots on her feet. And lengthen her fingers. And sand off and resculpt her ears. I think she was resculpted, primed and sanded about ten times altogether. Her final finish was partly achieved with Mr. Surfacer priming medium, which i learned about from Daria’s dollmaking. Daria is streets more advanced than my crazy haphazardness!

By December of this year, my Jadis was close to finished at last.

project-kit-Snow-Queen-OOAK-Suzanne-ForbesI got the project box I brought over in the shipping container out, intending to paint and dress her.

But I got nervous about working on the project suddenly and instead I used up some of the extra materials in the project box making Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer. Which came out great! And I used the fusible fairy film and it was super cool!

Then I made a whole bunch of other dolls!  And sculptures! And mixed media stuff! And a mantis doll! Was my poor Snow Queen doll ever gonna get finished?

faceup-Snow-Queen-OOAK-by-Suzanne-Forbes-2017Yes, she was. Because even though it was now April, and she was no longer seasonal, I had just finished my leafy green beaded Swamp Thing corset (reveal soon!), the second to last of the projects I brought from Oakland.

I really wanted to knock out the last unfinished thing and get rid of the last “project box”. So I can start all my new Berlin projects!

With that thought in mind, I nerved myself up and just went for it. I used nail art brushes I bought for 1€ to paint her face because I didn’t want to buy expensive tiny brushes. I’d never painted anything tiny before and didn’t know if I’d like it. But it went great! And I love her snotty smug 80s made-up face! She looks like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth and Mia Sara in Legend, right?

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesWigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so many tiny corsets now it’s NBD. And then she was, done, suddenly, after four years. In the green and glowing Spring, but so what? There will always be another Winter. She will look beautiful in the dark winter nights.

I’ve learned to trust the process with making art; I finish most things when it’s time for them to be finished.

What I’m saying here is, it’s okay to have a long game as an artist. In fact, the long game is pretty much the only game in town for most of us.