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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dang, I have been consumed with this long-delayed project!
SOOO much to do. So many things to figure out. So much foamcore to cut and glue. So many pipes to make out of styrene and straws!
But I am really making serious progress.
Three of the rooms are almost complete, the operating theater (above), the Tube Room, and the Machine Shop.
What on earth is a Tube Room, you might ask.
Well, in the 90s I had a dear friend named Rob Simpson, who was an editor at DC. We were talking about superhero powers, as we did so often, and he said there was a simple solution to most things in comics.
Somebody loses their powers/needs superpowers? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody is dead and needs to be restored to life? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody has an evil entity possessing their psyche and needs to be held in stasis so they don’t destroy the world? “Put ’em in a tube!”
Tubes are also known as pods or stasis chambers. Basically they are a MacGuffin where anything can happen. The McFarlane Toys X-Files line from the Oughts provided most of these tubes.
They were intended for alien containment of some kind. I built out the structure around the one above using illustration board covered with chrome selbstklebefolie, which is like contact paper you can’t remove, styrene tubes and the various lids of things painted chrome.
The Machine Shop also contains the break room/coffee bar.
I figured people would be constantly bothering the engineers in the shop for things they want fixed anyway, so they might as well get their coffee while they’re there. The two women robots are “Platinum” from the Metal Men and Angie Spica, “Engineer” from The Authority.
All the rooms are missing a lot of signage and posters (I’m working on figuring out how to get the best results from the self-adhesive inkjet-printable paper I’m using) plus safety tape.
On the right you can see I’m making stanchions for a safety rail using dowels, epoxy clay and blue pearl half-rounds I kept for eight years because I had a feeling I might need them for something.
Most importantly, all the labs need their ceiling panels and lights.
My beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil, a fellow creator of Small Art, will bring the lights in May, and then I’ll figure out how to install them, woohoo!
Yes, there will be a “Safety Third” sign!
First Laboratory post is here. Main dollhouse post here.
I’ve had the plan for it for at least a decade, and the specific structure set up for a good six years. And I’ve had some of the props for it for TWENTY FREAKING YEARS.
Well, I like to say that the older I get, the longer my game gets.
Sometimes in art it takes as long as it takes, and that’s fine.
I figured out how to build the wheeled base for my action figure dollhouse back in Oakland, using IKEA Kallax bookshelves.
I assembled them, and hired a taskrabbit to help me with the construction of a platform to attach them to so they could support the dollhouse.
But it seemed crazy to ship IKEA furniture to Berlin, so I took the base apart when the dollhouse was professionally crated, and we sold the Kallax shelves on Craigslist.
“Doc, it hurts when I go like this!” “So don’t go like that.”
That meant I had to get new ones here, assemble them, and then build a new base. (I did keep the high quality wheels with brakes I bought!)
For a person who is as deeply lazy as me, I have created a life that often involves a fucking lot of work.
For the past two years I’ve been working on getting all the other projects I brought with us done, and finishing the full-size house (still at 95%). Most importantly, I’m making new art, working on building our community and growing my Patreon.
Finally, the dust is clearing enough to tackle the laboratories.
I have so much cool stuff to put in them! There’s just a bunch of diorama-building, model-building, scratch-building and electrifying work to get them ready to hold my two decades of collected weird body-horror, super-power, Island of Dr. Moreau mad scientist STUFF.
I’m not really crazy about the actual construction part of model and dollhouse-building, but I value the workout it gives my brain. Since everything is scratch-built or Frankensteined from components of other things, each part requires a new solution. I have to learn about new materials, source them as cheaply as possible, figure out what I have that can be salvaged, scrapped or rebuilt. And everything has to be customized to work together.
This is an example of how existing stuff can be enhanced: these amazing display screens are accessories for figures from a Dr. Who spin-off show.
However, all Dr. Who toys are 5″ tall or approximately 1/18 scale, rather than the normal dollhouse scale of 1/12 (one inch to one foot).
So I built up the bases to make them the right height for 6″ action figures. I just need to paint them to match.
Same with the little water cooler; I built it a styrene platform. I hadn’t used styrene in a long time, and I’d forgotten how amazing it is.
You score it and it breaks perfectly cleanly; you can glue it or paint it so easily. I used balsa wood for the kitbash of the dollhouse itself, and only got into styrene during the sleigh build. Going forward I plan to use styrene a lot more.
I built the bases and the upper platforms, which make it easier to see the things at the back of the deep cubbies, out of foamcore.
Foamcore is a material I’m not experienced with, but in this case it’s a good solution. The dollhouse-scale molded tile floors (I got the beige and black one for the Tube Room at least eighteen years ago, and have been saving it!) are attached with double-sided carpet tape. Almost any glue will heat up enough during curing to warp the thin, vacuum-formed plastic.
The side walls are illustration board covered with white vinyl contact paper, which gives a nice satin sheen. It’s cheaper and faster than dollhouse wallpaper, and perfect for this kind of industrial/medical look. The ceilings will be foamcore with leds embedded in them for lighting. When I built the dollhouse I learned to solder and used tapewire, but miniature lighting has improved tremendously in the last twenty years.
LEDS, which don’t heat up, last practically forever, come in the tiniest sizes and all kinds of colors, can be embedded directly in surfaces.
Because anything you mail from the US takes forever and/or gets lost. Seriously, don’t ever mail us anything bigger than a postcard.
I’ve been waiting for some Tacky Wax (museum wax) I ordered from Amazon, thinking it shipped from the EU, for three weeks.
I used aluminum tape to get some clean metal stripping here and there.
It’s tricky to use and tends to mark up and wrinkle over large areas, so I’m sparing with it. Same with the clear styrene panels that divide the upper and lower areas: it scratches easily so I use it mostly as an accent. I have rhinestuds that will become rivets, fine yellow wire for extension cords, and so much weird stuff to put in the cabinets, once I get my dang Tacky Wax.
It wouldn’t be February without creepy dolls, right?
Here’s a little dollhouse shadowbox I made. I customized a vintage Living Dead doll by giving her antlers and the shiny chrome arm projecting from her chest I’ve always wanted myself.
Come on, haven’t you ever wanted a slightly smaller, heat resistant velociraptor arm that pops out of your chest to grab the spilling pot when both your hands are already full?
The antique dolls are wearing little dresses I made them.
I also made a couple of bug shadowboxes, cause you can never have enough of those!
And more bug earrings, with tiny cast glass cicadas I found. You can see the Valentines Monster Doll Armada, which I was consumed with making for much of last February, here. Some of them are still available to purchase. The February 2016 Scary Mermaid doll post is here. And the previous batch of bug bricolage is here.
My Trans Dino-Witch is finished at last! I’ve been working on her all month.
She 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.
She is a companion work to my Pride piece, Queer Dino-Witch, which I made last month.
It 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.
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 Graves‘ DinoKitty 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.
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.
My Patrons made it possible for me to spend fifty hours sculpting, painting and dressing Catherine. I hope she gives back some strength and inspiration.
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.
I was still waiting to start my dollhouse back then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.
I 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.
I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.
my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011
I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and startedmaking 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.
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.
In 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.
I learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.
I 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.
I 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.
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!
The 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!
I 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.
I 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.
I 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!
Yes, 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?
Wigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so manytinycorsets 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.
So of course I wanted to make one! My version started out as a cheap 16″ demon skeleton I got for 75% off at Michael’s.
I washed him with soap and water, and used a glue gun to pose him. I cut his spine in half with a hacksaw to give it a realistic curve, added ears made of thin sheet styrene or cardstock (can’t remember), and used globs of glue to give the ears dimension.
I also used glue gun glue and epoxy clay to add some bulk and volume to his joints, because he was a little frail and crappily-sculpted. And to give him a bit of a bump of nose and fangs.
Then I primed him with white spray primer for plastic and sprayed him with matte ivory spray paint.
And packed him in a box marked “Gothic Rococo Bride of Frankenstein and Fairy Mummy”.
Two weeks ago I unpacked him and started revising. His skeleton was still undersized for his head, especially for a skeleton with layers of dried skin. So I added more bulk to his limbs with air-dry clay (cheap but doesn’t adhere well) and used epoxy clay to secure the new, larger knobby joints.
I thickened his shin bones and arms, as well as making his pelvis more solid. I added some clay volume under his rib cage to give the nylon something to stick to there.
I also decided to snip off the demon-y claw tips on his wings, which were a little too goth.
Then I painted over the air-dry and epoxy clay with acrylic in unbleached titanium, which matched the original ivory paint well enough. After that, I added dark shadows at his joints, eye sockets, and so on, using a burnt umber.
I figured the shadows would show through the nylon pantyhose, adding depth, and so they did.
Applying the pantyhose was exciting, in the way that things that must be done quickly and deftly are exciting.
I used UHU “Extra” alleskleber gel, which is an almost perfect sub for my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, rather than contact cement. I really should have followed the instructions and applied the pantyhose while the skeleton was disarticulated.
But I never follow the instructions for anything. So I had to do the gluing and stretching to fit over sections of the figure in situ.
The instructions say to cut the pantyhose into 12″ lengths; I wound up cutting it into roughly 5″ x 5″ pieces. The pantyhose adheres beautifully to the primed and painted skeleton, almost melting on- the first time.
Once it is saturated with glue and the glue has dried, it resists bonding, so get it right the first time. I looked at his eye sockets with the nylon stretched across them and decided he needed eyelids. I sculpted sunken eyeballs with lids out of epoxy clay, cut holes in the nylon, and pressed them in.
In the end I had some places where the pantyhose didn’t lie smoothly or wrinkled in a way that looked much more like pantyhose than desiccated skin.
I simply decided awkward areas would be covered with something in the finished piece.
And that was how he became a dressed doll with a breechclout and jewelry, and wisps of grey Tibetan lamb hair from this one piece I got at doll supplier/educator supremeMorezMore and have used for some two dozen projects. (The site’s mistress is currently engaged in a fascinating project of using stop-motion armature for a humanly-posable doll experiment!) I rifled through my fabric stash and found lots of scraps. I layered scraps of fabric, fiber, silk leaves and lace for his breechclout.
Then I got out my findings bins and made a kind of creepy chatelaine to secure it. And I made him a kind of neck piece with mixed metals that was influenced by Celtic torques and Maester’s chains.
I decided to make him lace-up shoes to cover some of the awkward patches on his shins.
I got the concept from some pins posted by my friend Alexis about to how to make Medieval shoes.
I envisioned a pattern, cut it out of leatherette and used my cuticle nippers to make sloppy holes in the the sole/back pieces.
Then I just glued the sole parts onto the bottoms of his feet and laced them up with a tan shoelace from a scrap bin.
I bought some granny boots a while back that came with tan laces; I promptly replaced them with black laces but saved the rough tan ones for… something. There was a tiny bit of black fur left from when Daria gave me a personal doll-wig-making workshop and I used that on top.
I did a little dry-brush distressing and shadowing on the nylon-covered fairy, accenting the hollow places and joints with more umber.
I also highlighted bony areas like his zygomatic arch with unbleached titanium. This was easier to me than re-spraypainting him as suggested, considering that would have required going out and getting some taupe spraypaint. I don’t really like anything to slow me down when I’m making some damn thing. I painted his eyelids to match his skull at the same time.
I had burned and melted and snagged the fabrics I used, to distress them and make them raggedy, but it wasn’t enough to knock back their color into the same taupe/ivory family as the skeleton. So I dry-brushed and distressed those too, til they faded back into his palette.
Here he is posing with some bones i made out of Model Magic, the incredibly lightweight air-dry craft clay made by Crayola.
The bones are sculpted over Q-tips, and were made in 2007 for a Hubba Hubba Revue, maybe Flintstones themed? I soaked a paper towel in thinned ochre paint and wiped it over them. I don’t even know how they got in the shipping container.
Eventually I’d like to have some kind of Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy style shadow box or specimen case for him, but for now he’s living amid my majolica in the library china cabinet. Hub will never notice him there. Although if he does, he might jump.