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 my beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil who came up with the idea of “Make-Cation”.
Monique has always been my inspiration for mixed media and assemblage art, and I learned so much about how to trust my creative impulses around materials watching her work evolve over the years. I did my first Make-Cation in Fall 2017, and for eight days in March I did it again! It was a glorious time of renewal, full of energizing fiddling, fooling, fussing and gluing! Nothing makes me happy like taking a hacksaw to a plastic toyl!
It may surprise some people but drawing and painting isn’t “fun” for me. It’s hard work where I put my whole identity on the line every time and demand the best I can possibly do from myself. Like going to the gym, it feels great in the sense of being healthy, rewarding and good for me.
Plus there is a huge added bonus in that it gives happiness to the people I document and helps to share their stories with the world. So it is deeply meaningful and feels like service, which I love.
However it’s hard work, and I do it pretty much all the time, so I took a week to do the art that feels like play – making stuff!
Touching and handling beautiful materials like velvet leaves, gold wire and garnet beads makes me feel nourished and exhilarated.
I started on Day One with these cheap pot metal crowns and the heaps of metal leaf charms and stampings I’ve had for years.
I used beads and pearls and resin and glass leaves too, and sewed everything in with different weights of gold wire, then secured it with blobs of E6000.
I learned about using wire to secure decorative elements when I did a Halloween party with the help of a guy who had run commercial haunted houses, in 2001. He said anytime you want something to stay put, wire it in.
I figure people can wear the crowns whenever we finally have our Summer Solstice party.
Then I gave some bugs a bath.
One thing I have learned from action figure customizing folks and Burning Man art folks is that assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives and primer coat.
The plastic bugs got a nice soak in very hot soapy water to remove any traces of mold release so they would accept paint and glue better.
Once they were completely dry I went bug crazy with the glue gun. I had been wanting to make a gothic rococo gilt frame with horrible insects for many years.
I recently found a €3,99 plastic frame at our local Woolworth’s (we still have those here!) to use as a base. I washed the frame in hot soapy water too, to remove any oils or dirt, and then attached the bugs and some resin flowers with the glue gun.
Once the glue was cooled and set I used my precious Apoxie-Sculpt to unite the bugs with the frame, smoothing their edges into the surface so they look more carved or bas-relief. (You can read more about this here.)
Then I coated the whole thing with Mod Podge, which I’ll explain in the next Make-Cation post, and then I spray-painted it gold! Few things are as gratifying as gold spray paint.
I also cut some pieces of cardstock to fit some of the gaps in the frame, because I needed to reduce the visual detail after adding the bugs – I wanted to it read clearly from a distance. To help that, I also sprayed it from below with a light mist of black spray paint.
I am so pleased with how it came out. Look how nicely the plastic spider sits at the top! I made a little decoupage piece to go in it using die-cut butterflies and some Dresden trim moons I got at Castle In the Air like 20 years ago.
I Mod-Podged them right onto the black cardboard that was the backing of the frame, because I am a deeply lazy person.
I also made some Cernunnos crowns, because you never know when you’ll need those.
I used “reindeer horns” I got on eBay and headbands from Woolworth’s for these, plus some velvet flowers and leaves and stuff that I had hoarded, some from like 1995.
I love how they came out, it is just so satisfying to use up these beautiful old materials and make them into actual things.
Of course I barely made a dent in my supply hoard, but there is world enough, and time, for more creepy assemblage art.
I made two other things, a completely insane little seat for our hallway, and a little fascinator hat, and I will post those soon!
So much love to my Patrons, who support my creating and making, and made this precious window of creative play possible <3 You can see more of my multi-disciplinary mixed media projects here.
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.
Toy customizers, please note that I was able to preserve full shoulder and waist articulation under the miniature clothing. Use of stretch fabrics and gluing the clothes only to strategic, rigid areas of the figure allow her a full range of posability.
Like most of the toy industry, amazing toy company Mezco (who I love and have supported since their beginnings with Silent Screamers in 2000) has a gender problem. They make dolls, and have from the early days: they make Living Dead Dolls.
They also make action figures, and since 2015, they’ve been combining the two with the 1:12 Collective, a 6″ (DOLLHOUSE) scale line of action figures with cloth clothing. (In action figure parlance, dolly clothes are called “cloth applications”.) They started slow, with a Frank Miller Dark Knight Batman (red flag? more likely the chunky design was an easy pilot project).
Then in 2016 they started releasing a cavalcade of fantastic cloth-costumed takes on the heavy hitters of the Marvel and DC universes, plus Classic Trek! These figures are unreal. They are crazy good. For 2017 they announced even more upcoming licenses and figures. Ghostbusters, Space Ghost, Universal Monsters and more. But there was only one planned female figure announced in 2016 – Harley Quinn.
Once she was announced, I thought we’d see a wave of female figures. In 2017, as the success of the Wonder Woman movie exploded on mainstream media, they announced a 1:12 Wonder Woman. But neither Harley Quinn or WW have shipped yet.
And no other female figures have been announced, despite the release of multiple male Classic Trek figures and Marvel heroes AND villains. *cough*Uhura*cough*Storm*. Know who is expected to ship by December? The Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? He is a fucking Nazi.
That’s right, 1:12 toy collectors will get a NAZI before Wonder Woman.
As a woman, as a comics fan and former DC comics professional, as a serious lifelong toy collector, I gotta say, the optics are bad.
Do better, Mezco. Do better, toy industry.
Meanwhile, guess I gotta make my own action figures with doll clothes “cloth applications”. Been plunging into male-dominated spaces since I became a graffiti writer in 1980, a hardcore comics fan in 1984 and a comics pro in 1993. Been genderqueering the toy space since the 1970s, when me and my best friend Bradley played with my Dawn Dolls. Not gonna stop, despite Nazis.
See my mini projects that use similar techniques 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.
I don’t stress about when things get done; the project queue has no hierarchy.
So I went back to this pretty girl when I started to feel sculpty, a couple months ago. I used some epoxy clay to strengthen her limbs and smooth awkward areas.
The internet says it is perfectly safe to rebake polymer clay sculptures that have epoxy clay added to their armatures, and lots of sculptors use a mix of epoxy clay and polymer clay for strength. But I wouldn’t be like me and do it in your home oven. I am an unreliable guide on the subject of chemicals; after all, I put liquid LSD in my eyes when I was 14.
Here you can see Sally (which is the mantis gal’s name) with greyish-white epoxy clay added all over her and areas of plain and green Translucent FIMO still showing.
I had been disappointed and frustrated by the performance of the colored FIMO transparent clays when first baking Sally.
There were a lot of “plaques” and cracking. Probably because I carelessly globbed the clay over the armature without making sure there were no air gaps, and didn’t have an oven thermometer yet, and didn’t let the oven preheat for a solid hour first.
Forgiveness not Permission is my making mode, and I figured try it first, see what happens.
So when I returned to Sally, I first thought I’d just cover her with epoxy clay and paint her and call it a day. But I found I still liked the transparency of her limbs and didn’t want to give up the bright greens of the clay after all. So I painted the epoxy clay areas shades of green to match and did another pass with a mix of colored translucent clays, adding some of my wonderful new Sculpey Premo Opal Accent Clay.
The Sculpey Opal clay is a new product and I ordered some from the US last Fall (I almost lost my mind waiting for it to come, checking the mail every day). I used it for the first time to make this piece and my 2016 Cake Level Patron gifts, here to the right.
It performs so amazingly well. It is very soft, and blends and smears beautifully, and it makes almost watercolor effects over other colors.
It is quite translucent, so it can be mixed with translucent colors to add opal glitter and soften and improve them. I mixed it with some dark green and some lavender for Sally, covered some of her epoxy clay areas and did an initial bake at the temp recommended for the Sculpey Opal clay. The results were amazing.
No plaques, beautiful translucency, just great. So I continued to add a little more volume and opalescence here and there, mixing with both solid colors and FIMO translucent colors. I kept rebaking, for thirty minutes each time, until I was satisfied with both Sally’s shape and her opalescence.
I put her Siam colored Swarovski crystal eyes on before the second to last bake. Once the circles of clay that held them in were baked I used Sculpey Bake and Bond to smooth the eye sockets nicely onto her skull.
I use my fingertip to smear the Bake and Bond; probably unwise. But it’s so goopy and hard to use!
I reinforced a crack in her abdomen with Bake and Bond.
The air trapped in the tinfoil I used to provide bulk with less weight had expanded during baking and caused a crack. I also added balls of clay to the top of her head to hold her antennae, poking the wire in to make a hole but leaving the wires out til later because they hit the roof of the oven! Then I did the last bake, and there she was.
I finally finished this terrifying goat foot candlestick!
I started it in 2015, at our first apartment in Berlin.
I had seen something similar on some luxury housewares or design website, and I was like, I can make that! Plus, it’ll be great sculpting practice!
It’s built on a tall narrow glass caper jar, the lid of the caper jar, tin foil and wooden rings from the craft store.
It was months before our stuff arrived in the shipping container, so I used what was around!
Once I had built the base, I had to cover it with fur.
Each row of fur tufts has to harden before the next one can be sculpted (unless you want to be really careful, and I never manage to be careful enough; I always wind up squishing what I just laboriously sculpted). So eachtime I worked on a project that usedepoxyclay, I would save a little bit at the end to add a row of fur tufts. There are roughly fourteen rows, so that’s a lot of projects!
Once I added the last row of fur last night, I started a new project.
I bought this rococo mirror* made of some weightless extruded foam plastic during my art supply mission on Saturday.
I used a glue gun to quickly affix the bugs and flowers and fill in any space between them and the frame. Then I did a first pass with epoxy clay.
I used it to reinforce the attachment of little legs (it’s very strong) and sculpt new curlicues to incorporate the bug shapes.
When we get a warm sunny day I’ll hit the whole thing with white primer for plastic (which I finally found here, in the excellent DupliColor brand) so I have a uniform surface and can add detail better. Then add paint and Swarovski crystals!
One of the wonderful things about epoxy clay is that you can apply it directly over practically anything, including baked polymer clay, like the mantis.
You can read about the start of the mantis here, and you can read in great detail about my experience beginning to sculpt and learning to use epoxy clay here.
It’s so much easier to work on the hair of my Diana bust now that I’ve had all this experience making fur!
I’ll keep you guys posted on the process of all these projects, unless I get derailed by some new obsession and they go back in the queue!
While I was painting the goat foot with many layers of metallic paints, I mixed up too much blackened gold-umber-bronze.
When the only tool you have is a brush full of bronze paint, everything looks like it needs to be painted bronze. I changed the zombie hand I resculpted at Halloween from glitter black to bronze and FINALLY dry-brushed highlights onto the ram’s horn mirror I bought for our hallway before we left the US. Always be finishing!
*You can see the reflection of one of Daria’s drawings in the mirror, from one of our earliest art trades.
I gave this one ombré wings and I could not be more pleased with how it came out. It is some hella jolie laide hanging in our hallway.
That bit of nonsense out of the way, I moved on to more nonsense. Note D’s childhood friend Dailee below- everyone visits Berlin!
I made Leaf Crowns!
I got the materials to make these a couple of years ago. I don’t know why I wanted to make leaf crowns so much.
I guess I figure people can wear them when we finally have a Summer Solstice dinner party that uses all my leaf majolica, like maybe next year.
The crystal leaf crown is made of floral-wired plastic leaf beads and opalescent and iridescent Czech beads, padded with the last of my vintage green velvet from Aimee’s grandma’s garage fabric hoard.
Action figures come in a variety of scales, from 3.75″ to 8″.
The classic Star Wars figures, for example, are 3.75″. Lots of really nice figures are in the 5″ and 7″ scale, which is EXTREMELY frustrating for me. Sometimes they finally make a character I’ve wanted a figure of for years- but it’s just not quite in scale with my dollhouse.
However, a creative solution can often be found, using action figure customizing techniques.
The amazing Sin City figure of Rosario Dawson was part of a set given to me as a gift by my friend Devon. I love Rosario Dawson, so I really wanted to get her into my dollhouse.
Using my mini-hacksaw, I reduced her height in the two spots that usually work best, neck and ankles. Then I sculpted new soles for her shoes to balance her and on-trend spat-style half-boots to reinforce the cut-down ankles. Now she can join the party!
The 5″ scale T-800 figure was a gift from a beloved friend-muse-patron. I could have bought a McFarlane or Movie Maniacs endoskeleton and scaled it down, but this one is special ’cause it’s from a loved one. So I extended the torso, knees, ankles and hip joints. I also lengthened the calcaneus bones to make the feet more stable and in scale. In the picture you can see how the rebuilt hip joint is drilled out for the new pegs.
The Alice figure from the ’00s movie was beautiful, but I didn’t like the way she was posed. Her arms folded behind her back looked disempowered to me.
So I removed them and reposed them. In this picture you can see I’m building up the new sleeves in layers.
I like to use thin layers to do fine detail in epoxy clay. Then I just had to paint the sleeves and she was done!
The motion-sensitive talking giant terror grasshopper is from Bug’s Life, a Pixar movie made just for me ENTIRELY ABOUT INSECTS that came out in the late ’90s. It didn’t prove as enduringly popular as movies about toys or animals, for some reason.
The thin plastic mounting of the screw that attaches its right leg had broken, so I repaired it by packing the hollow hip joint with epoxy clay and resetting the screw in that. When my husband saw it on the worktable he said, “WHAT the hell is THAT?!” In my perfect world, everything I own, touch or build would inspire that reaction.
Frame for Daria’s moth drawing!
As I mentioned in the art collab post, I traded Daria an embroidery moth for the original of this beautiful scary drawing.
I wanted to make a frame that really honored how much I love the drawing. I started with a laser cut filigree wood frame. I used a 69-cent clip frame for the glass; I cut channels out of some strip wood (using my dollhouse trim miter cutter) and hot-glued them to the back of the laser cut frame.
Then (after spray-painting the frame with Dupli-Color Platinum) I placed the artwork over the glass, put a piece of heavy watercolor paper behind it to protect it from any acidity or anarchival agents in the backing board, and clipped the clip frame back together. The frame fit neatly in the wooden channels and I could hot-glue it in place without any danger of touching the artwork.
BTW, Dupli-Color Platinum Spray-paint is my new boyfriend. It is SICK.
I hate weakness and entropy, and I was concerned about the structural strength of the delicate top piece, so I added a reinforcing channel of picture wire. I also used both hot glue and UHU universal glue, so that there’s a backup if one fails.
Then it was time to decorate the frame! I’d had the Art Nouveau woman’s face since I was fourteen or fifteen, knocking around in little boxes on my dresser. I love hand-applying Swarovski crystals, like the jet ones here. It’s the most bang for your meticulous-obsessive handwork buck ever.
I got this lampshade at the Anthropologie in Kansas City in like 2002. I was there with my second husband for a daguerreotype event. I carried it home on the plane, pretending it was my hat. Of course I enhanced it with lots of bead trim.
It appearsinsomany of my paintings; I couldn’t bear to leave it behind. But European lamps not only have different plugs and (sometimes) bulb fixtures, they have a different way of attaching lampshades.
US lampshades use a finial and harp system attached to the lamp base, whereas here the lamps have a bracket that attaches to the bulb housing. So I bought a European floor lamp with shade, stripped the fabric and wire hoops off the shade, bent the bracket to size and attached the lampshade to it using ribbon scaffolding and lots of hot glue. I spraypainted the lamp base itself Sapphire Blue with Duplicolor.
I had saved a tutorial on how to do this conversion on my “Moving to Berlin” pinboard before we ever left, but of course when it came to it I never referred to it, I just figured out a way to do it.
My first husband once saw me constructing a sphere for a topiary out of styrofoam rings and scraps. He asked why I didn’t figure out how to do it with math rather than eyeballing everything and sort of jamming it together til it worked. I said, because then I would have to stop and do something that wasn’t actually doing it before I could do it. I’m like a shark in so many ways.
Remember this guy?
I find sculpting the hairy fur tufts of the goat’s ankle for this goat-foot candleholder to be very tedious, so I’ve been working on it very slowly, whenever I have a bit of usable epoxy clay left over from some other project.
At this rate it should be ready for painting and gold-leafing around 2018.
Black and white bug shadowboxes!
I sculpted these moths out of cold porcelain and collaged them with newsprint. I made a small edition of them as gifts for my Patrons, with a few extra for this project.
Both these boxes are lined with leftover fabric from my wedding dress. Monique Motil, the amazing artist who made my dress and accepts only the most creative costume commissions, is always thoughtful about returning every unused scrap.
The black and white bug brooch box is the sibling of the ones in the salon- it is the only one not made to coordinate with the salon color palette.
I think that’s it for this month, other than some random framing and hanging projects.
Update: I forgot this bug-covered lampshade. You can see it in its undecorated state on last month’s bricolage roundup.
I had sculpting classes in art school; I submitted to them ungraciously.
I considered sculpting an unnecessary detour, an obstacle to my mission of learning to draw as well as possible, as fast as possible, as soon as possible. I wasn’t comfortable with the visceral, touchy-feely quality of sculpting either; as a young artist I was rigid and frightened of anything where my success or failure couldn’t be quickly quantified.
I was especially frightened by anything abstract. In one class we used blocks of soapstone and chiseling tools, and I watched in awe as a classmate confidently set into her piece. “How do you know where to carve?” I asked her. “I just look at the natural rock, and let it tell me what forms want to emerge.” I found that terrifying. I did not want to hear about anything “emerging”. I wanted to draw the X-Men.
I wasted those opportunities, but luckily, sometimes both ars and vita are longa.
I got interested in sculpting in 2000 or so, after making a lot of fancy cakes with gold-leafed marzipan dragons and fondant-and-royal icing Fabergé eggs. I was “retired” as an artist at the time, not drawing or painting, just compulsively making things.
I was reading about customizing action figures on these clunky yahoo forums, and I heard about epoxy clay. Epoxy clay sounded great: a strong self-hardening clay that would adhere to nearly anything and hold fine detail with no shrinkage, and you could buy it at TAP in El Cerrito. I bought some, but then I got so consumed with my dollhouse build I left it in the craft cabinet for a long time.
At some point I started making things (link NSFW) for my dollhouse in polymer clay.
Polymer clay has a slightly, faintly greasy feel in the hand which I can tolerate, but don’t love, and it has other flaws. You have to bake it, and if you want to incorporate things that would melt in the oven in your sculpt, you’re screwed. The cured clay isn’t a neutral surface- you can paint it with acrylics, but only some varnishes, adhesives and primers adhere to it.
So eventually I did try the epoxy clay. It’s a two-part putty that you knead together- equal size balls of resin and hardener- which firms up gradually over an hour or so. It’s hard to the touch in a day and fully cured in a week or two. It comes in various basic colors; I started with the “natural” or grey. I found it okay to the touch, and I loved the self-hardening property, but there was a granular quality to the handling and finish I disliked. I gave my stash of it to the sculptor Aimee Baldwin, who uses it on the beaks and feet of her incredible “vegan taxidermy” birds, and moved on to other projects.
Art, like life, is made of second chances, even when it doesn’t feel that way.*
There’s always another opportunity to fall in love. And since I am a materials geek as an artist much more than a tools or techniques geek, I kept reading about resins, adhesives and clays. When I started my really just fully insane Narnia Jadis-and-her-sleigh aka Snow Queen project in 2013, I realized epoxy clay was the perfect thing to join together disparate materials. (below, first preview ever published of the reindeer and sledge!)
The sledge is made of 3 plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, pvc ornament sleigh pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheet, crazy glue and balsa wood, all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. (And painted with Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, another rabbit hole of materials I went down!) It’s decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake decals meant for nail art.
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 used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling to their phones, aka “decoden”, to get a clear dome over its eyes and a gloss of mucus in its nostrils. The flocking on its ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!
During this process I learned the secret of working with epoxy clay: water.
Epoxy clay is exactly like natural clay in the sense that it’s water soluble; water instantly smooths and softens it. As long as you keep a cup of water (clearly labelled DO NOT DRINK) next to your work surface, all those issues with the granularity of the material disappear. The clay smoothes and holds detail exquisitely. It sticks to itself and to pretty much anything else.
Suddenly, I was in love with sculpting. It’s all about the right material.
So this summer I decided to make some freehand original epoxy clay sculpts. The goat-foot candlestick is something I’m making not because I wanted to make it, but because I want to have it. It’s built on an armature of tinfoil and a glass caper jar, plus some wood rings.
The figure of Diana will be a horned, armored bust, holding a bow, attached to an iron candlestick (which I got at TK Maxx); she is built on an armature of wire and tinfoil. The idea is her horns will cast shadows as the candle flame flickers.
I was wrong, in college. Sculpting is priceless to the draughtsman.
Just working on the Diana figure for a few months I’ve learned so, so much about representing the figure. So much about planes and mass and the way the figure occupies space.
Speaking of mass, the self-adhesion properties of epoxy clay come in handy as I just keep packing muscle mass onto her shoulders. Because that’s what I love to see in women. (With the [still unfinished, beautiful and evil] Snow Queen, I used a tiny fairy figure as her base, and I kept adding booty to her booty.) Seriously, I wrote a paper in college about the differences between the classically sculpted face and modern beauty standards, and yet making this piece has given me far more understanding.
The other thing about sculpting that’s wonderful for me is that it’s SLOW. For a person who draws and paints as fast as I do, making work that takes deep patience is wonderfully relaxing. There’s something heavenly about just taking my time.
Epoxy clay, though delicious to work with, also has drawbacks.
It’s very, very expensive to get over here, so I use tinfoil to create as much of the bulk of the sculpt as possible. You can also sub in polymer clay for some parts of your sculpt- people on the internet say it’s perfectly safe to bake cured epoxy clay, so of course I did. But I didn’t like the contrast of the materials.
When the plumbers came to fix our sink they used epoxy clay to seal the tiles back in; I should have asked them where they get it, but they don’t speak a word of English and insist on asking their Siri to tell me everything, which drives me nuts.
And it has potential as an allergen, possibly one with a lifetime body burden tipping point.
I had that experience with black hair dye- happily gothing it for years, then one day I left it on too long, and then every time I tried from then it got worse. I gave up on black hair the day I had to pull my car over because lymph fluid was dripping from my broken scalp into my eyes. Oy, what an idiot. Not doing that again. If I start to have a reaction to epoxy clay I’ll give it up.
Meanwhile, I find doing the mixing together of the two elements with gloves on seems to reduce its adhesion to my hands while actually sculpting. Some people use barrier creams to protect their hands. I use silicon sculpting tools, because if you use metal they just become lumps of epoxy clay! During the process of these two pieces I switched from “natural” clay to “White”, which is actually still grey.
I found the white clay to be much finer textured, better for holding fine detail and not faintly translucent the way the natural clay is. You can see traces of the natural clay around Diana’s nose. With the Snow Queen, I periodically sprayed her with Krylon Fusion to get an allover finish; this let me check the symmetry and shape of the sculpt more easily, and the clay just stuck right on over it. But this is the Land of No Krylon. I may paint her with white artist’s acrylic instead, before I do more work on her. I want to get some Rio Rondo teeny tiny carbide files, too, to drill out her nostrils.
I like Apoxie Sculpt white better than Magic-Sculpt, which was the first epoxy clay I tried, although I like the Magic-Sculpt better than the natural Apoxie. Magic-Sculpt has no greasy feel at all, which I appreciate; the white Apoxie has much less than the natural. They have metallic epoxy clay now too, which I crave but can’t get on Amazon.de. YMMV; there’s miles of debate on these materials out there. I love materials research, so I read a LOT of it, but ultimately the magic of epoxy clay, like natural clay, is that to know it you have to use it.
Sculpting with a material that hardens involves time, and handling, and learning the sweet spots in the hardening process for each technique.
Like baking bread, you just have to practise sculpting- so that’s what I’m doing. It may be a year before these pieces are done; I have time.
“Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.”