Tag Archives: gothic decor

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!

September bricolage roundup- frames and framing!

creepy Halloween bug frames by Suzanne Forbes 2016Lots of frames!

postcard-back-editedI am always catching up on framing. I wanted to frame two of the lovely drawings of me made by young women artists this summer, as well as more creepy dollar store lenticulars I brought from the US for Halloween decor.

And I finally found a copper frame that was just right for this postcard from beloved friend-muse-Patron Audrey Penven‘s 2011 show.

Floating frames are perfect for postcards because you can look at the back as well. blue frames

For the drawings I bought frames that were blue to start with, since they would be going in the salon.

(I have a gallery of portraits of me drawn by other artists, because I really believe in portraiture for life documentation. “I’m not just the President, I’m also a client!”.)

I wanted the frames to be a little more special and integrate with the mostly silver and gold existing frames, so I silver-leafed them.

To give the glossy frame a little more tooth on its surface, I scuff-sanded it with a nail file.silver-leafingsilver-fingertipsThen I quickly glazed the frames with some clear polyurethane craft varnish (I was out of my other clear glazing mediums) and stuck bits of silver leaf all over them.

My VERY unorthodox method is to then tap and rub the leaf on the still-sticky frame, picking up bits of leaf with my tacky fingertips and tearing the pieces already attached.

Once I had a nice pattern of distressed leafing, I mixed up a little acrylic paint and used a sponge brush and my fingertips to roughly add some variegated color that partially obscured the leaf.

I found the blue plastic adhesive-backed curleques, made for scrapbooking, when I pulled out the leaf package, so I threw them on there too. More rococo!adding-curliques

safety-third-editedOnce I was done with the painting and the frames were dry, I gave them a thin coat of translucent pearly-gold craft acrylic.

Please note that as is the tradition of my people, I completely disregarded the safety instructions on the back of the large frame. Safety Third!

I’m pleased with the results and happy to have my students’ work hanging in the gallery. Viviane is impressed with my efforts as well, apparently.leafed-frames-edited

Meanwhile, I was also working on the Halloween projects.creepy Halloween bug frames by Suzanne Forbes 2016bug frame in progress by Suzanne Forbes

salt-and-watercolor-mat
rhinestone flourishesFor the frames, I used the last of the laser-cut wood frames I bought at Michael’s a couple years ago. 

I had painted them black in Oakland, so I just needed to add some black bugs and some of these pre-formed glass rhinestone motifs.

I find these “rhinestone flourishes” useful for Extreme Crafting situations, where you have multiple projects going and need to bust out some finished projects tonight.

creepy Halloween bug frame by Suzanne Forbes 2016creepy Halloween bug frames by Suzanne Forbes 2016I cut the designs up and move them around as needed, and supplement with actual glass hotfix rhinestones from my stash to finish the details.

I also take a brush and quickly paint black over the most obvious areas of the vinyl adhesive strip that the crystal “flourish” is on.

The greenish bugs had white undersides, so I dry-brushed them with black at the same time to help them integrate into the frame.

I painted the whole green bug frame with multiple coats of Plaid FolkArt “Extreme Glitter” (hey, that’s what it’s called) transparent acrylic glaze with glitter.

creepy Halloween bug frames by Suzanne Forbes 2016I’m not generally a fan of the “craft” acrylic paints that come in bottles for anything, but I make an exception for sheer glitter, metallic or pearl glazes.

They go on very smoothly, they’re buildable and the tough, rubbery finish stands up to household use. If I could paint my hair with them, I would.

Next month’s bricolage roundup will be all Halloween, all the time- I’m working on half a dozen other Halloween projects besides the beaded mantel scarf I’ll post tomorrow.

 

My biggest big project of all, finally done. Well, 95% done.

The big reveal: our actual house! Holy cow, I worked so hard!
Suzanne Forbes decor SalonSeriously, I thought I was going to pass out 11 feet up on that ladder, so many times.Suzanne Forbes decor salon into library windowsAnd I hate painting walls.Suzanne Forbes decor salon into library easelBut my easel has a home again.Suzanne Forbes decor library

Suzanne Forbes decor library windowsI finished the hub’s room first, so he could relax in it. 13 boxes of his books were the first thing I unpacked when the shipping container came.Suzanne Forbes decor hallway mirrorSuzanne Forbes decor hallway

I’ve been obsessed with designing, collecting and curating my environment since I was a tiny child.

Suzanne Forbes decor hallwayI have always been terribly interested in things. Things made by hand, things that were kitsch, things that were weird, things that were old, things that were dead.

We finally have a home big enough for all of my weird stuff, and all my husband’s weird books.

Suzanne Forbes decor hallway creaturesPainting our house and the furniture I bought for it on eBay, and planning and building our kitchen and workshop (I designed it and constructed the cabinets but the actual building was done by the amazing Handyman For Berlin, James!) took about ten months.Suzanne Forbes decor hallway front door

Along with unpacking the 480 or so boxes that arrived on January 24 in the shipping container (again thanks to James, whose moving crew of good-natured Ozzies ran everything up the stairs).

Suzanne Forbes decor library into salonDecorating, hanging, and installing window treatments was in there too. James hung all the heavy artwork and other stuff, with me handing the tools up to him, and installed the window treatments, because I’d sworn I’d never fucking do it myself again.

James also installed all the light fixtures, which sometimes necessitated a hilarious degree of resourcefulness. Not only does your Berlin apartment come with an empty room with pipes sticking out instead of a kitchen, it comes with wires sticking out of the ceiling instead of light fixtures.

James hung endless hooks for things using his “Super-Drill”, an impact drill which is the only way to hang things on foot-thick, crumbly altbau concrete walls.Suzanne Forbes decor hallway fuse box

I bought the ram’s horn, porthole and ouroboros mirrors right before we left, knowing Berlin altbau apartments tend to long hallways and envisioning a Hall of Mysteries that would recall the one in The Dawn Treader.

The tin fish was listed on my packing list and shipping manifest as “fish from Gail’s abortion”, which is an even stranger and sadder story than you can possibly imagine. Eventually the fuse box door will be wallpapered in some quirky-ass FlavorPaper or Timorous Beasties print I can only afford a meter of. I also plan to wallpaper the salon double doors, and just haven’t got there yet.

I’d say my overall decorating scheme is at 95% here.

Suzanne Forbes decor Berkeley Flea lamp

James rewired this 1970s lamp I bought for ten bucks at the Berkeley Flea Market in 1998, as well as half a dozen other lamps. (European current and plugs and sockets are very, very different.) I gold-leafed five-euro mirrors from the discount store. I glue-gunned trim to all my eBay-score and email coupon chairs and sofas. I painted tables.

I assembled and stained countless pieces of heavily discounted furniture, and attached Anthropologie  knobs I’d been hoarding for a decade. I repaired broken things I bought for cheap with epoxy clay and paint. I made more shadowboxes, and frames, and converted lampshades. I built a new base for my dollhouse, and finished filling and decorating it at last.

I dug through boxes of my husband’s childhood mementoes to find his snowglobe collection, his piggy bank collection, his signed baseball and his sports trophies.

Suzanne Forbes decor libraryMy birthday gift to him was getting the special limited edition poster from HOPE 11 he brought home framed and hung immediately (above, sorry it’s blurry). On July 30 we had our housewarming/husband & Daria’s birthday party and revealed it to the world.

It was fantastic and joyful, and afterwards we slept for a combined total of 42 hours in a 24-hour period.

Suzanne Forbes decor Salon dollhouse

Suzanne Forbes decor workstudioJames came and took these pictures a day or two later, wisely recognising that parties are the only time our house is really clean.

That’s why there are like ten thousand bottles of wine on the counter- when you give a party in Europe, everyone brings booze. I’m ferrying it over to Daria a backpackfull at a time, since we have no use for it. The workshop is really a fine example of how beautifully James realized my crazy ideas.

The kitchen is going to be amazing once I sew and hang all the newsprint-patterned curtains over the open shelves. And once we get our dryer.

Because you can buy a dryer here, it’s just that people don’t, because the planet or something.Suzanne Forbes decor kitchen

Wow, I’m so tired from writing about how much work this was that I have to go lie down. Anyway, our house (except for some final details and making the bedroom nicer)!

Isn’t it completely amazing?