Good heavens. The insect outfit project got a little out of hand.
Typical for me!
I made a tiara, using my usual method of embellishing an existing metal flora tiara with decorative elements. This time, beetle brooches and wired loops of iridescent beads and crystals. The beads were left over from the corset.
The beetle brooches are inexpensive enameled pot metal, bought on eBay. They are the last of my cheap art materials bought by mail, as I’m taking a consumer break and eliminating non-local purchases as much as I can. I have enough 3D art supplies to make bricolage stuff for years anyway!
I always wire everything on, for strength.
I had some copper wire that matched the tiara, but I also used gold to split the difference between the base color of the beetles. My design/decorating motto is always, add more stuff til it all goes together/the mistakes are hidden/it has so many colors it will match anything.
I use E6000 on top of the wire to cover any scratchy sharp wire ends and stabilize the knots and connections.
Halfway through, I ran out of regular E6000 and had to order the new “odorless” E6000 Plus. My Beloved Friend, Muse and Patron Monique Motil, master costumier, often said of E6000, “The bad smell is how you know it’s gonna work!” and I would laugh.
Of course, I’ve always been a person who was totally cavalier about chemicals and fumes, because of my misspent youth, but now that I have overlapping autoimmune diseases I’m rethinking that.
So I was willing to try the new version, but I was initially disappointed. E6000 Plus is described as self-leveling, and tbh the old kind was too, but I find the Plus a bit runnier.
Regarding adhesion, I tested the bond a few hours on, when the glue was dry to the touch, and the glue blobs peeled right off!
However, I love to research adhesives, and I read on a forum that the bond isn’t strong til the glue is fully cured. And behold, after 24 hours the bonds seem pretty good.
For the necklace I prised off the pinback parts of some beetle brooches. The brooches are made of fairly soft pot metal and the pinback portions are generally soldered on; they can usually be broken off with jewelry pliers.
Suz’s most serious crafting and bricolage tip: have a set of jewelry tools at your elbow at your worktable.
You will use them every day, although rarely for actual jewelry. The broken solder left sharp, ragged edges, but rather than file them down (I’m working on the dust exposure problem too!) I just covered them with the Apoxie Sculpt I used to attach the eye pins.
The stems of the eye pins were quickly formed into loops to give the epoxy clay something to secure – even though Apoxie Sculpt adheres well to metal, a straight pin could pull out. Once the Apoxie Sculpt was cured, I used jump rings to attach the beetles to a cheap pot metal necklace. The jump rings give the bugs a little movement which is fun, and keep them from fouling the links of the necklace.
Finishing the corset was just a matter of another forty or fifty hours of beading and embroidering.
I used a lot of metallic filament at the end, to unify the machine-embroidered appliques with the beading and the crystals. I got the colored metallic filaments, which are plastic rather than thread, in a pack of ten colors at the Euro store.
I have used up my whole supply now and gotta find some more, as most metallic embroidery thread is simply the devil’s dingleberries.
(I did not make up that phrase. One of my boyfriends, astonished at my passion for capers, said that “Capers are the Devil’s dingleberries.” Not something one forgets.)
I was planning to attach some beetle brooches to it, but in the end I decided they would catch everything even more than the 3D crust of beading. So I will simply pin them on to my top.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Then 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 Rocksrepeatedly 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.
Wow 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!
This project took an entire year! About 200 hours of work! Dang!
I started this beaded corset project last fall when I got a great price on a used lilac 426 Standard mesh corset by Orchard Corset. It was always my intention to have it finished for the Motzstr. Festival, a special Pride event in Berlin in July.
Last summer, while writing this post, I realized I’d developed a lot of internal biphobia over the last thirty years.
As a person who has been married to three men and who has almost only dated men in sobriety, I felt like a “retired” queer person. I stopped thinking of myself as bisexual.
And as a “retired” queer person, I felt so much safer.
It’s terrible to know that, to realize I took some comfort in the reduction of my vulnerability that living a straight life meant. Because I never for a minute stopped being aware of the consequences and dangers of living an out gay life.
I knew I couldn’t blame my cowardice on my upbringing. When I was fifteen and my mom opened the door to my bedroom to see me and my friend Jenny in bed naked, she asked if we wanted to go out for brunch. She accepted my girlfriend Pam into our home for years without question.
And I am no fan of my father, but he took me to Stonewall and told me what happened there before I was ten.
So my change in identity wasn’t about shame, it was about fear.
I felt guilty about living in the Bay Area as what appeared to be a straight person. I felt guilty about the privilege that accorded me. But it seemed like compared to the people around me, I was functionally straight. When you regularly attend sex parties where you draw a trans man fucking a trans woman while she gives oral sex to a nonbinary person, being a married cis-femme seems really conventional.
Plus, as a portrait painter who often asks women I’ve just met to come to my home and pose for me, I felt less creepy identifying as cis-straight-married!
Then I moved to Berlin.
Living in Berlin has connected me to my youth and my New York identity in so many profound ways.
There was a jump-cut that happened when I left New York at 22, in 1989, to go to treatment.
I moved to St. Paul, where the halfway house was, for six years, and then to Hartford, then to DC, then to the Bay Area, for eighteen years.
In all those places I drove a car everywhere, lived in wooden houses, people were polite in the stores… It was like a different world.
I had all these adventures in this different world, and then in 2015, I got on the subway and went home.
Or so it feels. To live in a big apartment building, take the subway everywhere, walk the city streets at 3 am, eat a slice of pizza in a doorway just out of the rain, be yelled at by a shopkeeper – this reconnects me to my fundamental self.
And of course, even though married and cis, my fundamental self is queer as fuck.
So over this year, over 200 hours, I made this corset, beading and sewing and hotfixing crystals. I will wear it with Pride at Folsom Europe next month, and I’ll get some pictures of me in it!
I looove pink. I decided to try something new, framing the piece under glass in a shadowbox. I got the shadowbox a while back and silver-leafed it at the same time as I was leafing the hoop for the last insect embroidery piece. Efficiency!
This God-Empress of West Berlin is sewn on a crushed panné velvet sock cut open. I get them on eBay for a euro, it’s so much cheaper than buying velvet yardage.
I used some vintage metallic pink trim for her layers of torso fur, and fine ombre silk embroidery thread and regular sewing thread for her ruff. I wanted to suggest its fluff without actually using a fluffy substance.
I did as much beading as the hoop allowed, then glazed the back with my favorite glue for fabrics so it wouldn’t buckle when I took it out of the hoop.
I glued the whole piece down onto the shadowbox backing. The velvet sock didn’t quite cover the backing – it had contracted from the heavy stitching, or I was sloppy when I checked the fit.
So I added some machine-embroidered floral applique bits I had around, already partly cut up. I’m actually delighted with the way the piece looks in the frame and may start framing them on the regular. The only other bug embroidery under glass so far is this one.
Sometimes I just have to lean into my femme-ness and go full pink!
You know how sometimes you go to meet your gorgeous friend and they are with their new hotness and they’re smooching on each other and you’re so happy to see beautiful humans being happy together your mind is just blown? Anto, seen above preparing inhalable refreshments, didn’t know Sue or Zuzana before, but since I know Anto it seemed completely natural to me that they were all hanging out together!
And of course Anto was wearing one of her amazing wearable art crochet art pieces, which I always love to draw.
You can see more drawings of her, at Bordello Bizarre, here and here.
Nico, below, is from Oz and actually a friend of Gaff-E, who I drew a while back, also at Bordello Bizarre.
We chatted while in the line and he told me his lovely coming-out-to-his-best-friend story and also about his fabulous outfit which was entirely borrowed except for his shoes. The ombre shrug, made of a gradient of vintage leather opera gloves and organza ruffles, was a showstopper.And then there were all these other beautiful queer nonbinary agender drag kinky folx who were dressed in feathers and glitter and balloons, and everybody was really happy like it’s when Pride falls on perfect weather or all your friends meet up at your favorite con or something.
Well that’s a Peaches show in Berlin!
The show itself was amazing, and it turned out I knew several of the dance/movement performers, and I made lots of drawings, but they are pretty sketchy so it will take a while to finish them up. I wanted to finish these two first while my memory of the vibrant colors was strong enough to give me the courage to try and capture them! I am not sure I succeeded, you can’t imagine how vivid and luminous and alive everyone was out there on the street against the grey cobblestones, but I tried. And I will keep trying.
thank you, my Patreon Patrons, for making it possible for me to do this work and draw these beautiful people!!
Some new decorative art projects for this month. I finally made a bug box with labels!
Rather than look for a vintage typewriter font I dabbed the inkjet printed paper in patches with water to smear some letters and rubbed it with a bit of pastel for quick aging. For the curious, I use tinfoil molded into squarish shapes around the pinbacks of the jewelled bug brooches.
This allows me to glue them onto the backing securely and keep them straight. Then I just paint the glue and foil a matching color.
I buy the brooches on eBay with the simple rule: no more than 2 euros including shipping. It means I bid on a lot of auctions, but it’s not like there’s a rush!
These machine-embroidered bugs are from EmbroideryMoks, a wonderful, ingenious etsy/eBay seller in Ukraine.
The artisan who runs it, Julia Yevzhenko, is brilliant. She has come up with some really clever ways to use her embroidery machine. I tacked these bugs down to the felt with flexible glue, then put the felt in an embroidery hoop and used black, gold and metallic threads to add details and make the edges crisp. Of course I also had to add some beading!
I’m kind of like a drag queen in that my first question is always, “How would this look with MORE?”
I made these beaded insect shoe clips with two bug brooches wired to triangles of soft aluminium sculpture mesh lined with felt.
I probably over-engineered the fucking hell out of them, since it’s not like I’m a burlesque performer and I don’t plan to go jogging in these shoes. But entropy makes me furious and I like construction to be robust.
Once again I demonstrate my commitment to the creative protocol of buying cheap stuff and making it weird.
I was pretty limited in what I could do creatively after my drawing hand was injured in a bus accident this June.
Because I grip the pencil tightly and draw very fast and with a lot of force, I have been cautious about beginning to use my hand again. One thing I could start to do after the first two weeks was embroidery.
Embroidery puts very little pressure on my injured hand.
I had some new thread I wanted to try, too. I got this set of multiple metallic threads at Tiger for like two euros!
I love cheap art supplies.These are not precisely metallic embroidery thread (which is a known shitshow) but more like a superthin metallic polymer strand lined with a nylon thread.
It is very fine and fairly subtle in effect, but it doesn’t snag on every draw-through like traditional metallic threads.
I ran it over the finished satin stitch to add iridescence. I always think of the new Bay Bridge when I do that!
As I often do on textured fabric like velvet, I ran a single embroidery stitch in doubled plain black sewing thread around it to help it look cleaner.
And of course I added some beading! My hand control was somewhat impaired for most of this piece, and I wasn’t able to stitch with normal precision. It was humbling, and yet satisfying to be able to do something, make something. I am happy with the result, and so grateful my hand wasn’t more seriously injured.
So I tabled it for a while, to see if I got more comfortable using pastels.
One of my beloved Friend-Muse-Patrons sent me a box of Prismacolor Nupastels for my birthday. Those were my favorite pastels in college, if I could have been said to have a favorite in a media I do not love. They are square in profile rather than round and both harder and more waxy than most pastels. I find them much easier to control and they lay down a lot of pigment on my toothy Canson Mi Teintes paper.
I also knew I needed a workable fixatif to freeze each layer of color as I laid it on.
But I was having trouble finding the kind of workable fix I used in art school.
Eventually I figured out that Winsor and Newton “soft fixative” is the same product. It’s sold as Professional Fixative now in the US, I believe. It’s a (virtually odorless! brave new world!) spray fixative that holds the dusty pigments in place, and creates a new layer of tooth for the next layer of pastel to catch on and adhere to. I ordered some and went back to the picture of Viva this week.
The process of adding layers of Prismacolor Nupastels to a portrait on Canson Mi Teintes paper by Suzanne Forbes, 2018
Pastels are imprecise anyway, so I can use them fairly well with my injured hand.
The problem with workable fixatif, or any fixatif, is that when you spray them on, they adhere the pigment particles to the paper with an adhesive medium. Which has the effect of darkening the pigments. I hadn’t had much trouble with the Lascaux fix I’d been using, but the new can totally knocked out my highlights.
After each spray of fix I had to go in and restore the highlights. The paper got coarser and coarser, although as promised the fix does build a new layer of tooth. You can continue to add pigment on the surface for a long time. The lightest values in the drawing you see in the photographs aren’t properly fixed; they could easily be rubbed or wiped off. But that is a problem for another day.
I feel like this is a nice depiction of Viva’s beauty and mischief!
Thanks so very much to my Patrons on Patreon whose financial support makes it possible for me to experiment and grow as an artist. You sustain me.
Textile art is SLOW ART. I love that about it, because I draw and paint so fast. However, I have been so busy the last few months I haven’t had the deep time it takes to finish new embroidered pieces.
So I did the mystic eye piece you see above just to keep my hand in, using a rhinestone applique and surrounding it with a variegated fine rayon thread aura and some swarovski crystal beading.
Then at the beginning of this month I dug in and made sixteen hours’ time for this Lunar Moth in sparkly blues.
I cut up a digital galaxy print shirt for the backing and added a layer of my favorite galaxy print sparkle tulle. Tulle over stretch fabrics is such a great way to create a stable,precise surface.
I often, as I did here, embroider the outline of the design on the bottom fabric first. This creates a little extra depth between the base and the tulle.
I added crystal and pearl beading at the end, and some swarovski crystals and dark blue sequins.
Grey mohair for the fur was very last thing, as I am allergic to it and it makes me sneeze like crazy!
The eyes of this moth are antique mother-of-pearl buttons from the incredible vintage button lady’s booth at the Markt am Winterfeldplatz. I love embroidery so much, and hope to make some more time for it this summer.
Textile art, and embroidery in particular, is the most soothing kind of creative work for me.
The Lunar Moth was the largest piece I’ve done in ages, I’ve only used a hoop this big once or twice before. Here you can see it hanging with some similarly colored pieces from before we left the States, made in 2014.
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.