Tag Archives: insect decor

Make-Cation part One: So MUCH Bricolage, Assemblage and Decoupage!

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!

Cernunnos crowns by Suzanne Forbes April 2019It 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.

Metal crown project march 2019 Suzanne ForbesI started on Day One with these cheap pot metal crowns and the heaps of metal leaf charms and stampings I’ve had for years.

Assemblage fairie crowns by Suzanne Forbes March 2019I 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.

Bug Bricolage Gothic Rococo frame wip March 2019 suzanne forbes artistOnce 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.

Bug Bricolage and decoupage frame by Suzanne Forbes April 2019 detailI 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.Bug Bricolage and decoupage frame by Suzanne Forbes side view April 2019

I also made some Cernunnos crowns, because you never know when you’ll need those.

Bricolage Cernunnos crowns by Suzanne Forbes April 2019I 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.

Horrific insect Gothic Rococo mirror project for the Salon!

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017I made this hideous pastel nightmare of a rococo mirror over last weekend.

bug bricolage art and sculpture by Suzanne Forbes 2017I documented the process extensively for the folks who enjoy DIY how-ya-dos and the backstory to my bricolage projects!

First, I washed the lightweight plastic mirror frame I got at our local Woolworth’s for 2,99. Then I used a glue gun to attach a selection of plastic bugs, also thoroughly washed with hot water and soap.

Always wash plastic items well before attempting to paint!

There may be mold release still on them, there could be skin oils, cooking grease, anything. And any foreign substance will reduce primer adhesion.

A glue gun is really my favorite medium for attaching plastic bugs. It makes a nice solid bond to most plastics, which many adhesives of vaunted power cannot do. There is none of the risk of frosting your surfaces which cyanoacrylates like Super Glue and Zap present. Of course, I would never use only glue gun glue, because – it melts when it gets too hot! How hot?

Many glue stick glues will soften in a hot car, at least on the dash.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017Plus, I wanted the bugs to look they were sculpted out of or onto the surface of the frame, like a bas relief. I added a bunch of plastic flowers left over from my various jewelry projects, and then I used my beloved epoxy clay, in my favored Apoxie Sculpt White (which is gray), to further secure and incorporate the bugs.

I did a rough pass with the clay, filling in gaps, and then hit the whole thing with primer. I was tormented about choosing spray primers here, because I had a good system going in the US but this is the Land of No Krylon.

It’s VERY hard to find a primer for plastic that will really bond to hard plastic items like bugs and action figures and allow you paint over it with acrylics, glue things to it and spray paint shiny finishes on it.

I’ve spent many hours reading action figure customizing sites, model car boards and model magazines, puzzling over primer and paint and plastic.

Here, I finally found and bought the Primer for Plastic by the ubiquitous (and excellent) German spraypaint company Dupli-Color. I also bought a can of Dupli-Color plain white primer. Good thing, because imagine my surprise at learning the primer was CLEAR! I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the cap was clear. Oh well.

Reading some full-size car detailing sites, I gathered it is a chemical scuff or so-called chemical sander, a surfacing agent that creates “tooth” for the paint to adhere to. People raved about the performance, but noted it’s hard to see if you’re getting good coverage with a clear primer. And since I wanted a white base, I needed to spray the whole mirror white next. Then I added color!Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo Insect frame 2017 collage WIP

The last picture is after the second color pass, with initial detail cleanup and color unification by means of dry brushing, washes and scumbling.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017Here’s a detail shot of the frame after the pearl pass, made with a sheer pearl finish acrylic from the craft company Plaid’s FolkArt line. After the pearl coat, I added black glitter in clear acrylic varnish, “Extreme Glitter“. I used the pearl on the highlights and the black glitter on the midtone transitions into dark areas, but not the dark areas themselves.

I like these crafts paints for final coatings because they have a tough finish and will go on over most surfaces.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017The last thing I added was a scattering of Swarovski crystals and iridescent crystal eyes.

By Suzanne Forbes Gothic Rococo insect mirror 2017I’m really happy with how the whole thing came out!

This piece is a hilarious mix of my BFA in Fine Arts/Painting, and thousands of hours studying action figure customizing and model making techniques.

I made an earlier version of this, a round bug mirror in blue and green shades, but I finished it right before we left for Germany.

I was terrified about leaving it in a hot storage locker in San Leandro for months, because there were so many coats of primer and different solvents involved in making it- not all of which might be fully off-gassed!

So I gave it to my friend Molly, instead.  And now I have my own.

No-Kill Butterfly Gallery finished at last!

No_Kill Butterfly Gallery with painting by Suzanne ForbesI’m not a vegan. I’m not even a vegetarian, except for a few years as a teenager.

But I’m honored to be part of a human race that has vegans in it. I’m proud to have friends who brave everything from significant daily inconvenience and expense to contemptuous discrimination in order to celebrate the sanctity of all life.

While I kill bugs all the time- I grew up in New York City, with cockroaches!- I generally only kill them if we’re competing for resources.

Otherwise, I let them be.*  In fact with spiders I even chat a little, like hey, thanks for your good work around the house. And as anyone who has been to my house knows, I am OBSESSED with bugs as a design motif. A friend visiting my apartment for the first time in ’98 said, “Wow, this place is insectaLICIOUS!”, and it’s only gotten buggier.

I think bugs are Nature’s jewelry. Put a bug on something and it’s dressed to go out!

No_Kill Butterfly Gallery with painting by Suzanne ForbesI love preserved bugs aesthetically, but I’m just not that thrilled about buying lots of them as a consumer choice. I have a few cherished preserved bugs, and that’s good enough for me. So I got the idea about ten years ago to use vintage metal stampings to make a bug gallery.

Like many of my bricolage projects, the urge to work on it ebbed and flowed for a few years. I collected up a couple dozen bug stampings from different eBay and etsy dealers, and I had some shadowbox frames ready. Then I suddenly got the idea to make some with bug jewelry too.

So I collected some….a really serious totally crazy lot… of beautiful glittering beetle brooches, new and vintage, from eBay.

No_Kill Butterfly Gallery with painting by Suzanne ForbesI had a price ceiling of $5 per bug, and so I lost dozens of auctions, but I won enough. Then I got derailed by embroidering bugs! Ha ha, that year went by fast! Anyway, six months before we left Oakland I finally started putting the bugs in the shadowboxes. I used vintage fabrics I had lying around to line them, and Quick Grab/Quick Grip (my absolute favorite adhesive) or a glue gun to put them together. I was making the boxes and packing them as I made them, right up til the DAY WE LEFT.

Because I am a crazy person, and making things is my smoking pot.

Did I know what I would do with all these bug shadowboxes? Did I have a plan? I had a goddam ferocious vision, which is what I generally use to get to a plan. During the Spring and early Summer last year, when the bug boxes were in storage in San Leandro and I was coursing all over Berlin looking for our flat, I was also worrying at the decision about the wall colors of our rooms. In Oakland I had the dark brown walls and Dan had the mahogany panelling and indigo walls.

But in Berlin, I finally decided, I would have teal walls in my salon and Dan would have green in his library/study.

(Pinterest boards demonstrating the innumerable hours of visualisation). Painting huge rooms with twelve-foot ceilings was ridiculously gruelling for a creaky ship like me, but I was powered by my lust for my vision. And the German paint performed really well, very high-hiding and deeply pigmented.

I worked with a furious under-the-bridge troll at the home improvement store, a tiny old German man whose generalized rage only softened when he realized I actually understood paint.

My greatest fear during the utterly terrifying, exhausting 14-hour day of loading the shipping container was that my paintings would be damaged.

No_Kill Butterfly Gallery with painting by Suzanne ForbesI packed them with as much care as I possibly could in glassine paper, bubble wrap and cardboard boxes, but I simply couldn’t afford to have them crated.

We loaded the paintings at the very end, when SFSlim and I had been loading alone and stumbling in the marine fog and dark for hours after everyone else had to leave.

 

I was so afraid they were vulnerable, that the cardboard had softened in the damp. I was most worried about the large painting you see here, the largest painting I did in the Bay Area. For five weeks, while the ship was on the ocean, I lay awake at night and worried about that painting.

It took a crew of six guys six hours to unload our 400+ boxes and all my artwork from the container parked in the street.

Morgan_Suzanne_ForbesWhen they’d drunk their last Club Mates and headed out, I unpacked a dozen boxes of my husband’s books. Then I took a scissors and cut open the biggest box. The painting was fine.

Slim’s fifteen years on Burning Man Crew had worked some kind of magic. “Burning Man is like vacation for people with a moving fetish”, he quoted that awful night. One of many cheerful comments he tossed off to keep my morale up, when I was so frightened of my life’s work being ruined or lost.

James, our cool Australian handyman, helped me hang the painting on our hundred-year-old concrete walls.

Then I went to town hanging bugs! I had carefully planned the embroidered works I made during the flat search to co-ordinate with the color scheme. I’d used some of the same vintage velvet for both lining boxes and embroidering bugs before we left. The colors move through the gallery in waves, teal and burgundy and pale lime green, reiterating and reinforcing each other.

blueburgThe color scheme was also inspired by the 2015 Fluevog spring shoes, with their palette of burgundy, hot pink, Tiffany blue and greyed-out teal.

The ceramic bug knob on the curio was designed by the artist Anna Collette Hunt for Anthropologie. The large photo was a mid-’30s birthday gift from the artist Cara Judea Alhadeff, who I knew in the early days in the Bay. The small Mexican paper-maché and wire scorpion was bought at the Bone Room in the ’90s, and glued to bits of hoarded ribbon and a scavenged gilt frame from the Berkeley Flea Market. The curio cabinet and couch were scored on German eBay for so little money I can’t even tell you.

To see my vision finally realized, to look up from the couch where I read and see the bug gallery, is one of the incredible satisfactions and profound joys of this time in my life.

I hope you like it! Anybody could make one! I think the cost of making the entire gallery was about $200, much much less than a similar number of actual preserved specimen boxes.

*except for silverfish silverfish must die fucking die die