Tag Archives: Minneapolis College of Art and Design

For the archives – Color studies from art school!

Auto shop color study painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumIn 1989 I got sober, and moved to Minnesota.

I wound up finishing my degree at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design because I wanted to stay near my halfway house. In a lot of ways, MCAD was a problem for me and I was a problem for MCAD. I seemed to be the only New Yorker there, and I was unable to parse the passive-aggressive Minnesota Nice culture or the conceptual art school culture. I considered myself a craftsperson, a person being professionally trained for a commercial career as a comic artist, which was a form of commercial illustration.

Auto shop color study for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumBut the commercial illustration track at MCAD had already switched to digital for the most part.

There were terrific resources for people who wanted to enter the nascent world of digital graphic design; I was not one of those people. So my track wound up being Fine Art, because that’s where the drawing classes were. The fact that I had to take Painting classes too was a bug, not a feature, for me. I was deeply uncomfortable doing anything new or different, anything that got in the way of my progress towards a job in comics (particularly using color!), and I was also volatile, rageful and doing deep therapy work about CSA.

I got in a lot of conflict with the MCAD faculty.

Auto shop color study for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumLuckily, I had a wonderful teacher who got past my resistance and fear around color, and I really had fun with his assignments.

I took the one series of Illustration classes that were focused on traditional drawing, and they were taught by a marvelous man named Tom Garrett. He was a tremendous teacher, one of those teachers that all students love. We did illustration assignments in the stages an agency would expect, roughs to comps to finals, and Tom always managed to make it fun and interesting.

Chicken Drawing 2 for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumMost importantly, I who almost never felt safe anywhere felt safe in Tom Garrett’s class.

It was a safe space, where someone like me, who could out-draw everyone in the room, was the same as all the “Why Can’t Johnny Draw” kids, as I called them. And they were the same as me, and I could see the value of their different skills and visions and understandings of the assignments. We worked hard, but I also felt playful, something I’d never felt before in art school. You can see me explore color, style and mark-making in these assignments.

Chicken Drawing for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumThey say that one supportive adult can make all the difference to a damaged child.

I know a lot of my resilience comes from the fact that throughout my life I have had many, many supportive adults and teachers and professional adults who saw past my rage, brittleness, inappropriateness and struggle to function. All those people cared for me, steered me and mentored me.

Drawing for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel KetchumTom Garrett was one of the most important mentors and supporters in my career.

Having a space to play with composition, color and mark-making was a huge factor in my being able to do progressively more intuitive work in my Fine Art classes. I was really deeply afraid of creative failure, judgement, and exposure (of my soul, I guess?) when I got to MCAD. Three of my teachers there changed things for me: Tom Garrett, painting teacher Elizabeth Erickson, and Fine Arts Dean Hazel Belvo. Teachers who make safe spaces do an incredible thing.

Bathtub painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class prob 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI think you can actually see how safe and supported I felt in the classroom assignments.

Traditional, agency-style illustration assignments involved a concept, roughs on the concept that are reviewed by the client, comps that approximate the final, and a final. Hence the many iterations on what may seem like odd themes!

Kleenex paintings for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesTom was the person who suggested I become a courtroom artist, which led to me having a professional art career before I even finished school!

He was convinced I’d be good at it, and I carried that conviction to my interviews at the tv stations, drawing samples, and going to work for local CBS affiliate WCCO. I made a good living and I was really good at it, and my drawings were on CNN when I was just 25.

I was so fond of Tom I made him a coconut cream pie (his favorite!) for the last day of our last class together! It was the first time I made custard, and I was very nervous it wouldn’t work, but it did, and I brought the pie to class. Thank you always, Tom. A good teacher is beyond price.Theater Box paintings for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

These last two are the ones everyone liked best out of all the work I did in Tom’s classes!

Only two of these paintings have ever been photographed; no record of the others existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

Archiving: my very earliest portraits of women friends.

Portrait of Anita in black on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumHere’s three portraits of women friends I made during the winter semester of 1990, my first semester back at art school after I got sober.

I was nearly a year sober when the semester started, and living with Anita, who appears above, in all her grace and strength. I had taken an adult ed painting class in St. Paul, the previous Fall. The class was offered through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where I wound up enrolling in the BFA program in January 1990.

Portrait of Anita detail acrylic on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumPortrait of Anita in pink on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum detailIt was really an accident I took the painting class, the accident being that it was the one art class available in St. Paul that Autumn of 1989 that fit my work schedule. I was working full time in a bakery so I took a night class. I had never been interested in being a painter, professionally.

All I cared about was being a comics penciller, and I always intended to have a colorist to handle color for me.

I was bored and resentful in my color theory classes at Parsons and particularly unhappy in the one watercolor class I had to take. I did take a portrait painting class in my last semester at Parsons, but we only worked in sepia tones, not full color, and we spent the entire semester painting a single male model’s face. It was the atelier approach; it was not for me.

And the class terrified me; I would get so wasted to go that I would wind up too high to walk, let alone stand at an easel, and spend the day nodding in a lounge across the street at The New School instead.

But in Fall 1989, having a supportive woman teacher and being sober changed everything, and I began a visceral love affair with painting.Portrait of Anita sm detail acrylic on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum

I signed up for my teacher’s regular undergrad painting class in my first semester at MCAD, and she seriously had my back. The fact that I trusted her mattered so much. Although figurative art was generally spurned at MCAD, the painting teachers were really good. Somehow I got into painting on masonite during my first year painting. It was easily and cheaply bought at the school store. Masonite is a gorgeous surface to paint on, with a perfect mid-tone. (Unfortunately, it’s also insanely heavy and the sheets of masonite are a total hassle to haul around and nearly impossible to hang.)

The painting of Anita in black uses the natural color of the masonite as a base; the one below of her in pink uses a bright pink ground.

Portrait of Anita in pink on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumThese paintings have heavily scumbled surfaces, as I was using tube acrylics on disposable wax paper palettes, and the paint dried fast.

The scumbling is cool, in retrospect. But when I discovered the Masterson Sta-Wet Handy-Palette a year later, it transformed my painting, by keeping my paint moist.

Anita posed for me whenever I asked, during the short few months we lived together. I painted the picture of her in black in our scantily furnished living room, over a couple of hours on a winter night. Our friend Tom was staying with us, and he looked at it and said “Wow! I didn’t know you could paint like that!” I looked at it, and I was astonished; I said, “Neither did I.”

Portrait on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumAfter Anita was gone, I started to ask other people to pose for me.

This is a woman I knew in that first year of sobriety. We weren’t close friends, but I loved her style. She was what they called in the Twin Cities a “darksider”, a kind of goth. I was always much more interested in painting women than men, because women’s faces are so much harder and their clothes tell so much more.

Portrait on masonite from winter 1990 Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum detailWe never had a second sitting for this picture, so it remains unfinished. But it looks kinda good that way! It’s a fucking banger of a painting.

It is such a tribute to my belief in the value of my work that I have dragged these paintings all over the US and now to Europe, through my fifteen different official residences and the three times everything I owned has been in storage, through two divorces, a bankruptcy, twenty years of crippling depression and fifteen of ill health. I believe that my work matters, and that these images of these women matter. And yet until I took the pictures for this post, there were no modern media records of them. If we had a fire, they would just have been gone forever.

I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.