Tag Archives: mixed media art

More archive art about addiction, from 1991.

In the ambulance with Mom mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

In the ambulance with Mom mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Not much fun, this period of my work!

I can remember at the time, 1991, feeling like, alright, I’ve been sober a couple years, I’ve got a little bit of art school left, if I am gonna make work about being a junkie on the Lower East Side, now is the time.

Hold my place mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Hold my place mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

It definitely felt like I was gonna handle the psychic material and then be done featuring it in my art.

And that has proven true. I haven’t felt any need to revisit that period of my life in my visual art and indeed I don’t talk about it much in my recovery community this last couple decades either. I’ve made enough wack mistakes in 31 years of sobriety to have plenty of other material to talk about!

Dino with me mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Dino with me mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Most of these drawings, which I made in Fall 1991, were photocopied, colored, painted and collaged together in a large piece about addiction and recovery.

It had text from legal documents, old photos of me, and Miguel Piñero poetry. It was a really nice use of my comics background, combining words and pictures. A wash of sickly translucent green varnish unified the surface, except for three bright watercolors.

Me and Dwinkie mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Me and Dwinkie mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

Dwinkie was a punk girl I used to panhandle with sometimes.

She lived in one of the last totally crazy squats on the Lower East Side, the kind with some stolen electricity, lots of candles, and no running water.

Self Portrait in the Tombs Jan 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991

I did two pieces about the last time I was arrested, in January of 1989.

I spent three days, the 72-hour maximum hold, in The Tombs. Cold turkey heroin withdrawal. It was during a bitter freeze so the cops had rounded up all the homeless women and sex workers they could find, along with the junkies. There were about thirty five women in the cell, half of which you can see in the works above and below. I didn’t draw the toilet.

4am in the Tombs acrylic on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

4am in the Tombs acrylic on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

The sex workers, who were mostly not junkies and not in withdrawal like the rest of us, were bored and lively.

At 4 a.m. one night they were playing Simon Says, and I watched, when I wasn’t vomiting or purging black diarrhea on the single open toilet in the middle of the cell. I thought, “This is incredible material. I’ll use this some day.” I dug the pathos, the Hunter Thompson vibe of it.

left side collage mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

left side collage mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

I don’t think about it that way today, though. I think about how sad it was.

And how sad the carceral state and the opioid epidemic and the continuing criminalisation of sex work is. My part as a participant and witness sucked, but addressing the overarching spectrum of human suffering is so much more important. My escape from the sorrow, degradation and horror was in so many ways a function of my privilege.

collage right mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

I got to be shipped off to a fancy treatment center, and got to stay in a nice halfway house for four months.

I could never have stayed sober otherwise. I also didn’t die when I overdosed on methadone because my mother let me stay at home, horrible as it was for her, while I was using.

20th st with mom collage mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

20th st with mom collage mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

My mom was there to call the paramedics, who revived me.

I was so, so incredibly blessed by her compassion for me. Yes, I did the work to stay sober. I have done it all these years. But I also had incredible opportunities, great resources, and tremendous inspiration and support from my mom. Most people have none of those things.

Hazelden mixed media on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe truth is, I’m not very interested in talking about these shitty junkie stories now.

What I do think is important is how goddam good the work I did then was. The big collage had three bright watercolors in it, about my recovery. The one above is my first night sober, detoxing at Hanley Hazelden treatment center in West Palm Beach on Jan 27, 1989. I painted the night nurse to look a bit like my mom.

St Paul 1990 watercolor on paper Fall 1991 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis one is me at a year and a half sober, in my white-painted, loft-like art school apartment.

It was the first place of my own I really set up for my work.

And this is me on the phone with the tv station I worked for, wearing my mom’s nice grey suit, in 1991.

At my beautiful Craftsmen apartment with a fireplace, in my last year of school, already working regularly as a courtroom artist and working hard to break into comics. It was the last piece for the collage; I am turned away from the viewer, because the period of processing and disclosing the past is over.

I never forget it, though. Every night when I go to bed, I say a prayer of thanks for my safety and freedom, and I remember that cell in The Tombs.

Every night, I know what a miracle and a blessing it is that I am alive, and sober, and have a bed to sleep in (except for those two nights in recovery I have had to sleep in my car). Don’t leave before the miracle happens.

These paintings and drawings had never been photographed; until now, no record of them 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.

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.

Finished mixed media pastel portrait of Shakrah!

Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018I committed to the pastel learning journey!

When we had our first sitting for a planned pastel portrait, I knew I needed colors to depict Shakrah Yves. A 1920s jazz singer and former professional costumier, she has an absolute treasury of gorgeous outfits she has created, with matching accessories.Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018 detail

Iris Perez by Suzanne Forbes Jan 2018There was no way I could do justice to her emerald sparkles with the nervous forays I’d made into pastel color thus far.

You can see the results of our first sitting, in sepia and umber colors accented with black and white, here.

I got two sets of new pastels, oil and chalk, and some mixing stumps, as a birthday gift. I took a trial run at adding color by enriching the portrait of Iris Perez, left, before her partner took it back to the Bay Area for her.

When Shakrah arrived for our second sitting, I was ready. SO many colors!

I rarely set up my paint palette with more than fifteen, and here I had at least 70. I added color to the drawing with chalk pastels first, as they are easier to remove, layer over and blend without muddiness. The chalk pastel also behaved well with the white gel pen highlights from the previous sitting. The gel pen ink seemed to act as a resist, sealing the surface of the paper. That meant I didn’t lose the highlights.

I’m using Canson Mi Teintes, which is gelatin-sized and has some kinda crazy microscopic hyper-surface-area (mechanical resistance) to attract and hold pigments.*

Then I put oil pastel over the chalk, because I am punk as fuck.

Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018 detail cuI was careful because past experiences with oil pastels had taught me that things get muddy fast. You can lose color purity quickly with oil pastels, and wind up with tints you can’t shake.

While chalk pastel is close to painting in the sense that it has limited additive/subtractive properties, oil pastel is less flexible.

You can scrape it back down, but the surface will be permanently stained.

When you apply oil pastel over chalk pastel, the chalk slides like graphite dust under the stick.

It takes some focus to control the resulting mix, but it gives a rich color, including the deep darks I want from a picture. I don’t think I have the patience or discipline to become the kind of chalk pastel user who can get true dark values from chalks. Same way I don’t have the spoons left to properly learn watercolor. I love mixing media, though, and I feel like there are tremendous possibilities. Particularly in terms of the speed that is always of primary importance to me.

Of course I’m concerned about the archival properties of the works, particularly when using markers as solvents for oil pastels.

Star Trek the Original Series artwork by Suzanne Forbes AKA Rachel Ketchum AKA Rachel Forbes Seese

the effects of paste-up, non-acid-free tape and Letratone adhesive on some of my original Star Trek comic artwork.

The data that exists on the preservation of mixed media is not much more than a century old.

Gel pens are only a few decades old, and my hundreds of drawings made for Frank Wu are on printer paper and use correction tape, which isn’t intended for art material use at all.

Artists have the responsibility to be educated about the archival and lightfastness properties of their materials to the extent that the information exists.

As an artist who always intended to be a commercial artist creating work for reproduction, I’m willing to see some of my work deteriorate.

That the reproduction, or the digital record, is the true version of the work and the actual physical art is ancillary. And of course, when I sell these mixed media works, it’s crucial to be transparent about the fact that they may get Pollacky in a few decades. In the age of the digital record, collectors understand this much more easily. Time is a medium too.

So I am gonna keep experimenting!

With the layers of media and their varying specularities, this portrait is hard to photograph except in raking light. You can see a video of it on my Instagram!Shakrah Yves by Suzanne Forbes Jan 11 2018 angle

*reading about the properties of Mi-Teintes reminded me of learning about pasta-making at The Pasta Shop in Berkeley when I worked there in 1997. We had a superb employee education program, and during one lecture we learned that the best Italian dry pasta is still extruded from antique bronze dies, which create a microscopic pitting on the surface of the pasta. This sponge-like texture grips sauce far better than pasta extruded from steel dies.

All knowledge is worth having!

Is this prettiest creepy thing I’ve ever made? I think so!

Suzanne Forbes beaded beetle August 2016I’ve been pretty much reeling with exhaustion after the sprint to finish (95%!) the house for the party, so I haven’t done that much art this month.

Suzanne Forbes beaded beetle August 2016I opted to ease back in with bead embroidery, which is the most pleasurable creative work imaginable to me.

Painting a portrait for me feels like a mix of a final exam you’re decently prepared for, a job interview ( I like job interviews though), a workout-to-exhaustion with weights, and learning to rollerskate (which I have not succeeded in).

Making a drawing varies from feeling like going to the office midway through a tough project that you have a good handle on, with co-workers you like, to going to the gym for aerobic exercise (which I hate doing but never regret having done).

Bead embroidery is like a cross between eating a delicious black-currant mousse cake and getting a back rub.

Suzanne Forbes beaded beetle August 2016I’d say it’s my version of smoking pot, except I quit smoking pot when I was fourteen because it did NOT agree with me- I fall in the very paranoid from thc camp. After the very, very bad month I had in July with PTSD and nightmares, I needed soothing art-making, and this project delivered.

I’m thrilled with how the flourishes of beadwork on the sides came out- I foresee quite a foray in this direction.

This one is not for sale, as I chose the colors specially for the salon, using the very last scrap of lime velvet from Aimee‘s grandma’s garage, but I could easily (and pleasurably) make similar ones, in the color themes of your choice.

More Mermaid Madness!

Evil Mermaid by Suzanne Forbes 2016I decided to rework a mermaid sculpture because I wasn’t really satisfied with it. For one thing, her boobs were really noticeably different sizes.

Evil Mermaid 2011 Suzanne Forbes(This is her before.)  In the intervening few years, I’d learned a bit about doll-making materials and acquired soooo much mermaidy stuff. This was an opportunity to play with some of these materials and techniques.

The wonderful thing about polymer clay is that you can sculpt new clay onto a piece and rebake it, even some years later. #fixedthoseboobs.

I mean, one of mine is a little smaller than the other, it’s not like I was judging her- it just looked super awkward in her particular pose.Evil Mermaid by Suzanne Forbes 2016


And I’d learned you can sand the cured clay, which is great for super-smooth fleshly areas. So I improved the sculpt, and then I gave her some fancy swag to wear!

I also used a mixture of materials, which I talk about in this “Learning to Sculpt” post. I made the driftwood tree out of a tinfoil armature covered with epoxy clay and painted. Fork tines made the bark lines, though that was the end of that fork!

Evil Mermaid by Suzanne ForbesI used Liquid Sculpey on her fingertips and webbing to make them more unpleasantly translucent. I also varnished her to up the translucency of the “Transparent” Fimo, and I used Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer to put a dome of clear gloss over her eyes.

As you can see her boobs look very nice now. Ten years ago I was at a miniatures show, admiring a beautiful naked fairy, when the artist who made her surprised me.

“Check out her bodacious ta-tas”, the lady in her seventies said, “I always make sure the nipples are nice and pink!”. No reason a doll can’t have a nice bosom!


Evil Mermaid by Suzanne ForbesI also made her hair ombré so she could be on trend.

In the end I am enormously pleased with her and her mean little face! Here she is in her dome prison.








Tentacle Grotto Mirror by Suzanne ForbesI STILL had mermaid stuff left over, so I made this evil tentacle grotto mirror.