Tag Archives: OOAK doll

Women of the X-Men’s World: Lila Cheney and Lilandra.

Lilandra and Lila Cheney action figure customs by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2019The amount of X-Men action figures being produced this year is BANANAS.

Yet some more obscure characters still may not get their own full figures. So Hasbro, the toy company that has the mass-market 6″ scale Marvel license, is making kit-bashable assets for fans to DIY.Lilandra action figure custom in library by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2019

Marvel Legends Mystique picture from TheFwoosh!

Lilandra, Majestrix Sh’iar, was on the 90’s cartoon, so she’s fairly well known. Well enough to justify making her head and including it with shape-shifter Mystique. (Visit SUPERB action figure site The Fwoosh for their review of this fig, which I stole this photo from!)

Mystique was released around the same time as an old school Spider-Man villainess, Silver Sable. Hasbro correctly assumed collectors would combine the two, as even mass-market figures are designed for easy head and hand swaps these days. Hasbro gets sell two Silver Sables, and collectors get a quick-fix Lilandra by removing Sable’s tactical pouches and adding a cape.

A similar principle is in effect for obscure and weird 80s villainess Typhoid Mary, whose release as a toy is inexplicable until you consider how toy releases are tied to tv/movie deals and behind-the-scenes Marvel Studios machinations.

Typhoid Mary figure pic from OAFE.net, an action figure site worth your visit!

Mary, a character I never liked, is a natural dupe for New Mutants/X-Men foe/ally Lila Cheney, who you can see above with her friend Dazzler, putting on some makeup!

All she needed was some rocker glitz and a poufy mini-skirt! I already had experience using ribbons, nail art elements, and miniature horse tack parts to fancy up a teen action figure, Nico Minoru. (Lot more discussion of action figure gender politics in that post!)

Typhoid Mary pic stolen from OAFE.net, a really good action figure site run by cis guys who are trying hard!

I even follow them on twitter!

My vision of Lila in full 80s rockstar regalia was exhilarating!

I jumped on it. All I had to do in terms of painting Lila was paint her face so it was an even color, matching her body, paint her hair black, and add some purple 80s makeup.Lila Cheney action figure custom in bathroom with Dazzler and Longshot by Suzanne Forbes Sept 21 2019

Her likeness already landed perfectly between Joan Jett and Sage Montclair, who plays Lila in the video you can see a bit further down.

Sculpting wise, I removed the figure’s bizarre forelock, resculpted the ends of her hair, and added a thicker flange around her hip joints so I’d have some surface to attach her skirt to.

If you have love in your heart for the New Mutants and X-Men of the 80s, and you haven’t seen this video, I implore you to watch it.

It is the most charming thing you will ever see.

I’m super pleased with my Lila figure!

Since I am not a professional customizer, I didn’t seal her face – the satin finish of the artist’s acrylic was such a good match shine-wise for her existing flesh areas.

So if she falls over she might get a paint rub on her nose. But since she will live in my X-Men dollhouse where everything is glued down, I hope she will be ok.

The belt stars and studs are little brads from Rio Rondo, the model horse tack supply company, who still haven’t updated their website. the belt is Illyana’s, and the padlock is from ebay. The two sizes of tiny studs on her jacket are from a nail art set I got for like a euro on ebay.

I lost the collar Typhoid Mary came with while removing her head at some point (it happens, with tiny things). I had intended to stud it for Lila’s signature look. Now I have to buy ANOTHER Typhoid Mary figure, which is ok because I can use the parts for other projects. Then Lila’s little star necklace will become a classic 90s “Y necklace”!

For Lilandra, I decided to go the extra mile and use my fave epoxy clay, Apoxie Sculpt, to build out her cuirass, stomach armor plate and hip flanges.

Oh and her boot tops. Oh and her sword arm armor. And paint her dark blue bodysuit. And repaint all her armor in a uniform silver. Since this was my first time painting any body paint on a figure, I was nervous! But sculpting the detail enabled me to paint clean lines really easily.Lilandra action figure custom in process Suzanne Forbes Sept 2019

I used Liquitex Matte Varnish, which is similar to Testor’s Dullcote in performance, to prime Lilandra’s figure and Lila’s head.

It created a surface with good tooth for adhesion of the regular artist’s acrylic I used for the painting.

I did push the boat out and order Tamiya Chrome Silver model paint for Lilandra’s armor, and it was kinda overkill; I think I would have been satisfied with the results from any silver tube acrylic.

Or my universal-surface acrylic craft spraypaint. It’s called Dupli-Color Deco-Matt, but isn’t available in the US. Here’s a good piece on UK sprays for plastic!

Evil but sexy goth-twink figure of Reeve Carney from Penny Dreadful holds his glass of absinthe in one hand and the drying cape of my Lilandra custom action figure in the other.

I have seen real customizers get gorgeous results with proper model paint, but for midnight blue metallic I just mixed the same kinda acrylic interference paint I used in art school in 1990 with blue artists acrylic.

I have said this before, but making one‘s own #actionfigurecustoms is a fool‘s errand, even with a full professional artist setup.

Just pay a professional customizer like @christinaconan, @facecustoms or @rafaelo.customs ! Don‘t drive yourself nuts like me.

There’s a really good article about interference paints on Golden’s site. It’s super relevant in this time when “color-change” and “chameleon” finishes are so popular.

The tiny learning I have acquired about painting tiny things with a tiny brush: move the paint, not the brush.

You need to have a bolus of fairly liquid paint well towards the tip of the brush and touch that to your piece, then gently move it around with the brush. You really don’t want the tip of the brush to touch the surface, because then the fibers it’s made of splay out. You lose the value of the “point” of the brush, and you lose your control. This is actually the same principle used in painting edging and trim in house-painting. When I was eleven feet up on the ladder trying to paint up to the ceiling molding in our library, I experienced it over and over. Don’t get lazy and try to use all the paint on the brush, so the brush fibers touch your surface; keep enough paint on the brush so you’re moving the line of the paint, not the brush.

The big learning I’ve made about model painting: always, always quit while you’re ahead.

You can always make it worse, and faster than you’d believe possible. With the microscopically delicate layers of paint and tiny details, fixing a fuckup is really hard. It’s not like portrait painting, where the “Rubik’s Cube Effect” is often part of my learning a subject’s face. Lila was the third face I’ve painted; Rahne was the second and my White Witch/Ice Queen was the first.

My Rahne and Dani lovebird customs

Douglock!

Projects for the X-Men Dollhouse – a blackboard for the library

The X-Men Dollhouse – nearly finished, and the goddam lighting

The X-Men Dollhouse – stairs and lighting

The X-Men Dollhouse – wallpaper and assembly

The X-Men Dollhouse – getting started!

My first dollhouse, SlurkCroft.

X-Men Dollhouse Update: scratch-built miniature library blackboard!

Scratchbuilt dollhouse miniature blackboard and eraser by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019It was a bit of a bear to make this, but I’m glad I powered through!

In general, I prefer having miniature things to making them. And I am very good at sourcing things. But I couldn’t find a big, school-style blackboard from any of my usual miniature sources. It needed to be scaled to Dr. Hank McCoy, who is a big figure! So I built it from scratch.

Scratchbuilt dollhouse miniature blackboard and eraser in dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019Luckily, I save every single piece of miniature wooden trim!

I cut a backing board from illustration board and then framed it with several different trims to get the ledge for the chalk and eraser.

I had to miter cut the trim with my miniature miter-cutter, which I hate doing. I packed and moved the miter-cutter to Berlin knowing I would need it, and I have. But damn, it drives me nuts.

I pleated a piece of felt and glued it to a strip of trim, then cut it down, to make the eraser. Pesky!

X Men dollhouse library by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019For the board surface I used self-adhesive chalkboard vinyl.

It may not be as archival as chalkboard paint would have been, but it was neater and faster. I used two layers, for opacity, and I still only needed a tiny bit; I can give the rest to my friend with little kids.

X Men dollhouse library through window by Suzanne Forbes July 18 2019And white gel pen was perfect for the writing – it even smears.

Part of the blackboard was copied from All-New X-Men #30, drawn by the crackerjack, spectacular, amazing Sara Pichelli. I liked the timeline diagram a lot.

I did some work on the facade of the house today too; the whole thing is coming along. It’s damn near completely done, in just about a year. And then, the front garden, with gates. And then the Danger Room, underneath, and the Morlock subway tunnels under that, just like the laboratories and subway under the other dollhouse. I gotta make a custom Callisto…

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory: Work in Progress Part 2

Action figure dollhouse laboratory surgery WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018Dang, I have been consumed with this long-delayed project!

SOOO much to do. So many things to figure out. So much foamcore to cut and glue. So many pipes to make out of styrene and straws!

Action figure dollhouse laboratory tube room WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018But I am really making serious progress.

Three of the rooms are almost complete, the operating theater (above), the Tube Room, and the Machine Shop.Action figure dollhouse laboratory tube room full view WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018

Action figure dollhouse laboratory cryo tube WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018What on earth is a Tube Room, you might ask.

Well, in the 90s I had a dear friend named Rob Simpson, who was an editor at DC. We were talking about superhero powers, as we did so often, and he said there was a simple solution to most things in comics.

Somebody loses their powers/needs superpowers? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody is dead and needs to be restored to life? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody has an evil entity possessing their psyche and needs to be held in stasis so they don’t destroy the world? “Put ’em in a tube!”

Tubes are also known as pods or stasis chambers. Basically they are a MacGuffin where anything can happen. The McFarlane Toys X-Files line from the Oughts provided most of these tubes.

They were intended for alien containment of some kind. I built out the structure around the one above using illustration board covered with chrome selbstklebefolie, which is like contact paper you can’t remove, styrene tubes and the various lids of things painted chrome. Action figure dollhouse laboratory machine shop WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018

The Machine Shop also contains the break room/coffee bar.

Action figure dollhouse laboratory making stanchions WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018I figured people would be constantly bothering the engineers in the shop for things they want fixed anyway, so they might as well get their coffee while they’re there. The two women robots are “Platinum” from the Metal Men and Angie Spica, “Engineer” from The Authority.

All the rooms are missing a lot of signage and posters (I’m working on figuring out how to get the best results from the self-adhesive inkjet-printable paper I’m using) plus safety tape.

On the right you can see I’m making stanchions for a safety rail using dowels, epoxy clay and blue pearl half-rounds I kept for eight years because I had a feeling I might need them for something.

Most importantly, all the labs need their ceiling panels and lights.

My beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil, a fellow creator of Small Art, will bring the lights in May, and then I’ll figure out how to install them, woohoo!

Yes, there will be a “Safety Third” sign!

First Laboratory post is here. Main dollhouse post here.

Work in Progress: the underground superpowers laboratories beneath my dollhouse.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 Wow, this project has been a long time coming!

I’ve had the plan for it for at least a decade, and the specific structure set up for a good six years. And I’ve had some of the props for it for TWENTY FREAKING YEARS.

Original floorplan underground laboratories Suzanne Forbes 2014Well, I like to say that the older I get, the longer my game gets.

Sometimes in art it takes as long as it takes, and that’s fine.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 I figured out how to build the wheeled base for my action figure dollhouse back in Oakland, using IKEA Kallax bookshelves.

I assembled them, and hired a taskrabbit to help me with the construction of a platform to attach them to so they could support the dollhouse.

But it seemed crazy to ship IKEA furniture to Berlin, so I took the base apart when the dollhouse was professionally crated, and we sold the Kallax shelves on Craigslist.

“Doc, it hurts when I go like this!” “So don’t go like that.”

That meant I had to get new ones here, assemble them, and then build a new base. (I did keep the high quality wheels with brakes I bought!)

For a person who is as deeply lazy as me, I have created a life that often involves a fucking lot of work.

For the past two years I’ve been working on getting all the other projects I brought with us done, and finishing the full-size house (still at 95%). Most importantly, I’m making new art, working on building our community and growing my Patreon.

Finally, the dust is clearing enough to tackle the laboratories.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 I have so much cool stuff to put in them! There’s just a bunch of diorama-building, model-building, scratch-building and electrifying work to get them ready to hold my two decades of collected weird body-horror, super-power, Island of Dr. Moreau mad scientist STUFF.

floorplan action figure dollhouse laboratories by Suzanne Forbes 2016I’m not really crazy about the actual construction part of model and dollhouse-building, but I value the workout it gives my brain. Since everything is scratch-built or Frankensteined from components of other things, each part requires a new solution. I have to learn about new materials, source them as cheaply as possible, figure out what I have that can be salvaged, scrapped or rebuilt. And everything has to be customized to work together.

This is an example of how existing stuff can be enhanced: these amazing display screens are accessories for figures from a Dr. Who spin-off show.

However, all Dr. Who toys are 5″ tall or approximately 1/18 scale, rather than the normal dollhouse scale of 1/12 (one inch to one foot).

So I built up the bases to make them the right height for 6″ action figures. I just need to paint them to match.

Same with the little water cooler; I built it a styrene platform. I hadn’t used styrene in a long time, and I’d forgotten how amazing it is.

You score it and it breaks perfectly cleanly; you can glue it or paint it so easily. I used balsa wood for the kitbash of the dollhouse itself, and only got into styrene during the sleigh build. Going forward I plan to use styrene a lot more.

I built the bases and the upper platforms, which make it easier to see the things at the back of the deep cubbies, out of foamcore.

surgery buildout WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018Foamcore is a material I’m not experienced with, but in this case it’s a good solution. The dollhouse-scale molded tile floors (I got the beige and black one for the Tube Room at least eighteen years ago, and have been saving it!) are attached with double-sided carpet tape. Almost any glue will heat up enough during curing to warp the thin, vacuum-formed plastic.

The side walls are illustration board covered with white vinyl contact paper, which gives a nice satin sheen. It’s cheaper and faster than dollhouse wallpaper, and perfect for this kind of industrial/medical look. The ceilings will be foamcore with leds embedded in them for lighting. When I built the dollhouse I learned to solder and used tapewire, but miniature lighting has improved tremendously in the last twenty years.

LEDS, which don’t heat up, last practically forever, come in the tiniest sizes and all kinds of colors, can be embedded directly in surfaces.

My beloved friend-muse-Patron Monique Motil is coming to visit in May, and has graciously agreed to transport my lights from Model Train Software.

Just as beloved friend-muse-Patron Barbara brought my miniature subway, and my mama brought eight million figures and accessories last Fall!

Because anything you mail from the US takes forever and/or gets lost. Seriously, don’t ever mail us anything bigger than a postcard.

I’ve been waiting for some Tacky Wax (museum wax) I ordered from Amazon, thinking it shipped from the EU, for three weeks.

sketch action figure dollhouse tube room laboratory Suzanne Forbes 2017I used aluminum tape to get some clean metal stripping here and there.

It’s tricky to use and tends to mark up and wrinkle over large areas, so I’m sparing with it. Same with the clear styrene panels that divide the upper and lower areas: it scratches easily so I use it mostly as an accent. I have rhinestuds that will become rivets, fine yellow wire for extension cords, and so much weird stuff to put in the cabinets, once I get my dang Tacky Wax.

More developments soon!

February 2018 Bricolage Roundup, with creepy dolls!

Dollhouse shadowbox by Suzanne Forbes Feb 26 2018It wouldn’t be February without creepy dolls, right?

Creepy doll shadowbox Suzanne Forbes Feb 2018Here’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.

 

Cicada shadowbox by Suzanne ForbesI 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.Insect earrings and shadowboxes by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2018

The gothest action figure custom ever.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017Even though I don’t know much about this Nico Minoru character, I had to snap up the adorbs babybat action figure of her!

Hasbro did an incredible job with her, as they have with so many female Marvel Legends figures in the last few years. She’s so goth!

But…I felt she could be MORE goth.

I started this project as a proof of concept for the absurdly male-dominated world of action figure collectors and customizers.

I wanted to demonstrate that there are fantastic customizing resources available in lady-land. Like nail art decals, nail art stripes, nail art “dotters”, flocking, etc.

These materials are cheap, widely available and already scaled tiny as fuck. They’re perfect for action figure customs.

So I began with using nail art decals to enhance Nico’s gothic lace.

I LOVE nail art decals because they remind me of Letratype and LetraSet! Old school! The tiny packets of decals are so cheap, you can get a hundred sheets on eBay for a euro.

I masked the areas I didn’t plan to decorate off, with a cut up rubber glove and tape. Then I sprayed the figure with my clear primer for plastic.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes wipOnce she was dry, I added glitter piping to her corset, more lace to her shirt, lace thigh-highs over her stripey stockings, and so on.

And that was great! Though very subtle.

Then I realized I could use the same miniature making materials I used for my Snow Queen and other mini projects, such as my Horribella Dolls.

Like tiny eyelash picot trim and wired ribbon and elastic ruffle tape.

And all my tiny little rhinestones and crystals and stars and moons! And my little tiny top hats!!!!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017I just went bananas. I decided to dress Nico full-on San Francisco Goth, Circa 2005.

She would be an homage to all the amazing goth-girls I’ve known, all the beautiful and amazing muses I had the privilege to draw and paint in the Bay Area goth scene for ten years.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Six more hours of ferociously focused detail work and one enormous mess later, there she was!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

She reminds me of the ur-goth image all little girls of my generation imprinted on, Sara Crewe in her outgrown mourning dress.

That Classic Victorian ragamuffin look commingled with circus and harlequin style in the early years of the new century, in the Bay.

My muses wore stripes and bustles and tiny top hats, and so did I. We all looked fucking great!

That look was replaced by the great wave of Steampunk starting in 2007. I loved the Steampunk just as much, so it was alright!

Look how amazing she looks on the Sorcerers’ Porch of my Action Figure Dollhouse.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes porch with Magic Watch

Toy customizers, please note that I was able to preserve full shoulder and waist articulation under the miniature clothing. Use of stretch fabrics and gluing the clothes only to strategic, rigid areas of the figure allow her a full range of posability.

Oh, action figure customizers and Instagram toy photography bros who find this page by googling, I pity you. They’re dolls, dude. Accept it.

A poseable toy figure of a human with cloth clothing is a doll.

As is often the case, what appears to be a simple doll-making project has a deep cultural wound behind it.

Like most of the toy industry, amazing toy company Mezco (who I love and have supported since their beginnings with Silent Screamers in 2000) has a gender problem. They make dolls, and have from the early days: they make Living Dead Dolls.

They also make action figures, and since 2015, they’ve been combining the two with the 1:12 Collective, a 6″ (DOLLHOUSE) scale line of action figures with cloth clothing. (In action figure parlance, dolly clothes are called “cloth applications”.) They started slow, with a Frank Miller Dark Knight Batman (red flag? more likely the chunky design was an easy pilot project).

Then in 2016 they started releasing a cavalcade of fantastic cloth-costumed takes on the heavy hitters of the Marvel and DC universes, plus Classic Trek! These figures are unreal. They are crazy good. For 2017 they announced even more upcoming licenses and figures. Ghostbusters, Space Ghost, Universal Monsters and more. But there was only one planned female figure announced in 2016 – Harley Quinn.

Mezco Harley Quinn figure pre orderI was on their Instagram hassling them for months before she was announced, asking, “What the hell, dudes?”

Once she was announced, I thought we’d see a wave of female figures. In 2017, as the success of the Wonder Woman movie exploded on mainstream media, they announced a 1:12 Wonder Woman. But neither Harley Quinn or WW have shipped yet.

And no other female figures have been announced, despite the release of multiple male Classic Trek figures and Marvel heroes AND villains. *cough*Uhura*cough*Storm*. Know who is expected to ship by December? The Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? He is a fucking Nazi.

That’s right, 1:12 toy collectors will get a NAZI before Wonder Woman.

As a woman, as a comics fan and former DC comics professional, as a serious lifelong toy collector, I gotta say, the optics are bad.

Mezco Wonder Woman 1 12Do better, Mezco. Do better, toy industry.

Meanwhile, guess I gotta make my own action figures with doll clothes “cloth applications”. Been plunging into male-dominated spaces since I became a graffiti writer in 1980, a hardcore comics fan in 1984 and a comics pro in 1993. Been genderqueering the toy space since the 1970s, when me and my best friend Bradley played with my Dawn Dolls. Not gonna stop, despite Nazis.Rachel Ketchum and Bradley Jankowitz 1974

See my mini projects that use similar techniques here:

Early Horribella dolls

Action figure customizing, June 2016

Berlin Horribellas: Mark V, Sept 2016, Mark IV, July 2016

and my Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom, October 2016.

A very old 12″ Living Dead Doll converted to a horrifying spider monster woman, October 2016.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer, December 2016.

1:12 scale gilt insect carriage and harness, June 2017.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada, February 2017.

1/12th scale Snow Queen/Jadis of Narnia, May 2017.

Using epoxy clay, November 2015.

 

Trans Dino-Witch, a vision of protection and safety for trans men and trans women.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017My Trans Dino-Witch is finished at last! I’ve been working on her all month.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017 neo nazis running awayShe was a huge project for such a small work!

I am thrilled to have finished her and she gives me strength. I hope other folks will find strength in her too.

Look at those pathetic, evil Neo-Nazis running away from her mighty teeth!

Look at her group of friends who are riding along on her back to support her and enjoy the mayhem!

I made their tiny colored hair out of nail flocking powder, way cheaper than fancy “craft” flocking powder. You can get a set of 10 colors on eBay for a euro.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017 friendsShe is a companion work to my Pride piece, Queer Dino-Witch, which I made last month.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017It was harder to make her, because I had some harder feelings. I realized while making her that I often connect deeply with trans women partly for a very sad reason.

Most of the trans women I know have C-PTSD from repeated, systemic sexual violence, as I do.

Although my Trans Dino Witch is a work about Neo-Nazis, the despicable Alt-Right, I can’t make art about trans folk without thinking about the other kinds of attacks they suffer.

During the making of this piece the Orange Shitclown lashed out violently at transfolk.

He announced (on twitter, of course) that he intended to ban trans people from serving in the US military. Just yesterday he signed a formal memo. Since trans people have been serving with honor in the US military since at least 1862, lots of luck running the armed forces without them.

Also during the making of this piece, Chelsea Manning built a rainbow army of loving, celebrating followers who just won’t stop being brave and kind.

trans girl dinowitch in process by Suzanne ForbesSuck that, neo-fascist real estate golem!

I tweeted Chelsea a photo of our cat being cute on one of the particularly horrible days for trans people in August and she thanked me personally! So nice!!

She has made #WeGotThis a banner for the power of trans people and their unbelievable determination to survive and thrive.

 

I named the Trans Dino-Witch Catherine, after the late, legendary artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones.

My generation of comic artists was so inspired by Jeffrey Catherine Jones and her commercial and comics artwork that always transcended the commercial.  I hope she would like this tribute.

Catherine is a work built on a legacy of artists who inspire me. First, the incredible sculptor and assemblage artist Elizabeth McGrath. In 2005 I saw her show Altarwise By Owl Light at Billy Shire Fine Arts in Culver City.

She is the artist who opened my eyes to the power of modern assemblage and pop-surrealist artists. Her works are creepy, adorable, mythological and emotionally meaningful.

And some of them have little railroad miniature people in them! And they’re full of fake fur and Swarovski crystals and weird shit she found somewhere! And they’re like being hit in the heart with a bus.

So finally using tiny railroad people in a piece is my tribute to Liz McGrath.

I was also very influenced by the constant miniature close-ups on the Instagram feed of Jake and Dinos Chapman. The group of works by these YBAs called “Hell” is an intensely political anti-Nazi work that took them two years to complete and used 60,000 toy soldiers.

I decided to do dinosaur witches for Pride because of Mab GravesDinoKitty show at Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans this year.

I thought, Dino-Kitties! That’s a fine idea. I wonder why you never hear about Dino-Witches

Mab Graves has been hugely inspiring to me as an artist who never apologizes for making paintings, illustrations, sculptures (in a craft-identified medium iike needle felt!), commercially produced prints and diffusion line mass produced t-shirts all at once.

I love that she gets to make unique fine art objects and show them at the national level and sell melamine plates in her Etsy store.

She controls it all and completely owns her brand, despite enduring years of suffering from endometriosis, which she has been courageously transparent with her fan base about. Inspiring as fuck! I can’t work as hard as she does, but I am working as hard as I can.

Most of all, Catherine the Trans Dino-Witch was inspired by the Degenderettes LGBTQiA flag baseball bats made by Scout Tran.

Seeing those clear, bright flag stripes pass by in my Instagram feed day after day – seems like queer people are playing a lot of baseball lately, or something – is surprisingly comforting.

I give back 10% of my Patreon income to young queer and trans cartoonists and comic artists. Scout is one of them. So is Sam Orchard. Because fuck, the only people who have a harder and shittier time making a living as artists (especially as comic artists) than women are trans people.

Trans Dino Witch sculpture by Suzanne Forbes Aug 26 2017My Patrons made it possible for me to spend fifty hours sculpting, painting and dressing Catherine. I hope she gives back some strength and inspiration.

Snow Queen/White Witch OOAK Doll with sledge and reindeer, finished!

Snow Queen Jadis with carriage and reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I finally finished her!

I am amazing, and amazed by myself! Jadis, The White Witch, The Snow Queen, the Ice Queen, as I always imagined her. She, her reindeer and her sledge, all done! Isn’t she lovely and evil?

I’d been wanting to make a doll like the White Witch since the early 90s in St. Paul. When I lived there I saw a teacup fairy by Stephanie Blythe and Susan Snodgrass at fancy shop in Summit Hill.

The delicacy, the precision, the tiny, tiny crystals- there was something about it that moved me deeply.

I had no idea you could get such tiny materials. The thought of handling such tiny things was exhilarating to me. I imagined I could make tiny dolls of characters I loved. I could make a tiny world.

Snow Queen OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I was still waiting to start my dollhouse back then, still holding a space for that project open in my future.

Snow Queen by Suzanne Forbes May 2017I didn’t want to open the door to even more collecting and supply hoarding madness, I didn’t dare try such things myself, but I bought some porcelain doll parts and kept them.

I held my love for the teacup fairy in my heart, held the space for those tiny crystals dotting her bodice in my mind, setting the image gently in my mental room for miniature art.

Every time I moved, I packed my craft materials. My porcelain doll heads and limbs, my ever-growing collection of wired ribbon and metallic organza and silver cord and microbeads and glitter, traveled from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Glenview to West O to Oakland.

In Berkeley in 2000 I began building my dollhouse at last and collecting 1/12th scale action figures.

Miniature sex toys by Suzanne Forbes 2007

I subscribed to miniature magazines and went to miniature shows.

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

my first polymer clay OOAK doll by Suzanne Forbes 2011

I met Monique Motil, dollmaker extraordinaire. I started sculpting little things with polymer clay for the dollhouse and reading about action figure customizing techniques.

I scoured the internet for methods, materials and supplies. And at our little Craftsman flat in Oakland in 2011, I finished my dollhouse and started making dolls.

I started my Snow Queen project in 2013.

I had been home to New York for holidays with my husband’s family and I had just seen snow for the first time in fifteen years. On a magical Christmas Eve we went to church in Freehold, New Jersey and when we came out delicate flakes were falling.

The night before In the city I’d stood at the rail of the skating rink in Bryant Park; a tween wiped out on the ice and came up laughing, clapping his cold hands over mine.Snow Queen in carriage with reindeer by Suzanne Forbes May 2017

I fell in love with the cold again, the way the stars get lean in a winter sky and the way everything is so sharp.

I remembered the way I loved the cold in WInter’s Tale, the way fresh snow muffled my footsteps when I walked through a silent Chinatown morning to buy heroin on New Year’s Day in 1989, the sparkling lavender twilight of an April snowfall at the treatment center in St. Paul.

iridescent microbeads from MorezmoreIn the dark California January I drove to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics and Beverlys and bought bags full of 90% off Christmas decor. Icicles and glitter snow and white fur and pale iridescent sequins.

I ordered Swarovski crystals in colors like Silver Shadow, Moonlight and Opal. I discovered the amazing doll supplier MorezMore. I ordered nail decals of flocked snowflakes from China and Ball-jointed Doll clothing buckles from Taiwan. I bought pearlescent microbeads and fusible fairy films.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI learned the sizes Swarovski crystals come in, and where to get the very tiniest.

tiniest-swarovski-crystalsI made the sledge first. The sledge is made of three different plastic Christmas ornament sleighs, some pvc holiday ornament pieces, polystyrene sheets and strips, clear polythene sheeting, crazy glue and balsa wood.

It’s all stuck together with epoxy clay, polished and sanded smooth. The shafts are the bow pieces of dollar sunglasses!

I got so many materials in the basement of Ace Hardware in Berkeley, in the huge model and railroad hobby section. I’d lean on the counter and talk techniques with the guys there for hours.

I primed the sledge with Krylon Primer for Plastics. You can read about my adventures with priming mixed plastics here and here. Then I spray-painted it with four shades of Tamiya pearl and flake model car paints, one of the most fascinating rabbit holes of materials I went down.

I spent a lot of time on model car boards, reading about how to avoid the dread “orange peel effect” and how to clear coat.

Our back steps were my spray room, and the California drought of those years was a huge asset, I gotta admit.

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesI used crazy glue and Zap-A-Gap to bond the styrene, plastic and balsa elements.

I used a Japanese product called Sakura 3D Crystal Lacquer, which is used by Lolis and Harajuki girls to adhere bling, aka “decoden”, to their phones, to attach a lot of the sledge decor.

The sledge is decorated with hundreds of the very, very tiniest Swarovski crystals, some smaller than the head of a pin, laboriously applied while watching all seven (at the time) seasons of Supernatural (twice!) and tiny, tiny flocked and glittered snowflake nail art decals. And upholstered with silver velvet, button-tufted using pretty antique silver scrapbook art brads and quilt batting over cardstock. I glued the velvet to the cardstock with my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, which is my absolute favorite for small textile work.

As any burner or steampunk can tell you, assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives.

tiny-buckles-from-RIo-Rondo

The reindeer is made of a cellulose acetate reindeer from the ’50s, legs sawed off and replaced with new sculpts, and head, body and neck heavily re-sculpted.

This kind of Frankensteining is a classic action figure customizing technique; the materials and techniques for creating the miniature harness come from the model horse customizing community, and the handling of the mohair mane from the dollmaking world.

(I’m allergic to mohair, like wool, it turns out.)

I also used the 3D Crystal to get a clear dome over the reindeer’s eyes and a gloss of mucus in his nostrils. The flocking on his ears is nail artist’s flock- much cheaper than the art store!

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeer-headshot-cu

Snow-Queen-by-Suzanne-Forbes-May-2017-reindeerThe tiny silver leather strips for the harness came mostly from a handbag making supply company in Los Angeles; I found it on etsy. I bought many different silver cords and strings at a passementarie shop in the New York Garment district during my second trip back East for the holidays. And for four years I saved every single piece of silver stuff I got, from silver elastic on dress tags to silver pvc on packaging.

Then I had to make a Snow Queen figure!

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI was totally ok with customizing an existing figure; my many hundred hours on action figure boards has made me very comfortable with the idea of remixing sculpture.

I would never, ever, ever copy another artist’s drawing or painting- or even their style- or use elements of someone else’s drawing or photograph in one of my drawings or paintings. I just don’t do that.

But sculpture is play to me, something I do for pleasure. I like the idea that assemblage art incorporates existing elements. And dollmakers commonly use finished porcelains from well-known sculptor to paint and dress. It’s a medium where collaboration is normal.

So ultimately I decided to use the top of a commercial resin mermaid and the legs of a resin fairy to build my Snow Queen.

Snow queen doll WIP Suzanne ForbesI sawed and sanded as needed, then fit the two halves together, and then I used epoxy clay to bulk out her body. Because I love muscle on women’s shoulders, and a big butt, aesthetically! I left her ribcage and waist slim because they would have layers of tiny fabric corseting on them.

And she needed boobs too, sculpted to fit in a square Elizabethan type bodice. Then I had to completely resculpt her face, to give her the strength and archness she needed.

And I needed to bulk up her thighs and sculpt boots on her feet. And lengthen her fingers. And sand off and resculpt her ears. I think she was resculpted, primed and sanded about ten times altogether. Her final finish was partly achieved with Mr. Surfacer priming medium, which i learned about from Daria’s dollmaking. Daria is streets more advanced than my crazy haphazardness!

By December of this year, my Jadis was close to finished at last.

project-kit-Snow-Queen-OOAK-Suzanne-ForbesI got the project box I brought over in the shipping container out, intending to paint and dress her.

But I got nervous about working on the project suddenly and instead I used up some of the extra materials in the project box making Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer. Which came out great! And I used the fusible fairy film and it was super cool!

Then I made a whole bunch of other dolls!  And sculptures! And mixed media stuff! And a mantis doll! Was my poor Snow Queen doll ever gonna get finished?

faceup-Snow-Queen-OOAK-by-Suzanne-Forbes-2017Yes, she was. Because even though it was now April, and she was no longer seasonal, I had just finished my leafy green beaded Swamp Thing corset (reveal soon!), the second to last of the projects I brought from Oakland.

I really wanted to knock out the last unfinished thing and get rid of the last “project box”. So I can start all my new Berlin projects!

With that thought in mind, I nerved myself up and just went for it. I used nail art brushes I bought for 1€ to paint her face because I didn’t want to buy expensive tiny brushes. I’d never painted anything tiny before and didn’t know if I’d like it. But it went great! And I love her snotty smug 80s made-up face! She looks like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth and Mia Sara in Legend, right?

Snow Queen OOAK Doll by Suzanne ForbesWigging and dressing her was easy, after that; Daria gave me a personal doll-wigging workshop last year and I have made so many tiny corsets now it’s NBD. And then she was, done, suddenly, after four years. In the green and glowing Spring, but so what? There will always be another Winter. She will look beautiful in the dark winter nights.

I’ve learned to trust the process with making art; I finish most things when it’s time for them to be finished.

What I’m saying here is, it’s okay to have a long game as an artist. In fact, the long game is pretty much the only game in town for most of us.

 

Mummified Fairy King doll!

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017This doll scares my husband. Every time he sees it he shudders.

It genuinely gives him the wig.

Which is good, right? This is one of the projects I brought in a “project kit” from the Bay Area, in the shipping container.

Faery King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I had seen this Mummified Fairy tutorial on the excellent, ancient Gothic Martha Stewart site Shadow Manor. You can find loads of Art of Darkness tutorials there.

So of course I wanted to make one! My version started out as a cheap 16″ demon skeleton I got for 75% off at Michael’s.

I washed him with soap and water, and used a glue gun to pose him. I cut his spine in half with a hacksaw to give it a realistic curve, added ears made of thin sheet styrene or cardstock (can’t remember), and used globs of glue to give the ears dimension.

I also used glue gun glue and epoxy clay to add some bulk and volume to his joints, because he was a little frail and crappily-sculpted. And to give him a bit of a bump of nose and fangs.

Then I primed him with white spray primer for plastic and sprayed him with matte ivory spray paint.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017And packed him in a box marked “Gothic Rococo Bride of Frankenstein and Fairy Mummy”.

(The Bride became a Gothic Victorian Burlesque tribute to Elsa Lancaster instead).

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017Two weeks ago I unpacked him and started revising. His skeleton was still undersized for his head, especially for a skeleton with layers of dried skin. So I added more bulk to his limbs with air-dry clay (cheap but doesn’t adhere well) and used epoxy clay to secure the new, larger knobby joints.

I thickened his shin bones and arms, as well as making his pelvis more solid. I added some clay volume under his rib cage to give the nylon something to stick to there.

I also decided to snip off the demon-y claw tips on his wings, which were a little too goth.

Then I painted over the air-dry and epoxy clay with acrylic in unbleached titanium, which matched the original ivory paint well enough. After that, I added dark shadows at his joints, eye sockets, and so on, using a burnt umber.

I figured the shadows would show through the nylon pantyhose, adding depth, and so they did.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017Applying the pantyhose was exciting, in the way that things that must be done quickly and deftly are exciting.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I used UHU “Extra” alleskleber gel, which is an almost perfect sub for my beloved Quick Grip/Quick Grab, rather than contact cement. I really should have followed the instructions and applied the pantyhose while the skeleton was disarticulated.

But I never follow the instructions for anything. So I had to do the gluing and stretching to fit over sections of the figure in situ.

The instructions say to cut the pantyhose into 12″ lengths; I wound up cutting it into roughly 5″ x 5″ pieces. The pantyhose adheres beautifully to the primed and painted skeleton, almost melting on- the first time.

Once it is saturated with glue and the glue has dried, it resists bonding, so get it right the first time. I looked at his eye sockets with the nylon stretched across them and decided he needed eyelids. I sculpted sunken eyeballs with lids out of epoxy clay, cut holes in the nylon, and pressed them in.

In the end I had some places where the pantyhose didn’t lie smoothly or wrinkled in a way that looked much more like pantyhose than desiccated skin.

I simply decided awkward areas would be covered with something in the finished piece.

And that was how he became a dressed doll with a breechclout and jewelry, and wisps of grey Tibetan lamb hair from this one piece I got at doll supplier/educator supreme MorezMore and have used for some two dozen projects. (The site’s mistress is currently engaged in a fascinating project of using stop-motion armature for a humanly-posable doll experiment!) I rifled through my fabric stash and found lots of scraps. I layered scraps of fabric, fiber, silk leaves and lace for his breechclout.

Then I got out my findings bins and made a kind of creepy chatelaine to secure it. And I made him a kind of neck piece with mixed metals that was influenced by Celtic torques and Maester’s chains.

I decided to make him lace-up shoes to cover some of the awkward patches on his shins.

Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017I got the concept from some pins posted by my friend Alexis about to how to make Medieval shoes.

I envisioned a pattern, cut it out of leatherette and used my cuticle nippers to make sloppy holes in the the sole/back pieces.

Then I just glued the sole parts onto the bottoms of his feet and laced them up with a tan shoelace from a scrap bin.

I bought some granny boots a while back that came with tan laces; I promptly replaced them with black laces but saved the rough tan ones for… something. There was a tiny bit of black fur left from when Daria gave me a personal doll-wig-making workshop and I used that on top.

I did a little dry-brush distressing and shadowing on the nylon-covered fairy, accenting the hollow places and joints with more umber.

I also highlighted bony areas like his zygomatic arch with unbleached titanium. This was easier to me than re-spraypainting him as suggested, considering that would have required going out and getting some taupe spraypaint. I don’t really like anything to slow me down when I’m making some damn thing. I painted his eyelids to match his skull at the same time.

I had burned and melted and snagged the fabrics I used, to distress them and make them raggedy, but it wasn’t enough to knock back their color into the same taupe/ivory family as the skeleton. So I dry-brushed and distressed those too, til they faded back into his palette.

Here he is posing with some bones i made out of Model Magic, the incredibly lightweight air-dry craft clay made by Crayola.Fairy King mummy doll by Suzanne Forbes March 2017

The bones are sculpted over Q-tips, and were made in 2007 for a Hubba Hubba Revue, maybe Flintstones themed? I soaked a paper towel in thinned ochre paint and wiped it over them. I don’t even know how they got in the shipping container.

Eventually I’d like to have some kind of Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy style shadow box or specimen case for him, but for now he’s living amid my majolica in the library china cabinet. Hub will never notice him there. Although if he does, he might jump.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada.

Monster dolls by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I spent sooooo much time making these dolls!

weasel claw doll by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I had a crazy rare week of being virtually fatigue-free and on a “normal person” sleep schedule, where I woke up between 7 and 9 and went to bed around 10 to midnight.

The last period I can remember like that was around 2008. I took mad advantage of the good light and the long days, and worked on the dolls ten or twelve hours a day.

I approached the project with a kind of relaxed enforced serendipity- I would just reach in the doll making drawer and grab and handful of materials. Then I’d see what I could make with the bits of legs, arms, fur and plastic bugs I’d grabbed. It was like putting together puzzles.wip doll by Suzanne Forbesbarbie faun maenad wip Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

Bricoleurs are machines that make junk into art.

There is a powerful mental image for me when I work on stuff like this. I always think of the Boxmaker in Count Zero, the AI fragments/loa that uses Tessier-Ashpool relicts to make Cornell boxes. The idea of being a machine that recycles scraps and pieces of artifacts into new artifacts is so beautiful and restorative to me.

dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017dollmaking Suzanne Forbes 2017

I’ve been cutting up my dolls and making them over my whole life.

Maenad Faun Barbie by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

My best friend Victoria and I used to chop off their hair, paint them with Mercurochrome for fake blood, and drop them out the window of her parents’ loft on Great Jones St.

They would land on the hoods of the cars in the parking lot below, tiny sacrifices.spiderella dolly by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017

I used to use the fireplace tongs to hold my Flatsie dolls in the wood stove at our cabin in the Adirondacks, revealing their wire armatures.

I never minded the smell of burning plastic; I was too fascinated by the structure being revealed and the way the arms melted off.

Dolls are intrinsically powerful; they come pre-loaded with content.

Add pink housewife dresses and the horns of a genderbent Herne, and you have a semiotic shorthand that anyone can parse. They are little totems, little ration packs. I lavished them with the tiniest Swarovski crystals, leftover fur from one of Daria’s dolls, velvet ribbon, and microbeads, because pretty and scary are my favorite mix.

Like many artists I know, I’ve been deeply inspired by the idea of being called a “nasty woman”.

Monster doll mouth by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017I love that idea, I love the entire notion of reclaiming my nastiness and ugliness and witchiness and harpiness and shrillness and bitey-rage-creature-ness.

I am completely ready to embrace my monsterhood and the monsterwoman-ness of all the monster people of all genders and origins and being-hoods. Be maenads, and rage!

Anyone who has a problem with the furious girl-child inside me who cut the heads off dolls can take it up with my glorious, furious, terrifying grown-ass woman monster-self. Lotsa luck, as we say where I come from.Monster dolls by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2017