Tag Archives: Rachel Ketchum

Archives post: the physical, muscular, neurological process of learning to draw.

archives drawings 1990s rachel ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes gestureI went to a lot of art schools.

Horse Drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1977 at Art Students League.

Horse Drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1977 at Art Students League.

I was in the last generation of people who reasonably expected to earn a living as commercial illustrators, doing realistic hand-drawn art.

I displayed drawing talent from a very young age and my narcissist father seized on this as a way I would be successful and famous. He wanted me to be educated, so I could “be the best”, and he began to pay for my art tutoring and then classes from age seven.

As a kid, I knew so many professional illustrators, like my father’s girlfriend Susan, and professional artists, like my best friend Victoria’s mom J. Nebraska Gifford, and so many more.

As a kid, I just assumed I was gonna be an artist as a JOB. Not the job I wanted – I wanted to be a jockey!- but as the thing I would logically do, because aptitude for one. and already too tall for the other.

While from age seven to seventeen my career intentions changed a little – first, a horse book illustrator like Sam Savitt, then a fantasy book artist like Pauline Baynes, then a New York Times fashion illustrator, then a comic book artist – the need to draw realistically and well never did.

archives drawing 1984 Arts Sudents League by rachel ketchum aka suzanne forbesIf you wanted to learn to draw well in most of the 20th century, your training started with the figure. 

After I dropped out of Stuyvesant on the advice of my guidance counselor at 16, I went back to the Art Students League. I took figure drawing classes during the day, when I managed to get there, and shoplifted James Bond books at Coliseum Books.

How did I go from these timid little umber conté crayon figures made at the League in 1984, above, to the drawing at the top of this post, made at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1991? Parsons

Figure Drawing female spine line by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1984 or 85In the fall of ’84 I took fashion illustration extension classes at Parsons, a mile walk from the apartment in Chelsea where I grew up.

It was shocking! Gesture drawing hit me like a nuclear bomb. The idea of drawing the figure from the inside out, from the line of action, was electrifying to me. I was so locked up, so rigid, from the League, with my Rapidographs and my delicate line. And suddenly I had to draw with my whole arm, with my wrong hand, with my eyes closed. Transformative!

In January of 1985, when I turned 18, I matriculated as a full-time student in the Parsons Illustration Program. I had just decided to become a comic book artist, and I was there to learn SO HARD!

The teachers at Parsons in the 80s were tremendous.

They would tear you apart to make you draw better. And sometimes literally tear your drawing in half, if you were being lazy or imitating your own clichés!

Figure Drawing male by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1985Can you imagine a drawing teacher walking up behind a student and tearing up their drawing, today??

I loved it. 

We had to take up the whole 18×24 or 24×36 inch newsprint page, we had always get the feet in, we had to do 20 one-minute gesture drawings to start every class, we had to draw with all the bravery and power in our hearts!

Figure Drawing female values by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1986Having to fill the whole 18″ x 24″ or 24″ by 36″ sheet of newsprint with huge sweeps of charcoal released the messy, punk power of my drawing.

(and then later working in comics locked it back up – I’m still trying to release it again, much harder in my weakened, disabled body! But that’s another story.)

The part of me that was a graffiti artist, used to moving fast on rough surfaces, began to breath fire as a draughtswoman.

Figure Drawing pelvis by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1986Discovering contour drawing, mass drawing, value drawing – these were revelations.

The truth is, I have always been best as a draughtswoman, and the more precise I get, the more strength I lose.

At the same time as I started full time at Parsons, I also started reading “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.”

What a bible! What a banger of a book! Good lord I’m afraid to look at it, though it is on the shelf, for fear of some horrible problematic surprise. 

I loved drawing at Parsons so much. But I was put on academic suspension in 1987, after I vomited bright orange painkillers all over the place during the queue for course registration.

So I went to the School of Visual Arts for a semester. Which was also a great school, then, though sadly I was so wasted and strung out at that point I almost never made it to class. 

Then I went to treatment in St. Paul, and the only art school in town was The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, MCAD.

I wound up on the Fine Art track at MCAD because it was the place where the figure drawing was.

And figure painting, as it turned out! Which was an adventure I never expected to go on.

Figure Drawing female by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1990As I’ve said many times, being a terrific draughtswoman was already a dated skill by 1990.

I got sober and went to an art school where nobody could draw. Illustration had turned to early computer-based work and stylization; Fine Art was focused on the conceptual.

Figure Drawing perspective by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum probably 1990I liked to go into life drawing class at MCAD and just smash the place up anyway.

I’d be there knocking out figure drawings that left everyone else in the dust, and nobody cared. Except my friend Al Pepin, my peer and equal! In my last year at MCAD, Al and I were standing up for figurative art.

Being reconnected with Al via his Instagram is a blessing of recent years. He can still draw like hell.

End of Part One.


Love story archives: Pablo Radical.

Story of me and Paul by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum July 1989He was not my first lover.

He was the sixth boy I chose; I was fourteen and he was sixteen, our birthdays just days apart. And his name was not Pablo; Pablo Radical was just his nickname among our people.

But he was my first great love, if obsession and passion and desire and adventure and addiction and then at last a tired lazy friendship exactly like family is something as simple as a great love. We were together on and off from 1981 to 1990, so the longest relationship of my life before my husband.

I met him at Stuyvesant Park, in January of 1981, shortly after I decided to become a drug addict in lieu of killing myself.

Story of me and Paul by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum July 1989 detail 1I had just turned fourteen, and pretty much stopped going into the school building.

I was a freshman at Stuyvesant, and he was a sophomore. He was part of the last generation of Stuyvesant Freaks, the younger cohort, and hung around with five other guys with long dark hair and longboards.

I hung out in the park or in East 15th St. doorways all day, smoking pot and taking speed and acid, waiting for different groups of Freaks to come out and get high with me.

Me and Gix at Abington Square, “The Disillusioned Duo”.

Gix was there too, my careless guide into the community.

She never went into the building either, because she had dropped out or been drop-kicked out the year before. But she came to the school every day, like me, dealing a little, hanging out.

Paul with longboard by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1981At first it seemed like the six boys of the Skateboard Crew, as they were called, were just a blur of lanky hips and rangy shoulders in long military surplus coats, their dark hair lifting in the cold winter wind.

But I parsed Pablo out quickly, because I had been waiting for him my whole life.

Aragon. Strider. Tristan.

And of course Paul Atriedes (Gix gave me her copy of Dune in 1982.) Decades later, on the other side of the continent, I would see the man who became my third husband walking through SOMA from his tech job, in his long wool coat, with his long dark hair flying, and know the same certainty. This is my man.

There is an archetype that for me is irresistible.Paul skateboarding by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1981

This drawing of Pablo from 1981 is the Ur-image of my youth, the image of pure longing.

Skateboarders in sketchbook spring 81 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumThe way that I wanted beautiful boys when I was young (and right into my fifties, lol) was a  poetic and devouring hunger. I wanted Pablo as if I was the panther sculpture crouched above the East Drive in Central Park. The skateboard crew called that strip “Highway” and they would meet there and longboard at dawn, overseen by “Still Hunt”.

Pablo wasn’t an easy boy to get with, though. He was very, very busy, between school, record-collecting and his… business.

I kept busy myself the spring and summer I was fourteen, methodically seducing Pablo’s skateboard crew friends. I am a collector by nature. And it seemed like a good way to get closer to him.

As I spent time around these boys, I started to try to draw them.


Still Hunt, a bronze sculpture of a crouching panther that overlooks Central Park's East Drive, photographed by Jay Singer.

Still Hunt, photographed by Jay Singer.

One afterschool afternoon the skateboard crew came over to my place.

Not for the gangbang I would have preferred, but to listen to Pink Floyd! I was bored as hell with this, foolishly smoked lots of weed and got horribly paranoid and incoherent and drew.

I believe this scrawl of Pablo’s face and the notes around it represent the first time I ever tried to look at someone and draw their portrait. I had drawn life models, at the Art Students League as a child, but for the first time I was trying to draw a person. I wanted to capture his beauty.

first ever drawing of Paul early summer 1981 whole page Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesSoon after one of the skateboard crew became my first real lover, Teo, one of the truly good people I hurt when I was young.

Another was Quin, who photographed me naked and dancing to the Grateful Dead with a rose in my teeth and hung the pictures in the hall at Art and Design where he went to school.

There were others, boys and girls deeply desired and fondly loved, and the boys who harmed me badly. I wanted to have everyone.

Pancakes made by my mom, with B., who became Gix’s first husband. Of three.

I was a reckless whirlwind of newfound power, hunting, dancing in my Abington Square bedroom to The Who.

Gix, Gilly, had her own bed in my bedroom, and was there most of the time. That Fall, as the weather turned cooler, Pablo hung out with us, as did a boy named B. One school night we all started making out with each other. “Switch!” Gix said, and we swapped around. But it was clear which pockets the balls would land in.

I finally got with Pablo, and made him mine. He made me his. We were committed like a felony, in the late autumn days and cold nights.

He lived just two blocks away, and his mom got mad when he stayed overnight with me on school nights. We would say goodnight on the corner of 8th Avenue and 12th St., if he had a test the next day. You could smell woodsmoke from the fireplaces of the old townhouses nearby. One chilly dusk we kissed goodnight and then as I stepped back he reached out and grabbed me and pulled me into his greatcoat, wrapped me in his arms and held me. “Mine!”, he used to say. I was fourteen.

It may seem unimaginable, that a fourteen year old girl could routinely spend the night with her sixteen year old boyfriend, today. But 1981 was the year Endless Love, with Brooke Shields, came out. Not to mention the era of Blue Lagoon, Times Square, Rich Kids, A Little Romance… Passionate teenage lovers were not only normalized, they were trendy, if you can believe.

Pablo’s mother hated me, for reasons I wasn’t clear on. Maybe Endless Love! And he was fighting with her like I had fought with my father, until my mom and I moved into our own place in the Village six months earlier. The solution seemed obvious to us.

Pablo came to live with me and my mom in our tiny West Village apartment not long after my fifteenth birthday.

He brought a duffle bag of comic books, including the Byrne/Claremont X-Men run (which he later sold to me for 20 bucks to buy smack, and I later sold to a comic store for 10 bucks to buy smack) and the Frank Miller Daredevils.

He also brought a very fancy and complicated stereo and lots of Pink Floyd records, and some equipment for the business that paid for this stuff. Scales, and baggies. The picture above shows us in our bed, with all those comic books and paraphernalia under it.

I still have his teenage photos, including from before we met.

He brought them to me after one of his runs to his mom’s. His almost entirely absentee father had taken him to China in 1980, where he skateboarded on the Great Wall and met Buddhist monks.

earliest drawings of Paul 1981 into 1982 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI made little drawings of him in my many sketchbooks.

I was beginning my life’s work of trying to see someone and truly convey how they are beautiful to me. Or ugly, as in the last drawing, made after a particularly gnarly and combative acid trip!

Paul in sketchbook winter 82 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumA sketchbook drawing from the early days of that winter, when I still thought it was fine that we were adding some narcotics to our psychedelics.

There was an awkward incident where Pablo decided to sell fresh psilocybin, and we put it in the vegetable drawer. We told my mom what it was, of course, but her boss at Frank Management happened to mention he had been really enjoying doing mushrooms. And it was Friday night. So we went out, and she didn’t weigh the dose, and when we came home she was tripping balls, as the kids say. I had Valium to bring her down. But the worst part was that Pablo wanted her to pay for the mushrooms!

Below, us in the kitchen/living room/Mom’s bedroom of that tiny studio apartment, with my best friend Skenney and my little brother, who would soon move to Rye with my remarrying father. If I look sedated, it’s because I was.

That winter was amazing, terrible, ferocious, devastating.

To live with your love when you are at the peak of youth and passion is incredible. Our mouths, our bodies, fit together like nothing else in my life ever has. We fought terribly from the very beginning.

Cigarettes and apples at Abington Square, around February 1982.

Also we played scrabble, and we sat on Gix’s bed with her and shared around pints of the new Häagen-Daz flavor, chocolate with chocolate chip, read Doonesbury, and had really nice domestic contentment, sometimes. We played music constantly, Syd Barrett and the Dead. I objected to the later Pink Floyd.

But I took more and more drugs, and he had more and more rages.

I got excessive with the bottles of Valium we had been getting fake scrips for. In February and March 1982, weeks passed with no  memory of most days at all.

He had explosions, destroyed things, punched walls, punched himself in the face. On Valentines he threw the raspberry creams he’d bought me at Li-Lac (my favorite) at me.

On April 12, 1982 we took the train towards Nassau Coliseum to see the Dead, but had to come home because I had a raging fever and was terribly sick.

Honeymoon cystitis, as they called it then.


Soon after we rented a boat at the lake in Central Park, on the first Spring-like day, and he rowed us around. I undid my shirt and bra and lay back in the thin sun, waving at the people who stared as we passed under a bridge. Afterwards we were starving and broke, and dug up change around our bedroom to go to Mamoun’s and eat falafel with baba ganoush.

I began this fantasy future picture of him that Winter.

I imagined him as an aging acid maker mad scientist in painters’ pants, isolated in a tower room, with my Mucha-ish silhouette – a ghost, or present? – at the doorway. It is a companion piece to the vision of Gix and I in our fifties I did at the same time.

But more bittersweet. I was already doubting we’d make it.

Sadly, I abandoned this excellent future vision drawing when I became frustrated with the watercolors and the skin on his face became irretrievably darkened. So many unfinished drawings from this period! How poignant that I finally started to color my drawings again in the last few years.

When Pablo cut his throat with a razor blade in front of us, my mom called the cops and he was taken to Bellevue. Spring of 1982.

There was a pound of hash he’d just bought under my bed as the cops crowded into my bedroom. Did I mention he was a drug dealer? And good at it and super into it in a like special interests yuppie 80s way, with really fancy scales and obsession about profit margins? It is thanks to this period of my life that I had no trouble converting to grams and kilos when I moved to Europe.

I stopped going to school again when Pablo went into Bellevue, because I had read about soldiers getting compassionate leave in the James Herriot books and I thought I deserved compassionate leave. We broke up that summer, for a while.

But we were back together and he was living with me and my mom at the flat where I grew up on 20th St. by ’83.

Pablo made my brother, with us above, uncomfortable until they were both adults. By ’83 Pablo was a serious Deadhead and off on tour a lot, and that added a whole new level of stress.

Pablo with my mom at 20th St., 1983.

There is no doubt Pablo and I were bad for each other. We were so bad for each other that our relationship hurt other people too. I made choices that hurt other people a lot. I broke up with my really good boyfriend for Pablo twice. In the 80s this kind of relationship would be called co-dependent; in the 90s addictive.

Nowadays it would be called a trauma bond.

The drawing above was made in 1983 when I thought we’d finally broken up for good. Ha!

Many more short-lived reunions as lovers, copping-buddy junkie betrayals, terrifying HIV tests, and long years of sibling rivalry lay ahead. The best description I have found is in Charlie Jane‘s book The City in the Middle of the Night: Anchor Banter. We were each other’s jinx.

There was violence between us.

I hit him and he hit me, and worse. We pledged to marry at least three times; I had and wore engagement rings twice. I still have the star ruby he gave me at sixteen. But ultimately our canny, savvy addict natures spared us that catastrophe, at least.

One early summer morning in 1983 we were fighting, and he said maybe we should see other people; that very day I went up the chain and slept with his connec, a real dis in dealer culture. Uh, actually I slept with all three guys above him in the chain that year. From then on, I had continuous boyfriends who weren’t him, but somehow they just accepted Pablo as a fixture in my life, something immovable.

We didn’t start doing heroin together, but somehow we were both doing it by  summer ’83. For my eighteenth birthday, in ’85, he gave me a PDR, with a pressed rose marking the page for methadone. We knew where we were headed.

I have no words for what crack and smoking base did to the people I loved in the 80s.

But as it turned out, nearly everyone in the US now knows what kind of transformation hard drugs can wreak on a person. Thanks to the Sacklers.

Self Portrait with P at the Jane West in 1987 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1991At one point Pablo was staying in the tiniest room at the Jane West.

Just a single bed and a hotplate. I made this wash drawing of us in that little room in sobriety. By the late 80s we were talking a lot about going to treatment just to get away from the hell of being a junky for a month.

Sitting on the subway platform in Williamsburg at dawn after copping, dangling our legs, joking about needing a vacation from being a junky.

East 2nd st wheres waldo drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 1991

Another drawing from sobriety, an unfinished East 2nd st. “where’s Waldo” drawing of us. He liked to sit on mailboxes.

At 22 I got sober and moved to St. Paul Minnesota, first to a halfway house and then to a basement apartment that was the first place I had of my own.

My mom, who was a better mother to him much of his youth than his own, helped organize a bus for Pablo to join me in St. Paul.

Treatment on demand was 100% free for anyone who’d been in St. Paul 24 hours, back then. He took a ten hour bus ride and we picked him up at the Greyhound station, and then he came back to my basement apartment to kick methadone for a hellish, terrifying week.

I watched over him as I had often in New York, the dark hair damp along his perfect cheekbones. His nose had been broken a couple times in junkie violence, but he was still beautiful. The drawing below was made during those long days and nights.

Story of me and Paul by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum July 1989 detail 3 editWhen he could walk again, we went to the social services office downtown to get him treatment.

It was a summer dawn, and I cannot describe the hope and gratitude I felt that he might be spared too.

But getting sober was not as easy for him as it was for me.

The treatment he got wasn’t as comfortable as mine had been. His St. Paul life has been more complex, more challenging. It was lovely in the beginning, though.

We were not exactly together, but we were paired, bonded, sometimes lovers and still so young.

Paul and Tom playing chess at Dunn Bros 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumHe became great friends with my friend Tom, who like us was a Central Park person.

They played endless games of chess at Dunn Bros coffee shop, where I wound up working.

Pablo somehow became a line cook at the St. Paul recovery diner, the Day By Day.

He didn’t know how to cook, but we were like cockroaches, us New York junkies; we were ridiculously adaptable and so.hard.to.kill. Pablo could learn anything.

This is us at my mom’s first place in St. Paul (she moved there to join us) during Thanksgiving 1989. With my friend Greg, my brother, and Anita.

He went back to school, and we were both back in school, and we feuded and talked and hung out like siblings.

Paul at Moms place Thanksgiving 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel KetchumHe lived with my mom for years, in her St. Paul basement.

He’d learned construction in New York, and helped with the sheetrocking. Above, Thanksgiving 1991, I think. I had other boyfriends, many apartments, my career as a courtroom artist began, I finished college, in the early 90s in St. Paul.

Above and below, 1990, at Thanksgiving.

So many Thanksgivings, Christmases, both our January birthdays together. 

His beauty was like a magic trick to me; I never got tired of it.

Even when I finally, finally knew, one day in 1990 when we were about to go to bed, that I just could not sleep with him anymore, I loved to look at him. I said that day, “I changed my mind,” and he said, ok. Doubtless he thought it was just one time, not the last time.

Paul June 9 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 3Did I mention he has green eyes?

Jade green. And his skin was tawny and silken, and his dark hair shone.

Paul June 9 1990 Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum edThese drawings were made at a downtown St. Paul coffee shop that was popular with sober kids.

It was called The Bad Habit. Little on the nose.

Paul June 9 1990 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum 2Pablo was a young man of rangy shoulders and slim hips.

Exactly like the man I married in 2014, my third husband.

Ben and P playing pool St Paul 1992 by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum

Benzedrine, his best friend from the Skateboard Crew, and also my beloved friend, came to visit us in St. Paul in ’92.

I had had an affair with Benzedrine while Pablo was in Bellevue.

Sketchbook 1992 Ben and Paul by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum.

I was such an engine of harm at fifteen!

The two of them coped with this, in fact sat down and talked about it in Abington Square while I waited in the apartment, and remained complicated, complex friends.

Pablo and Benzedrine were competitive about everything, for decades.

Sketchbook 1992 Ben and Paul long shot by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbe

I drew them shooting pool at a St. Paul pool hall.

They were also fond of playing poker, all the skateboard crew had been.

Paul and Rachel in St Paul 1993Eventually I decided I had to get married, and I knew I couldn’t marry Pablo.

I moved in with the man who became my first husband, into a really pleasant St. Paul apartment. In 1994 I realized my dream and my first professional comic book job, Star Trek TNG #62 from DC, was published. I gave a party. That’s when the picture above is from.

Pablo was one of the ushers at my first wedding, in 1995.

As my mother and I entered the church vestibule, I saw Pablo. I was shaken to the core. “I was supposed to marry him!” I whispered to my mother. She looked at me, shocked. “It’s all right, it’s all right,” I muttered.

When my new husband and I left for the hotel that night, I cried hysterically for hours, and I guess Pablo was one of the reasons. He was using again then, high at my wedding; I didn’t know til later.

When I divorced my first husband a year later Pablo and I talked on the phone like always, laughing in our terrible cynical way.

We lost touch when I moved to California in 1997, as we had once dreamed of doing together. I married again, a dark-haired boy with green eyes, and divorced again. Pablo and I were last in touch through facebook in the teens, before my third husband and I left California in 2015. He was playing poker professionally as a side hustle, still living in St. Paul.

“I never married,” he said, though he wasn’t yet fifty.

In late midlife I came to terms with the release from the driving force of passion.

Freedom from the obsession with male beauty. I still love to look at my husband, who looks so much like Pablo, and I still find his beauty miraculous. But I am long past wanting to hunt or hurt or collect male beauty, long past believing love or desire or passion can fix me. Long past West Village kisses in the November cold. Still…

I have said a prayer for Pablo every night for the last 34 years.


Most of these 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.