Tag Archives: Rachel Ketchum

More archive work from Illustration Class, some very…weird?

Secret Garden for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 or Winter 1991 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesWeirder than the chickens?

Possibly yes! Illustration classes are always weird – I’m sure they are STILL weird- because clients are weird. The class has to prepare you to be asked to illustrate some peculiar ideas! And my excellent Illustration teacher at MCAD, Tom Garrett, was a working professional illustrator.

Red painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 or Winter 1991 Rachel KetchumYou never know what weird stuff clients might send you as a concept.

I have no memory or idea what this class assignment was about. It’s kind of a cool image though! I like the way I used the red!

Ostrich painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class 1991 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesOk, now what? Ostriches in a lingerie palette!

Ostrich painting for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class 1991 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes detailI vaguely remember being given ostrich photo reference for this one. It was pre-internet, so Tom Garrett often supplied photo reference, rather than all of us having to go to the library to get a picture of a whatever.

I do not remember what the concept was, or why “the client” wanted ostriches. Why do they look like a La Perla ad?

You can see the way I was playing with handling the paint, with mark-making, in the safe space of Tom’s class. I still kinda love the technique. I draw ostrich feathers all the time for burlesque dancers, and I’m gonna ask the next one I paint to bring some so I can try to revive this approach!

Smokers comps for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI do remember the smokers.

We did so many variants on the smokers – first sketches, then colored pencil comps, then actual paintings. It was during the period when smoking indoors was first being banned in places, the early ’90s, so that’s what these were about.

Smoker comps for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesAs a two-pack-a-day smoker until Jan 27, 1991, I was very indignant about smoking bans!!

Even after I quit! Honestly, even now! I know they are deadly, but I love the smell of second-hand smoke, which is yet another reason why it’s good I live in Berlin!

Smoker header for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThe weird long panels were one of the standard commercial illustration magazine art/ad panel sizes.

We learned all of them although of course all I remember is that one was called “subway”. These illustrations were done in such an evolving matrix of techniques – this one involved painting over the colored pencil with glazes of acrylic, tinted with paint!

Smoker header detail for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesYou can see the glossy surface from the glazes, and even the blushes of color where liquid paint overlaid color pencil. Since both the color pencil comps and the final still exist, I must have transferred the drawing outline onto illustration board for the final with graphite transfer paper. Which maybe still exists, unlike Letraset!

Smoker closet final for Tom Garrettt Illustration Class Fall 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI put so much time into these pieces!

Even though I didn’t intend to become a commercial illustrator anymore, there were a lot of people in comics using hybrid mixed media illustration techniques as the printing technology improved. I felt some of this practice would be transferable to my work in comics, and also I had such respect for my teacher!

I still like the weird style of these works and the expressiveness of the drawing. I’m glad I saved them, and transported them from St. Paul to Hartford to DC to Arlington to Alameda to Albany to Berkeley to North Berkeley to Albany to Oakland to Berlin. They have been in storage three times. I’ve had fifteen apartments, dozens of jobs, and three husbands.

But I held onto my work that whole time, because that’s what I was trained to do in school. At The Art Student’s League as a child, at Parsons as a teen, at MCAD – we were told to preserve our archives. And it was worth it, to me, because seeing these works again is a revelation in terms of technique and approach!

None of these pieces have ever been photographed; no modern media 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.

A New York city subway car underneath a dollhouse in Berlin.

Extreme Sets NYC subway car customized by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2020Sometimes it takes me a really long time to finish a project.

Extreme Sets NYC subway car customized by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2020 Virginia Slims adLike, years and years! Loved ones brought me Extreme Sets’ NYC subway car and subway station from the States in the Fall of 2017.

I customized and installed the station pretty quickly, but then there were problems with the lighting. (There are ALWAYS problems with miniature lighting.) I decided to wait a bit and see what I could figure out.

I researched many different types of lights. I got a new type of LED strips for the station, then decided they wouldn’t work. It still has no lights!

I did permanently assemble the subway car seats, using a combination of hot glue and carpet tape to really square them up nicely, and filled in gaps with my beloved Apoxie Sculpt, a cleaner and more paintable finish than spackle. And I spent several years finding vintage 1980s ads to line the headers and side panels. Brooke Shields for Calvin! Take the Plane to the Train! And of course, Crazy Eddie! He’s practically GIVING this stuff away!!!

But I was nervous about the lights. I studied the solutions in use by action figure diorama people, and battery-operated flexible LED strips with adhesive backs seemed the clear winner.

So I did the final customizing and light install on the car…this month!!

I decided Winter 2020 would be my midlife nostalgia and taking stock time.

Extreme Sets NYC subway car customized by Suzanne Forbes Feb 2020 doorsSomehow, I found the psychic strength and motivation to tackle the huge archive project I’d been putting off since the summer of 2015.

The New Mutants movie is finally coming out.

And hub and I got to the third season of The Deuce, where they are in 1984. The silhouettes of the coats and the way people’s bangs moved gave me such a stab in the heart of grief, loss and unstuck-in-time that I had to stop our watching for a month.

Then once I’d dug into the archives for a couple weeks I was like fine, I can take it, I’m literally soaking in it anyway.

So we watched the rest of The Deuce, and I’m on twitter talking to the New Mutants fans, and on Instagram talking to the wonderful storyboard artist for the movie, Ashley Guillory, and it’s just 80s all over the place. It is poignant, piquant, sickening, and motivating.

I made the arms for the seats by softening styrene cylinders with a lighter, and yikes they looked like my old drug pipe, lying around.

I had to quickly throw out the failed tries (bending styrene is hard!) because seeing them out of the corner of my eye was freaking me out. Once spraypainted silver, though, they look great!

I didn’t tag the subway car with real writer’s tags, for the most part.

I was drained by the emotional work of connecting with all this material, and unnerved by the shockingly real look of the car. I just made up lots of random tags. “SEO” actually appears multiple times, because it looked good! I put up the tags of my dead boyfriends and old friends here and there, in the layers of gray-scale marker, but I let it not be the focus. I needed to get this project done, at last.

It is shocking that I survived, and critical that I work, for all the ones who didn’t.

Having this piece done, and putting it in its cubicle underneath the dollhouse, is like sealing up the now-recorded archives of 80s and 90s artwork. It creates a way forward where nostalgia and grief are gently given their places, and respectfully packaged, out of view of my daily life.

You can read more about my dollhouses and their function as memory palace (Gedächtnispalast), Valhalla and memorial below.

My first action figure dollhouse. My action figure subway station. The X-Men’s dollhouse.

My Rahne and Dani lovebird action figure customs, Douglock custom, and queer New Mutants art from my archives.

The New York subway I knew, in the 80s.

From the vaults: art about addiction, from 1991.

Self Portrait with Dino Jan 26 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1990On Jan 27 2020 I celebrated 31 years clean and sober.

These paintings are from Fall 1991, when I was just turning three years sober. I had several excellent painting teachers at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the school where I finished my degree after I got sober. These paintings were part of a series I did with one of them.

The one above shows me and my friend Dino in her flat on First Avenue, the night before I left for treatment, January 27, 1989.

Self Portrait with P at the Jane West in 1987 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1990This one, of my longtime on-and-off boyfriend P. and I, is at the Jane West Hotel.

It was an SRO then, I think it’s fancy now.

Self Portrait Panhandling 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991My main income as a junky came from panhandling.

Not because I was opposed to sex work – I have always known and loved sex workers – but because my father, my first abuser, made me so self-conscious about my cellulite! I found it very hard to see my own body as a commodity.

Self Portrait Panhandling with subway entry in 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1991These paintings are pretty dark, I know.

Their surfaces are excoriated, like my skin was then. I literally scraped away the paper.

Self Portrait Panhandling with subway entry in 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall1991 cuBeing a junky was bad then and it’s bad now.

Self Portrait snorting on LES in 1988 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991I have always had a ferocious sense of self-preservation, beading up between the lashings of self-destruction.

I wasn’t a needle user til my very last night before treatment; I snorted instead, in the bathroom of every restaurant and bar that would let me on First Avenue.

I worried a lot, at the time, about what the alkaloid plus whatever it was cut with was doing to my sinuses.

Yesterday I had my first sinus ultrasound, at my first visit to a German Otolaryngologist.

He ran the lube-slick device over my cheek, and he yelped, “Jesus Christ!” And said no more, except that I must get a CT scan immediately and I may need surgery.

Luckily sinus surgery not too big a deal and we have incredible German health insurance that will cover everything! But yeah, I guess there was a reason I was sick eight times in ten months last year.

I am so lucky, so grateful to be alive, to be here in Germany, to be working.

Self Portrait panhandling 1989 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Fall 1991I feel such grief for the huge population in the States living in opiate addiction.

Harm reduction matters and #narcansaveslives. Don’t leave before the miracle happens.

None of these paintings had ever been photographed; 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.

 

For the archives – Color studies from art school!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Rahne and Dani queer New Mutants art from the 80s!

Rahne Dani New Mutants Queer Love Movie and 1986 art by Suzanne ForbesApparently, in 1986 I predicted the future on-screen LGBTQ romance of New Mutants Rahne and Danielle, aka Wolfsbane and Mirage!

Wow, I had completely, completely forgotten these existed!

Rahne and Dani double page love scene spread by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes May 1986Holy heck I made so much queer art with the New Mutants!

Thanks to the support of my Patrons on Patreon, I try to do a little archiving of my vast lifelong art archives every month. I hit a goldmine of late-80s and early 90s stuff this week. Rahne long panel by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes May 1986

Because these drawings, which are all dated May 7- May 12, are on illustration board, they had gotten stored with larger works from a slightly later time.

I believe these were all drawn in May 1986, not long after I first met Chris Claremont, based on the level of my skills.

And also because the love scene is totally inspired by Kory and Karras in one of my very favorite issues of the Titans, New Teen Titans (vol.2) #19 (1986), which was drawn by Eduardo Barreto!

Rahne’s makeover is an echo of the X-Men scene in issue #210, where Rogue goes to Bloomingdales, which is what Chris was writing an outline for in his little stenographer notebook the day I met him.

I haven’t seen any of this artwork in decades!

Literally, the box was packed up when I lived in West Hartford, where I drew my last issue of Star Trek for DC. That was Fall 1995. New Mutants Rahne makeover May 1986 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumIt traveled all over the US with me, and finally to Berlin, like all the other boxes of art!

 

Obviously, I desperately wanted to show the kids having a good time!

One of the (many) things I was always (fondly) hassling Chris about was the lack of PARTYING in the book. It was the 80s, f’r chrissake! I loved them, I wanted them to be happy for at least a night.

New Mutants party scene May 1986 by Suzanne Forbes Aka Rachel KetchumDani is making a vision bouquet for Rahne! Isn’t that so cute???

I drew Kitty drunkenly phasing through the couch and Sam shrugging and toasting her with his beer!
New Mutants coming out story May 1986 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel Ketchum

But like all coming-out stories, this one takes an emotional turn for a while.

Having myself been through the awkward moment when you’re fifteen and you tell your best female friend you have a crush on her, I didn’t imagine it would go perfectly smoothly.

New Mutants Rahne and Dani coming out story May 1986 by Suzanne Forbes aka Rachel KetchumI was optimistic. I believed those mutant girls would get together!

My own girl crush confession had resulted in hot shower sex and waking up in spoons. And my mom took her and I to brunch next morning! So I had a hopeful take on things. I feel like the (sorry it’s so hard to see) text did a pretty good job of mirroring Chris’ style.Queer New Mutants double page party scene May 1986 by Suzanne Forbes Aka Rachel Ketchum

Look how happy they are! This drawing totally reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes dancing.

I am truly enormously excited about the New Mutants film, and so excited to see my vision of Rahne and Dani’s love on the big screen.

You can read about how I became a New Mutants fan and my journey to become a comics penciller here, and you can see my Wolfsbane and Mirage custom action figures here!

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.

Until today, no record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

For the archives: My queer gaze, as expressed in pinups.

Pinup of flapper Spring 1982 or 3 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI was always drawing pretty women, as a teen.

I was inspired by the great illustrators, like Alphonse Mucha and Maxfield Parrish, then by SF artists – by sixteen my bedroom was wallpapered with Boris Vallejo- and then by the comic artists who were known for their “Good Girl Art”, which does not mean art of good girls.

I believe the golfing flapper above dates from Spring 1983, when I had dropped out of Stuyvesant and was taking fashion illustration classes at The Art Student’s League of New York, waiting to be old enough to matriculate at Parsons. Before I discovered comics in Fall 1984, I wanted to be a newspaper fashion illustrator, which was a total real job then!

This drawing of a futuristic sex worker, in an imagined 2001, is probably from late 1982 or early 1983.

I can date most of my old drawings pretty well by what I had learned of my craft at that point! This drawing shows the street-hustling sex worker (although that term didn’t exist then) checking in with her boss via a little Bluetooth type headset, and dosing herself with drugs via a push-button in her hand that goes to her arm. Not a judgment – I just knew a lot of sex workers who were junkies in my teens, and I thought it would be nice if it was convenient for them. It looks like I designed it to be safe and prevent overdoses.

This bondage girl is from later 1984.

I think it may have been one of the portfolio drawings I used to get into Parsons – you were supposed to do an illustration from a book and I did The Story of O. Yup, I got into Parsons School of Design with a GED and a bunch of smutty pinups.

Fetish pinup drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes Oct 29 1986This one, from 1986, was probably drawn as a present for my friend Chris Claremont.

Because it’s signed. I didn’t sign most work until the 90s, except when giving it as a gift. Why didn’t I sign my art? Because it wasn’t good enough to meet my own standards yet most of the time. It didn’t look like what I saw in my head yet.

And I was really IN the process of learning to get better, and really just working the process. Some days I still am!

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.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

 

 

For the archives: self-portraits from the 80s.

Self portrait with Gix 1981 or 1982 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is a deep dive, my darlings.

Pretty freaky to look at and handle these drawings. They have been in storage for decades, traveling the US and the world with me. The one above is the oldest. It’s a picture of me and my friend Gix, drawn probably winter 1982. I would have been fifteen and Gix seventeen. We are both wearing clothes and jewelry we actually wore at the time, and smoking, as we did, all the time. For the Europeans reading this, the header comes from a saying attributed to P.T. Barnum:

There’s a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.

Self portrait Spring 1984 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis one is from Spring 1984; I believe it is the self-portrait I drew for my Parsons application, or the study for it.

I wore harem pants a lot in the first half of the 80s. I don’t apologize; they were the only form of pants I ever liked. My husband and I are watching the first season of “The Deuce” and last night Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character was wearing earrings exactly like the ones I am wearing in this drawing, which were silver and turquoise, with hawks on them.

Self portrait in Betsey Johnson style dress by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes circa 1985This is from around 1985, I think.

The dress here is very similar to a flowered, corseted Betsey Johnson dress I owned, although drawn much longer, and the drawing is probably a school assignment.

Self portrait Spring 1986 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is from Spring 1986.

I was a sophomore in the Illustration Program at Parsons and chipping, which means using heroin only on weekends. The still-life below, a 1986 class assignment, is also sort of a self-portrait; it’s my cigarettes and my pipe (people used to smoke heroin, no idea if they still do). Clean and sober 30 years this past January 27, babies!Pipe drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes 1986

And this one below is also from late 1986, or early 1987, I believe. Self portrait at 312 w 20th st drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes probably Fall 1986 or winter 1987

You can see some painted self-portraits from when I was newly sober and first learning to paint here in another archive post.

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.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

 

For the Archives: ballpoint portraits from the 90s.

Gabes birthday probably summer 1991 drawn in ballpoint by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesI looked through some of my art school notebooks and found these drawings!

They have never been scanned, photographed or copied; if we had a fire they would just have been gone forever. The one above is the birthday party of Gabriel, the son of a woman I knew in the recovery community. Gabe was what we would call a Spectrum kid nowadays, and there was not much understanding about how to support him, although his parents were devoted.

For some reason he adored me, and I was very fond of him and his older sister Shuli, and spent a lot of time with their family altogether. Based on the notebook this was found in, I am estimating it was done in the summer of 1991. I have only the haziest memory of drawing it!

Teacher at MCAD Fall 1991 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesAnd this is a teacher at MCAD, where I finished my BFA.

Kirk Kristlibas October 1991 ballpoint by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne ForbesThis is a drawing done in class of my friend Kirk Kristlibas.

Kirk was a dear friend of mine in my last couple years of art school, a deeply creative and talented person whose personal style was amazing. The kind of self-directed polymath art-generator you only meet a few times in a lifetime. He was a fellow New Yorker and we would drive around in my car yelling about the fucking Minnesotans. I have not seen him in decades, but he is quite googleable and so I see he has written a book, gotten multiple art degrees, done theater work and apparently looks exactly the same?

I drew a lot in my school notebooks and a little bit in my journals.self portrait in bed with Jamie Jan 1990 by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

This is a self portrait of me in bed with a boy named Jamie.

In my bedroom in St. Paul, right after I’d been sober for a year. My roommate Anita and I had a party for our sobriety birthdays and I said to him, “You must be my birthday present.” He was a wounded soul, one of several survival sex workers I’ve been lovers with. Self portrait in Woullet uniform Spring 1990 Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes

This one to the left is a self-portrait of me in my uniform from Woullet Bakery, where I worked for nearly a year when I was newly sober.

My roommate Anita had been forced to go back to prison, through some very fucked up drug testing stuff that was extremely unjust.

I was devastated; she was one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and an extraordinary muse to me right when I went back to art school, at MCAD. She posed for all my homework, and was an amazing cook, and gave me Neuromancer to read.

I’m going to start in soon on photographing some more of the many drawings and paintings I made of her in the short four months we lived together.

Looking back at the way I drew before I worked as a courtroom artist and then on Star Trek, I feel like something was lost.

The spring that I drew this picture, I did my first official tryout for Marvel, with Fabian Nicieza.*

One of Fabe’s critiques of my work was that I needed uniform, enclosed lines on all shapes and consistent, inkable shading. Which was good advice for superhero comics then, and maybe even now. Although in 1990 Baxter and Mando papers and Flexographic printing had long since become part of comic production, a lot of comics were still printed on newsprint, and artists were still being told to pencil for newsprint production.

I had to get rid of the multiple lines, the looseness, the brushiness of my drawing, unless I was gonna ink it myself, which I was never interested in. Comic colorists needed areas that were fully enclosed for each color, to be painted in carefully with Dr. Martin’s dyes, for the hand separated CMYK plates of the four-color printing process.  I believe nowadays it’s all done digitally, with digital shading, stored codes for costume colors, and there is a person in the production line called a flatter, who is somehow involved in preparing digital color files for printing.

My old style probably still wouldn’t work for comics, but it was beautiful and free. Since I don’t have to draw comics ever again (it was not good for my health), I would love to find my way back to that free style. You can see a collection of more older drawings I scanned during my last period of archiving work, in 2009, here.

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.

Again, until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

*the splash page of the tryout script Fabe sent me was a picture of a dead woman, lying in a boat. I talk about some of the many ways women were deterred from working in superhero comics, even by well-meaning editors, here.

 

Archive post: We The Jury and the story of how I became a courtroom artist.

Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s jury and monitorI always enjoyed drawing the jury.

It was permitted in most trials, and it gave me something to do when there was no-one of significance testifying. Someone on Instagram commented on how they enjoyed the “earnest” and detailed representation of 90s fashion in my courtroom drawings.

To which I replied, look, I was exactly the same freak then as I am now. That wasn’t “earnest”, it was editorial! It was my critique of their Minnesota style choices (and a commentary on their inevitable whiteness). I myself considered having to put on semi-respectable clothes for working in the courtroom a form of costume, in order to “pass”.

Most courtroom artists don’t draw the jury in any detail or try to get their likenesses or clothing, because they don’t have time.

Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s juryBut I could do it, because from the beginning, I was twice as fast as everybody else.
Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s jury and prosecutorHow did I get started as a courtroom artist? Well, somebody died.

I was in my second year at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, having moved to Minnesota to continue treatment for my drug and alcohol addiction and decided to stay for a while. My Illustration teacher suggested that since I could draw so fast and was good at likenesses, maybe I should contact one of the local tv stations about doing courtroom illustration work.

He knew I wanted to draw comics, but he thought it would be a good way to get paid for drawing til I broke in. He was right.

I took an afternoon and went to the courthouse, made a couple sample drawings, and contacted the stations. I met with the news producers at a couple of them, and they liked my work. I was called in to work on my first trial pretty soon afterwards. And one of the stations, WCCO, the CBS affiliate, claimed me as their own right away.

Rachel Ketchum courtroom drawing mid 1990s court audienceIt turned out there was a gap in the local courtroom artist pool.

There were four local stations in the Twin Cities in the mid-90s, WCCO (CBS), KSTP (ABC), KARE (NBC) and an independent whose call sign I can’t remember. There were also four local courtroom artists, or had been for some years. Each artist worked mostly for a particular station. Right before I contacted the stations, one of them died. Of old age!

Courtroom artists are hired by the press, not the courthouse; there’s a common misconception that courtroom artists are like court reporters, who are the stenotype operators who transcribe speech for the court’s records.Courtroom drawing Rachel Ketchum early 90s for WCCO TV court reporter and witness

Why was there so much courtroom illustration work in the Twin Cities, at a time when Court TV was exploding in popularity?

Because Minnesota happens to be one of the most restrictive states in the US regarding cameras in the courtroom. Almost every state was allowing local proceedings to be broadcast starting in 1991, but not Minnesota. In the 90s, cameras were almost never permitted in trials at the state level and absolutely never in the Minnesota Federal courthouses. So if the TV stations wanted images to go with their reporting like TV stations in other states had, they needed courtroom artists!

That’s right, I had my first professional art career because of the state I randomly landed in when I wanted to go to the best halfway house.

Courtroom drawing Rachel Ketchum early 90s for WCCO TV defense attorneyPretty crazy, right? But I was really fortunate, because I was damn good at the work, everyone loved my courtroom drawings, and I wound up doing work for the CBS National News and selling drawings to CNN and the local papers when I was barely out of art school. I was settled in an art career that paid handsomely before I even graduated.

There were only three problems: I wanted to draw comics, I wanted to leave Minnesota, and I am a sexual assault survivor.

Working in the courtroom wasn’t sustainable for me in the long run, even if I hadn’t been giving every spare minute to breaking into comics.

I couldn’t handle covering the endless violence against women and children; I was burning out by the time I got my first comics job in 1994. I tried to do both for a few months, because I felt terrible leaving the station with no-one to call. I had worked for them for three years, and I was really fond of the reporters and producers and my fellow courtroom artists.

And I was afraid that if I quit, the artist who would replace me would be a man and that would be one more man in the audience the rape survivors would have to look out at as they testified.

But I got offered a full-time job as the regular penciller on a monthly Star Trek book.

Being the regular penciller on an ongoing monthly book is about as good as it gets for comic artists, and I was thrilled beyond words. It had been my dream since I was seventeen, what I’d been working towards for years. So I had to tell WCCO I was done. I went to the station and collected the drawings that were still there, in a storage room, and brought them home. It’s drawings from that batch that I’m photographing and documenting now.Courtroom drawing early 1990s Rachel Ketchum for WCCO T V witness

You can see the previous post of courtroom drawings here.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. So, 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.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

 

From the Vaults: Courtroom drawings and the Case of The Frozen Head.

St Paul Russian gangster trial courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992So you all know I used to be a courtroom artist.

It’s the only job I’ve ever had where people would immediately say, “Oh, that sounds so interesting!” and I would say, “Yes, yes it is.” It was also deeply traumatic, and wildly challenging, and sometimes deadly boring (embezzlement or early days of DNA testimony).

One of the more disgusting but less traumatic cases I worked on involved a pair of Russian gangsters who had moved to suburban St. Paul.

They were best friends, and their wives were best friends, vacationed together and so on.

An attorney courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992But all good things must come to an end, and some business rivalry caused one of them to shoot the other, chop off his head and hands, and dump the body in a lake.

At this time, around 1992 or 3, I was driving a 1991 Toyota Corolla. It was a dealer demo return but still the closest thing I’ve ever owned to a new car, and only my second car.

So I was extremely proud of it and kept it clean, visiting the carwash downtown after a day working in court.

Back to the trial: the cops found the slushy head in a partially frozen lake, and eventually arrested the Russian gangster guy.

St Paul Russian gangster trial courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes ca 1992 detailHe was not the coldest human I ever saw in court, but definitely a really vicious sociopath. I have a drawing of a forensic pathologist using a pointer to indicate gunshot wound and axe marks on a slide of the decayed head, the headsicle if you will, but I can’t find it yet.

The prosecution utilized the shockingly cavalier way many murderers talk about their acts.

This guy was really just like, so he got the lease on the laundromat, so I chopped off his head. They always talk about it like, “Well I just did what anybody would you know.”

The thing is, the thing is, the guy put the body in his trunk to dump it. And then his nice suburban car was all bloody, so he took it to a carwash to be cleaned up.

He told the guys at the carwash that he had killed a deer. Not so unusual, in Minnesota.Witness courtroom drawing by Rachel Ketchum aka Suzanne Forbes approx 1992

You know what, my dear ones?

It was my fucking carwash he went to. The guys testified and everything.

Narrator: And she never went back to that carwash. 

Only the top drawing is from the Frozen Head trial; I have no idea where the other two are from. I made hundreds of courtroom drawings from 1991 to 1993, and I have only a fraction of them. I was constantly selling them to people involved in the trials, prosecutors and defense attorneys and DNA experts and ballistics people and so on.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. So,

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.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.