Suzanne Forbes, an expat New Yorker in Berlin. Made possible by the generous support of her Patrons. https://www.patreon.com/SuzanneForbes. Former DC Penciller for Star Trek, former courtroom artist, painting portraits and teaching drawing.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon when I glanced at Instagram and saw my friend Dia was about to perform at Tipsy Bär, on the other side of town.
I hadn’t seen Dia work their moves onstage since we lived in the Bay, so I grabbed my art tools and jumped on the train. I made it just in time to catch Dia’s second act as well some other fabulous people!
Ebony Rose Dark danced so gracefully, so delicately on those 6″ heels. She was amazing!
And she casually kept them on after her performance! We had a minute to chat and she told me about some of the other performances she does, including one in pitch dark with fellow visually impaired performers. Now I really want to go to Worn and Felt and draw in the dark.
Vivienne P. Lovecraft was a vision of serenity in opal pastels, performing about Steven Universe I believe?
Which is a tv show that so many people I love are into, but I have never seen. I feel slightly guilty about that!
During the trivia contest, the question “What do the H. and P. in H.P. Lovecraft stand for?” was asked and Dia yelled, “Highly Problematic!” Another audience member pointed out that Lovecraft was from Rhode Island, which is hysterical, during Drag Brunch.
I loved her rainbow flag stole and a tender performance to Björk’s “All is Full of Love”, where she came out and hugged all the audience members. It was really comforting and hopeful. As Ms. Jupiter pointed out, a Sunday afternoon drag show may seem silly, but taking space this way is always, always a political act.
I’m grateful I can document moments like this in Berlin, thanks to my Patrons on Patreon whose monthly financial support allows me to make this art!
It’s because I can’t ride one, I don’t understand the basic mechanics. But people bring their bikes on the U-Bahn, and their dynamics with the bikes are interesting, so I occasionally try to draw them.
When I did the drawing above I was thinking about the looseness and easy mark-making of my pre-comics drawing style.
I recently scanned some drawings from 1990-91 for my archives, and realized how much rigidity I developed while I was formatting my drawing style for comic inking and printing. I want to try and rediscover that sketchy early 90s style.
I wouldn’t say this drawing succeeded at that, but it’s been a long road here and it’s ok for it to be a wander to try and go back abit.
At least I drew this goofy hand, which is barely drawn at all!
In Berlin homeless people spare-changing on the U-Bahn announce themselves and say their names loudly as they enter the train.
That’s what the guy you see here is doing. There’s a sort of script panhandlers follow. It’s not clear to me if this is custom or required by some regulation. It does serve the purpose of giving people a chance to dig in their purses/pockets for change, if they are so inclined. I panhandled daily to support my heroin habit in the last year of my active using; I understand doing anything you can to ease the mechanics of asking strangers for money.
But we convened for a third sitting last week and it came together, finally.
Here are the results of the first two sittings, above.
Really different right?? It’s not done yet, but Shakrah’s time-traveler beauty is emerging. In the ten months since we last worked on this picture, Shakrah and I have spent time hanging out, and I have come to know her face much better. I was truly feeling like her character and her beauty weren’t captured by the portrait to date, and seriously considering abandoning it. Plus, the pink velvet salon chair she was sitting on was destroyed by a giant hacker during our New Year’s Day epic brunch, so we needed to use a different chair!
But she was up for posing, after my work hiatus caused by the bus accident and after her very busy year, and I decided to see how it went. Because I know her face better, when I returned to the painting, I could see what was salvageable and good about the second iteration, and build on it. And we decided to remove her headpiece, even though she made it and it is beautiful, because its scale overpowered the small painting.
I’m glad I didn’t give up on this one! I posted the latest on my Instagram and one of my Patrons commented,
“Thank you for sharing your frustrations as a professional artist. It gives the rest of us newbies perspective and that we too should keep trying.”
I was glad to be of service, and also surprised. I started earning money as an artist when I was sixteen, so I’ve been working within my own insecurities and frustration my whole life. That’s why it’s WORK!
I guess I assume everybody knows that professional artists struggle constantly with not being as good as they want! Or not being able to resolve a piece! Or not being able to capture someone or something beautiful!
That’s the greatest frustration to me, that I can never capture the beauty of my subjects the way I see it.
I will never be able to show you exactly how beautiful and luminous and unique you are before me, but I will get closer and closer til the day I die, Goddess willing.
And I am able to do this because of the help of myPatrons on Patreon who provide the monthly sponsorship that allows me to tell women’s stories and grow as an artist!
It was my beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil who came up with the idea of “Make-Cation”.
Monique has always been my inspiration for mixed media and assemblage art, and I learned so much about how to trust my creative impulses around materials watching her work evolve over the years. I did my first Make-Cation in Fall 2017, and for eight days in March I did it again! It was a glorious time of renewal, full of energizing fiddling, fooling, fussing and gluing! Nothing makes me happy like taking a hacksaw to a plastic toyl!
It may surprise some people but drawing and painting isn’t “fun” for me. It’s hard work where I put my whole identity on the line every time and demand the best I can possibly do from myself. Like going to the gym, it feels great in the sense of being healthy, rewarding and good for me.
Plus there is a huge added bonus in that it gives happiness to the people I document and helps to share their stories with the world. So it is deeply meaningful and feels like service, which I love.
However it’s hard work, and I do it pretty much all the time, so I took a week to do the art that feels like play – making stuff!
Touching and handling beautiful materials like velvet leaves, gold wire and garnet beads makes me feel nourished and exhilarated.
I started on Day One with these cheap pot metal crowns and the heaps of metal leaf charms and stampings I’ve had for years.
I used beads and pearls and resin and glass leaves too, and sewed everything in with different weights of gold wire, then secured it with blobs of E6000.
I learned about using wire to secure decorative elements when I did a Halloween party with the help of a guy who had run commercial haunted houses, in 2001. He said anytime you want something to stay put, wire it in.
I figure people can wear the crowns whenever we finally have our Summer Solstice party.
Then I gave some bugs a bath.
One thing I have learned from action figure customizing folks and Burning Man art folks is that assemblage art lives or dies by its adhesives and primer coat.
The plastic bugs got a nice soak in very hot soapy water to remove any traces of mold release so they would accept paint and glue better.
Once they were completely dry I went bug crazy with the glue gun. I had been wanting to make a gothic rococo gilt frame with horrible insects for many years.
I recently found a €3,99 plastic frame at our local Woolworth’s (we still have those here!) to use as a base. I washed the frame in hot soapy water too, to remove any oils or dirt, and then attached the bugs and some resin flowers with the glue gun.
Once the glue was cooled and set I used my precious Apoxie-Sculpt to unite the bugs with the frame, smoothing their edges into the surface so they look more carved or bas-relief. (You can read more about this here.)
Then I coated the whole thing with Mod Podge, which I’ll explain in the next Make-Cation post, and then I spray-painted it gold! Few things are as gratifying as gold spray paint.
I also cut some pieces of cardstock to fit some of the gaps in the frame, because I needed to reduce the visual detail after adding the bugs – I wanted to it read clearly from a distance. To help that, I also sprayed it from below with a light mist of black spray paint.
I am so pleased with how it came out. Look how nicely the plastic spider sits at the top! I made a little decoupage piece to go in it using die-cut butterflies and some Dresden trim moons I got at Castle In the Air like 20 years ago.
I Mod-Podged them right onto the black cardboard that was the backing of the frame, because I am a deeply lazy person.
I also made some Cernunnos crowns, because you never know when you’ll need those.
I used “reindeer horns” I got on eBay and headbands from Woolworth’s for these, plus some velvet flowers and leaves and stuff that I had hoarded, some from like 1995.
I love how they came out, it is just so satisfying to use up these beautiful old materials and make them into actual things.
Of course I barely made a dent in my supply hoard, but there is world enough, and time, for more creepy assemblage art.
I made two other things, a completely insane little seat for our hallway, and a little fascinator hat, and I will post those soon!
So much love to my Patrons, who support my creating and making, and made this precious window of creative play possible <3 You can see more of my multi-disciplinary mixed media projects here.
I 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!
And this is a teacher at MCAD, where I finished my BFA.
This 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.
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.
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.
Sometime soon I’m gonna go draw the Berlin Bruisers actually playing rugby.
But first, I drew the fabulous performers at a benefit for the Bruisers, who are Berlin’s only gay-inclusive rugby team. The annual benefit is called Violet Varieté, and was held at epic queer nightclub and party space Schwuz. That’s beautiful Lola Rose, above!
On the left, comedian Ben Meachum, in his latex wrestling singlet 🙂
“I love to draw Liliana,” I said to her dear friend Fannie Headaek, “she has the elegant lines of a fighting swan.”
Does that make sense? I don’t know, but I stand by it! And check out co-host Gieza Poke!
Is Pansexual Pleasure Goddess Gieza’s outfit a yellow plaid bustier and plaid booty shorts topped with a yellow plaid cape with power shoulders and a yellow tam o’shanter fascinator? Yes, yes it is. Fucking amazing.
Also performing was The Darwish, an elegant neo-bellydancer.
Dunja, an incredible Guinness World Record setting hula hooper, (see below!) as Mia Wallace!
This is Lydia, aka Lylicious Ink, tattooing a lovely lady, ON A BOAT. Lydia is a friend who is a fantastic artist who is now a tattoo artist, like Daria.
I went to the new Drink And Draw Berlin location finally, and holy heck it’s amazing. Drink And Draw’s classes and events are now held in a 90-year-old boat docked in the Historic Harbor by Markisches Museum. The atmosphere is so cozy, so charming, so superbly comfortable for drawing, I cannot even deal. I want to go back ASAP.
These two cool as hell friends of Lydia’s were talking about tat appointments, and one of them was also drawing.
I just was so happy there! There were groups of artists and tattooists working at tables and on couches throughout the boat’s comfy seating areas, and another woman tattoo artist, the fantastically badass Strix, working up on the stage, and people doing stick-and-poke.
This is Elliott, stick-and-poke tattooing his own leg.
I knew people stick-and-poke tattooed themselves, as my incredible artist sister-in-law Caitlin has a number of beautiful works she has designed and done herself. But I’d never seen it happening live in front of me before! I was like, look, a hot boy stick-and-poking his own leg on a boat! What could possible be more Berlin? But then I remembered my friend Suz told me about a nonbinary person who stick-and-poke tattoos drunk club-goers on the party train U8 on Friday nights around 3am, and that is actually more Berlin 🙂
I had some lovely Fritz-Kola on the boat (local soft drink company well known for always sponsoring art events!) and altogether the nicest time.
Thanks, Drink and Draw Berlin! I’ll be back!
And always, my deepest and profoundest gratitude to my Patrons, who crowdfund my documentary art project of a feminist intersectional lens on Berlin life! You can help, with any amount you like per month, a dollar or euro is great ?
My Patrons on Patreon give monthly financial support which allows me to make this free documentary art available for all to share!
I took an eight-day Make-Cation, where all I did was bricolage and assemblage.
It was so relaxing and fun! So I was strong and ready to dive in the second sitting with Daria.
To the left you can see the portrait about halfway through our second sitting, after an hour or so.
It is easier painting someone you know well, someone you have spent hundreds of hours with. It doesn’t actually feel easier, but better results happen without being aware of how.
So this challenging foreshortened facial view, with Daria’s head bent over her ipad, and part of her face obscured by her hanging hair, was very doable.
I expect we will finish in one more sitting!
You can see the first sitting here and Daria’s website and Instagram here. Her witchy boots are starting to emerge, below! I still need to paint in her jewelry and tattoos.
As always, this portrait is painted alla prima (without any preliminary drawing or underpainting), in straight-from-the-tube acrylic mixed only on the canvas. I am continuing to tone my canvas with acrylic paint to an even 50% grey before painting and absolutely loving the results as it increases my speed even more. The large painting seen below is about five hours total work.
This was my first time making it to the Shimmy Shake Show, which features students, graduates and teachers from Berlin burlesque school The Shimmy Shake School. It is held at the beautiful vintage venue Ballhaus Berlin, where I go multiple times a year for Dr. Sketchy’s Berlin.
You can call the bar to order a drink with the antique telephones on the tables, though the bar is always too busy to bring you a beverage when I’ve been there!
As you can see, the audience members were dressed for the show.
I was invited to draw at the show by Shimmy Shake teacherLa Loba Lucía, who I became a mad fan of after I saw her perform at Extravagant Shambles. She is the most leonine, ferocious, superheroic burlesque performer I have seen so far. Drawings of her act coming soon!
Meanwhile, here is another instructor, Anja Pavlova, performing a ballet-like burlesque that had a rococo Rites-of-Spring feel!
Daria, who has been the heart and the jumpstart of my life in Berlin, is moving to Hamburg.
They warn you when you come to live here, it’s a transient city, you make friends and then they move away. We haven’t seen that much, luckily, because most of our community loves Berlin like we love Berlin. Not Daria, though. Daria, who is from Moscow, hates Berlin like I hated San Francisco, being from New York. It’s completely hilarious how much her disdain for the way Berlin does city is like my mine for SF. She even makes the same face I do.
I have always understood that Daria’s talent is too big for Berlin, where nobody has any money.
I want her to have the massive success and fame she deserves even more than I want her to be near me. I want her to get to live in a city she loves, like I do.
She likes Hamburg, and moreover, she works with a tattoo studio there that is the right scale for her exploding career. She needs a platform that suits her expanding clientele. So that’s right, and as it should be, and I know I will see her when she comes to Berlin to see clients, because she’ll be sleeping on our couch!
As we are closing on the date she and her partner leave for their new city, we are making time for a portrait.
Like the portraits of our Bay Area loved ones that hang all over the house, a portrait of Daria will be a companion and comfort. We had talked about doing a glamorous one too, but with time growing short the highest priority was this vision of her. Like a Russian ballerina witch ninja vampire, absorbed in creating – she is editing photos on her iPad. Like I have watched her so many times in so many cafes all over the city that I came to know with her. Our next sitting is in April, and hopefully that will finish it; if not, we’ll finish it when she’s sleeping on our couch!