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.
The minute I met Berlin burlesque producer and performer Cadbury Parfait, I wanted to paint her picture.
She is exceptionally beautiful, and she has fantastic personal style, grace and power. She performs and produces wonderfully naughty, sexy, political, intersectional burlesque shows. Plus, she’s funny!
So we scheduled a sitting, which is challenging because she’s one of the busiest people in the Berlin burlesque scene, and got started. I had a fine large canvas given to me by one of my Patrons, and it is thrilling to be working large again.
I really prefer to paint on the biggest canvas possible for a home studio, so the subject’s figure is one third to one half life-size. We settled on her 1930s style Voodoo Vixen gown in sapphire blue velvet for Cadbury’s outfit, and kept everything else simple and natural.
As sometimes happen, I lost the thread during the process – I made good headway to capturing her likeness and proportions, then screwed it up. This is an almost inevitable part of the portrait painting process; there’s generally at least one point where I almost have it and then lose it, either by accident or design.
So while much of the structure you see is a good foundation, the essential spirit and humor of Cadbury’s personality is currently AWOL. Working back in forth in that uncertainty of recovering the good bit, tolerating the fact that you’ve fucked it up, is part of the process. Keats called our ability to tolerate uncertainty the “negative capacity”.
Whistler used to wipe down the canvas to a shadow after every sitting, then start over.
His process was the process of seeing the sitter and painting the sitter, and he stopped when he did it enough times to hit the sweet spot, know it and call it. I often have to explain this to my sitters, who may be startled that what looked like a really promising portrait has turned weird, or awkward, or lost an arm. Cadbury, who has a striking way with words, got it instantly and phrased it this way: “It’s like the Rubik’s Cube – you have to destroy it in order to fix it! You almost have it except that one orange square – but you have to break the whole thing to get that part right.”
That’s exactly, exactly how it is. I’m used to it, so I trust the process.
and all profits from this show are going to an LGBTQ+ cause! And it’s at beloved East Berlin queer clubhouse Monster Ronsons, which has some shitty A/C, which is 200% better than 99% of Berlin venues! Some of my very fave local performers will be onstage, like Noelinela Bouche, as well as breathtakingly gorg out-of-towners like Betty Fvck and LilyLustre, both of whom I’ve drawn once and been simply CRAVING to draw again!
From the beginning it was clear that teen mutant Doug Ramsey and Warlock, a techno-organic being who was identified as “he” upon arrival on Earth, were in love.
Art from New Mutants #21 by Bill Sienkiewicz and Glynis Wein, one of the most charming scenes from a charmed run.
You don’t call just anybody your “selfsoulfriend”. Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher, was the local computer nerd – until he met an alien teen robot who lived on lifeglow and they were suddenly thisclose and loving it.
One of the most wonderful things about the X-Men and New Mutants for me as a queer kinky teen in the 80s was how casually gay and freaky everybody was.
Sure, it’s totally ok to be in a deep psychically linked relationship with your (assigned as) same-sex team-mate, even if they’re sort of a robot and from outer space! Or a werewolf!
It’s all good, and safe, inside the X-Mansion.
The safe harbor that those 80s stories represented for queer teens reverberates forward through time, to the young people who continue to discover them.
I myself was extraordinarily blessed to live with a mother whose radical acceptance of me and my freaky friends created an IRL safe harbor.
I was blessed enough, in the 80s, to have a mom who would take me and my girlfriend to brunch.
But most queer teens didn’t have that in the 80s, and so many still don’t have it today.
Especially for trans kids, Warlock’s total control of his physical form is an exhilarating notion. His gender was clearly only assigned as male because of the limited thinking of the era; to today’s non-binary kids it’s obvious ‘Lock is a they. In the age of tumblr (RIP) and AO3, Doug and Warlock as lovers are an arena of profoundlycreative and experimental sexual ideation.
I wanted to honor those young people who love these characters by the way Doug and ‘Lock are represented in my X-Men dollhouse. And also gently acknowledge what a funny, square little geek Doug was in the ’80s. He had a wholesome quality that really flared against the teleological darkness of characters like Illyana. And his hair was SO 80s!
Spidey in civvies action figure custom by Jacobs Toys
He’d used a Tom Holland Spider-Man head and a Lex Luthor body to create a Peter Parker in civilian clothes.
The recipe, as action figure customizers call it, was perfect for my version of Doug. (‘Lock, a Build-A-Figure released last year, was already perfect).
Doug should be in civvies, of course – his uselessness in the field was legend. I don’t know why they ever gave him a uniform!
And Tom Holland’s face has exactly, exactly the boyish handsomeness of Michael J. Fox and Matthew Broderick in the 80s. He sells the wide-eyed mischief and wonder of a teen with super-powers in the most incredible way. (I loved Homecoming! Gonna go see the next one next week!)
Well, actually I also filled in the peg-holes on the bottom of his shoes and gave them sneaker texture, also with Apoxie Sculpt, because he’d be sitting crosslegged and I am slightly a perfectionist 🙂 And I also covered hair and shirt with Matte Mod Podge and then sprayed them with Matte Acrylic Sealer, as I learned on this excellent customizing site, to protect the paint.
I hope this sweet pair of lovebirds pleases the folx who love Doug and Warlock, and love their queer, trans, geek-robot love.
You genuinely cannot imagine how hard she worked this whole week. And how beautifully the events focused on embracing diversity, creating safe spaces, and representation.
This is Jonny Porkpie, who is apparently the (self-proclaimed) Burlesque Mayor!
His act involved a strip down with flasks, vials and bottles of liquor concealed in ever-more ingenious places. Not very relevant to my interests as a recovering alcoholic but it was a charming performance!
Little Miss Piss did an act that was very different at the end than at its beginning.
It was PACKED with surprises! I cannot show you the drawing of the end here, sadly. You will have to find it on my not-safe-for-puritans erotic art channel and site 🙂 Perhaps you can find it by googling.
The Newcomer competition at Shimmy Shakedown was a Battle for the Best in Burlesque!
Newcomers from all over Europe and Germany competed for the title of ‘Burlesque Entertainer of the Year’. Above, you can see Noeline La Bouche, who won “Most BadAss” I believe!Here’s Setty Mois – she was my first drawing of the night and I wish I could have captured her in more detail.
I love hearts as a theme because I love love 🙂 Cadbury Parfait, who won “Most Classic”!
This performance was intensely moving. Watching The Velvet Unicorn use “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” in the Burlesque context, with their “costume” consisting of the kind of black hoodie that is so often racially profiled, was disquieting. As it should be.
As they stripped down and twerked I thought of both the appropriation of black dance moves by white performers and how white culture hyper-sexualizes people of color to other and alienate them. I was reminded of Karen Finley throwing glitter on her chocolate-covered, abused body at the end of “We Keep Our Victims Ready“ because “After everything they do to us, we’re supposed to get dressed and go out to dinner”. I was not surprised to learn The Velvet Unicorn works withsocial justice and trauma in their burlesque art. They have a radio show as well!
You can read about how I came to know and love these characters, how they led to my career in comics, and my friendship with their creator, Chris Claremont, here.
There’s even a cameo by Bill Sienkiewicz in the Marvel hallways in 1986. But it’s not an easy read, be warned.
As soon as I was gonna have an action figure dollhouse, I needed New Mutants action figures, and particularly Rahne and Dani.
Because my emotional investment in these particular characters was so profound, they needed a safe home in the Valhalla of my dollhouse even more than the other avatars of story-people who helped me survive. I started accumulating parts to make the customs, like heads, almost as soon as I started collecting Marvel Legends scale figures. I have literally had the heads for Sam and Dani since at least 2003.
I got my first 6″ (dollhouse) scale action figure in 1999.
She was a DC Direct Death figure, a gift from a boy at work who liked me, and kept giving me terrific comics-related gifts, even though I was married. That Death figure released the lifelong lust for a dollhouse I’d managed to contain until age 32. I found out that action figures were being made in one-twelve scale, and it was the tipping point.
I could bear not having a dollhouse with dolls in it – but I couldn’t bear not having a dollhouse with super heroes in it.
I didn’t finish the dollhouse for a good fifteen years, but I started collecting super hero action figures like a fucking fiend right away.
1999 began the first heyday of 6″ scale action figures, the early days of ToyBiz Marvel Legends and DC Direct and McFarlane, plus LOTR figures and various other genre properties that were being done in 6″ scale.
It genuinely shocked me, the obscure characters that began appearing as the adult collector market developed. But I knew no-one would ever make New Mutants figures for adults, that was TOO obscure.*
It was incalculably thrilling to me to see the new X-Men figures released with the first film in 2000.
It was lying around the store as a joke object. Because it was so funny, so ludicrous that a character as fucked up as Wolverine, from a property as weird and obscure as the X-Men, could have been made into a plastic toy a child could buy in a regular toy store.
And because the idea that comic book readers would buy toys of their favorite characters was unimaginable.
I bought the first Wolverine action figure, though, and I still have mine, though his snap-on claws are lost.
Because it was hilarious and insane that this secret world of ours had extrojected itself into real space, but it was also magic.
I took my time getting my hands on these, because I was waiting to see what else might happen, and eventually the Jean figures started popping up individually on the secondary market.
I wound up paying at least thirty bucks for each of the three figures I bought, but they are so terrific, it’s hard to be upset.
The body for Dani was a Marvel Legends version of Kitty Pryde released in 2016. The sculpt was way too tall and lean for Kitty (though appropriately less bosomy) and perfect for Dani. I used the Jean Grey body (“buck” in action figure talk) for Rahne, Shan and Illyana. Illyana, insanely enough, was recently actually released as an action figure. Dani is just the right amount taller than the other girls. ‘Lock was remade in action figure form last year, and look how great he is!
By 2018, so many X-Men action figures had been released I needed to build a new dollhouse.
So I built a School for Gifted Youngsters, seen above. It was a huge effort that took about a year, but it’s 99% percent done. The kids, of course, are relaxing in the living room.
I made Rahne’s head from a resin dollhouse doll, sanded and resculpted with my beloved Apoxie Sculpt. Painting her teeny little face took me, a professional portrait artist, a total of over three working days. it was worth it to me because my emotional investment was vast. But… it was DERANGED.
Whatever they charge you is a bargain. The work involved in doing it yourself, even as a professional artist in a fully equipped craft space, is bananapants.
Where are the boys?? Doug is done, coming soon, and I’m working on Sam. I plan to use a Miles Morales head for Bobby, and they cost a mint, so I’m working on it.
I should probably say more about how I made them, and I will. But it was so emotionally wrenching to make them, and such a relief and mercy to be done and place them safely in the X-Mansion, that I’m done for now.
Enjoy these amazing gay teens in the safe harbor I have built them, as I slowly build a safe harbor for my own amazing gay teen self in the ship of my adult life.
*breaking news out of San Diego, July 19 2019: Hasbro is releasing a New Mutants Marvel Legends Dani Moonstar figure with Karma and Wolfsbane heads! But actually, I like mine better 🙂 Of course I’ll buy the Hasbro Dani Moonstar figure anyway! I totally want a furious badass version of Dani and a transitional Rahne action figure and a Shan with a headband!
Here is beautiful CocoLectric, as a lovely flower during the Full Moon Cabaret “Nature” show! So many incredible performers traveled from all over the world to perform at Berlin Burlesque Week, and I was thrilled to meet them and get a chance to draw them.
This is AgathaFrisky, a gorgeous lady in a gorgeous outfit, as a Corpse Flower!!!
Her costume was exquisite, and she has an amazing shake!
With smiles for miles and legs for leagues, she lit up the stage. Meeting her I was so touched by her warmth, and her Instagram is full of powerful, compassionate social justice messages. She recently performed at Hubba Hubba Revue in San Francisco, where I cut my burlesque live-drawing teeth from 2005 to 2014!
Below, producer and hostess with the most, Viva Lamore.
Because of recentchanges in US law, I cannot create any drawings that show nudity, “implied nudity”, or breasts with pasties for my Patreon, which is how I have crowdfunded my free documentary art the last few years. I’ve created a new site for my documentary art about human sexuality and gender expression. I can’t link to it because of Patreon rules. Please don’t blame Patreon; blame SESTA-FOSTA. Maybe you could find the new site by googling!
There’s a post on my new site with new drawings from this Full Moon Cabaret too. It shows the breathtaking power and beauty of the performers at this show in all their glory. Skyclad, or in pasties.
I’ll continue to post on here too, sponsored and supported by my beloved, cherished Patrons, as right now that’s the only source of revenue for my art and I’ll always be interested in doing “work-safe” art as well as art with nudity such as life drawing. I’m working on a funding model for the new site.
Of course, you can always paypal me artist support money at suzanneforbes @ protonmail.com!
I had to sneak this portrait of her as she chatted with a friendly gay boy from Oz, because she looked so luminous. we went for Thai food beforehand and she looked like a movie star, I was like oh la lala, just havin some iced tea with my friend the movie star.
This is done in pastels, gel pens and other mixed media on Strathmore Toned Gray paper.
I love this paper but it’s too big for my scanner so I have to photograph the drawings and with their complex, mixed pigment surfaces they are hard to photograph. I am gonna have get a bigger scanner sometime soon!
Lady with a Baby
My friend S. with her little one, just a few weeks old. She has the most amazing kids. Seriously, the most amazing, beautiful, strong, full-of-identity from birth kids. I saw this one in the hospital and he was already right there. And the older kid- her glamour, character and self-possession are already legend among the Berlin demi-monde! “I saw her having lunch with Peaches one day, when she was just five years old”, someone whispered at a party. We are planning a portrait of mama and older child later this year.
This work, of making a record of the people I know, and telling the story of a moment in their lives – I cannot think of anything I am better suited to do, or any task more honorable.
I am so deeply grateful to my Patrons on Patreon, whose financial support makes it possible.
I started drawing this tender couple because I liked the shape of the left-hand partner’s coat and legs.
As I drew them, they sorted out movie plans and then things got very, very cute!
This guy was on the train I got on right after.
He was very tall guy with a very large instrument case, and he looked tired as hell. Whatever gig he was coming from must have been intense. I couldn’t figure out what the instrument was – it was like a guitar case, but oversized. Yet not big enough for a standup bass.
And this young woman in a sweatshirt dress was on the phone, on the bus.
Her phone call making her happy.
Previous unterwegs below. All unterwegs drawings are courtesy of my Patrons on Patreon whose monthly financial support allows me to make this free art available!
Here’s three portraits of women friends I made during the winter semester of 1990, my first semester back at art school after I got sober.
I was nearly a year sober when the semester started, and living with Anita, who appears above, in all her grace and strength. I had taken an adult ed painting class in St. Paul, the previous Fall. The class was offered through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where I wound up enrolling in the BFA program in January 1990.
It was really an accident I took the painting class, the accident being that it was the one art class available in St. Paul that Autumn of 1989 that fit my work schedule. I was working full time in a bakery so I took a night class. I had never been interested in being a painter, professionally.
I was bored and resentful in my color theory classes at Parsons and particularly unhappy in the one watercolor class I had to take. I did take a portrait painting class in my last semester at Parsons, but we only worked in sepia tones, not full color, and we spent the entire semester painting a single male model’s face. It was the atelier approach; it was not for me.
And the class terrified me; I would get so wasted to go that I would wind up too high to walk, let alone stand at an easel, and spend the day nodding in a lounge across the street at The New School instead.
But in Fall 1989, having a supportive woman teacher and being sober changed everything, and I began a visceral love affair with painting.
I signed up for my teacher’s regular undergrad painting class in my first semester at MCAD, and she seriously had my back. The fact that I trusted her mattered so much. Although figurative art was generally spurned at MCAD,the painting teachers were really good. Somehow I got into painting on masonite during my first year painting. It was easily and cheaply bought at the school store. Masonite is a gorgeous surface to paint on, with a perfect mid-tone. (Unfortunately, it’s also insanely heavy and the sheets of masonite are a total hassle to haul around and nearly impossible to hang.)
The painting of Anita in black uses the natural color of the masonite as a base; the one below of her in pink uses a bright pink ground.
These paintings have heavily scumbled surfaces, as I was using tube acrylics on disposable wax paper palettes, and the paint dried fast.
The scumbling is cool, in retrospect. But when I discovered the Masterson Sta-Wet Handy-Palette a year later, it transformed my painting, by keeping my paint moist.
Anita posed for me whenever I asked, during the short few months we lived together. I painted the picture of her in black in our scantily furnished living room, over a couple of hours on a winter night. Our friend Tom was staying with us, and he looked at it and said “Wow! I didn’t know you could paint like that!” I looked at it, and I was astonished; I said, “Neither did I.”
After Anita was gone, I started to ask other people to pose for me.
This is a woman I knew in that first year of sobriety. We weren’t close friends, but I loved her style. She was what they called in the Twin Cities a “darksider”, a kind of goth. I was always much more interested in painting women than men, because women’s faces are so much harder and their clothes tell so much more.
We never had a second sitting for this picture, so it remains unfinished. But it looks kinda good that way! It’s a fucking banger of a painting.
It is such a tribute to my belief in the value of my work that I have dragged these paintings all over the US and now to Europe, through my fifteen different official residences and the three times everything I owned has been in storage, through two divorces, a bankruptcy, twenty years of crippling depression and fifteen of ill health. I believe that my work matters, and that these images of these women matter. And yet until I took the pictures for this post, there were no modern media records of them. If we had a fire, they would just have been 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.