Jello Biafra or Jello you eat?
Definitely Jello Biafra. Roaming the Village shouting “Mellow out or you will pay!” in 1982.
What would you do if you couldn’t create art?
I get sick when I don’t make art. A whole host of illnesses from severe depression to thyroid problems to vertigo. It’s amazing the tricks my body comes up with to get me fired or on disability every time I think I’m gonna last more than a year at a straight job. I had thirteen jobs in my eighteen years in the Bay alone and was fired from most of them.
How long ago did you start your art and is where you are now what you envisioned for your development back then?
I started making noticeably advanced drawings at three and was taking private drawing lessons by seven. I first attended the Art Students League when I was ten, and returned when I dropped out of Stuyvesant at sixteen. Then I went to college at Parsons, had a hiatus for drug and alcohol treatment, and finished my BFA at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I’m about as good now as I expected to be at this age, and I certainly expected to be very good, but portraitists do their best work late in life. I just hope to live long enough to be much, much better than I am now. I hope to have a career like Alice Neel or make a collection of exceptional late-life portraits like Hockney or Millais.
What did you want to be when you were young…
As a child I wanted to be a jockey, but I figured I would be a children’s book illustrator. I considered being a fashion illustrator for a while in my early teens, and then at seventeen my girlfriend asked me to bring her a comic book at boarding school. It was New Mutants #18, and everything changed. From that moment til I broke in as a penciller for DC nine years later, all I thought about was drawing comics. I was the full-time monthly penciller on DC’s Star Trek for two years; I achieved my dream when I was just 26. I’m still one of less than a dozen women who’ve ever been a monthly penciller for one of the Big Two. Everything since then has been mysteries and disasters and wrong turns and serendipity.
How do you survive financially on your art?!
I survive entirely by the grace of my Patrons on Patreon. Patreon has allowed me to have a predictable, controllable monthly income as an artist for the first time since I worked for DC in the early ’90s. It’s amazing, and I’m incredibly grateful. You can help for as little as a dollar a month!
People like their portraits to be made and to exist, but few people in our community commission them. And it’s even harder to get paid for making the kind of documentary drawings I do constantly. I’m motivated to work on projects like the series of immigrant street musicians I’m doing now because I get money for food. Art is work to me, I was trained and raised to do it as work, and even a little money is my best motivator.
Dogs or Cats?
–Suzanne Forbes, Traditional Portraiture for Alternative Lifestyles
photo by Sheila Wolf