I’m not sure how I first learned about Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art-School. I believe Lindz and I spot a flyer somewhere, The Whip perhaps, or in Fringe like with the Terminal City Roller Girls, or perhaps in Georgia Straight. At the time I hadn’t heard of Dr. Sketchy, that the sessions had been happening in various progressive cities for years, though what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.
What I did know is that the description, whether verbal or poster, flyer or print ad, involved live models and beer, enough to send pictures flying in my head, the sorts I’d have when hearing artists like Glen and Shane talk nostalgically about how the Spumco artists and Warner Bros. artists would converge on the gynecology row at some local rockabilly strip club on the Strip, order pints, and try to draw the dancing girls, occasionally tipping to get the girls to hold a pose for longer than a split second. While I’ve never tried to sketch the ladies in a strip club, I have attended ample academic and extracurricular live nude model sessions, and always felt like I’d like to see more camp, more costumes, more attitude and action.
As the sort of artist that grew up emulating the masters of Mad over the masters of the Metropolitan Museum, of crafty comic characterizations over civilized cultivated creativity, I wanted more Rat Fink than Raphael, more Don Martin than Donatello, more Mickey Mouse than Michelangelo, more Li’l Abner than Leonardo. Heroes in a half-shell.
And boobs, I’ve pretty much always wanted lots and lots of boobs. I fully realize that’s not the politically correct term, or remotely the mature, cultured, sophisticated term. Boobs is the term that best expresses the perspective of a kid scouring his Mom’s Vogues every month for sheer or otherwise see-through silhouette sneaky snaps and incidentally learning a thing or three about high fashion in the process, a youth scouring the ETSU and Milligan college library for art and photography instructional books for peeks at peaks, and inadvertently learning about Man Ray, Warhol, the S-Curve compositional approach so popular with animated characters. I’ve quipped that most of what I know started out as a quest for boobs, certainly slow loading jpegs helped teach me quite a bit about the internet, antiviral software, data storage, archival organization, and cache clearing.
Discovering that there were incidental flashes of boobs in Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS as a tween lead to a life long affinity for British comedy. Nipples as a gateway drug to cultural exposure, cleavage as catalyst for cracking open whole new worlds of comedy content. A quest for mammary mounds lead to the discovery of the oversized French magazine Photo on the newsstand in the grocery store during high school. As a gift my folks got me a subscription to the American Photo that year in high school. Similar, but not the same. Smaller imprint, far less boobs, often cropped out all together. Still, educational, since I could read the English language rather than guessing at the French. Suspect that introduction to French did lead to discovering more European art, comics, etc. As did the particular issues of Heavy Metal I picked up from a mall Walden Books when in seventh grade. I have since replaced those three key issues, though that’ll be a post for another day, a post about European comics versus American ones, Ranxerox and Marshal Law versus Superman and Batman, hockey masks versus Halloween masks.
When the World’s Fair came to Knoxville, Tennessee I learned two very important things. One, that Europe called gasoline “petrol”, the other that on beaches in Australia women can frolic every bit as topless as any man. There were several trips with school and family over that summer to roam the World’s Fair and by the last time I went I could have found my way to the Australian pavilion blindfolded just to take the blindfold off in time to see the looping film showing off the highlights of the nation, particularly that half minute scene about the beaches, where people sensible enough to stay out of the shark infested waters played volleyball and Frisbee on the shore, hair bleached and skin tanned from the big sun, nipples bouncing around like tiny balls looking for songs to lead crowds through. I’ve had something of a lifelong ambition to move to Australia every since.
I will never understand how the States feels totally fine with explosions, war, violence, and contrived gangsta sensibilities; yet turtles or goes postal over the least bit of sexuality or sensual exposure. Janet Jackson slips a nipple and the crowd goes wild, though seemed like for all the wrong reasons. Has no one in the States seen Mardi Gras in Rio, even on TV? A vibrant, chaotic, brilliant pageant of merriment, song, dance, playful decadence, peacock prowess, costumes, body paints, gender enhancements and reversals, parades of people with lives far to challenging to be bothered about someone flaunting their boobs or baring their buns. Perhaps the puritanical streak in the states is more than a fear of sexuality. Perhaps it is suspicion of art, of creativity, of inhibition, of connecting with parts of self that rise from within, parts other than fear, other than greed, other that a need for dominance and control.
And that’s perhaps why I find Dr. Sketchy so welcoming, so enticing. While structured very similarly to your more typical model session, the sessions feel slightly off kilter, irreverent, like a railway car with wheels half off the track. The un-classes are hosted by a playful MC calling out times, themes, and challenges along the way. There is a definite burlesque vibe to the event, and of course there is, since many of the models are burlesque performers, dancers, fire eaters, makeup artists, costume creators, contortionists, and various combination thereof. The shows advertise a forecast of bawdy with a slight chance of boobs, beer, and babes; yet at the end of the evening you leave with more art in hand than you arrived with, challenged and cheered along the way.
The sessions start with short warm up one minute poses, followed by slightly longer two minute poses to get better form and maybe a detail or two, followed by still longer five minute poses, then a few ten minute ones for much more detail and filling in, then a break, and then some longer fifteen minute poses for the rest of the three hour session. Not all models are created the same way; some have great costumes, some great poses they can hold like statues. Some roll their eyes and gnash their teeth so you must draw quickly before her expression changes. Some shift about as their strength or focus wanes, others can hold a pose yet need some coaching to arrive at a pose that is more opened up and affords a greater share of spectators something dynamic to draw. Some banter with the audience, others avoid looking anyone in the eye. Some roam the audience to see people’s interpretations while others flee to the back of the place, slip out of sight to realign their chakras or grab a drink before embarking on the next round of posing. Some bring props and use them with every pose; others remain streamlined and prefer only to display themselves. Some have dancer’s bodies, or athletes, while others have voluptuous bodies, or whiplash slender, solid state or solid snake. Some have the bare skin of statues, others have ink decorating the tapestry of their skin. Most times they work alone, however sometimes they have a partner, someone to help with a few of the longer poses if the night’s theme is suited.
Each Dr. Sketchy session is built around a theme, and pairing a topic with the right model is imperative, as the model’s ability to relate to the theme, to embody it and bring it to life, is directly related to how into the theme the model actually is. Last Halloween when Spooksy DeLune modeled, she based her interpretation of the holiday theme around her favorite film, also a personal favorite of mine, Return of the Living Dead. Her halftime show and the long poses were her ode to the character Trash from ROTL, and her enthusiasm lit up the venue, as did her leaping from the bar to run from person to person to see how they’d each rendered her last pose, to smile and laugh and compliment as she went, a scantly clad woman with a Mohawk, grease paint, and spattered with stage blood having an affect on the room like a ray of sunshine on the bonnet of a pixie tossing flower pedals into the breeze while skipping through a field of beaming blossoms.
Another appealing aspect of Dr. Sketchy’s is the sense of empowerment the models and hosts have. Where strip clubs have felt like meat markets to me, thus very quickly losing their appeal, seeing waitresses take turns at the pole, objectified and there to be glared at like cattle parading through indentured servitude. Dr. Sketchy has a different tone, and no poles. There is an edge to the proceedings, a sense that these are the girls out to do what they want and shut down anyone tells them otherwise.
The events, or schools if you will, were founded by women, almost exclusively run by women, and largely empowered and attended by women. Good natured, playful, obnoxious, yet also safe, polite, and considerate. No one drunkenly brawling obscenities and throwing dollar bills. No one walking around trying to convince johns they need lap dances so someone can pay the rest of her rent, or boob job bill. My Women’s Studies instructors would approve, I think, as would Susie Bright and Annie Sprinkle. Maybe even bell hooks. Definitely Betty Dodson would, and I would love to sit next to her during a session, she draws wonderful flowers.