Hey all you non-artists: want to know a secret? Shhhhh! Don’t let this get out, and I hate to spoil any idyllic illusions you may have, or that your artist friends have encouraged you to have, but… drawing nude models isn’t particularly sexy.
There, I said it. Don’t look at me that way! It’s true. Hey, I promise you I’m a healthy, red-blooded, heterosexual male, and some of the models I’ve drawn over my years of attending life drawing session have been astonishingly beautiful women; but when I’m drawing them, sexy is not the operative word. Not that you can’t make sexuality, and the physical appeal of an attractive model, part of a drawing, but you actually have to work at it.
I discovered this, much to my amazement, as a teenager (talk about healthy and red-blooded), when I first started to attend life drawing classes in art school. My fellow male freshmen and I were looking forward to the first life drawing class, our tongues prepared to hang out of our mouths in leering anticipation, as much as the freshmen girls were undoubtedly prepared to look down their noses at us at the first sign of impropriety; but the school cooled our jets with somewhat unattractive (but actually quite good) models for the first few sessions.
Eventually, though, the session came when we were presented with a very attractive young woman to draw; but, after about 6 seconds of leering, we found ourselves caught up in the process of drawing, as we had been in the previous sessions, and only realized at break time that we had been drawing a beautiful young woman for half an hour and it didn’t matter!
Part of it is the setting, of course; art schools and professional artist organizations that sponsor life drawing sessions know how to keep things professional and straightforward, and so do experienced models and most artists with any life drawing experience. It’s more than that, though, it’s the fact that the act of drawing involves a different way of seeing.
I found, even as an easily, um… excitable teenage boy, that once you start drawing a person, even a very attractive naked person, you are no longer seeing in the same way. Though you know intellectually that you are drawing a woman, and can be cognizant of the fact that it’s an attractive woman, that’s not what you’re seeing. When you’re drawing, you’re not seeing a shoulder or a breast, as much as your seeing shapes, angles, curves, lines, juncture points, shadows, intersecting forms and complex spatial relationships. All of these things go together to make a drawing of a person, but you’re not looking at that person the same way when you’re drawing as you would be under other circumstances.
I would venture to say that the same applies to women drawing attractive men, or people who are attracted to those of their own gender; the principle is the same. (I’ve found in my years of drawing, though, that male models are scarcer then female, and tend not to be as good at it. It may be that women are more conscious of how to exert subtle control over their bodies in holding a pose, or it may simply be that fewer men are willing to deal with the fact that life modeling is much harder work than it seems, and the pay is usually terrible.)
Yes, as I mentioned, you can inject sensuality and sexuality into the drawing, but it’s actually hard work. You have to consciously shift slightly out of your drawing mode of seeing/thinking far enough to see the model as an attractive person, but not so far as to lose that precious seeing state in which you can draw effectively. Some think of this mental adjustment in and out of a drawing mode of seeing as a left-brain, right-brain shift (see my post on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain), which may or may not be scientifically correct, but it’s basically a move from the usually dominant verbal/logical mode to the harder-to-access visual/spacial mode that lets you see what’s in front of you without interference from verbal-brain chatter.
I eventually learned, though, when drawing a woman I was involved with, in private, it was, of course, much easier to put the sexual component back in (though drawings would often go unfinished…); and the professional art school or artist organization setting actually does have a lot to do with keeping it dry and unsexy.
So the question arises, why not something in between? Why not have an occasional setting in which the professionalism of art school is tinted with a bit of naughtyness to put the “sexy” back in drawing sessions?
That’s the idea behind Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, brainchild of illustrator Molly Crabapple (seen above sketching with “helper art-monkey” Steve Walker, along with her sketch of the session, inset). Crabapple “draws saucy Victoriana for magazines” and used to work as a life model when she was in art school. Her boredom with posing for those classes prompted the creation of Dr. Skecthy’s as a series of sessions that combine drawing with a bit of burlesque and theatre.
As models, she searches out, in her words, “the most beautiful burlesque dancers, the most bizarre circus freaks, and the most rippling hunks of man”, and hosts drawing sessions on every other Saturday in Brooklyn. The sessions are often punctuated with a bit of theater, silly drawing contests (best incorporation of a woodland animal, best left-handed drawing), prizes and drinking. The Brooklyn Dr. Sketchy’s sessions take place in a bar/restaurant called the Lucky Cat Lounge
The sessions are three hours, like many life drawing sessions; but, though the stated goal is to answer the question “Why can’t drawing naked people be sexy?”, the models in this case are actually not nude. This is due to the fact that New York has an ordinance prohibiting nudity and drinking in the same room. The models pose in sexy costume and are selected on the basis of “being heart-stoppingly gorgeous, possessing a unique talent (trapeze, contortion, sword-swallowing, burlesque), or extraordinary costumes”. The models are also paid better than in normal life drawing sessions and, very much unlike art school sessions, can receive tips. You’re beginning to get the picture, and Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School bills itself as “what happens when cabaret meets art school”.
The brooklyn sessions apparently fill up fast and the seating is limited. You can reserve a table early for an extra fee. The schedule is here. The Dr. Sketchy’s sessions have been so successful that they have expanded to other cities and there are now over 20 locations. The Dr. Sketchy’s site has even posted a “How to start a Dr. Sketchy’s” page. There is a board where participants can discuss the sessions and post their work. There is also a photoblog, and a few short videos, including a “trailer” done up the scratchy black and white style of Reefer Madness, about “depraved students driven mad by art”. There is also a Rainy Day Coloring Book available, and Dr. Sketchy’s is accepting submissions for their first annual Anti-Art Show.
Obviously, this is not the venue for serious minded study of figure drawing, and is different from regular figure drawing sessions in other respects (no easels, no oil-based or other “messy” media, though watercolor is OK), but it looks like a fun alternative to the usual unsexy life drawing sessions most artists are used to. Plus you’re allowed to leer at the models. Too bad they didn’t have Dr. Sketchy’s when I was a teenager.
Note: the Dr. Sketchy’s site should be considered NSFW (depending, of course, on where you work).
10 Replies to “Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School”
Hey I just wanted to say this is an amazing and informative blog you have here! Glad I found it!
Hi, Charley: You brought memories of my first nude session at 17. Just, nobody warned me what was about to happen into a meter of distance in front of my seat. And, boy, she was gorgeous!. After two minutes of panic (in case someone was capable of reading my mind) I focused on her face and everything went easy afterwards.
There is a bunch of young illustrators here in Buenos Aires (whom I don’t know in person) who uses to gather every two months to draw a beautiful model while drinking wine and hearing to a music band. The event is called “Bacanales Lupanar” which is a stronger name than their actual happennings. Here is a link to their last encounter.
Always grateful to your work here.
I’ve been to the Dr. Sketchy’s in Melbourne twice and it’s fantastic fun. The best part is that all levels of skill are welcome and there’s no pressure to show your skill, or lack thereof.
The hardest part, especially if you’ve been to traditional life drawing sessions, is figuring out how to draw clothes on people. o_O
Ha. This reminds me of freshman yr in college. I remember the first drawing session with live models, and well, as you said basically after the immediate shock value, I was more worried about finishing and getting lines correct than leering the girl down.
I found this while looking at my hit reports, and I have to say thank you for such a well-written, thoughful article about my little class. You really sum up the life-drawing experiance well.
Re:Roberto â€œBacanales Lupanarâ€ looks amazing
I have found the very same to be true about figure drawing, something I have done tons of. I hate to perpetuate artist stereotypes, but we all seem to be pretty hot-blooded. I am a nearly-30-year-old-woman and I still have the sex drive of a teenage boy. Nonetheless, I’ve never found figure drawing to be sexy. It’s very serious business! I actually think it is great to keep it un-sexy. We need a non-sexual context to be and view the nude in our over-sexualized culture. To be honest, sterotypical-magazine-sexy is dull now. Yes, yes, yes, another hot and bothered sexy woman/man.
Thanks for a great post :-)
Reminds me of a famous New Yorker cartoon a number of years ago in which the stunningly attractive nude nymphet is saying to the paunchy middle-aged male artist in his studio, “Hey, what gives? Last week no paint; this week no canvas.”
I attended Webster College in the 70s (It is now Webster University)and now I really can’t remember much about my first exposure to a nude model but I remember that there was one model who we all looked forward to drawing. She was in her mid to upper fifties (at least that) and she had a way of finding poses that could bring out stronger work from all of us.
One of the more interesting drawing sessions for me was at an aviation artist’s forum at Dayton Ohio several years ago. The model – dressed in complete and authentic WWII flight gear – progressed from pose to pose in a sequence depicting the process of going from a standing pose to climbing on then into a P-40 then climbing back out to lean against the wing. This took place in the Air Force Museum while the regular visitors stood around watching us draw. Man, that was a lot of fun.
That sound great! There’s a lot to be said for clothed models in general as well, allowing you to study drapery and folds in a controlled situation that casual sketching doesn’t allow.
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