Discover how the latest craze, Doctor Sketchy, has brought life drawing to the masses and put the fizz back into a visit to the pub.
It’s Saturday afternoon and the sun is bright but the air is still cold as I reach north London. It’s foreign territory for this west London dweller and stepping out on Upper Street in the vague direction of Essex Road I seek a bit of guidance as to where I’m heading. I keep an eye out for arty, beret-sporting, expressive dressers who look like they’re heading to The Old Queen’s Head for the same life drawing class as me.
No such luck. That just isn’t the type that Doctor Sketchy attracts.
The original ‘anti art school’ was the brainchild of Molly Crabapple who started the alternative life drawing classes in New York in 2005. Seven years down the line it has become a worldwide phenomenon. Events take place in over 150 cities as far apart as Sau Paulo to Sheffield, Cologne to Christchurch. The idea of serious, Realist artists gathering together to sketch silently, holding their 2Bs at arms length to measure a nude models’ length and girth has been thrown out with the Neo Classicists. Welcome, the New Romantics!
I find the right place and shuffle up the stairs at the Old Queen’s Head. A stream of people in front of me indicates the event’s popularity and when I reach the first floor, I marvel at the crowd already assembled and magnificent room that the organiser has managed to secure for one in three of the London event. A high ceiling and beautiful long windows along the far wall make the perfect venue. At the front is a low stage with an old fireplace in the centre and a huge, shagtastic mirror above – a very useful tool to capture every angle of the main event.
Doctor Sketchy punters are a little different to the life drawing class attendees. As long as you can put pen to paper and move it around a little, Doctor Sketchy claims it is for you! With varying degrees of creative prowess in the audience, the emphasis is firmly on good old fashioned, cheeky fun rather than artistic ability.
Clare Marie who is responsible for Doctor Sketchy’s arrival on UK shores says that this is the beauty of the class. ‘People come here for loads of different reasons. Some come because they’re love drawing, some come because it’s more entertaining than just sitting in a pub.’ Clare attributes Doctor Sketchy’s popularity to the idea that the class welcomes all. The next logical step for her is to get a regular class up and running in East London and would love to rope arty farty funny man Noel Fielding in to a few classes.
Punters are ushered into the corner to choose their paper and their weapons whether it be a pencil, a crayon or a pen once they’ve sorted out their tipple and ordered themselves a snack. Low leather sofas, a selection of stools and clusters of chairs and tables await them. Once everyone looks to be settled, DJ Graham Russell kills the music and the nice but ever so naughty compere Miss Ophelia Bitz introduces herself and our first burlesque performer, Emerald Fontaine, who saunters onto the stage and launches into her playful routine. Lollipop seductively between crimson lips and leather jacket slung carelessly over one shoulder, through burlesque, Miss Fontaine acts out the good old ‘little girl leaves her home town of Baltimore and seeks her fortune in some big bad city,’ routine, 1950s suitcase in hand.
It’s doing exactly what it says on the website. This really is what it’d be like if an art class was let loose in the Moulin Rouge.
The audience go wild and Ophelia Bitz encourages us to whoop and holler whenever we see something a bit naughty. Routine over and we’re ready for the first one minute pose. Clare keeps the poses short so each performer does a selection of one minute, two minute, five minute and ten minute poses, ‘because you don’t want it to get boring, do you? A string of thirty minute poses are just not what Doctor Sketchy is about.’
The hostess suggests that the sketchers draw something vaguely based on what they see before them rather than try to replicate the scene realistically. ‘Right, now let’s see just how depraved you lot can be!’ she yells before one pose whilst wielding a tube a chocolate eggs that she will use as prizes to reward her low down and dirty favourites. ‘Time to let out those repressed sexual urges!’
Next up is Marilyn Monroe come Betty Draper look-a-likey Miss Slinky Sparkles. Equipped with feather fans and diamonte corset she teases to a perfect soundtrack from sex kittens like Jayne Mansfield and Diana Doors and the obligatory Marilyn herself. Miss Bitz announces as she oogles the blonde bombshell that prizes will this time be given for ‘the most entertaining involvement of a monkey’ and that ‘anyone caught not having a marvellous time during these five minutes will be taken out back and spanked.’
The place is packed out. There must be seventy odd people here and there aren’t actually enough seats to accommodate everyone. Not to worry, there are people standing with their backs to the bar, sketch pad in hand. During the poses, I meander in and out of bodies sprawled across tables, heads bobbing up to see the model and looking back down at their rapid masterpieces, pencil / crayon / pastel / pen filled hands never pausing.
All of these people attend the alternative art classes for different reasons. Some come to drink, some come to listen to a damn fine mix tape, lots come to celebrate with friends and most, dare I say, come for a cheeky dose of titillation from the nipple tassel clad burlesque performers. It’s the old cliché but there really is something for everyone. Doctor Sketchy has brought life drawings to the masses and crowd pleasing, alternative art classes are here to stay.
The deets: http://www.drsketchylondon.co.uk/ £10 advance £15 on the door. Good for: a giggle, a jiggle and an ogle. Bad for: Prudes.