Glamorous gals in elaborate makeup and not much else pose provocatively for ogling patrons and then prance about in nothing but robes or less. A DJ pumps out an atmospheric selection of beats. Lighting, props and sensual energy fill the air. Onlookers sip wine and guzzle beer. As they watch the ladies, they scribble on paper. Class is in session.
Forget about clubs, bars, even loft parties — the most creative and colorful social scene these days isn't about dancing, it's about drawing. Figure or life drawing, as it is known. But the purveyors of these underground-style events are providing something wholly different from the academic environments seen inside art schools. Groups such as Dr. Sketchy, Gallery Girls, the Drawing Club and Drink & Draw all offer a place to gather and get your pencil on, not to mention your paint, pastels, even iPad art. The concept might not be new, but the proliferation of hip, new-school sketch soirees in recent years is having an effect on not only the art scene but nightlife, too.
Taking place in backrooms at gallery openings, clubs and bars and in animation and photo studios, these sketch events attract everyone from serious artists to art-minded scenesters, drinkers and fans of the human form.
"The idea was to re-create the feel of turn-of-the-century Paris," says Jennifer Fabos Patton, popular figure model and founder of Gallery Girls. "So many amazing artists and models used to meet and socialize and draw in cafés, nightclubs and bars. It was a dramatic and inspiring thing for everyone."
In 2003 Patton helped bring to life Hailie's Hadies, a sketcher gathering in a Pasadena bar, thrown by models for artists. A couple years later she and model Sara Streeter created Bedlam, a speakeasy-type happening downtown, which included models and a cluster of chairs for others to draw them, in a wild, hedonistic entertainment.
Patton's current company, Gallery Girls, was born out of both events in 2008. It's become a go-to provider for unique figure models at galleries (like Sketch Theatre, thrown by Gnoman School of Visual Effects in Hollywood), clubs (like Mr. Black and Dragonfly) and even competing sketch groups: Both Dr. Sketchy and Drink & Draw hire Patton and her girls to pose on occasion. Many clubs and galleries now hire the gals for atmosphere sans the sketch element.
Gallery Girls' own events are extremely popular as well, from its themed classes at Gallery Godo in Glendale and PoptArt Gallery (recent themes: '80s Liquid Sky looks, Roy Lichtenstein, Kabuki) to megaproductions such as Patton's "Turkish Delights" drawing salon, which is more like a bacchanal, with costumed and nude models, live music and belly dancers.
On a recent Sunday evening, a dozen or so men and women meet up in a desolate parking lot downtown, each toting large satchels filled with art supplies. One by one, they enter a rickety freight elevator, manned by a kind young fellow in a dog collar; he directs them down a long, white hallway. The building is a dingy manufacturing facility, but behind one door, a sleek black-and-white oasis called Studio Servitu awaits. The studio holds primarily fetishy art openings, sexy photo shoots and Dr. Sketchy events, and on this warm summer night, two models from the collective's German offshoot are in town for the latter.
As the sounds of Ministry and Marilyn Manson play in the background, one model removes her robe to do a topless pose ... a triple topless pose — she's wearing a third prosthetic breast. She then gets naked while donning a frog mask, and a male model slips into a full-body blow-up-doll costume complete with face mask and faux protruding penis. It's a pretty freaky scene, but no one in the room seems particularly shocked. In fact, the atmosphere is quite chill, with most patrons seated and seemingly focused on their work, looking up and down repeatedly as they re-create the image before them.
"Many people think of art as a passive thing, something you look at, and that's about it," says Bob Self, the gregarious ringmaster of Dr. Sketchy's Los Angeles, the organizer of this event. "I believe art is much more than something you hang on the wall. It's a lifestyle. It's show business. I strive to make our events socially interactive theater-in-the-round, fueled by creativity and enjoyed by those who want to experience the bohemian side of the art world."
Dr. Sketchy's was founded by an art-school dropout named Molly Crabapple in a dive bar in Brooklyn in 2005. The group has since accumulated more than 100 branches around the world. Crabapple proudly proclaimed her group an "anti-art school," and this kind of subversive sensibility seems to fuel the scene. Art schools tend to be pricey institutions with regimented curriculums, and — particularly when it comes to figure-drawing courses — a pretty staid setup. Models have traditionally been on the nondescript side — theoretically to give artists more of a blank canvas — and they definitely don't engage with the artists. Muse magic usually isn't part of the equation.
At Sketchy's and Gallery Girls — and to a lesser extent the Drawing Club — things are different. The guys and gals holding poses often have dramatic looks and body types. Models will walk around and admire the unique perspective on their likeness, even chat with the artists about it. Sketchy does a series of contests in which the model chooses the best drawings, which are awarded prizes — usually high-quality art books from Self's publishing company, Baby Tattoo Books.
"Because of events like these and the lowbrow art movement, and the burlesque world, I've seen the industry change," Patton says. "Figure models used to be very girl-next-door, plain Jane. There are more unique types now, and what used to be a shunned job is now considered cool."
If the figure models have changed, so too have the artists who sketch them. Well, somewhat. Of course, there are always those quiet, tortured artist types who keep to themselves. Even though a DJ sets the mood (Jason Savvy's sets at GG parties are particularly impressive), some patrons bring their own headsets. "The atmosphere is so intense, a lot of people open up," Patton says. "Artists by nature usually sit alone in a room to create. It's good to get them out."
Drink & Draw is another group, popular with animators and comic book authors, meeting every Thursday at Casey's Irish Pub downtown. Though it doesn't feature models, co-creator Dan Panosian says the environment itself serves as inspiration. "It's more a social club. It's fun because the restrictions of being a professional artist — deadlines, clients, etc. — are removed." The booze doesn't hurt, either.
While skill is not a prerequisite to participate in any of these drawing social events, all of them attract a mix of successful artists and amateurs alike. You may even find yourself sitting next to famed music-poster artist Coop or revered painter Van Arno, as we did at a recent Sketchy Servitu soiree. Patton says everyone from Playboy pinup fave Dean Yeagle and downtown street sensation Robert Vargas to one of the South Park guys pops in periodically. Even comic artist Robert Crumb showed up once.
"Most of the artists who attend our events on a regular basis are there to draw, and they've got the overflowing sketchbooks to prove it," Self says. "Others, like Coop, treat Dr. Sketchy's more like a social club where they hang out and may or may not draw on any given night. The doors are open to anyone who wants to come and have a good time in a visually inspirational atmosphere. ... Our regulars are here because we provide a unique opportunity that appeals to their quirks, kinks and creative needs."
But what about the perv factor? Surprisingly, Patton says there's not too much of it at her events. The "no camera" policy at most of these events is meant to discourage horny cellphone snappers and their ilk.
Still, the sexual energy at Sketchy and Gallery Girls events is palpable, thanks to the carefully chosen models and environments created by the organizers.
"Our models are the 'headliners' of our events," Self says. "A charismatic performer is wonderful to be in a room with, whether you're drawing them, watching them or conversing with them. A captivating personality doesn't require any specific combination of physical, racial, age or gender traits."
But, "Having said that, we present a lot of sexy models. Sex appeal is often front and center here."
WHERE TO GET YOUR PENCIL ON
Salons take place on the first Friday of every month at Gallery Godo, 6749 San Fernando Road, #C, Glendale, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., and on select evenings at PoptArt Gallery, 3023 W. 6th St., downtown. Turkish Delights V is set for Nov. 11. gallerygirls.org.
Events are every first Tuesday of the month at Titmouse Inc., 6616 Lexington Ave., Hollywood, and every third Sunday of the month, 7-10 p.m., at Studio Servitu, 800 McGarry St., downtown. drsketchy.com/branch/LosAngeles.
The Drawing Club
Sketch classes are held every Thursday, 7-10 p.m., and there’s a three-hour pose session one Sunday a month, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., at 3235 San Fernando Road, #2C, Atwater Village. thedrawingclub.com.
Drink and Draw
Drawing events take place every Thursday, 8 p.m.-2 a.m., at Casey’s Irish Pub, 613 S. Grand Ave., downtown. drinkanddraw.com.