I’ve found myself in plenty of awkward situations for the sake of a story. But trying to blend in with people intently studying a barely clad woman has not been among them.
Until last week, anyway.
That’s when I was introduced to Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, a sort of cross between art and ooh-la-la. The event brings together folks to sketch models in various states of undress, striking poses that can be, ahem, suggestive.
It’s like art school with attitude.
Dr. Sketchy’s was started in 2005 by Molly Crabapple, a New York artist and former art-school model. She hit on the idea of pairing life drawing with “subcultural models,” aka strippers, to infuse a little glamour and excitement into what can be a fairly clinical endeavor.
Since the first event in a bar in Brooklyn, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School has spread to more than 130 cities on five continents.
Akron’s branch has been run for 2½ years by 39-year-old Bill Lynn, a graphic designer from Goodyear Heights with an affinity for life drawing.
“Actually, I just stumbled into it,” he said. He’d attended a Dr. Sketchy’s event and enjoyed it, he said, and when the branch’s founder moved out of town, he took over.
Akron’s anti-art school is in session the second Tuesday evening of every month at The Lounge downtown, with additional special events thrown in occasionally. The format is casual: Models pose, people sketch, and now and then Lynn will toss out an artistic challenge and then judge the results and award token prizes.
I arrived at this month’s session a little early, hoping to slink inconspicuously into my seat and fade into the dimly lighted background. I had an acute sense of not belonging.
Soon the participants — mostly men and a few women — were taking their places, wielding sketch pads and looking not at all like the leering degenerates I’d imagined. Apparently they’d read the rules on the Dr. Sketchy’s website. “Don’t be creepy,” it counsels.
A few chatted with their neighbors. Some nursed glasses of beer. They looked, well, normal.
As the show’s start neared, a young woman appeared in a low-cut, red polka-dotted dress, a tarted-up Minnie Mouse in a blond wig. I tugged my turtleneck sweater a little higher on my throat.
Her name, I learned later, was Fantasie D. Light. I suspect that’s not what her birth certificate says.
Ms. Light started with a few demure poses — some teasing, but still tasteful. Then she flashed a bit of extensively tattooed thigh, prompting cheers from the audience. Soon she was shrugging off the dress and reclining on a bench, a pair of sparkly red pasties the only things coming between her and indecency.
I glanced around. A dozen or so “art monkeys” — the Dr. Sketchy term for artists — were bent over their sketch pads, intently guiding pens and pencils across the paper’s surface. They’d lift their heads, study the model a few seconds, and then return their focus to their drawings.
Words went unspoken. Beers went untouched.
I expected catcalls, lewd jokes. At least some lascivious stares. But these people were focused. And from what I could see, some were quite talented.
Dr. Sketchy’s events don’t attract only serious artists, Lynn told me. He joked that the good artists usually get worse as the evening progresses, while those with less-refined skills get better as alcohol loosens their inhibitions.
But what I was witnessing was hardly a boozy, rowdy atmosphere. Pleasant, yes. Fun, even. But this group’s behavior didn’t even border on salty, and alcohol appeared to be an afterthought.
Scott Moynihan sat at a table by himself, an array of brushes, markers and pens before him. The Akron resident, a maintenance worker with artistic chops honed at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, was enjoying the opportunity to engage in life drawing without someone looking over his shoulder and critiquing his work.
He was working with a sumi brush and ink, producing figures that were more stylized and exaggerated than they would be in the structure of an art school class.
This atmosphere, he said, was loose and “a little absurd.”
“That’s part of the fun of this,” Moynihan said. “It’s just more free.”
Meanwhile, Kelly Patrick was taking a break from drawing, watching instead as a man seated in front of her captured a remarkable likeness of a model’s face.
“I wish I could draw like that,” she said, gesturing toward the portrait.
Patrick, of Akron, is an artist by avocation and a regulatory affairs employee by vocation. She learned about Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School through her interest in Crabapple, whose art she has long followed.
She’d wanted to get back into drawing, she said, and Dr. Sketchy’s gave her the chance. “I thought this was a nice, irreverent way to do it,” she said.
Back onstage, Fantasie D. Light metamorphosed through a series of personas, including what I figured was a redheaded geisha wearing a satiny, derriere-skimming dress and toting a silk parasol. Pretty soon the dress had given way to pasties — silver this time, with tassels.
I felt a draft. I wondered if she was cold.
The use of exotic models helps give Dr. Sketchy’s events a party atmosphere instead of a more serious art school vibe, Lynn said. The models bring a little personality, he said, a little fodder for the imagination. “And it’s just more fun.”
The fun was more understated than I’d expected, though, given the subject matter.
“They get in the zone,” he said of the artists. “That’s what they want to do.”
Ms. Light reappeared, this time wearing a dominatrix getup in what appeared to be red and black neoprene.
It was time for me to go.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.