Miss Ophelia Handful strutted onto the stage clad in fishnet stockings, black corset with two tiers of fringe and strapless bra with sequins so large they flashed like lights. She wore four-inch stiletto heels with platforms and sported fuchsia-colored hair. A floral band, rather like a wallpaper border, was tattooed across her shoulder blades and down her left arm.
She twisted, stretched and bent in a range of poses as music filled the room. The emcee encouraged attendees to 'clap like crazed orangutans' for particularly graceful or gravity-defying postures. Miss Handful's repertoire of poses was distinctly School of Pinup, with wide eyes and bee-sting lips, sultry glances over her shoulder with her rear stuck out and provocative spread-leg temptations.
Miss Handful is a member of the Sultry Savage Burlesque Troupe, but this was no burlesque show. It was Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School at the Bluefoot Bar in North Park, 'where cabaret meets life-drawing class.' For everyone who's charcoaled and Caran d'Ached through drawing classes in sterile rooms with bad lighting and remote, silent models, this antidote to art school is a glorious improvement.
Dr. Sketchy's started in Brooklyn in 2005, when painter, artist's model and burlesque dancer Molly Crabtree decided to liven up life drawing. She held her sessions in a bar and encouraged drinking and drawing. She hired burlesque dancers and roller-derby queens as models, played good music, held silly contests (best drawing with the left hand) awarded drinks as prizes and generally promoted drawing with less reverence and more fun.
Dr. Sketchy's now keeps school in 40 cities on three continents. It showed up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and this summer made its San Diego beachhead at Comic-Con in July.
Lily Jackson has taken the reins of Dr. Sketchy's in San Diego. At Bluefoot last month, soigné in a little black dress and red satin pumps with her pretty face framed by a cerulean blue pageboy, Jackson welcomed 23 'art monkeys'--Crabtree's endearment for art students and the similarly obsessed. There would be no criticism, no instruction and lots of encouragement. Drawing skills were welcome, but not obligatory.
Jackson explained how the three-hour session would work, smoothly shifting personas from gracious hostess, offering a tray of Rice Krispies Treats and chocolate chip cookies, to obsessively organized emcee, with kitchen timer and schedule of poses, to slightly kinky madam.
Nudity in bars is against the law in San Diego, so, sadly, totally naked modeling is not an option.
But despite the emphasis on fun, the artists in the bar, slightly more women than men, bent silent over their drawing pads, intent on their work. Some bought drinks, but more didn't. They were there to draw.
Graham Carlisle, an architecture student, was there because $10 for three hours' access to a model was the best deal he could find. His friend Abby Rocha saw fliers at Comic-Con and thought it sounded sexy. She liked Dr Sketchy's for the easygoing environment and the possibility that she could meet other artists.
Kate, who declined to give her last name, had arrived in San Diego a week earlier from Boston. She'd left her job as a private-school art teacher and driven across country. She didn't know what she'd be doing here, but she liked the opportunity to draw.
Eric Platt's day job is as a web designer, and he's also an artist. He learned about Dr. Sketchy's on Meetup.com and pounced on the opportunity to draw a live model. 'I was on a long bike ride this morning. This looked like a way to wind down, draw and enjoy some company.'
In September, Dr. Sketchy does back to school with naughty schoolgirl Dixie Von Trixie and promulgates the Sketchy 3 R's: Respect, Remuneration and Raunch.
Jackson's thinking long term, with plans for models from Urban Tribal Dance and roller derby skaters. 'I started Dr Sketchy's to get out of my own yuppie bubble,' she said. 'I want it to be a place for visual artists to connect, build community and the ultimate Sketchy goal: have a good time.'
Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School convenes at Bluefoot Bar, 3404 30th St. in North Park, 3 to 6 p.m. the third Saturday of each month. Next meeting is Saturday, Sept. 15. Suggested donation is $10. www.myspace.com/drsketchysandiego.