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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School teaches Madison a lesson
An interview with organizers Angela Richardson and Glenn Watson

Credit:Glenn Watson

When Angela Richardson and Glenn Watson conducted the first session of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School in Madison on a Sunday in late April, they weren't certain what kind of turnout to expect.

They had reasons to be hopeful that people might gravitate towards an afternoon of DIY art that gleefully combines burlesque and booze. Started two years ago by artist Molly Crabapple, Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School has swiftly grown from a single event in Brooklyn into an international community with chapters in dozens of cities around the world. Would there be interest in Madison? Of course.

The main floor of the High Noon Saloon was crowded with sketch pads upon the local debut of the school, which featured model Randi O'Toole of Cherry Pop Burlesque. The second session in May was similarly raucous, as attending artistes tried their hands at drawing Crackerjack, who is coach of the Mad Rollin' Dolls, a member of its 2007 champion Reservoir Dolls, captain of its all-star Dairyland Dolls, and president of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. And now a Dr. Sketchy's alumnus.

"I think people know a good thing when they see it and this strikes a chord, especially for people who love to draw but don't get the chance, let alone in such a fun, social setting," says Richardson, who hosts the school in the persona of Olive Talique (a.k.a. Brooklyn's Blondest Bombshell). "Of course, we've got folks who are friends or fans of a particular model. They show up to root her or him on. It's our hope that those people decide to come back for another Sketchy's session because they ended up having such a good time."

Watson, who creates the illustrations for each monthly school session, points to the camaraderie as well. "Art is often a solitary pursuit," he says. "Dr. Sketchy's breaks that for an afternoon and makes it a real party atmosphere. Most people like to draw whether they are professionals or doodlers. Why not do it in one of Madison coolest venues with beautiful models, where anyone regardless of skill level can win a prize and have their moment in the sun?"

Over the winter and spring, Watson and Richardson brought the anti-art school to town, the latest in a growing group of participatory artistic endeavors found in Madison An interview with both about the origins, online components (such as their Flickr group and blog), lessons learned, and future possibilities of Dr. Sketchy's follows below.

The Daily Page: What is a cabaret life drawing salon?
Richardson: Simply put, it's "drinking, drawing, and debauchery" as our slogan says!

Imagine a life drawing class minus the instructor but add in a crazy, scantily-clad emcee; gorgeous, glamorous models wearing fabulous costumes; lots of dirty jokes; great music; booze; ridiculous drawing contests; and cool prizes from local businesses -- and you can get an idea of what we're up to with Dr. Sketchy's. Participants get to draw a sexy model and have a good laugh at the same time. The atmosphere intentionally pokes fun at art world pretensions. It's about letting our hair down and not taking ourselves too seriously.

Where did you get the idea to bring Dr. Sketchy's to Madison? What made you think it might work here?
Richardson: Glenn Watson, who is a very talented local illustrator, got in touch with me about bringing Dr. Sketchy's to Madison. He was really excited about the idea and saw a connection to my work with Cherry Pop Burlesque. I'm a visual artist as well, so I think he figured I'd understand the appeal of Dr. Sketchy's. He was right!

Because offbeat groups like Cherry Pop and Mad Rollin' Dolls -- each of which combines entertainment and sex appeal in its own playful way -- have enjoyed such great popularity and because DIY groups like Stitch-n-Bitch and Wis-Kino have had success in Madison, it seemed to me like Dr. Sketchy's would be a natural. It combines saucy entertainment and audience participation. Two of our favorite things, and pretty irresistible, I think.

How did you learn about Dr. Sketchy's?
Watson: I read a review of Molly Crabapple's book in a design magazine to me it sounded like sexy fun with a thin veneer of respectability that Madison, the Berkeley of the Midwest, needed to be a part of it. At that time there were no Midwest chapters near us to my amazement and I thought Madison needed to take the lead on something this good and we did. (I see Chicago has since followed our lead.)

How did you hatch the scheme?
Watson: Over the Internet, and then, more importantly, over cocktails.

Did you contact Molly Crabapple and have you kept her up to date on the Madison group?
Richardson: Yep, Molly asks that everyone who interested in starting a Dr. Sketchy's chapter get in touch with her first so that she can keep track of new groups as they pop up and keep us all connected. We have an on-line forum for Dr. Sketchy organizers where folks share ideas for contests and give advice about marketing strategies, for example. Molly's also tuned in to our blog and Flickr group, she often leaves us comments.

She founded Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School and co-wrote Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book with John Leavitt, so she's quite invested in seeing the phenomenon grow and succeed. Molly's very supportive and encouraging. She is also wickedly witty. The book is available locally at A Woman's Touch.

Should people who have little to no drawing talent or interest attend the school?
Richardson: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend. Scribblers, don't be shy! We have folks at all levels of artistic ability showing up and that is part of what makes it such a juicy environment. There's always the potential to learn something or to be inspired. If nothing else, it's an excuse to try something new that you've always been curious about!

Every session we have a coloring contest and we hand out crayons and coloring pages. Depending on the model and the theme there may be other kinds of contests in addition to the drawing contests, like the contests for best mermaid and pirate costumes we're doing this month.

What typically works well with the drawing contests?
Watson: The drawing challenges to me are in some ways truest to the spirit of what we are trying to do with Dr. Sketchy's. They help people loosen up whatever their skill level. I've walked around and heard people laughing and showing off their out of control wrong handed drawings and talking about how they used to do similar stuff in grade school or just for fun. We love the amazing 'finished' drawings but we love the goofy cartoons or the ones where the artist was clearly cutting loose and having fun just as much (or maybe more.)

What kind of sketching materials do you supply, and what should students bring?
Richardson: We have crayons, a huge roll of paper, and coloring pages available for use. We also have some basic art supplies for sale at the event in case you don't have time to get your butt down to Artist and Craftsman Supply beforehand and go shopping. It's best to bring your own supplies -- a simple sketchbook and pencil set is a good place to start.

How do you select the models?
Richardson: We are always on the lookout for models! I know Glenn enjoys this aspect in particular because it gives him an excuse to stare at people.

Watson: A Dr. Sketchy model is a rare creature. We are looking for charisma, sass, and access to unusual and alluring costumes. One helpful thing is that as Dr. Sketchy's Madison rolls on the word gets out and models of all types, as well as some Dr. Sketchy's artists, are now expressing interest in getting up on stage and getting their time in our adoring spotlight. Anyone reading this who wants to be our muse for an afternoon feel free to contact us!

What does the $10 cover go towards?
Richardson: It's important to us that the models are paid well for their time because they're doing very hard work. Performing artists are typically underpaid and so since we're in charge with Dr. Sketchy's we're making the conscious choice to do it right. There are also all of the expenses associated with producing any event, like paying the venue to make sure we've got a sound person there and paying for posters and whatnot. The rest goes into our Dr. S Trust Fund for Starving Artists.

How are the prizes decided at each session?
Richardson: Direct audience feedback, some contests Glenn or I choose the winner. We apply a completely unscientific procedure to the awarding of prizes. The final contest of the day is always Model's Choice. S/he picks a favorite and that lucky artist is the grand prizewinner.

Watson: I'm not saying bribery will guarantee a prize, but it can't hurt. We love getting shots as much as the next person! We look for style and a sense of fun as much as drawing skill. Fear not newbies -- you too can win one of our amazing prizes! A witty caption sometimes trumps a perfectly rendered image. We at Dr. Sketchy's are not art snobs!

Do you have any favorite sketches so far that you've seen so far?
Watson: Absolutely! But we can't play favorites.

How do you approach creating the official Dr. Sketchy's promotional illustrations?
Watson: My style to some degree reflects my vast list of influences and thus is kind of schizophrenic. I've tried to keep things loose-at the urging of my co-founder although I occasionally slip and tighten things up into a more traditional comic style. I'm happiest with the artwork for our latest flyer with its pirates and mermaids-themed illustration. It definitely channels 'she who must be obeyed' (Molly Crabapple) but still has my stamp on it.

What does hosting a Sketchy's session entail?
Richardson: It's quite a bit of work to pull it all together. My simplified monthly 'to-do' list is as follows: book venue and model, do marketing and publicity, solicit prize donations from sponsoring businesses, communicate with lots of people, put the music mix together, create an event plan/script, and conjure up the contests. And decide what outfits Olive is going to wear! As with any production of this nature, there are a million details to tend to and while enjoyable, the work is also very time-consuming.

Thankfully, Glenn and I tag team on most of the tasks. Kandy Watson, who happens to be married to Glenn, also lends a hand. She is our Official Goddess in Charge of Photography, so she documents each session and posts pix online afterwards. Friends have been generous in helping with setup and other menial labor, for which Olive rewards them with kisses.

What lessons have the instructors learned so far with Dr. Sketchy's?
Watson: The 3 D's of Dr. Sketchy's are drinking, drawing and debauchery. We've got the drawing down. Drinking... well, our alcoholic consumption leaves a little to be desired but it's improving. Where we are really falling down is debauchery. We are a young entity however and hopefully with enough prodding we'll become scandalous enough to make Molly proud.

If we can manage to schedule a nighttime Sketchy's I'm sure that'll help.

Why pirates and mermaids for this month's theme?
Richardson: Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, what kind of lousy landlubber would ask a question like that?!

Watson: It's my understanding that our model this month, Chastity Dickums, was a pirate queen in a previous life. And who doesn't love mermaids? 50% percent woman + 50% percent fish=100% fun!

Richardson: Rumor has it that Olive will be donning some seaweed as well.

What kind of nautically-themed activities might people find on Sunday?
Richardson: Naughtily-themed? Oh, nautically-themed. Yes, well, I don't want to give it away all of our surprises so I'll just say that everyone had better come prepared to walk the plank. Chastity is pretty ruthless.

How does Dr. Sketchy's reflect the growth of DIY city-based artistic organizations over the last few years?
Richardson: We're right there in the vibrant mix with the rest of Madison's many successful DIY groups. It's a hopeful sign to watch more and more people become active in producing culture instead of just passively consuming it.

I think that the trend also has to do with how much of our lives we live online now and how physically isolating that can be. People crave the opportunity to get together face-to-face and do things, make things; enjoy each other's real-life company. I love that I am getting to know so many cool people through Sketchy's whom I might not have ever met otherwise.

Watson: Dr. Sketchy's is very much a part of the lowbrow art movement's melding of high and low culture. Taking something staid-old school life drawing classes and making them sexy debaucherous fun in a very female-friendly and empowered environment. It clearly shares roots too with the neo-burlesque movement, which is still thriving. We hope also to meld in elements like the collaborative live painting events that have been springing up at underground gallery openings and comic book conventions.

What made you decide to create the Flickr group for Dr. Sketchy's Madison? How is it helping the school?
Watson: Flickr is in many ways the new meeting place for artists and photographers. People congregate virtually sharing ideas and opinions. It's a great way to hook up with people you never knew were out there of similar interests and let them know about your work or events. It's been a good way to let people who weren't sure what to expect at a Dr. Sketchy's event see our models, contests and finished products.

Richardson We're building community there on Flickr as well as via our blog and My Space page. In-between our monthly Sketchy's sessions we are posting photos and sketches and staying in touch. I view all of the online culture associated with Sketchy's as an extension of the live events. Bonus material!

Do you have plans to collect and display any of the sketches in the future?
Watson: That is a goal of ours. After seeing some of the amazing work that came from the first event we decided rather than have these gems just disappear we should have an exhibition of our Dr. S. created art at some point in the future.

Richardson: Molly is also soliciting work from all of Dr. Sketchy's chapters worldwide for a big Anti-Art Show in NYC in October 2007. Sure would be nice to have Madison represented in that show…

What are the potential themes and models are you thinking about for upcoming sessions?
Richardson: Fetish model April Paradis is on the calendar for the session on July 22. In August, we've got belly dancer Seana Dishun who teaches and performs with Ashar Dance Company. Glenn and I are also trying to work out the details for a pub crawl version of Sketchy's while the weather's still nice. Poses and drawing outdoors, drinking and prizes indoors. Wheee! That will be a lot of fun. Potential themes for future sessions include heaven & hell, Barbarella/sci-fi, cops & robbers, superheroes, and so on.

Got a theme request? Talk to us at a session or drop us a line.

The next session of the Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School will be held at the High Noon Saloon on Sunday, June 17 from 2-5:00 p.m. This also happens to be Father's Day, so bring yer dads. The instructors note that dry mediums, dip pens, and watercolor is okay, but oil paints and other messy or stinky mediums are not permitted, nor is photography. Prizes will be provided by local businesses including Artist & Craftsman Supply, A Woman's Touch, and Amsterdam for both drawing and costume contests, with "every burly man and willin' women" encouraged to dress up for class.

"Lest ye forget," the anti-art schoolmasters conclude, "figure model Chastity Dickums has got the finest pirate booty that the likes of you scoundrels has ever laid eyes upon! What fine treasures await you at Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School?! Well, sailor, wouldn't ye like to know..."

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