I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published March 22nd 2010
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Just ask Molly Crabapple, founder of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School. In 2005, after spending a few years as a dancer and artists' model, she paired the artistically minded with live models clad in burlesque and other costumed attire. Within a few months, the idea took off. Dr. Sketchy's became so popular that it branched out all over the world and spawned several similar groups in New York. You needn't look further than Dr. Sketchy's, though, as it remains the venture with the most professional and interesting model/performers, as well as the best crowds.
What started as a group of friends coming together for an unusual evening has turned into a veritable enterprise, giving way to books, a website and blog, and many a pleased patron. Some come to advance their drawing skills, others come to experience the thrill of drawing popular downtown performers (each trying to outdo the last) while the rest just enjoy getting together at a bar where drinking takes second place to art.
Twice monthly, lately in the Lower East Side's burlesque-themed bar the Slipper Room, mavens of NYC's downtown performance art and cabaret scene take it all off (or most of it, except glitter pasties, fishnets, heels, a boa or two, and some dainty lingerie) and pose in enough 2- and 5-minute postures to please the toughest critics from New York's art school set. The sessions usually last around two hours and fans of the salon show up regularly, sketchbooks in hand, to draw only in dry media. (No painting or photography, please.) The cost is a low $10 in advance, or $15 at the door. And the bar is nearby and ready to serve up plenty of inspiration. Crabapple is often around too, sketching the performers alongside whoever might show up.
At 27, Crabapple remains at the helm of her DIY-empire. She frequently checks in at international chapters of Dr. Sketchy's where her presence is often requested. In countries where burlesque is less popular, she suggests that directors hire "subcultural" models, often stars from local underground performance scenes.
Since she had traveled much of the world as a student backpacking through France and Spain and to ports as exotic as Morocco, Crabapple takes her international demand in stride. She thinks back to time spent in various New York art institutions. As a model she was instructed to emphasize a particular muscle or tendon group, a task she remembers as dull.
I wanted to do sessions that emphasized the model," she told the New York Times. When she finally got her chance, the whole world took notice. Now you too can start an art career, with or without formal training. Just head to the next Dr. Sketchy's, pen or pencil in hand.