Monday, March 16, 2009

DR Sketchy @ Mighty Mighty

That junk mail that comes into your inbox…you know, the thing you signed up to because you might just win a weekends shopping or dinner for two at Martin Bosley's…the one you forget to unsubscribe to? Well sometimes it’s worth reading; like KNOW Wellington- a handy little ‘what’s on’ e-guide that, this week, delivered something that I’ve been waiting a long, long time for...

Let me backtrack a little… Design School 1978, Wellington Polytech (now Massey University, but everyone who went there still call it ‘tech’), life drawing tutor, Ron Burt. Back in those days everyone smoked or got smoked over, even during class and Ron was a champion inhaler. He was the kind of man who could take a long drag of a cigarette, exhale nothing but stale air, and retain an impressive amount of ash- up to an inch I swear- on the end of his fag. Ron would always sigh loudly as he came up behind me and my work, looking over my shoulder and smoking to ease the pain of teaching idiot students who couldn’t draw but thought they could.

“Here, let me,” he’d say and I’d dutifully give him my seat and he would proceed, in three or four deft strokes, to capture the model perfectly.

“There, now try it like that,” and with ash finally falling (mostly onto your work), off he’d move to the next student. I’d come away profoundly depressed, screwing up my feeble attempts and binning them, so no-one would ever see my failures. Had I been forward thinking, I’d have kept Ron’s work scrawled so cleverly over mine. He was truly gifted.

There followed another year at ‘tech, another tutor similarly despairing of my work (sorry Roger) and I really thought by the end of two years that I should give up drawing altogether. But my photography and film making skills were equally lacking, and I couldn’t get the hang of typography (you mean there’s more to it than Helvetica?) so up life drawing popped into my timetable for a third year. I was bored with it, bored with the naked models in boring poses and uninspired lighting. No sound save the scratching of pencils and the occasional cough. Ground hog day for art.

Enter Sue Skerman. Tutor extraordinaire.

“I don’t want to see you drawing with anything thinner than a lipstick and white paper is banned,” she ordered.

“Get off those donkeys (the wooden seats with easels attached that we sat at) and onto the floor. I want you to kneel, stand, lie down if you like, anything but sit at a desk.” We were shocked; deliciously.

“You will take turns to set up the model with props, music and lighting.” This woman was smokin’ - not smoking.

“And draw BIG.” And we did. Considering the class was held in the evening after a long day grappling with major projects and life drawing was not a subject that made any difference to an overall pass or fail, you might expect that tired students would skip class. But we didn’t; Dr Sue cured us of our apathy. I found the artist in me and produced the finest life drawings of my entire career in those sessions.

Over the years I have said, as we artists all do, “I must go to life drawing again,” remembering times we drew wonderfully and trying to recapture those days before digital media took over our lives. So I do and always, there are desks and a model who looks like she would rather be at the Kirks sale than stand naked before a bunch of mostly old farts. The lighting is harsh, and a church-like hush smothers the room. And I am a first year student again with the ghost of Ron hovering over me sighing with despair.

But not at Mighty Mighty, not with Dr Sketchy’s Anti Art School. Think Toulouse Lautrec, think Moulin Rouge, think Priscilla Queen of the Desert. From humble beginnings in New York, it is now an international fringe phenomenon.

‘Dr. Sketchy is a life/figure drawing session with a twist. The concept is simple... Artists draw glamorous burlesque dancers and performance artists, compete in contests, and win wonderful prizes. And can enjoy a drink too.’

So, having seen it advertised in my inbox, I rocked up to one of my favourite bars in Wellington (grungy but good) with my paper and pastels, bought a beer and took a seat. The atmosphere was friendly, and I was relieved to see I wasn’t too old. No-one quite knew what to expect, but Foxy Rachel Rouge in a fabulous corset took us through the format of the show, because a show it is. Eva Strangelove took the stage first with a saucy purple ostrich feather fan, sparkly bra and intriguing fringes at her hips and suspenders. Lithe and attractive, she danced a lively introduction, then settled down for 5, 10 and 20 minute poses, variously reclined on a sumptuous red couch or perched atop a bentwood chair. Music played, challenges were issued (now draw with your other hand), competitions for the best dressed audience member (I must wear my sunflower print vintage dress next time)… then it was Rhubarb’s turn. A big ‘lady’, kept fully clothed and very comic. We were asked to draw her in a hat or headdress (that wasn’t there) and I took the prize with my seashell creation. Thankyou to Calico Jack's for the vouchers!

Then all too soon (could it really have been 3 hours?) it was over. We all looked at each others work, packed up our pastels, pens, paper and inks and headed away, with huge smiles back up Cuba St. Thankyou Dr Sketchy, you saved me, and I’ll see you again next month. Best $14 bucks I’ve spent in a long time.


Mary McCallum said...

Fifi, what a fabulous post. Inspiring!! By Dr Sue - do you mean Sue Skerman (spelt with an 'er')? She's related to me very distantly by marriage by marriage by marriage....and her work is wonderful (great exhibition up in Waikanae last year).

Fifi Colston said...

Yes I do meean Sue Skerman- now fixed in the post- thanks! she was an inspiration and I thought she was the very best thing to happen to my work in a long time! Small world Mary.

Vanda Symon said...

That sounds so much fun. Drawing, drinking wine and entertainment in one package - perfect.


Hi Fifi, Lindsey Dawson here. Have been thinking about you lots lately as I'm developing an interest in drawing and cartooning(for heaven's sake... and old tart like me!)and you were so clever at turning up with something fabulous every month for your column in Next. Love what you're doing now...
My blog, if you want to pop over there, is