Pinup model, burlesque performer and artist Miss Miranda shares her experience of Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School at London Wonderground 2014.
I was delighted to receive a last minute invitation to attend Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School at London Wonderground – I’m rather ashamed to admit that I have never been before! On my recent travels around the US I’ve noticed branches in almost every city I’ve visited; it was high time I discovered what it was all about.
The prospect of a little observational drawing was a very attractive one. It’s something I enjoy a great deal and don’t make enough time for. My partner and I met at art college and both love to draw when visiting museums together (pickled creatures at the Hunterian Collection being probably our favourite subject matter) but life drawing is something we literally haven’t done since we were at college, so I brought him along to join the fun!
The Wonderground Spiegeltent is such a beautiful space. It was odd, though rather lovely, to see the house lights up so much higher than usual when we entered, allowing us to appreciate the beautiful glass work all the better. We found ourselves seats, and although we were a little late to snag ones at a table, we were well prepared with drawing pads and soft pencils and it didn’t prove a problem.
Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School
The night’s models/performers were the lovely Bettsie Bon Bon and Fancy Chance, hosted by the never disappointing Mr Dusty Limits. I was curious to discover how the event would be structured – all I knew was that there would be performances and some drawing – and I felt it ran very well. A beguiling intro from Dusty gave us a brief backstory of Dr Sketchy’s (founded in Brooklyn, NY by Molly Crabapple, and currently running in 134 cities worldwide) and reassured anyone less confident in their artistic prowess that the focus of the London event is primarily drunkenness. That being initially said, he followed on to guide the audience through several ‘warm up’ exercises that were well thought out, my favourite being a one minute continuous line portrait of Dusty during which we were forbidden to look at the paper. I remember doing this back at school but had forgotten how fascinating it is!
Next he introduced the first performance from Bettsie Bon Bon – a beautiful, languid and vampish routine. We were invited to simply enjoy the act as we would at a normal burlesque event, and after exiting the stage Bettsie reappeared in a gown ready to model for us. A series of exercises followed – a one minute sketch followed by a two minute, and finally a five minute drawing. I had wondered how the lighting would be handled, concerned that it might create an awkward dynamic to have house lights high enough for the audience to see their drawing pads while a performer is posed on stage; the stage/audience barrier is so much more marked than that between an artist and a life model, and I feared it might create a sort of voyeuristic awkwardness. I didn’t find it an issue however, I’m happy to say! Perhaps the significant height of the Wonderground stage put our models on a high enough pedestal to create separation. The lights were slightly higher than they normally would be during the acts too, making it less jarring when they were brought up further for the modelling sessions. Bettsie posed beautifully and I thoroughly enjoyed sketching her. Dusty explored the audience to find his favourite drawings, and awarded them with sweets. He struck the balance perfectly between playful teasing and supportive critique/praise.
Next up was Fancy Chance and her hilarious Prince lip synch routine – a brilliant contrast to the femme fatale vibe of the previous act. We particularly enjoyed sketching her impressive codpiece! One thing I would say is that the in-the-round format of the Wonderground stage is perhaps not ideal for life drawing. Even the best poses in the world will be more engaging from certain angles than others and there certainly was a bit of an issue with this, although it was clearly taken into account as each new pose was directed to a different section of the audience.
After three more exercises drawing Fancy, Bettsie reappeared and we were set to work drawing the two of them together – a nice touch I thought. This was followed by Dusty encouraging us all to submit our favourite drawing of the night to be judged for prizes; it was fascinating seeing the variation of styles laid out on the stage, and watching the performers look through their portraits was very entertaining too.
Prizes were doled out (more sweets, and some signed Molly Crabapple books!) and that brought the night to a end. The close felt slightly anticlimactic; I wish there had been some sort of finale number to round things off. Many audience members had already started leaving during the judging (they evidently knew the show was over) which spoiled the atmosphere a little.
All in all though, a thoroughly entertaining evening and a delightful change from your average cabaret event! A real treat, too, to have an opportunity for guided observational drawing in such a unique setting. Drawing really is the greatest way to really see, and regardless of whether you have a background in art, it’s near impossible not to get something out of trying it, providing you approach it with an open and mind and a willing hand!
Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School at London Wonderground 2014 reviewed by Miss Miranda on June 23rd 2014.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli Mae Johnson.