Often described as “a cross between a life-drawing session and a cabaret act”, the Tokyo branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School has been bringing people together at regular gatherings for the past 10 years. Dr. Sketchy’s isn’t a commercial art school, but rather an artistic monthly event open to anyone with a sense of fun – artistic ability optional.
By Louise George Kittaka
Dr. Sketchy’s started in New York in 2005, and has now spread to over 100 cities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Based on the simple premise that drawing people should be fun, these “alternative art” events are a combination of burlesque, theatrical performance, comedy and music. Tokyo-based Brit Louise Rouse spoke to us about Dr. Sketchy’s in Japan and plans for the upcoming 10th anniversary celebrations later this month.
Louise, how did you get involved with Dr. Sketchy’s in Tokyo?
I found Dr. Sketchy’s pretty quickly when I moved here in 2007. I had a long hiatus but started attending regularly again in 2012. I’m an illustrator, printmaker and art teacher, so it always felt like home. Somewhere along the way I ended up organizing it together with Craig Chivers, a sculptor, painter and musician who can normally be found at his
studio, Ebisu Atelier d’Art.
Is it really open to one and all?
Anyone and everyone comes, from professionals to people who can’t draw a stick figure but enjoy the arts. A great time is had by all, regardless of skill or level. We have a regular core group that includes animators, manga artists, nihonga painters, illustrators, artists, photographers and more, so it’s a great place to meet creative people and have a drink and a chat. We also have loads of people who just fancy a doodle every now and again!
Drawing requires you to focus so that you lose track of time and I think most people find that relaxing. It must be working because everyone who comes to the events are laid-back and really friendly. There are no egos and everyone is very supportive, whatever their drawing level. We usually have more women than men attending, which I think is unusual for Tokyo creative meet-ups, and a pretty even split of Japanese and non-Japanese.
Our normal monthly event costs ¥2,000 and includes one drink at the bar. It’s cheaper than most life drawing sessions in Tokyo and the proceeds go to our extraordinary models, who are artists themselves. We’re proud to support these performers and we’re lucky to have such a cozy space in the heart of Harajuku and an awesome DJ to help our party along!
The models for the drawing sessions at Dr. Sketchy’s are often described as “burlesque” acts. Can you elaborate?
The majority of our models come from the burlesque scene, but we have all kinds of alternative performers – aerial silk artists, vaudeville musicians, and most recently, a Freddy Mercury impersonator! Burlesque itself is diverse. Each model will want to tell you about their specific influences but some constants are that there are beautiful and outlandish costumes, which are great creative inspiration to draw. Burlesque itself is a humorous, yet artistic performance, but this can of course be mixed with serious themes. Although there is often a provocative element, it is always light-hearted, good natured and – more often than not – funny. You have to consider that it is a costumed performance, with no nudity involved, and the audience being moved to laughter.
Can participants expect to get help with their drawing technique?
Just ask whomever you are sitting next to! This is anti-art school, though, so we don’t have any formal critiquing process. Craig runs traditional art classes in Ebisu so if you can’t get enough drawing at our once a month session you should head over to Ebisu Atelier d’Art for Thursday night drop-in life drawing or one-to-one classes.
Finally, please tell us about the plans coming up for the 10th anniversary this month.
We are taking over the whole weekend of April 22-24, with a special exhibition featuring work from our Dr. Sketchers at Design Festa East Gallery, second floor. On Saturday 23 we will be painting a mural on the outside wall of Design Festa in the central courtyard, so you can come and hang out with us and help paint it all day, between 11 am and 8 pm. Finally, on April 24 we will be holding a special family-friendly Dr. Sketchy’s event in Yoyogi Park with Cherry Typhoon, one of the original founders of Dr. Sketchy’s Tokyo. Bring along your picnic hamper and sketchbook! Tokyo needs a drawing festival and we are kick-starting one this year with a bumper weekend of events.
Everything is free to attend, although we have a suggested donation for the Yoyogi Park event, which is taking place between 1 and 4 pm. Exact park locations will be posted on our public Facebook page and our website.
Main Image: Louise Rouse