With burlesque dancers, drunken artists and a no-nonsense ringleader, the South Florida chapter of this international organization has arrived.
by Phillip Valys 8:58 a.m. EDT, August 17, 2011
Betty Pickle (photos by Beth Black)
It’s a balmy Thursday night at Davie’s Stage 84, a detail not even remotely helped by the sprawl of some 50-odd warm bodies — local artists, bartenders, scantily clad dancers — all wedged inside the quaint music café for a live sketching class. Sweat trickles down the glittery, cream-powdered cheek of Cupcake Burlesque dancer Jenna Beth as she describes, counting on glossy, white fingernails, the number of times some “pervy old man” has hit on her tonight.
“My boyfriend — that photographer over there — thinks it’s really funny,” she says in a high-pitched, rapid-fire voice, adjusting a white, feather headdress sitting atop a well-coifed pompadour of golden curls. She’s wearing a lattice crystal necklace and a lacy, carnation-pink corset studded with multicolored jewels and Swarovski crystals — real ones, she claims, that she worked years to afford.
“I hope nobody notices that I just ate three Wendy’s cheeseburgers right before I came here,” she deadpans, slapping her tummy. Rap, rap, rap.
Stage lights dim as Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl‘s Best Friend” plays over the café’s loudspeakers. It’s this schmaltzy cabaret song that marks the newest incarnation of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. It’s an alt-life drawing gathering, the concept of which corrupts just about any humdrum life-drawing class, the kind where half-naked, pasty-skinned models with placid facial expressions pose onstage under blinding fluorescent lights while artists quietly scratch with pencil points. Replacing that are drunken artists sketching a sexy parade of topless burlesque dancers, models unafraid to flaunt their personalities as they twist around in come-hither costumes — far removed from and more evolved than the vapid, starchy rooms that inspired the Drink and Draws.
Charlotte Sundquist, herself a local artist who singlehandedly relaunched this South Florida chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s, likens the evening to a three-hour sketch-a-thon sliced into several lightning-paced drawing exercises. The Web site bills the “anti-art” program as a place where “life drawing meets cabaret.”
The second such Sketchy’s outing will take place Thursday, Aug. 18 and will be headlined by former Hellion Burlesque dancer Betty Pickle. “The Dr. Sketchy’s concept is you do everything that isn’t your normal life-drawing class. You’ll have fun, have some martinis. Even if you’re not an artist, you’re going to be less uptight about being stupid when you’re drinking and drawing,” says Sundquist, a Lighthouse Point blonde who, lately, has organized art shows at other art-deprived locales in Broward. “The sketching is really celebrating uniqueness and the art of that underground subculture, be it tattooed fetish models, a punk rocker with a foot-high Mohawk or a man in a gorilla suit.”
An earlier incarnation of Dr. Sketchy’s, launched almost three years ago under the management of a burlesque dancer named Torchy Taboo, is deader than scrap paper now, Sundquist says, taking a slurp of coffee at a Deerfield Beach Starbucks.
So why rescue this chapter, which joins two others in Florida — Punta Gorda and Jacksonville — from South Florida’s version of artistic oblivion? “I just want to give artsy people a chance to network,” she says.
Wait — what? It’s true: Sundquist traded her dead-end career teaching public speaking as a 20-year UPS employee for an artsier lifestyle in 2005, first founding a nonprofit networking meetup called the South Florida Artists Association — which boasts 1,271 members on its Meetup.com Web page — and a company devoted to creative types called Artistic Productions.
Last year, in between her day job as a manager for a local marine company, she created the Vacant Spaces Project, which has brought art shows to empty retail stores at Pompano Citi Centre and Fort Lauderdale’s F.A.T. Village.
She has no problem barking directives from the sidelines, either. Sundquist, who functions as emcee at these sketchy outings (she even shoehorns in a few competitions, such as drawing with the nondominant hand), lays down the ground rules thusly: several rapid-fire, one-minute “warm-up” sketches, followed by burlesque dancing and lengthier, more-serious 10- and 20-minute sketching blocks.
“I’m definitely an ADD artist. I like to keep things going in different directions at once,” she says of her multitasking. “At Dr. Sketchy’s, you can be an artist or someone who has never picked up a pencil before. It’s not meant to be intimidating, crafting something out of nothing. There’s no time to make everything perfect. It’s OK to screw up. We’re not expecting there to be hecklers or douchebags.”
Back inside Stage 84, Jenna Beth saunters down a narrow aisle and kneels against a topaz-colored curtain backdrop. The bedazzled blonde is the founder of Cupcake Burlesque, a Fort Lauderdale-based troupe of classic burlesquers, or dancers who enjoy stripteasing in campy, vintage garb. Tonight, she’s dropping brassieres to sizzling music with a trio of other Cupcake performers.
Flung across the living room-reminiscent café, whose red walls are mounted with LP slipcovers of Peter Frampton and Tony Martin, are the sketchers, a cluster of twentysomething hipsters and late-career bloomers sporting tattoos, faux-hawks and, weirdly enough, a pipe cleaner-mustachioed man wearing a beret. There's a bourbon-flavored silence on this side: monstrous sketchpads perched on artists' laps, colored pencil tips pressed to paper as they quietly carve the human form.
Beth says her retro-glamour, pinup-esque stripteasing sensationalizes kitsch instead of female flesh. She flaunts tasteful costumes while feeling empowered. “My style of burlesque is classy. Real sexy, flirtatious,” Beth says of her three-minute cabaret number. “There’s such a slow build to the art of the striptease. It’s not done in such a sexual manner, but a performance art rather than provoking sexual desire. I think that’s truly how it’s evolved over the decades. It’s stripteasing that can tell a story.”
A 22-year-old art school dropout named Molly Crabapple created Dr. Sketchy’s in 2005, staging the first Drink and Draw at boozy dive bar Lucky Cats in Brooklyn, N.Y. She spread the alt-drawing movement globally, according to the Dr. Sketchy's Web site, with friend A.V. Phibes and a battery of “awesome helpers,” dropping about 130 chapters into 16 countries as far-flung as New Zealand and the Netherlands.
“A life-drawing class is very educational but a very sterile experience, and you relate to these models as just a collection of tendons and shapes in gray rooms," the 27-year-old Crabapple says. "This is very objectifying in an object way. Instead of being bodies, I wanted the models to be celebrated, fierce personalities, like stars."
Crabapple is blown away by the viral success of her Dr. Sketchy’s brand. “Artists are very isolated," she says. "We are kind of dorky, actually. We created an environment where we can draw in an atmosphere that’s glamorous and fun, and that’s why I think it took off so quickly. It provides an avenue for artists and performers to meet each other.”
Next onstage, parked on a Victorian-style, scarlet fainting couch that looks pinched from a French bordello or the movie set of Moulin Rouge, is a smoky-eyed, raven-haired brunette named Buffy Pistol. She’s striking a pose in an onyx-black corset, black bow-tied thong, fishnet stockings and glossy pumps, a black-and-blue feather boa seductively dangling over her breasts.
As Pistol stripteases to Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” sprawling on the lounge with arms coyly cupped around her head Kate-Winslet-in-Titanic-style, sketcher Jason Beck, a 22-year-old college graduate with a barbell nose piercing, is drawing a gaunt model with crooked legs and her femurs and rib cage showing.
His female companion, Fort Lauderdale resident Lorraine Lowe, is trying to take the exercise more seriously: raising a thumb between her eyes, she sketches curved, dotted lines across the model’s symmetrical head, rendering the dancer’s form like she was taught as a student at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.
She giggles, however, as Beck mounts a butternut-squash-shaped dinosaur with pointy teeth next to the crooked-legged Pistol. In a sketch for another model, he anthropomorphizes his burlesque muse into a female centaur wielding a trident, protecting a chocolaty treat from a predatorial pterodactyl. It looks like the work of Salvador Dali and Gabriel Garcia Marquez on an acid trip.
“I have not made a single mistake so far. This is perfect,” he says with a grin. Pointing to a gravestone near the centaur’s left hoof, Beck says, “The centaur’s the queen of cupcakes, and here lies the Duke of Nuts.”
Lowe chokes into her bottled water, face redder than the fainting couch. “Oh, my God, this is fantastic,” she says. “This is nothing like the life-drawing classes I’m used to.”
A guitar riff from George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” erupts from Sundquist’s cell phone timer to signal the end of the sketching round. “OK, everybody, breathe,” Sundquist says. Some of the huddled sketchers let out collective sighs. Others blink rapidly and rotate their arms, exaggeratedly nursing their wrists like carpal-tunnel sufferers.
“You got this next one, right?” a photographer asks Beck, glancing over his fantastical landscape of decidedly not-burlesque dancers.
“It’ll be just as good as the last one,” he replies as a red-satin-robe-wearing brunette dancer with cute braces takes the stage.
Sitting catty-corner from Beck and Lowe’s table, Heathyre Perara has bundles of multicolored pastel pencils strewn around her paperback-size sketchpad. As sketchers scribble into their books, she’s busy shading the champagne-colored curtains behind the gyrating dancer with braces. Perara founded the Southwest Florida chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s this past December, gaining a loyal following of a dozen or so pencil-toting artists as she continues hunting for permanent hosting digs near the Fort Myers/Punta Gorda area.
“I decided to come and share support,” Perara says, color shading the model’s ankle-strapped high heels with impressionistic flourishes. “In a life drawing, you focus on accuracy. In a Sketchy’s drawing, it’s a no-pressure thing because you’re not expected to churn out a masterpiece. It’s very fun and definitely not boring.”
Betty Pickle will perform solo this month for Dr. Sketchy’s. Among other kinky activities, she specializes in deep-throating more fully inflated balloons than a sword-swallower with a latex fetish. Part of her act involves donning a prom queen’s dress and murdering a prom king with sharp objects. She says she learned balloon-swallowing from a clown named Karl Coppertop during a stint with a vaudeville show called Millionaire Tramp, which toured nationally with a ring of sideshow magicians and lounge singers.
“I think sexuality is funny, or the definition of burlesque is funny, anyway. Those dancers, they wear tiny hats and mustaches when they striptease,” says Pickle, who lives in Wilton Manors. “Doing the live sketches is a kinesthetic thing. It’s something so fluid and dynamic of an experience that you’ll start seeing art from a different angle.”
The next Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art Show Drink and Draw will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 at Stage 84 Music Café, 9118 W. State Road 84, in Davie. The cover is $12. at the door Call 954-474-5040, or visit Drsketchysofla.com.