July 21, 2011|PHILLIP VALYS [email protected]
Tiki torches, totem poles and thatch-roofed island bars surround a spotlit stage at a downtown Fort Lauderdale restaurant. A beefy man with tanker truck-thick shoulders emerges from behind a curtain, and tucked within his pair of python arms is a topless blonde in a skin-tight mermaid costume.
For the briefest of moments, doubt enters Charlotte Sundquist's mind. She's standing inside the Mai-Kai, this kitschy tropical-themed eatery, armed with fresh sketchpads and a fistful of colored pencils. She'd come to Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art Show Drink and Draw expecting anything except a 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 their pencil points.
That clearly wasn't this: the burly carrier plops the aquamarine-sequined mermaid onto a chair at center stage. She's wearing pasties, of course, since establishments that feature liquor and naked bosoms often run into legal snafus. A cluster of local artists - twentysomething hipsters, late-career bloomers – huddle around the beached mermaid and begin furiously sketching outlines in between sips of booze.
"I was thinking, straight up, 'this isn't like your standard life drawing class,'" remembers Sundquist. "There's this strange mermaid that some guy carries out because she's in costume, and she interacts with the artists. The atmosphere just became so non-threatening."
That version of Dr. Sketchy's is deader than scrap paper now, having gone defunct almost three years ago under the management of some burlesque dancer named Torchy Taboo. But Sundquist enjoys conjuring up that memory whenever she talks about the new incarnation of Dr. Sketchy's, which is relaunching this Thursday at Stage 84 coffeehouse in Davie and promises a night of drunken artists sketching a parade of near-topless burlesque dancers.
"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," said Sundquist, of Lighthouse Point. "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."
A 22-year-old art school dropout named Molly Crabapple created Dr. Sketchy's in 2005, staging the first Drink & Draw at a boozy dive bar in Brooklyn. She spread the alt-drawing movement globally, according to its Website, with friend A.V. Phibes and a battery of "awesome helpers," dropping chapters into 16 countries as far-flung as Christchurch, Australia and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Sundquist's resurrected chapter joins two others in Florida: one in Punta Gorda and another in Jacksonville.
Pressed as to why she brought Dr. Sketchy's back from artistic oblivion, she answered, "I'm definitely an ADD artist. I like to keep things going in different directions at once."
During a recent interview over Starbucks coffee, she described the new Drink & Draw, a three-hour sketch-a-thon sliced into several lightning-paced drawing exercises, thusly: "I'll be up emceeing, laying down the ground rules. There will be a few one-minute sketches, pausing in between for dancing. Then you'll have a five-minute sketch of, like, a burlesque dancer in a weird 'Thinker' pose." Then we progress to serious sketching, 15 to 20 minutes long."
She said she doesn't expect artists – at least, within the initial haze of hard liquor – to sketch something more detailed than the dancer's outline. Those are "warm-up" rounds, and they're interspersed with "Sketch-tinis" (a martini variant they mixed just for the event) and dance segments by Fort Lauderdale-based troupe Cupcake Burlesque.
Jenna Beth, Cupcake Burlesque's founder, said the Drink and Draw might better resemble a French bordello or a scene from "Moulin Rouge," with a quartet of burlesque dancers stripteasing in sparkling, Swarovski crystal-adorned bras, thigh-high hosiery, corsets and feather boas.
"It's slightly campy. My style of burlesque is classy. One of the girls is more jazzy and cabaret-ish. One may use a chain or a baton. Everyone is sassy onstage, and all of us are a real tease. Real sexy, flirtacious," said Beth of Fort Lauderdale. "It's not entertainment that's just geared towards men; it's a show that anyone can enjoy."
To keep Dr. Sketchy's interesting, Sundquist said she'll throw in a few competitions, such as drawing with the non-dominant hand.
"You'll never know what I'm going to ask them," she added. "It could reference something someone said that night. Or I might tell the artists, 'draw her, but make her an undersea creature, like a mermaid.'"
Sounds sketchy. Wonder where she got that?