Baltimore artists embrace burlesque performers at Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

(Sophia Sunday strikes a provocative pose. All photos by Anthony C. Hayes.)

Serious art students quickly become accustomed to drawing from real-life models.  But Baltimore is one of the rare places where pencils and pastels are likely to mix with the G-strings and pasties of an impromptu burlesque routine.

Artists of all levels may experience this exciting combination tonight in Station North at the Baltimore edition of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.

Founded in Brooklyn, New York in 2005 by artists Molly Crabapple and A.V. Phibes, Dr. Sketchy’s is a life drawing event which combines a bountiful bar with unusual models in the way of burlesque performers, belly dancers and circus/sideshow people.

Amy Nichols captures a reclining Sophia Sunday.

The popular franchise (there are branches world-wide) has been run solely by Crabapple since early ’06.  The Baltimore branch of the school is proctored by Alexis de la Rosa and Aaron Bush.

Bush was a math major at UNC Chapel Hill where he had enough art credits to be a double major.  De la Rosa started out as an illustration major at MICA, but graduated feeling a little burned out on the art scene.  After a few years away from the grind she found she wanted to get back into the creative field.  The couple heard about Dr. Sketchy’s and thought, “How hard can this be?”

Between assorted venue issues and scheduling problems, it hasn’t always been easy, but last month the couple observed their fifth anniversary of staging the popular art happening.  To celebrate this milestone, a multi-model event is planned for September to coincide with Baltimore Comic Con.

Pairing the burlesque performers with the earthy but earnest local artists has been a definite hit.  “The burlesque performers always come prepared with multiple costumes.  That allows the model to put two to three different looks together and gives the artists some variety.  Plus, Baltimore has this eclectic sense of humor that you don’t get anywhere else,” Bush wryly opined.

Artists Joe Giordano and Jason Newman concentrate on another sketch.

Participants are mostly MICA grads who have been out of school for a while and others of varying skill levels who simply want to get into drawing.  De la Rosa said they began with a bi-weekly event at Dionysus in Midtown-Belvedere but soon found they were turning people away from the modest locale.

One eager artist even said, “I’ll sit under that table.”

In September of 2009 De la Rosa and Bush moved Dr. Sketchy’s to the Windup Space in Station North.

The extra elbow room benefits the 50-60 artists who regularly make it out for the three-hour session.  And in true school spirit, the artists share their work with the class in between each set.

Paul Moscatt, who taught at MICA for 36 years, is one of the regulars.  Moscatt told the Baltimore Post-Examiner he has been coming for almost three years.  Though he usually works in oils, Moscatt does not use the sketches he produces in the class for later paintings, but he said the intensely executed drawings would be nice for their own dedicated show.

Conversely, Craig Hankin will sometimes work his drawings into other compositions.  Hankin, another veteran of over three decades of classroom teaching, runs the studio arts program at Johns Hopkins University.   Hankin teaches about 75 students a year at Hopkins and encourages his class to attend Dr. Sketchy’s.  A few have, but only the seniors, because they are of drinking age.

Rycin Von Schierling enjoying her evening from the audience side of the stage.
Rycin Von Schierling enjoying her evening from the audience side of the stage.

“Doing this keeps my skills sharp,” Hankin explains.  “Plus it’s a great excuse to draw from life while having a drink or two.”  Hankin said that for him, the longer poses are usually the best.  “I can do 20-25 sketches over the course of an evening but in the end only have 2-3 that are really good ones.”

Still, the exercise is expansive and Hankin enjoys stretching his creative muscles in the casual and friendly atmosphere.

“Alex and Aaron are real pros.  They do a fantastic job.  Visitors say, ‘Wow!  This is a great event.  Better than those we’ve attended in other cities.’”

Aside from the teachers, a number of the attendees are, for the most part, hobbyists, but one actually makes her living working with ink.  Amy C. Nichols is a professional tattoo artist at Tattooed Heart Studios in Glen Burnie.  At the April event, Nichols was joined by other comrades, including her boss, John Garancheski.

Paul Moscatt prefers to stand while working on a sketch.

“This is something sociable we can do to keep ourselves fresh and loose.  It’s a good night out with co-workers and friends.  There is no pressure to be perfect, just fun.”

Attending Dr. Sketchy’s also afforded Nichols the chance to reconnect with her high school art teacher, Joe Giordano.  Giordano, a well respected instructor in the Baltimore arts community, is a teacher at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, Maryland.

“Joe started me on my artistic journey,” recalls Nichols.  “My entire mental process – the way I approach my art – came from the classes I took with Joe.  Reconnecting with him after all these years is one of the best things to come out of this event.”

Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School is educational and fun.  But like any other school, there are a number of rules which govern the student body.

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Amy Nichols’ completed sketch.

The website provides the parameters for anyone attending the Baltimore branch:

  1. Artists must be 18 and over (21 to drink) and no outside drinks are allowed. As Aaron puts it, “The only reason it is worth Windup’s time to host us is to sell drinks.”
  2. Applaud the model. “Imagine standing perfectly still for three hours in front of a crowd of silent, staring, and seemingly unappreciative strangers.  Now, imagine doing that in a G-string.”
  3. Tip the model. “Again, their job is way harder than it looks.”
  4. Only the official photographer is allowed to take pictures at Dr. Sketchy’s.  Press photographers are exempt from this rule but must check in before they start snapping away.  All others must contact the hosts at least 48 hours beforehand.  “The model is agreeing to pose for folks drawing, not a photo shoot, so if we are going to make an exception, we at least need time to get his or her permission.”
  5. Perhaps the most important rule: “Don’t be creepy.”

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The set-up for Dr. Sketchy – a comfortable, well-lit space with amiable hosts, encouraging classmates, and a well-stocked bar – would not be complete without a poised professional model on the stage.

Dr. Sketcy’s Baltimore edition has enlisted some of the most personable performers on today’s burlesque scene.  Local stand-outs have included Maria Bella, Roma Mafia and Marla Meringue.  Also gracing the stage have been DC’s GiGi Holliday, Mourna Handful and Cherokee Rose, along with Canada’s delicious Sucre à la Crème and New Orleans’ spicy Nona Narcisse.  Tonight’s event will feature the aptly named, Cherie Sweetbottom.

Alexis de la Rosa, Maeve Yeager and Sophia Sunday share some of the students work.

Balancing the high estrogen content of the art class have been boylesque stars Tony Apollo and Paco Fish.

The April edition featured Baltimore’s sexiest siren, Sophia Sunday.  Sunday told the Baltimore Post-Examiner she got her start in burlesque by attending instructional classes with Gilded Lily Burlesque.

“At the end, you have the option to perform with Gilded Lily.  I guess you could say I just wanted to cross it off my bucket list, but the truth is it was a big confidence builder after my divorce.”

Sunday’s look is always classic, and she credits Julia Elgert at the Bottom Drawer Boutique as her go-to person for retro lingerie.  But staying relaxed while “frozen” in a corset is more difficult that one might imagine.

“Posing for artists is very different than posing for a photographer.  Photo work moves so fast.  There is a different perception of time.  For the artist it moves very fast, while for the model, time seems to stand still.”

The sets can seem overwhelming.  There are four during the course of the night, and they work as follows:

1st: Ten 1-minute and five 2-minute poses

2nd: Four 5-minute poses

3rd: Two 10-minute poses

4th: Two 20-minute poses

It is evident the artists are concentrating during the timed sets.  But what is the model thinking?

“I’m thinking about what I am going to do next,” Sunday laughingly admits.

Latecomer Angelica Temoche found suitable seating in the back of the room.

“I like to sink into a pose and just get lost in it.  It’s like yoga.  I just try to be aware of what’s happening to my body.  Do I need to move?  If I’m uncomfortable in a pose, can I breathe through it?”

For Sunday, the best part of the gig was posing and then performing for the appreciative crowd.

“I like watching people draw; to see them looking up and down.  It’s quite entertaining to look out at those wonderful faces in the crowd.”

One regular participant has the distinction of watching people from both sides of the stage.  Rycin Von Schierling has drawn countless sketches of the burlesque models over a two-year period.  And she has also posed as a model for her fellow artists.

“I had a modeling, theater and ballet background as a teen, so it was natural to get into photography and modeling once I got into college,” Von Schierling explained.  But did her experience as an artist affect how she approached the modeling gig?

“As an artist, I appreciated the different lines the various models struck.  That’s what I was thinking about when I posed; about giving (other artists) distinctive looks.”

*   *   *   *   *

From distinctive looks to piquant poses, it was exciting to watch so many artists working at a feverish pace.  But that was to be expected, considering the time constraints of the scheduled sets.  It was also natural with the beautiful Sophia Sunday as the featured model.  Three hours with Sunday would give any onlooker a fever.

Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School will reconvene Monday, July 8th from 7 to 10 p.m.  at the Windup Space, 12 W. North Avenue, Baltimore.  The special guest model for this event will be Cherie Sweetbottom.  Artists are encouraged to bring their own materials (no paints, please) and cash tips for the models.  The venue opens at 6 p.m.  Tickets are just $10 at the door, or $8 if bought online 24 hours in advance.  For more information, visit Dr. Sketchy website or email Alexis and Aaron at