At Dr. Sketchy’s, Art Education Involves A Penthouse Pet as Princess Leia

BurlesqueEditDan Kedmey

On Sunday night, John Leavitt sat in the back room of the Bowery Poetry Club, surrounded by students holding sketchpads, pens, and pencils. Their subject: Penthouse Pet Justine Joli, wearing a replica of Princess Leia’s iconic gold and lavender bikini from “Return of the Jedi.” Soon, she would shed the bikini.

Yes, this is what passes for a drawing class at Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, founded in 2005 by two art school drop-outs, Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt. “We both hated life drawing,” explained Mr. Leavitt. “Instead of boring models sitting in a room, we wanted to have music and burlesque and drinking.”

The crowd of over 50 was typical of the events that Dr. Sketchy’s puts on in the East Village and Lower East Side.  Since its first session in Williamsburg, the anti-art school has opened 130 “branches” around the world, mostly run by former attendees who moved out of New York and wanted to bring sessions to their hometowns.

Melissa Dowell, creative coordinator for Dr. Sketchy’s, said that aside from being fun, the sessions allowed for more creativity than traditional life drawing classes, such as the ones she took in art school. “[At Dr. Sketchy’s] we had an artist do an abstract cubist rendering of the model,” Ms. Dowell said.  “If he was in my school, they would be like, ‘You’re not rendering the figures.’” She added: “Also, the drinking helps.”

The sessions attract a mixed crowd of freelance artists, creative professionals, and burlesque fans.  Joy Lau, an architect and first-time student, said she came to the Star Wars-themed session for “bragging rights”: “I wanted to tell all my geeky guy friends, ‘Look at what you missed!’”


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 14, 2011

An earlier version of this post misidentified the title of the Star Wars movie in which Princess Leia appeared in a bikini.