Drawing to a Full House

Dr. Sketchy at the Beachland Ballroom

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Joe Lieberman probably wouldn't vote for any health-care plan that covers a session of Dr. Sketchy's art therapy. No matter: Like chicken soup, Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School is cheap. And even soup can hardly top the benefits accruing from this doctor's cocktail of wine, women and song. Distributed through a web-driven, viral franchise system, Dr. Sketchy's also provides a way for art geeks to make a few bucks while exercising fingers grown fat during life's long sequel to second-year drawing courses.

Founded in 2005 by twentysomething illustrator, author, former art student, burlesque performer and life model Molly Crabapple, the viral empire quickly spread from an initial infection in Brooklyn to 57 cities worldwide. The formula is as simple as a g-string: tap into new-wave burlesque/vaudeville performance, along with the soul/funk/gospel revival currently centered in New York, find a venue with a liquor license and gather a bunch of thirsty, itching-to-draw artists. Then post instructions on how frustrated members of the creative class can start their own branch in Melbourne, London, Helsinki, Pittsburgh or Cleveland.

Dr. Sketchy's isn't exactly a get-rich-quick scheme. Cleveland franchise owners Aaron Erb and Jason Tilk charge attendees $10 a head: "Enough for a couple of drinks and some set decorations — and we make sure the models are well-paid," says Tilk. They send Crabapple a monthly $10 fee; in return, they get goodies to pass out as prizes, provided by a list of neat sponsors including Dap Tone Records (purveyors of the killer nouveau-funk band Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings). Erb heard about the deal in 2007, and last year, he and Tilk signed the paperwork. The first gig was at Tremont's Lava Lounge, where 20 sketchers filled the cozy but cramped upstairs bar.

A recent session at the larger Beachwood Ballroom was an evening of serious sketching. After a few half-hearted hoots and catcalls, the artists settled down to capture the curves and angles of Danielle Muad'dib, a young beauty attired in pink evening gloves and a flowing, black velvet gown. Later, a bouncy, full-on (but not full monty) burlesque show, complete with glowing pasties, starred all three of the evening's model/performers: Muad'dib, Sapphire Surge and Champagne Shock of Dayton's Jigglewatts Burlesque. The evening featured nonstop tunes from Sinatra to Stevie Wonder, James Brown to the Budos Band.

The Anti-Art School inflicts neither teachers nor grades on its artists, just a couple of drawing contests to determine who gets prizes like CDs, stickers and copies of The Official Dr. Sketchy's Rainy Day Coloring Book by Crabapple and cartoonist John Leavitt. Anyone who gets nervous can order a drink.

The next Dr. Sketchy event is at the Beachland January 20. Bring a pencil — and folding money for the tip jar.

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