It’s Wednesday night and the dance floor at Fulton 55 is packed, but is oddly quiet.
Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz plays over the PA and Whitney Hord stands center stage in a black bodice and heels, tightening the belt on a red leather trench coat. She’s paused like. Any movement on her part is slight, a blink of an eye or a spasm of a leg muscle.
In the crowd, a few dozen artists silently sketch out the pose as part of a monthly gathering known as Drink and Draw.
“Really, it’s just a bunch of people chipping in to pay for a model,” says Leslie Abney, a freelance animator, who started organizing Fresno’s Drink and Draw a year ago. The event is free, technically, because Abney knows what it’s like to be an artist and be broke. She would hate to turn anyone away because they don’t have the money. There’s a tip jar on front of the stage and Abney is not shy about asking for donations. She suggests $5. All the money goes to the model.
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Hord runs through three poses for the night. The first two last just five minutes and serve as warm up for the artists. The last pose is broken into 20 minute segments over an hour. The artists come prepared with sketch pads, pencils and pens. Some take photos of the poses on their phone to use as source material. Others eye the angles and shadows from their seats. They use their pencils to take visual measurements.
Abney walks the crowd during the breaks and takes pictures of the process, which she shares on the Fresno Drink and Draw community page on Facebook.
This isn’t an original idea, she says. In Los Angeles, where Abney lived before returning to Fresno, these event happened all the time. There’s the Original Drink and Draw and Dr. Sketchy’s version of the same. The Canadian DJ Kid Koala hosts a series of Music to Draw to events that combine live DJing with live model drawing.
Fresno’s Drink and Draw has gained a solid fan base over the past year. The night typically draws anywhere from 20-50 artists, Abney says. Some are students. Most are professional artists or instructors, or “at very least really enthusiastic about art in their personal lives,” she says.
Natalie Berg is a graphic designer by trade. She attended the last few Drink and Draw events with her coworker, mostly to get out of the daily grind of her professional life.
“It helps you be more creative,” she says.
Berg is grateful for the opportunity to have access to a reliable live model. It’s something that, unless she enrolled in a university art class, would be hard to come by. Abney has a number of qualified models volunteering to pose at the event each month.
That makes it appealing for Caleb Henderson, who’s a Drink and Draw regular. Tonight, he works from a make shift easel at the front of the stage. He balances a board between his knees and a second chair. He’s working with charcoal on newsprint – making big, sweeping, capturing angles that turn into a figure, or a face.
As an instructor at Fresno City College, most of his art time is spend working with students or for students and always with a very specific purpose, he says.
“It’s an opportunity to get out and just draw,” he says.
With that, he can explore style and technique. Some nights he’ll use pencil and pens. He’s even been known to bring out his iPad. There are no rules.
“You can bring lipstick and try to draw with it.”