Drag and Draw is reinventing the concept of still life portrait classes with sass and stories.
“That’s the whole point of this: Loving drag and loving drawing.”
I enter Street 66 to open doors and a large, neon Andy Warhol quote: “Everything I do is a hobby.” This seems fitting, as I am here for just that – a hobby that has the potential to be so much more.
Past more neon, rainbows and nostaligic-cum-glamorous Warhol portraits is the room where the magic happens. Cushioned chairs, all a different peach hue, are positioned in a circle in the middle of the room. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling, producing a glittering illusion that seems fitting for a 1980s nightclub – something that this venue transforms into every weekend night. To complete the effect, Whitney Houston supplies the soundtrack, her voice waterfalling from the speakers and drowning out the light chatter of the 30-something artists and drag-enthusiasts that have gathered.
On this Tuesday evening, however, this room will function as a pop-up art studio, as is apparent from the boards of paper and sticks of charcoal that are scattered around the tables and balanced in the laps of attendees.
A young woman sits next to me and, like many of the other attendees, we start chatting away. I learn that she is somewhat of a regular and has actually driven to Dublin all the way from Ballinlough to attend this two-hour session. The last time she attended was during Pride week, and one of her portraits from that evening now adorns a nearby wall.
Before long, a tall, blonde drag queen in a gorgeous jumpsuit strolls in the door. I question for a moment whether or not I actually am in a fabulous 1980s nightclub, until Aine Macken, our art teacher for the evening, introduces the queen as Faux Joli, our model for this monthly event. And so, Drag and Draw begins.
“In terms of how the idea came about,” says Adrian Colwell, the founder of the event, “My friend Ailbhe was talking about this art class that she went to in London where the models were dancers that performed. I thought that that format would really work well with drag queens. So it’s half drag show, half art class.”
Colwell was right: Faux Joli is the perfect model, and unlike any other model I’ve seen in a life drawing class. She takes the stage (aka the floor space in the center of all of our chairs) and begins her performance to Whitney Houston’s How Will I Know.
“I had been following Drag and Draw on Instagram for a few months and I loved the look of it,” says Faux Joli, “so I reached out to a friend who knew Adrian and told her to give him my contact if he ever needed a model in the future. Before I knew it, I was standing on the bar in Street 66 with a crowd of people drawing me!”
And that’s exactly what happens tonight. Macken leads us through various exercises: First, we start with musical statues, drawing version, in which we draw the poses that Faux Joli freezes in every time the music is paused. Our pages spring to life with her confident movements: twirls, hips popped, hands in the air.
“I think the idea of drawing a drag queen is really interesting because it’s a real exaggerated femininity,” Macken tells me. “Especially for when you are creating those lines, that makes it really exciting. The shapes that they create themselves, you can kind of mimic and draw.”
Faux Joli’s curves inspire our lines and sketches for several more short exercises, in which we are given the chance to both appreciate her performance as audience members and study her shape as artists. Finally, after a quick outfit change, Faux Joli positions herself on the bar top for two 20-minute sketches. During this time, we are invited to ask her questions.
Question: “What is your fashion inspiration?”
Answer: “Anything pastel. And anything neon. And then UV kind of stuff, because in the George they have a UV light. I also like The Muppets, as you can tell with this jacket.” She is referencing her extremely colourful faux fur jacket that is draped around her elbows.
Question: “How did you come up with your name?”
Answer: “It means ‘Fake Pretty’ in French. I went on Google Translate and just started typing in loads of random words in French. I wanted something that was kind of like ‘croissant’.” We all laugh along with her. “And then I came up with Faux Joli.”
We learn that she is studying fashion design at NCAD, that she is inspired by Lady Gaga (“obviously”) and that she hopes to audition for the UK version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race next year.
As for how this Q&A session first came about, Colwell explains, “We did one [Drag and Draw] this time last year with Bunny, who was quite a well-known drag queen who usually works in Pantibar. One of the poses was her holding a microphone, a pose that’s really associated with being a drag queen, and we thought maybe the queen could talk during that pose. That organically turned into a Q&A, and it felt so natural that it’s now become a staple.”
Faux Joli also loves this part of the night. “My favorite part of the event, in comparison to a show in a nightclub, is the intimacy that comes with Drag and Draw,” she says. “I really enjoy being able to talk and interact with the audience.”
This organic conversation only adds to the event’s relaxed atmosphere – something that isn’t usually associated with life drawing classes, but is an essential part of Drag and Draw.
“It’s very different from your average stuffy ‘painting pears in a bowl’ situation,” says Macken. “It’s nice to have the music and have it be in a pub setting. It makes it more casual. There’s less pressure, because I think people put themselves under a lot of pressure when they’re making art, which they don’t need to. That’s the whole point of this: Loving drag and loving drawing.”
There are definitely no bowls of pears in sight, and our drawings only benefit from that. After the second 20-minute sketch, we are invited to stay for a drink and admire each other’s work. Friends, new and old, stand up to chat with Faux Joli and Macken, and everyone wanders around the room to compliment the many portraits on display.
“I have always thought that there was a lack of socialising opportunities for the LGBTQ community, that didn’t revolve around alcohol and drinking,” says Colwell. “Attendees always comment on the friendly atmosphere of Drag and Draw. It’s very relaxed, and myself and the teachers that are involved always try and make it accessible to all levels of skill. It’s great to see that it’s not just about the drawing or the performance: It acts as a method of social value.”
The accessibility of Drag and Draw is becoming more important than ever to Colwell, who has seen the event evolve since its conception over a year ago.
“At a recent session, we had a group of people that turned up that were hearing impaired. Since then, I’ve been focusing more on inclusivity and accessibility and trying to eliminate other barriers to engagement,” he says. “Moving forward, we’re going to have an Irish sign language interpreter for as many sessions as possible. We’re also working on some relaxed sessions, which would open the event up to anyone with an Autism Spectrum disorder.”
Colwell calls this his ethos of accessibility. “The LGBTQ community shouldn’t be seen as just one homogenous group, and a person’s sexuality or gender identity intersects with other aspects of their life and identity, which could include their background, their race, their physical and mental ability. And all of that shapes people’s experience of being LGBTQ,” he says.
Drag and Draw is only continuing to grow and evolve, and as it does more and more people are being welcomed into its tight-knit community. In addition to these monthly classes at Street 66, Colwell is also planning events at other art spaces, with other art forms. He already has a space secured at the upcoming Westport Arts Festival.
So, whether you’re an aspiring artist, a drag-enthusiast, or anything in between, come to Drag and Draw for a new hobby – and leave with so much more.
Words: Hannah McKennett
Photos: Kirsty Hal
See FB.com/draganddraw for further details.