I’m sitting in a hot, crowded room, three rows deep with drinkers and drawers. We’re all breathing each other’s collective CO2 exhalations because there’s no ventilation—the front facing window and door must remain closed for the privacy of the nude model posing against the wall. The wet, stifling air covers the model, and the rest of us, in a sticky sheen. And still, it’s a full house today and every Wednesday here at The Living Gallery Drink & Draw.
Founded by Brooklyn-based artist Nyssa Frank in 2012, The Living Gallery is at the forefront of a wave of community galleries and art spaces that host art, fashion, and music events. Among these events, Wednesday night Drink & Draw sessions at The Living Gallery are an institution within the Bushwick DIY art community, which Nyssa has organized herself every week without pause since the gallery’s opening.
For the uninitiated, “Drink and Draw” derives its roots from 19th century atelier-style drawing, where students would practice drawing nude models in a private studio under the supervision of a professional artist. Nyssa originally implemented Drink & Draw at The Living Gallery as a means to keep the space solvent, “I was thinking of programming and classes and how to make a little money between exhibitions and a friend of mine recommended Drink and Draw. 3rd Ward, which is now closed, had been doing it for I don’t know how long. So it wasn’t something I invented. I started doing it in 2012 and literally haven’t stopped—we’ve maybe canceled three times in six years.”
Drink & Draw at The Living Gallery is all about accessibility on many levels—skill, experience, age, identity. “The difference is we try to cater to people who are very seasoned and people who have never, NEVER drawn before. So it’s about being inclusive for any level of artist or someone who wants to try something new,” Nyssa explains to me. The range of all the different drawings in the room reflects this. The semi-professional feel combined with the beginner-friendly philosophy strikes a rare balance that draws a diverse group of regulars, almost all from the local Bushwick and Bedstuy neighborhoods.
Unlike traditional atelier classes, talking is encouraged! “Sometimes in the end, we like to ask people to put their work on the ground so we can look at it and talk about it. My very close friends own a bar on the corner, so usually I’ll see people there or I’ll recommend people there so it’s fun to see them like, continue to have fun and talk after Drink & Draw. It’s really good energy and hopefully people do make friends and meet new people. I would never tell someone not to talk, I think it’s fun and important and really want to make a total inclusive environment,” Nyssa reasons. Phones must be put away while the model poses in intervals of 2 to 15 minutes, which further compels participants to chat and bond over their drawings.
It’s easy to feel like an outsider when participating in art activities and events, especially in New York City where professional creative communities can be insular and intimidating. Drink & Draw represents a new trend of alternative spaces where all are welcome to make art. A trend made possible thanks to The Living Gallery and other DIY spaces like it in Brooklyn.
—Tiffany Shi, Visitor Services Associate, The Drawing Center
The Living Gallery is an art gallery and event space that hosts Drink & Draw every Wednesday from 7-9pm. Drawing materials, wine, and a live figure drawing model are provided with $10 admission.