The other day, I discovered a deficiency in my skill set: I can’t draw breasts. My sketching in general isn’t great, my ability having pretty much plateaued at age five, but bare breasts in particular completely defeat me. No matter what I do, they either come out looking like fried eggs or torpedoes.
This came to light as I was crammed in a huddle of 30-odd artists at The Great Hall on Queen West trying to draw a semi-naked 26-year-old. Sitting on the stage floor, her legs spread wide to reveal her peach-coloured panties, her silky black dress pulled down to show her left breast and her tousled brown hair tumbling over her naked shoulders, the model looked more like a burlesque dancer on a break than the subject of a life-drawing class. And that was kind of the point. I was at The Keyhole Sessions, which markets itself as an evening of “creative debauchery.”
Run by SlutWalk co-founder Sonya J.F. Barnett—who goes by the name “The Madame”—the sessions are an evening of life-drawing for people who like their sketches to be sexy. There’s none of that pretending you’re just there to study the human form. From the stage design (bare tree branches, red string-lights, paper lanterns) to the music to the models (who go by names like Dolores del Fuego and often have tattoos and piercings), everything is charged with a sensual energy. And nothing is off-limits.
Barnett, a 39-year-old with a dry wit, founded The Keyhole Sessions after quitting her job as an art director. Each of the sessions is based on a theme and is divided into three “acts,” which get successively raunchier as they go on. On the night I attended, the theme was “The Snow Queen,” a naughty version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.
The evening kicked off with a model called Sid Licious in character as the fairytale’s innocent young heroine, Greta. As the Ukrainian Bell Carol boomed from the speakers, Licious struck three poses in quick succession, while the artists engaged in a speed-sketching warm-up. First, she faced forward, hands on hips; then backwards, skirt lifted up; finally, forwards again, her skirt lifted cheekily in one corner. On the stereo, the Ukrainians had been replaced by Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” when Barnett, standing at the back of the room and clad in what looked like a red corset, yelled “Time!”
Then followed a series of longer poses. My breast debacle began about 30 minutes in, when Ms. Licious pulled down her top and draped her hair artistically over her chest. After producing three drawings that appeared to document early experimental boob jobs, I gave up and began studying the audience.
They were a typically diverse Toronto crowd, about evenly split between men and women. Judging from the number of cans of Red Stripe and glasses of red wine perched precariously on arm rests, they were keeping the bar at the back of the room busy, though a few outliers had opted for a soothing chai tea from the Starbucks across the road. Two young guys from York University were discreetly circling with video cameras, having apparently persuaded their TA to let them film naked girls for their documentary-making assignment.
As I looked around the room, I tried to sneak a peek at what the others were drawing—or, more importantly, not drawing. I was looking for evidence of what Barnett calls the “raincoat crowd,” guys who turn up just to see some tits and bits. Everyone who attends is checked at the door to make sure they have drawing materials, and though it doesn’t sound like a hugely powerful mechanism of perv prevention, it seems to work—if any had slipped through, they were doing really good impressions of being artists.
One of the big attractions of The Keyhole Sessions is that anything goes, so artists can draw women in poses they don’t get to see elsewhere. As Brian, the young professional artist sitting next to me, explained during the break, what you practise in the sessions can be repeated from memory later. So, if you need to know, say, how to shade a vagina or how a young woman’s buttock distorts when a stiletto is pressed into it, this is the place to be.
After the break, the poses accelerated away from my skill level at a dizzying pace, and a second model entered the fray, then a third. The evening rounded out with a bit of rope bondage that suitably debauched the fairytale’s ending. Instead of Greta living happily ever after, she and another model were tied up and enslaved by the Snow Queen.
For 2012, Barnett is planning a series of sessions devoted to the seven deadly sins. She’s still working on the running order, but says, “Lust will definitely be first.” I’m sharpening my pencil already.
The Keyhole Sessions run on the second Tuesday of each month.
7 p.m. The Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. W., thekeyholesessions.com. $20.