SALEM — Tuesdays can be quiet at bars around the city, but a wave of sketchpads at Gulu Gulu Cafe every Tuesday night is flipping the narrative.
Inspired by similar offerings in Brooklyn and elsewhere in the United States, the now three-year-old "Gulu Drink-n-Draw" has created its own community of artists and an abundant supply of live subjects to draw.
Just ask Joey Phoenix, a Malden model who dressed Tuesday night as Oogie Boogie, the burlap sack-donning cartoonish antagonist from Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Phoenix covered their arms and head with burlap sacks, wedged illuminated green bugs inside their leggings, and stood on Gulu's event stage, striking poses as roughly 20 artists in attendance got to work.
"The (Gulu) open mic is the most famous one in the area, and that was gone for most of this year, so Drink-n-Draw filled a gap for weird programming in this place," Phoenix said. "When you walk in here on Tuesday, you never know what you're going to see."
That's exactly what the artists are looking for, it turns out.
"I was always looking for models, and they're never around," said Chris Corkum, a Salem artist at the outer corner of a table with six or seven other patrons putting pencil to paper. "This is perfect — a really nice social climate... I don't know. It's just one of the most inventive things that have happened in Salem for a while."
Growing into Gulu
Drink-n-Draw is largely the brainchild of Beki Ferrari and Sue Grillo, two local artists who worked with the Salem Collective of Artists and Musicians, known as SCAM, to develop a weekly drawing event that cultivates its own hired models.
"For the last 10 years or so, I've been going around to different organizations, saying, 'let's do a live drawing event,'" Grillo said. Eventually, Gulu-Gulu Cafe agreed to host.
The idea is simple, Grillo explained. Every week, a model shows up around 7:30 p.m. for the event's 8 o'clock kickoff. Props — sometimes several, sometimes only one or two, if any — are placed on Gulu's stage, and the model strikes poses for two hours as artists come in, order food and drinks, and draw.
"We don't tell people what to draw or how to draw. Everyone comes with their own art form, and we just present an interesting topic," Ferrari said. "Our models range from burlesque artists to actors and actresses, cosplayers, just anybody we can get that's willing and creative."
It's a paid gig for the model, who collects tips in addition to a fee, Ferrari said. Gulu, which benefits from the business the Drink-n-Draw brings in to the cafe, also helps to pay for the model.
"We barely repeat a theme," Grillo said. "In three years, we've come near repeating one every now and then, but it's always wildly varied."
"The dark, witchy things work really well," added Ferrari as Grillo nodded.
"Christmas in July worked really well," Grillo continued, describing one artist who carved a 10-by-8-inch rubber stamp and "printed off these amazing drawings."
"He sculpted a rubber stamp based on our scene and printed Christmas cards for everybody," added Ferrari.
The Drink-n-Draw attracts a range of artists, among them Erin Survilas, a 16-year-old Peabody resident. Sitting with her parents to either side Tuesday night, the Essex Tech junior said she started coming to Drink-n-Draw with aspirations of a career in art.
"It's kind of good to plan ahead in a way, to be like, 'this is how I do it,'" Erin said as she took a break from drawing Phoenix's character. "With this, I show I know how to draw from life as opposed to going in blind in high school or later in college."
Ultimately, Erin aims to become a tattoo artist, she explained. But practice makes perfect, and weekly drawing events costing not much more than a lemonade and maybe a bagel sandwich put creative opportunity right into her hands.
"They've had a few funky (themes) with a few props in the back. I think we had a cutout horse a few weeks ago," the teenager said. "It's nice having all these different themes, because you get a good range from it. It opens things up, because at school things can be repetitive."
Sitting at a table with a half dozen other artists, Corkum, the Salem artist, said his favorite subjects tap into darker themes. Then again, there's a universal nature to Drink-n-Draw that causes every theme to work, whether it's dark and gloomy or bright and flashy.
"The human form is always the most interesting," Corkum said. "I don't care what kind of element it is."
Chris Murray, a Salem photographer, said he first heard of events like the Drink-n-Draw tied to places like Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School in New York.
"I'm glad this is happening in a venue like this," he said. "I like drawing, but models can be expensive — and it's hard to organize."
But with the event organized behind the scenes, that's something the artists never worry about, according to Grillo.
"Sometimes I'm sitting there, and I say 'all my drawings stink tonight,'" Grillo said. "Then I look at the room and say, 'oh God, we got everybody here to draw.'"
"And knowing we built that environment," added Ferrari, "that people's walls have come down around each other and they create things on a Tuesday evening that they might not have otherwise... the room itself is a work of art."