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Artists create live art at Drawing Wednesdays

on January 26, 2011

At a long table set with small lamps giving off an amber-hued glow, 15 people sit alongside each other, stooped over sketchpads, drawing. Behind them a live band plays a slow folky rock. Some people are working with pen and ink, others paint with watercolors, while some draw with charcoal or pencils. As people periodically finish their pieces of art, they affix their name and a price tag, and hang up their work.

Every person sitting at the table is a professional artist and was invited to Levende East, a downtown Oakland bar and restaurant, for a weekly event called “Drawing Wednesdays.” Every week a rotating group of artists is organized to come to the restaurant during happy hour and create art on the spot. Their work is then sold to diners and bar-goers for $10 to $50, depending on the piece. “Art is about triggering emotions,” says Dirk Kahl, the owner of Levende. “We are giving a different form of creating.”

Drawing Wednesdays started five months ago when Kahl, along with curator Obi Kaufmann and promoter August Varlack, decided to try out a live art event. “It isn’t a for-profit endeavor,” says Kahl. “It’s to expose Oakland for what Oakland has to offer.” The idea is two-fold: To get artists together to create art, network and have fun, as well as to expose their art to a larger audience and sell it to people for affordable prices. The pieces of art are pinned to a rope net that hangs at the front of the restaurant and buyers can walk up, peruse the art and buy anything they like.

“This isn’t anything new,” says Varlack. “In the 1920’s the surreal artists got together and created art in cafes. We are doing something that has always been done.”

Oakland artist John Casey regularly attends Drawing Wednesdays. Photo courtesy of John Casey.

There are other events similar to Drawing Wednesdays in the Bay Area. For example, 111 Minna Gallery in downtown San Francisco hosts a monthly live drawing event called “Sketch Tuesdays” and Southern Exposure, an arts organization in San Francisco, hosts an annual event called the “Monster Drawing Rally,” at which artists only have a certain number of supplies and one hour to create work.

Drawing Wednesdays, however, doesn’t have the pressure of the Monster Drawing Rally. Artist Marcos Lafarga has drawn five times at Drawing Wednesdays; his art is illustration-oriented and includes different types of typography such as block style lettering and swirling cursive. “It’s an excuse for me to get out,” he says as he carefully sketches an outline of his drawing in pencil. “It’s half social and half commerce.” As the artists sit at the long table, they sip on pints of beer and show each other their drawings, asking for advice and sometimes trading their art rather than putting it up for sale.

Artist Tina Dillman works on a black and white series of abstract drawings, penning on multiple layers of different types of lines and images. “In the realm of art, you can be really closed off from other people, especially if you have a studio practice,” she says. Last Wednesday was Dillman’s first time drawing at Levende, but now she plans to be in the regular rotation. She says she appreciates the community that is formed by all the artists sitting around the same table and working together. “Just meeting other artists and having dialogue is such a treat,” she says.

This is exactly what Kahl, Varlack and Kaufmann were hoping for when they created Drawing Wednesdays. “We want to take all that bubbling Art Murmur energy that is inclusive and fun and put Oakland artists first,” says Kaufmann. The hope is also to have a wide array of artwork for sale. The art, Kaufmann explains, covers every type of style that one could find in Oakland. “The art is contemporary urban. It’s equal parts classical and street art, from rendered illustrations to abstract stylistic work.”

One artist who can be regularly found at Drawing Wednesdays is John Casey, a well-known Oakland artist. His drawings are of oddball and distorted humans and creatures, like a man on a rope swing who has flowers blooming out of his nose. When Kaufmann asked him if he’d participate in Drawing Wednesdays, Casey said “ab-so-lute-ly.”  He says that unlike other live drawing events, the atmosphere at Levende is supportive rather than competitive. “Plus, it’s great to be able to sell an inexpensive drawing or two and make a little pocket money,” says Casey. “I like to sell my live drawings way below gallery cost because I like to reward folks for coming down and supporting the event.”

Drawing Wednesdays is free and open to the public. It’s held every Wednesday at Levende East from 5 pm to 8 pm; beers are sold at happy hour prices and art can be bought for $10 to $50. “I like to come by and hang out on Wednesdays when I am not scheduled to draw,” says Casey. “Where else can you pickup inexpensive art and drink $3 beers while hanging out with old friends and making new ones?”

Lead image: Drawing Wednesdays is a weekly event at Levende East. Photo courtesy of Obi Kaufmann.


  1. […] Published January 26, 2011 on Oakland North […]

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