The basement room was already warm when I arrived and now, two and a
half hours later, it's warmer still. The cement floor and exposed pipes
lend a down-and-dirty element to the proceedings.
I'm sitting among a group of about 20 gay men of widely different
ages; a few are in their late 20s or early 30s, while the majority seem
to be in their 40s, 50s and beyond. We are seated in rows of chairs
arranged in a semicircle, facing a makeshift dais against the center of
the back wall. The dais is made up of two black plywood boxes draped
with a length of well-worn canvas.
Entering from the left side of the room are two men, naked except
for towels around their waists. Each is imposing in a different way.
One is tall, with fair skin and close-cropped hair, all-American
looking. The other is shorter and has Middle-Eastern features, not the
least of which is a fantastically aerodynamic nose. They are both well
muscled, of course, and each has multiple tattoos. They drop their
towels and stand in the center of the room, displaying semi-erect and
predictably large penises.
A voice from the back row drawls, "Oh, if my mother could see me
I think to myself that it wouldn't be a room full of gay men
without someone mentioning his mother. But the mood is not broken, and
the two men mount the platform, giving everyone in the room an
This is the Leslie/Lohman Erotic Drawing Studio, one of several
gay drawing workshops offered each week in New York City. This one
happens to be in SoHo, where many of the city's galleries are still
A facilitator approaches the naked men and directs the taller of
the two to stand facing the artists with his back against the wall. He
has the shorter man kneel, facing the taller man, and instructs him to
lean forward and nuzzle the taller man's groin, just next to his
increasingly rigid tumescence. The kneeler takes his own hard-on in his
hand and slowly strokes himself while tenderly licking the taller man's
balls, eventually succumbing and taking the head of his cock in his
The facilitator addresses the room, "All right everyone, you have
The evening didn't start off at such a fever pitch of erotic
interaction between the models. Each 20-minute posing session, with
different models wearing less and less clothing, has marked a
progression towards what will be (quite literally, as it turns out) the
climactic pose of the evening. I don't know what to do with my hands.
A man in the front row is perched on a stool with his legs
crossed, glasses balanced on the tip of his nose like old-fashioned
pince-nez. He leans forward intently, examining the tableau vivant with
an almost professorial demeanor. He briefly touches his lips with his
tongue, balances a sketchpad on his knee and begins to draw, his pencil
scratching quickly across the paper. All around me men are completely
focused, eyes raised towards the models at one moment and cast down to
their work at the next.
I'm reminded of rule number three from the Leslie/Lohman website,
which states: "If an artist finds the model so alluring that he cannot
concentrate on drawing, he may not simply sit and gape. He MUST at
least PRETEND to draw." I dutifully grab my pen and let it drift across
the page of my notebook, fooling no one.
Then I recall rule number four, which declaims, "The artist must
clean up after himself" and adds, for clarity's sake, "i.e., if you
have left pencil shavings on the floor, please sweep them up." I wonder
whether "pencil shavings" is a metaphor. But in observing the artists
at work, I get my answer. These guys are serious about their art.
Organizers of these workshops make it clear that they are not
classes, as no instruction is given. And they are not meant for
rubberneckers and gawkers. Some experience in life drawing is expected.
Doodling on my pad, I can't help but wish I could draw.
The gallery hosts one evening session each week, on alternating
Wednesdays and Thursdays. I imagine coming here and being treated to an
erotic display of this caliber on a regular basis. But the indignity of
pretending to draw week after week while ogling the models is too much,
even for me.
As an outsider, I'm struck by two things. There's a fascinating
difference between the erotic tension between the models and the
intense concentration that permeates the rest of the room. If anyone is
aroused (besides the models and, well, me), it's not obvious.
The other thing that strikes me is the diversity in the room. Not
just the differing ages and ethnicities, which are evident, but in the
approach to the subject matter. There are as many styles in this room
as there are artists, and the work is of high quality.
To the right of me I notice a compact man whose muscles are as
tight as his T-shirt. I am interested in the thick and spare line
drawings he's been doing throughout the evening, which make me think of
Jean Cocteau's sailors in his book Le Livre Blanc.
This is Christopher, a man with reddish brown hair and an intense
manner who's been attending the workshop for two years. He tells me he
likes to concentrate on the details, so he often uses gray paper and
combines dark and white pencil to achieve the lights and darks.
I ask him if he finds the events arousing, and he smiles.
"I love to draw the figure, especially men," he says. "I love the
musculature, and being a gay man, I love to look at a hot guy with a
great body. I wouldn't say I'm aroused: For the most part I just love
to draw the male form. As a matter of fact, I feel a little strange
when it becomes too sexual. I would much rather participate than watch!"
One row behind him sits Larry, a lean, bespectacled African
American man in his 40s whose blue pencil sketches caught my eye. He
tells me that he's been attending the workshop for six years.
"I usually use colored pencil," he says. "I like them because you
can work quickly and get different levels of detail. I can get really
sketchy pieces or really tightly finished stuff."
He echoes Christopher's sentiments about the erotic aspect of the
"Often the models look so great you just want to capture the
image," he says. "And that's all you have time to think about. It's
about the composition, the light, the cool colors the lights make on
the model's skin, "How do I get that lip right?' and things like that.
And there's almost always an "I wish he'd keep his hands -- or some
body part -- still' moment."
A long-haired Japanese man in the row in front of me is not
drawing but rather using a brush to layer on acrylic paint in vibrant
and unlikely colors. I've noticed that he zeroes in on detail -- his
first painting, for example, was an attempt to capture the shorter
model's remarkable nose.
"With each new pose, I take a minute to evaluate what I see and
visualize what I want to capture for that piece," says the man, whose
name is Shungaboy. "It is not always the full pose, sometimes it is
just the face or a close-up."
Shungaboy says he picks colors in the same way.
"I also determine what general color palette I want to use," he
says. "A certain model may feel blue or green or pink to me, then I'll
dive in. I use vibrant colors that pop -- pink, lime green, red,
orange, yellow, purple. I don't try to make skin tones, but I do work
with the musculature and shadow."
The taller of the two models emits a moan of pleasure, and my
attention snaps back to the stage. The kneeling man is stroking him to
climax, and he ejaculates, shooting several impressive ropes of semen
that arch into the air and fall onto the canvas beneath him. The
kneeling model is now stroking himself, moving towards his own release.
"Two minutes!" shouts the facilitator, which seems unkind to me,
or at the very least dispassionate.
True, he's given the artists a two-minute warning during each
posing session, but I'm pretty sure he's dashed all hope of the
kneeling man reaching climax. And that's what has happened; the
kneeling model's erection begins to subside. A sheepish expression
plays across his face, and the session comes to a close. The
facilitator leads the room in a round of hearty applause for the
models, who gather their towels and retreat from the platform to the
privacy of an annex.
Pencils down, everybody!