It’s 7.45 pm and the crowd starts growing at the platform of S-Schönhauser Allee. At 8 we are a huge pulk of people, and it’s hard to tell who is part of the group and who is just someone on the way home from work. Adam yells: ‚Ok guys. The next one is ours.‘ So we enter the S41 and spread out through the long train. Everyone tries to grab a seat and pulls out their sketchbooks immediately.
Zurückbleiben bitte! [Conductor: “Please stay back!”]
And then the Drink+Draw Ringbahn session begins. Free Beer is being passed around, the model freezes in her pose and conversations are getting started. Within the next two hours what we experience is Ringbahn routine at its best. We hear all kinds of languages and the squealing of the tracks. See all kinds of passengers from 70-Year-old Punk to 3-month old baby. Smell all kinds of fragrances from Chanel to Sterni fume.
Entschuldigen Sie die Störung. Haben Sie vielleicht noch was zu Essen oder eine kleine Spende? Dankeschön! Viel Glück und Gesundheit.“ [Passenger: “Please excuse the disruption. Have you got something to eat or a little donation for me? Thank you! Good Luck and God Bless you!”]
People come and go, but we just ride around and around on the Ringbahn. From East to West and West to East. City lights are dancing outside the black windows.
Nächste Station: Hermannstraße. Übergang zur U-Bahn Linie 8. [Conductor: “Next stop on the line: Hermannstraße. Transfer here for U8.”]
With every station, more people join the club and in the end it feels like the entire Ringbahn is just crowded with people drinking and drawing, laughing and chatting.
Alles um mich herum zeichnet. Voll gruselig. Einen ganzen Wagen voller zeichnender Leute habe ich noch nicht gesehen. [Passenger: “Everyone around me is drawing. Creepy! An entire wagon full of people drawing people – I’ve never seen anything like it!”]
Here are some impressions from the first Drink + Draw Ringbahn session:
Before the session we met Julian, the founder of Drink+Draw, Adam, the host of the Ringbahn session, and Melanie, the model for the day at a café at Schönhauser Allee Arcaden, had a coffee and some Donauwelle and asked them loads of questions.
Ruhmsucht: Drink + Draw – how was this idea born? Were you drunk when you came up with the idea of Drink + Draw?
J: More or less. It was three years ago. We had been to another life drawing session and were really disappointed with the light situation for the model there. So we went to my place, gathered a few friends, brought some drinks, listened to music and posed for each other. This is how it all started. After half a year we got offered a huge space at a sunglasses manufacture. The boss was really art loving and supporting and he always wanted to have some artists in the space. So they asked us, if we want to do all our events there and we said ‚yes’. Now we’re moving into our own location at Alte Münze.
Ruhmsucht: Why are you changing the location? Did they storm your castle?
J: The host company moved out of the location. Now, after three years, we are big enough to step out of our cage with an own location where we can do whatever we want.
Ruhmsucht: Are you the nightmare of every art teacher or were your art teachers in school nightmares?
J: Maybe both. We have a very unusual way of teaching, but in a way it’s also classical. I studied at a classical academy in the US and I try to give a short version of what I learned there to the people.
A: We are not an anti-art-school. We are just anti some of the problems that art schools have. One of the big ones is, that students and artists are disconnected from the real world. In classical schools they don’t really know what to do with their skills, because they haven’t lived a full life. Drink + Draw connects people and puts art in the context of society again.
Ruhmsucht: Who is coming to your drawing classes?
A: I’ve seen everyone – from business people after work to super high level professionals. Artists, illustrators, digitals.
J: What impresses me the most are people who have nothing to do with art and come anyway. And sometimes they are getting really really good on a professional level. Also people come from all over the world to teach and participate in the sessions.
Ruhmsucht: So do you think you just need practice to become really good at drawing or do you also need talent?
J: I hate that question (laughs).
A: I think it is just a matter of practice, but in order to practice enough to get good you need to have a sensitivity and actually care enough about it.
Ruhmsucht: Some people have difficulties with being criticized. Have you ever had people crying in your feedback rounds?
A: If they are not crying, they are not learning (laughs).
J: Some people think they are that advanced that they don’t need any feedback. If they hear that something is not optimal or can be improved in their drawing, they can be really disappointed and always try to fire something back. We discuss the drawings all together as a group after the drawing session. Everyone is learning from each other. I am not the teacher, everyone is teaching.
A: We are not really about instructing people. Communities like Drink+Draw are about seeing how you can teach yourself.
Ruhmsucht: How many people are usually participating in your sessions?
J: Besides the big workshops and parties where you can find between 150 – 300 people, we have portrait and life drawing sessions two times a week with 20 – 30 people.
Ruhmsucht: We need to talk about the Drink + Draw parties. What do we have to expect from such a party?
J: It all started off with these parties. We had parties at least every month. The classes and workshops that we do now came after a year. The parties were a combination of a life drawing event and a dance floor/disco thing. There was always a theme going on, for example Moulin Rouge. Everybody has to dress up or they will get dressed at the door and everything is decorated in the theme as well. We have a stage with professional dancers and burlesque performers and everyone is sitting in rows in front of the stage, drawing. After the performer leave the stage, it’s an open stage and since everyone is dressed up, they are all models. So the drawing sessions continue all night long. On the other side of the room you can find a DJ, pumping beats and music that fits to the theme. We also had an absinth bar and a big roof terrace, where we could do the after show in the morning, when the sun came up.
Ruhmsucht: Sounds amazing. When is the next party?
J: We are still renovating the space, but maybe early next year. As soon as we establish the new location, we can do serious business. Until now it was not more than a hobby. Now we are trying to do it full time and make it big.
Ruhmsucht: Do you think taking drugs makes it easier to draw?
J: Maybe the fun in it grows. Alcohol itself has more to do with the social thing, but if you want to, you can give your fantasy a little boost.
Ruhmsucht: How do you usually find your models? Do you go to Berghain and ask them for a drink and a draw?
J: Sometimes yes (laughs)! I went to a lot of clubs and just asked some interesting looking people. The models are always dancers or yoga-people, because these guys are very open for this and it is a very good base for being a model. You need a good knowledge of your body to know exactly how long you can hold a pose. Melanie is the perfect example.
Ruhmsucht: So Melanie, you are our model for today. How did you become a model for Drink + Draw?
M: About one year ago, a friend of mine went to Drink+Draw and told me they are searching for models. So I met them, stayed for a bit and watched what happened. They proposed to me a week after and so I just did it. Then they called me again and again and again. So for today Adam just asked me and I was like ‚Yeeees!‘
A: There is actually a specific reason, why I asked Melanie to do it. We talked about the dance sessions she has, doing slow movement and I thought, ‚what a perfect combination doing slow movement on a fast moving train.‘
Ruhmsucht: What is the best part about modeling?
M: The Gin Tonic at the end!
Ruhmsucht: And what’s the hardest part?
M: You have to know your body very well. The most difficult thing is to hold the position. One time, I had to hold one position for three hours, but with breaks of course.
A: The most committed model I have ever seen, was Melanie. I did some work with Melanie in the studio once. She did a slow movement and it took her 25 minutes to get from sitting in a chair, standing up and walking across the room to the window. When she got to the window, I said, “Can you stop and hold that?” and I drew for another five minutes. When she finally stepped away from the window, she had red lines all the way down her leg, because she was standing against the heater. I said, ‚Doesn’t that hurt?‘ and she simply replied ‚Yeah, but that’s okay. Is the drawing any good?‘ (laughs) That’s some real commitment!
M: It happens all the time. In some positions, I can’t swallow and while I’m not moving, I often think to myself, ‚Why did you do that?!‘. But in some positions, I really have to shake my arm and in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 I come back to the position.
Ruhmsucht: Do you ever feel uncomfortable when people stare at you while drawing?
M: Of course, yes. I’m naked all the time, so it’s even worse. I never look at them. I try to look up or look in a corner. I try to make the situation funny for me. Sometimes, I feel like a meerkat. Like Timon. It helps me to calm down. The first time I was modeling, there was a mirror in front of me – I said, ‚Take it away! I don’t want to look at me!‘
Ruhmsucht: Has anyone ever come up to you after a lesson and asked for a date?
M: No. Only one guy. He really tried to talk to me and get my number.
M: (laughs) No, it was not you. There was just this one strange guy. Most of the time, people just come to me after the session and say ‘thank you’, ask me some stuff about my own work, but never for my number or a date or stuff like that. I would like to have their feedback and I always ask them what is interesting for them.
A: I think one of the first things that is broken, when someone comes to a life drawing session for the first time, is the idea that there is a naked person and that maybe there is a sexual overtone somewhere and then you come and realize that it’s a room full of people, who are super excited about drawing. Tonight is probably a good example of not a naked model and a bunch of people are turning up to sit in a train and draw.
Ruhmsucht: How does drawing change the way we see the word?
A: Woah! I think that’s a question that serious artists will ask for the rest of their lives. And you keep finding new answers. It teaches you discipline and helps you slow down and look at things that you normally pass by. For me, taking a sketch book around the world, the biggest thing is that everything becomes equally valuable when you are drawing. There is no more ‘this is good, this is bad’, or ‘I like this person, I dislike that person’. You are just appreciating the experience and trying to find some way to record it. If everyone in the world had a sketch book, we would have a lot more compassion.
Ruhmsucht: With Trump just being elected president of the United States, the political role of art is being discussed a lot. Did you ever think about addressing political statements during your sessions? Like: Drawing against…
A: I think, art in it’s best form is its own political statement, that sits outside of other political statements. By choosing that way of creating or seeing the world you are making a statement about the way you want to be in the world. It could be a trap to take a side and make your drawings political. When you get locked into one idea and you become obsessed about it, then you’re losing what makes art special, which is having an expansive view.
Ruhmsucht: So Adam, why a Ringbahn-Session?
A: I am relatively new to Berlin. I’ve been here for about two months. I joined the Drink+Draw scene and was pretty impressed with all the artists. The day I found out they were going on a couple of weeks break to renovate the new space, I was doing some drawings on the Ringbahn with the other co-host Jane and we thought it would be a good idea to do it for everyone. We also liked the idea of taking what we do into the public eye, showing that it’s not that mysterious and that it’s open and accessible for everyone.
Ruhmsucht: Over 400 people are attending your facebook event today. What’s your secret?
J: The community I guess. Berlin is a city that is super packed with artists and we have a very active community. Also Ringbahn sketching seems to be something that everyone wanted to do and now we are organizing it. Sometimes you need somebody to say: Let’s do it! Plus we have Adam as a host today. He has a lot of people following him.
A: We really didn’t expect this kind of response. It could actually become a regular thing.
Ruhmsucht: Nice! Let’s play a little drinking game, shall we? We dare you to draw yourselves!
A: Uh lala. No photo, no mirror, no nothing? Alright! I jump in! But you gotta do it, too.
J: Haha. Will be interesting! Oh man, I take way too few selfies.
M: It’s not fair! Not at all! I draw like a five year old child!