As she approached her 36th birthday, Gabrielle Durupt pondered the question of how to celebrate it in a way that was fun and intellectually stimulating. She’d been raised in an artistic community on B.C.’s Denman Island, where one of her mother’s favorite activities was to meet with other artists and take turns drawing one another in a do-it-yourself ?informal life-drawing class.
“That’s it!” thought Durupt when the idea hit her. She’d gather eight of her closest girlfriends for a party of drawing and drinking wine. Two obstacles stood in the way: where to stage the party and whom to get to take their clothes off? “Let’s get a man!” blurted one of her friends. “She was joking, but I was totally game.”
For the venue, Durupt called Sarah Stromquist, owner of the Restless Raven Art Lab in Royston, B.C. “These girls were very specific that they wanted a male,” recalls Stromquist. The women’s budget ruled out hiring a professional model, so Stromquist contacted the ex-husband of a friend of hers to see if he’d mind taking his clothes off before a bunch of women. “I asked for some time to think about it,” says Eric Smiley, a professional engineer in Courtenay, B.C.
Stromquist’s studio is in a converted mobile home. “Pretty tight quarters,” noted Durupt on the night of the party. When Smiley walked in, “he wasn’t really chatty, but he was friendly,” says Durupt who thought to herself, ‘Okay, here he is in his clothes. You’re a normal person and in a minute, you’re gonna come out naked!’ ”
When Smiley changed in the back room, “We were all totally jumping around. Everyone was excited and nervous,” says Durupt.
Stromquist had been worried about this moment. “I didn’t want it to turn into a little stagette; absolutely no inappropriate behaviour was going to be tolerated.” She’d grown concerned when one of the women arrived with an elephant mask, the intent of which, she presumed, was to say, “See, I’m not the only one with a trunk.”
Although this was Stromquist’s first experience hosting such a party, the concept of women drawing nude males is gaining traction around the world. From Melbourne to London and New York to Toronto, a small industry of businesses is catering to the trend. In Vancouver, Nicole Andrews runs a company called Drawn to Men, which hosts art parties in studios or brings a male model to your house in an option called “the Package Delivery.”
Drawn to Men ups the lascivious ante by employing male strippers and models who’ve posed for Playgirl. “We elevate it to a sexier experience. You still get some art instruction, but it’s definitely more sexy,” says Andrews.
One attendee of Drawn to Men is Vancouver schoolteacher Shendeh Sebel, who hired Andrews’s company to entertain 12 of her girlfriends. Sebel says of the model, “He was super-hot, like, absolutely chiselled.”
An art teacher led the class, but the most fun was had teasing the model. “At one point, we brought out apples and grapes and draped all this fruit around his, um, parts. He was pretty good about that.” Sebel, a mother of two young kids, concluded, “After talking about fairies and gnomes all day, the party was a nice escape. It’s an aphrodisiac, for sure.”
Stromquist, meanwhile, aimed for a more refined atmosphere. “I had written up a sheet of paper that talked about the respect and dignity of nude figure-drawing. I said, ‘Be respectful. I don’t want anyone gawking.’ ”
Durupt’s younger sister, Sophie, brought the elephant mask. “She thought she’d put it on and peek around her canvas as an icebreaker, a way to laugh off the fact that maybe she was going to come up with something that people would judge her on,” said Durupt. Stromquist proceeded with the lesson. “I explained proportions, how to map out, the axis, the linear, how to get it on paper.”
Smiley struck the first few poses. “He started out kind of rigid,” says Durupt, “but by the end of it, he was lounging back on the chair with one leg up and one leg down, and it’s funny, because I thought I’d be totally focused on his part, you know, totally aware of what was between his legs. But I hardly noticed it at all! I was so focused on the form and the muscles.”