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Get Nude Get Drawn

This past March, I found myself naked in front of eight strangers atop a bicycle as they rushed to trace my figure. A project founded by Brooklyn-based artists Mike Perry and Josh Cochran, Get Nude Get Drawn invites the public to pose and leave with a few nudes in hand. GNGD is an accessible reproduction of two highly successful illustrators: Cochran, whose work spans from Grammy-nominated packaging to children’s books; and Perry, who has created upwards of ten coloring books while also pocketing an Emmy for his animated episode of Broad City. What started as sketches affixed to a friend’s brick wall has quickly become a gallery gathering showcasing hundreds of illustrations. 

Though the format has certainly evolved over time, the crux of the project (figure drawing) has remained the same; with an individual entering a room of eight or so artists for 20–30 minutes, switching poses every three minutes. Presented with props, foam cubes and plastic flamingos alike, the ambiance becomes a silly, (literally) warm stage… in spite, or in the face of nerves. If you’re like me, you decide to pose nude to swallow body positivity and maybe get a taste of it; for others, it’s fear or curiosity. On the other side of the coin, the artists are challenged to simply draw; regardless of how they feel about what comes at the end of the three minutes. The challenge for both sides warrants a specific and yet equally spontaneous environment. 

Last month, Perry and Cochran decided to sell their nudes in real-time,  i.e. in tandem with their figure drawing at The Other Art Fair. I sat down with these two fascinating minds to hear more on the project’s history: 

First, let’s talk about art school – you mentioned that you’d been doing this work for a while?

Josh Cochran: I went to art school in California, the Art Center College of Design, and I studied illustration. It was pretty academic, you know figure drawing, and a lot of basic drawing.

Mike Perry: Was there like wrist-slapping if your proportions were wrong?

JC: sighs A little bit, yeah. My school also had a lot of  transportation designers, and so I think they really stressed; they had  a lot of people going to Pixar so they stressed very academic drawing, and I think later on we were more experimental and were more artsy about it, but I think at the beginning it wasn’t so much. 

MP: Which I think you can see in your drawings. You have this really nice command of the structure and form that’s very easy for you to just boom.

JC: Right, and you know, I basically grew up tracing Garfield cartoons, and comics, and watching Disney cartoons, you know really kind of basic art background. I was curious about art. I was always drawing, it was a huge part of my life

And did you come straight to New York after school?

JC: A couple years after I graduated, yeah. I was really fortunate to have a big friend group here. I fit right in, in a way. 

And you?

MP: Uh yeah, I mean I always wanted to draw the figure. I feel like I’m sure films or art history kind of led to the idea of oh this is what you do you draw landscapes, still lifes, portrait you know, figures. And when I was in high school I had this rebellious friend named Mark Dowey who showed up from Baltimore and he was like so rebellious. 

He drove a little pickup truck and he always had like weird shit in the back. I crushed on him so hard. He’s so cool. He found out about this figure drawing course that was in this artist studio in downtown Kansas City, and he was like, “Let’s go do this.” And I’m like, “Hell yeah.” so stoked. And we went down there and my brain is exploding. Because this is like you know, the Mid 90s, and there are just all of these painters doing beautiful, realistic paintings like loose paintings of the model and I’m like 15-16.

I definitely didn’t know how to draw. I’m like, “Oh god, I’m embarrassed.” And then I just got into that. I became obsessed; I went every week for forever. Then I started taking figure drawing class at the Johnson County Community College which was hilarious because that was a 7 PM on a Wednesday and there would be the strangest mixture of humans in a class. That was really fun; I definitely developed some personality in that one as a young buck. And then I got to school and I definitely got into figure drawing.

I went to school at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. And I felt immediately intimidated by my drawing skills. There was this guy Matt Cooley who lives here still now. Matt Cooley was the best figure drawer. 

And so I just worked at it, and I’m still working at it. I think I mean since then after we started Get Nude Get Drawn, and I started bringing figures into the studio and have a weekly figure drawing session two hours of long poses and I mean it’s just been incredible for my drawings. I can see my hands my proportions feel better. It really makes it’s way into all of the work all the time. 

How long have you been doing Get Nude Get Drawn? Is it once a year?

JC: Yeah, it’s once a year but I think this year we did it twice. It’s been 7 years.

MP: 7 years exactly.

OK and, how long have you two known each other?

MP: Oh I mean, 10 plus years? We met at the Art Directors Club Young Guns some sort of year party that we both won the Young Gun Award—

JC: — like new talent under the age of 30.

MP: Yeah and I had seen Josh’s work and there was this piece that I was obsessed with, this like— what was it? Three astronauts, four astronauts? [They were in] the front cabinet of a spaceship and it’s warped just enough that it’s kind of intense and you can feel the velocity of the spacecraft and it’s just such a beautiful drawing.

JC: laughs

You were like I need to know that guy.

MP: Well and then it was up at the at the show and I was like, “Oh fuck I love this drawing, I love this guy.”

JC: Yeah and I was standing in front of his work looking at it, and then Mike was like I did that laughs. And then we became friends after that.

MP: laughs Seems about right.

How and why did you start this project?

MP: So at some point in this phase Josh moved into the studio here, it was a long time ago. And, you know when you share a space with somebody, you just end up talking a lot of nonsense. 

I think we were just reflecting on the fact that we missed doing figure drawing and we probably let it muse for a while and then all of a sudden we were like, “Oh let’s try this out. And the idea was just to see if people would come pose.”

JC: And we also would draw a lot after work you know, over beers or something. I think we wanted to continue that tradition but find a different sort of a twist on it or something. I think we were also looking for a sort of different way…. because you know we had been working for a while as professionals and wanted to reconnect with this thing— [figure drawing]— we did a lot in school when we were learning. But we wanted to make it a little bit more interesting and fun for us in a way.

MP: Yeah I mean it’s definitely still at this point really important for…  I think we both have a takeaway of just being experimental and rolling with the fact that this is not going to be the best drawing ever; or maybe it will be, but I don’t know what I’m doing with this material, let’s just fucking see what happens. 

Then the first year—so basically we did all of these drawings this year. We had tons of em. We committed to the format, I don’t know why, but we did. And then our friend Archie was like, “Uhh you should show these in my apartment.”

He had he lived on N 6th or something like that, right in the ‘Burg. And had this beautiful loft apartment back in the day and it had this giant wall— brick wall. Was it brick? Doesn’t matter. 

Just a giant wall, and he was like,  “Hey let’s put these up and have a show.” And we hung them up and we just invited a bunch of people. No idea what we were doing. I mean that 100%.

JC: We had a looot of people come. We had hyped it a lot. We were gonna have like a nude um—

MP: —hostess.

JC: It never happened but maybe in the future. We were gonna like draw people’s naked bodies but that never happened either.

MP: laughs Yeah and then from there, we realized that it was really fun and also a great way of  basically just making a bunch of affordable arts so—

—that piece is what I think is one of the coolest parts of the project. How accessible it is.  Especially given you all as professionals— I mean I don’t know the pricing of your work, but I’m assuming it’s not twenty dollars and so the fact that a 23-year-old could come and see what you have and own it and be like this is special to me I can afford it. That’s different.

MP: And it’s an original. It’s a capture of a moment that someone can pass through their life. I mean you know we’ve always reflected on this. We’ve been doing it long enough and there must be like 3,000 drawings in the world that just exist, from the project I mean. And how often I’ll just be in the bathroom of some random person’s house at some dinner party and I’ll be like oh there’s a fucking Josh Cochran dude on the wall.

JC: I was looking at the New York Times Real Estate section and there was a photo it was upstate Hudson and I saw one of Mike’s nudes in the background. I have no idea who this person was.

That’s really special.

MP: Yeah and we really committed to the 8×10 format because it’s like the cheapest frame you can get.

And where did you do the show the second year?

JC: Kinfolk.

MP: The craziest year still— I mean The Other Art Fair was an amazing experience and crazy, but this is like old school New York shit where basically we had a good friend who worked for Kinfolk the bar. And they had just taken over the lease of a building next to them that was a freaking giant gallery. How big was that space? Like 5,000 square feet? It had like 40-foot ceilings; I mean the walls were just— you needed a crane to get to the top. They basically had the lease and were waiting for their permits to come through so they could start construction. So they called us, we went for it, and it was just amazing. The space itself was so epic. Just to see all of the drawings. These were all made here in this space by amazing people who showed up.

JC: There was also a lot of foot traffic, it’s Williamsburg. It was an amazing show. This year, we changed the format quite a bit because we had to set up and build a booth. 

MP: We had to build and create a space within the building.

J: So it changed the complete format of it because we had to sell as we drew rather than having a big show at the end to hype it. So we were not quite sure how it would be received. And then also we didn’t really anticipate the amount of people that would want to come and just check it out; we were pretty clueless.

MP: I mean we were really concerned that they wouldn’t do that so we did a pre-advanced sign-up and we left spots open just in case—

JC: —just in case so we weren’t left with no models.

MP: Which would be a huge bummer.

JC: So we had no problems at all trying to get people to sign up to pose.

MP: [towards the other side of the room] Sascha how many people do you think signed up to pose?

Sacha Puryear: Oh probably like a hundred at least?

MP: 100 amazing people willing to just go for it.

Okay, why do you think people want to pose?

JC: I think it’s a human thing you know? Just to have this moment where you have nothing and you can really connect and be free. Especially, you know, in this modern era.

MP: You get an artifact.

JC: Yeah I mean I think people are really looking for a special experience that’s not some sort of strip mall corporate thing. And I think this probably really connects with people in that way. People just want to feel close to other people, and this is a safe place where you can do that.

MP: In our world— maybe this is not true, but in our world there’s a lot of really good body positivity and I think people come and are really excited about being celebrated no matter who they are.

JC: Mike and I have talked a little bit about this before; it’s definitely a fear thing. A lot of people want to get over a fear of exposing themselves and grow in that way. So I think that people see this as a challenge. And I think what’s [fearful] about the project on the artists’ side is that it’s really stressful to make a shitty drawing— or you think it might be a shitty drawing because it’s done in under three minutes. Also, your peer is in there drawing with you. So there’s a lot of pressure; but then at a certain point  just through the sheer volume of drawings, you just don’t care anymore. You just kind of are going through it and then you reach that, um, flow state. And it’s kind of amazing. 

Do you feel differently if you know the person in the room versus not knowing them?

JC: I think that knowing who they are…that’s what’s beautiful about the project you can see. Depending on your relationship with that person—[if] they bring their own vibe, if they’re with a partner or friends, if they bring their own energy— we kind of feed off that so if it’s a friend of ours then, of course, there’s a tension. And that often translates into the drawing.

MP: I mean the energy itself translates into the drawings. It’s just crazy when somebody rolls in and you can just tell that this is them being themselves then you can just…  the drawings soften. Versus somebody who’s really putting themselves out there and you can feel their nerves. It affects the drawings—both in good ways because you’re letting them create the drawings you’re making because this is who you are. This is what you’re doing. You’re drawing them.

It’s interesting hearing you talk about figure drawing being hard. Because you’re so successful and because you’ve been doing it for a while, it seems like it’s second nature; but I guess that doesn’t make it any less hard. 

MP: Yeah because you still make really shitty drawings.

Is that hard for you guys?

JC: I mean if you’re at the point where you’re not making shitty drawings then something is wrong. Failure is a huge part of art-making. 

MP: Big time. I think that’s my favorite thing about working now;  just understanding that something I start could take years to finish and that’s totally okay. And I let that happen.

You two are consistent with the project, but how do you choose the other artists? Is it random? Is it always friends?

JC: We talk beforehand, and we check in with each other like he’ll tell me “Oh, I asked so and so,” and I’ll try to balance it, and obviously we try to be sensitive to finding a diverse group of artists; a mixture. 

Some of them are friends, some of them are people we just really admire. Some of them are people we know from afar that we’ve always wanted to reach out to. I think having a mix of that has always been fun. And it changes the whole vibe. It’s been incredible to ask heroes of ours. Everyone’s down. 

It’s a very intimate thing for you all.

MP: Oh yeah.

JC: It’s also, it’s kind of the best way for us to hang out with people. It’s nice to all be working on this thing and we also get a chance to chit chat and hang out. 

I mean you’re doing a show together in a way.

MP: Yeah, It’s a performance. 

Going back to the idea of making a safe space (because obviously, it’s intimidating both for the artists and for the models) you’re clearly very intentional people. How do you feel like you are making that space safe?  Especially as two men doing this for women models.

MP: I mean I think it’s just academic. This is just like [to Josh] like you said it’s human, there’s some sort of weird thing where this is a natural part of existence where people pose for people who draw. You know? Throughout history, it’s always it’s just how it is. And then just the fact that it’s really straightforward. Everyone is just racing. I actually think the speed of the drawings helps a little bit because you’re just moving so fast and there’s no time to get distracted. You’re just like boom boom boom. 

JC: And we do always try to create a private area for people to change and to go back into before they reappear, so there’s a transition stage. Actually after we did the first one, that’s when we were like, “We should ask some women to draw.” Just so it’s not a couple of dudes in the studio drawing people. And I think just naturally it’s kind of evolved. 

MP: And we’ve learned all of these lessons. Like people just love robes. Robes are a really important part of this process. Which is something you don’t think about…

That’s fascinating. It makes a lot of sense, but of course not something you automatically think of. Are there other things like that where you feel the project has evolved?

MP: This time we realized we need to build a big stopwatch so that everyone can see how much time is passing. Because it’s just helpful to know that you have 30 seconds or 5 seconds left to finish the drawings. 

JC: We always try to keep music going, and I think the environment where we’re drawing is pretty cozy and that helps. 

MP: We try to keep it as warm as possible because there’s nothing worse than being cold while being naked. I think that we just try to imbue it with positive energy and hope for the best.

For you two personally, how do you feel like you’ve changed since that first one to now?

MP: I mean the main thing is, I just feel it really ignited a desire to work on the figure and now I think all of my drawings are better. When I’m doing some cartoon shit, I’m drawing some weird character, I’m like I know how this person exists in space. I can do this. I know the proportions. I know the weight. I know all the weird things that you don’t think about when you’re making a drawing of a person or a creature. 

JC: I feel like it’s made me a lot less fearful and more confident in terms of starting a piece or attacking a project. I feel like now that I’ve gone through [Get Nude] I can draw anything. You just have so much experience from one of these weekends that’s kind of incredible.

MP: Yeah I mean [To Josh] you must have this feeling or this experience I remember being in like high school or middle school and everyone’s like oh you can draw, draw a picture of me. And you’re like gasps and then you try and it’s you’re like no I can’t show you this! Finally, I’m like I can do this. You need me to capture your likeness right now? I can do this. 

JC: Yeah and all of that is really just—

MP: —tons of practice.

Logistically— even though I posed, I can’t even remember— what is the breakdown when people pose?

MP: Three-minute drawings. Between 20 and 30 minutes for the posers.

JC: And four minutes for a couple or a family.

Last question, what have you created that you’re most proud of?

JC: Wowwww.

MP: I’m going to say the studio. Because I think ultimately it’s the living embodiment of what I want to make, but also it’s an organism that needs to be taken care of and nurtured in order to grow it and I have to make responsible decisions. Or to not grow it, which is totally valid.

JC: Uhh I think for me, I always feel like the most recent project feels like this. I just finished a children’s book that took over two years. I illustrated it, someone else wrote it; but it was also personally meaningful.

MP: It’s so beautiful. And you made all of these beautiful paintings. 

JC: Yeah I painted the whole thing instead of doing it on the computer. It was fun, it was really hard. I learned a lot, but it was cool to do a long term project that is different from what I normally do;  a challenge for me.

Images Courtesy of Jack Maraghy.

Stay tuned to Milk for more NYC art community moments.

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