It’s just about wintertime in NYC, barely over 33 degrees, on a frosty night on which most people wouldn’t dare venture off their cozy couches. But a group of people brave enough to face the cold are busy making sure everything is ready for Draft & Draw, a monthly gathering orchestrated by Shane Zucker and Jason Bacher.
Long tables filling a spacious loft are being covered by yellow drawing paper, and at the end of the room, a respectable pile of pizza boxes shades over many (many) unopened beer bottles. As people start coming in, taking off their coats, making jokes and grabbing a beer, it becomes clear that the event is already a success. Everyone’s having fun, and the planned presentation hasn’t even begun yet.
This is the whole purpose of Draft & Draw – to form a space for creatives from all backgrounds to hang out and create something together. Each month, all “drinkers with a drawing problem” (as put by Shane and Jason) are invited to hear a creative professional discuss their work, process and personal story. Once the speaker finishes, the participants spend the rest of the evening drawing together on one sheet of large paper covering their entire table. After the drawing comes to an end, each participant leaves with the speaker’s favorite drawing instrument and a pint glass uniquely designed for that night’s event.
Draft & Draw started in 2013 as the brainchild of Shane – an art director and developer that co-founded The Sketchbook Project – and Chris Rushing – a multidisciplinary designer, illustrator and creative director. After experiencing different drink-n-draw events, they wanted to create an event that made it “easy to hang out and draw together, without the structure,” Shane explains. “Other events felt too individual, exclusive or naked. We wanted the whole event to be the canvas, and for everyone to contribute together.”
After two years of running Draft & Draw they met their third partner, Jason – a designer, art director and co-founder of Good Fucking Design Advice, who wanted to collaborate with Shane and Chris after attending an event. “It was sold out but I had a feeling I could sneak in, and I did. But it’s not recommended,” he laughs. “A few beers in, I realized how amazing the Draft & Draw experience really was.”
The team make it a point to focus on the full individual – the well-rounded figure hiding behind the resume lines. By navigating the conversation away from accomplishments and closer to interests, overcoming challenges and insecurities, they manage to facilitate what so many social initiatives strive to achieve: honest, open and organic communication between participants. “What’s unique about this event is the environment, and the emphasis placed on it being a safe place – not just for creativity, but for hanging out and meeting new people,” says Shane. “In a way, drawing, pizza, beer and a loose format are simply the excuse.”
A safe space for goofing off
This laid-back and eclectic approach also reflects the variety of people Draft & Draw attracts, who are “excited to draw and to be given the space and permission to do so,” Shane explains. “We have people from finance to music, education to tech. We also have a lot of incredibly talented illustrators and artists who attend. For them, they tell me it’s a chance to hang out and goof off without the pressure of work or clients.”
In other situations, bringing together talented people from varied practices can create pressure – but it seems that at Draft & Draw, the participants’ mutual approach towards a creative safe space jumps through that hurdle. According to Mark Ledgerwood, an illustrator and printer who frequently attends the events, “Draft & Draw is not a competition. You’re just hanging out and having fun. I come back over and over again because I always learn something new and meet new friends. It’s also an excuse to just doodle with no stakes. It’s a blast. I leave feeling energized, excited to try new things and motivated to make good work.”
To achieve this feeling of a safe space, the Draft & Draw team realized they needed to enlist a person with enough talent to inspire a room, one with an “interesting approach to the work they do,” Shane says. “Many of our attendees come specifically because of the person being featured,” Jason adds. “Each host naturally attracts their own audience and as a result, helps us broaden ours.”
Shane explains that the format is refreshing because it allows attendees to learn that the host is a person, just like them. “Yeah, they might have been following the host’s work for years and they might look up to them as an idol or role model, but that host still uses an eraser just like everyone else. After the talk, the host sits down and draws with everyone – there’s no champagne and green rooms.”
Scaling while preserving values
Since 2013, Draft & Draw has hosted 12 sold out NYC-based events, “bringing together nearly 800 like-minded individuals to draw on tables together,” as Jason says. This year ends with seven events under their belt including hosts like Jing Wei, Amber Vittoria, Simone Noronha, Nicholas Blechman and Adam J. Kurtz.
Considering their next steps, the guys are leaning towards a much larger scale. “We have a few things in the works for 2019, including the expansion of Draft & Draw to other cities and our first international event at OFFF Barcelona,” Shane shares. With this plan for a change of scale, the team promises to keep the same values and atmosphere going. “As a one-time attendee and now co-organizer,” Jason says, “I am always trying to recreate the experience I had at my first event – new friends, beer and crayons.”
That experience resonates with many participants, which is why Draft & Draw has such a dedicated following. “I’m always amazed when I hear that someone drove from Connecticut or North Carolina to attend a Draft & Draw. Sometimes it’s because they attended an event in the past and then moved away, or they just heard about it from friends. We are extremely lucky to have – and are always enamored by – our community,” says Shane. And aside from their many recurring attendees, they’re proud to have a dedicated group of volunteers. “Draft & Draw is a team sport,” says Jason, while giving a shoutout to Katherine O’Kelly, Trevor Davis, Jake Zucker, Erin Marvinney and Guang Zhu.
Producer, musician and visual artist Brian Eno once said that the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band. This mindset is what Draft & Draw generates for its audience – social entrepreneurship with an opportunity to experiment with creativity in order to create something else better.
Erin M. Murphy, a UX designer, prototyper and illustrator who participated in the event led by Adam J. Kurtz, says she keeps coming back because she’s “inspired by the community Draft & Draw fosters.” For her, the event “gives people an opportunity to assemble friends, and provides a welcoming environment that even people who are not talented artists can draw and socialize in. Creating quality spaces and planning these events is important and healthy, and I hope that I can absorb and learn how these productions manifest so that I can organize my own events someday.”
As design becomes more prominent and designers become leading figures across many fields, there are some values the community needs to preserve, and others it needs to create. For Jason, “humility” is one of those values. He explains, “There isn’t room for any more ego in the design community. Any time we’re able to come together as an industry, we should also find a way to give back. This is a concept Shane and I come back to again and again as we continue to grow.”
All photos courtesy of Mike Edmonds.