Denver Drink and Draw is a long-running hang for local creatives who head down to the basement of St. Mark’s Coffee House and draw, or drink, or write, or shoot the breeze on Tuesday nights. They have a tradition called “Comics Jam,” in which one person starts a comic strip and passes it around the room until members have completed a single, often fairly bizarre, work of collaborative art.
But the gathering took a long COVID hiatus like so many other things in this city. When they finally came back together for an official Drink and Draw revival, Lonnie Allen knew just how to begin the weekly Jam.
The comic begins with a silhouetted man emerging from a Denver lake, possibly in City Park. “HELLO?” he stammers in shaky text. A dragon and a ghost later emerge. The ghost is told to please wear a mask.
That first frame encapsulates a lot of the feelings Drink and Draw members were feeling as things began to open back up.
“You’re just in this underground bunker, metaphorically, and then you open up the manhole cover and you’re like: What is it like out here?” Lonnie said.
Many of the members were super glad they could see each other again, both for their personal sanity and their creative processes.
A common narrative during the pandemic has been that creative people will emerge with tons of new material. That hasn’t been true across the board.
Roberto Martinez has been coming to Drink and Draw for a decade, starting way back when the loose creative group met at Leela European Cafe downtown. The COVID era has been hard on him.
“It was full of all the anxieties that I’m sure other people felt. It was terrible. I needed to see people,” he said. “I felt incredibly isolated. I didn’t get a lick of work done as far as creative stuff. I really need to be around people in order to get any kind of creative juices flowing.”
A lot of people in the St. Mark’s basement Tuesday night said they also struggled to keep art and writing flowing from their fingers.
Bob Parks said he went so far as to set up a studio space at home, equipped with gear to stream his sketches, before he lost steam and a TV-binging habit took over. He missed the conventions and coffeeshops that his creative energy depended on.
“I had a better relationship with the five or six Uber Eats drivers that would come by my house than I did with good friends,” he said. “I didn’t even call people. It got easier to just not.”
He was very excited when he heard people were going to see each other again, he told us. His Drink and Draw attendance had fallen off before the pandemic arrived. After he got a vaccine, he started coming back a lot more often.
Kimberly Pine, who joined the group when it started meeting in the basement in October, said she’s familiar with expectations that creative people would crank out work during lockdowns. She was never sold on it, however.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to expect that of people in a state of emergency,” she said. “I think it’s more important to take care of your own self and your mental health, instead of being so focused on producing something out of a bad situation. You can survive it.”
This group has always been about removing creative people from silos.
Jessica Kneefel was finishing a studio-painting degree at the University of Northern Colorado when lockdowns arrived. She said it shut down Greeley’s creative community and left her feeling like she missed out on a crucial moment to network and meet people who, like her, decided to move to Denver after graduation.
When she heard about Drink and Draw, she knew what she’d be doing on Tuesday nights.
“That’s sort of what sparked hope again for me to find a community that I could express myself in, and find people similar to me and my interests,” she said. “That is super comforting, after coming out of a time when there was so much judgement about everything that you did.”
A year of difficult social discourse about masking and shots and politics and self-expression made for a stressful time, she told us. The easygoing group in the basement was a balm for all of it.
Even before COVID, this group provided space for creatives to find their way out of isolation, since ilustration, character design, fiction writing and painting are all pretty individualistic practices. Parks said Drink and Draw is based on the idea that the city’s artistic communities wanted more face time.
“The biggest thing is kind of just feeding off the creative white noise,” he said as he doodled in his notebook.
The artists tried hanging out on a Discord channel for a while during lockdowns, but they couldn’t recreate the spirit of their in-person gatherings. Both Parks and Martinez said their COVID creative blocks disappeared when they got back together.
“This was the first place that I came as soon as I got my vaccinations,” Martinez said. “I missed seeing people, period.”
Want to draw another frame or finish this Jam? Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you do! We’ll send it on to the Drink and Draw crowd, and we might even feature it in our newsletter!