Babytattooville 2009 - a terrific, intimate art experience

Mosh at Babytattooville

Over the weekend, I attended Babytattooville, an amazing and intimate art event produced by art book publisher Baby Tattoo. The idea is brilliant -- 45 people sign up to spend the weekend with 11 lowbrow/pop surrealist artists at the stunningly beautiful Mission Inn resort in Riverside, California.

Everyone painted, drew in sketchbooks, ate meals together, sat around talking late into the night, watched a documentary about Robert Williams, and even played an cool alternate reality game that began in the catacombs of the hotel.

The invited artists were all extremely gregarious, and it was impossible to distinguish between the artists and the fans; the artists are all fans themselves and everyone mingled.

Bob Self, publisher of Baby Tattoo Press and producer of the event is really on to something here. This kind of authentic, unmediated experience can't be reproduced online or traded on P2P sites. Many of the attendees were there for the 3rd time -- they told me the $1800 price was well worth it (the price included two nights at the hotel, meals, and a huge goodie bag loaded with books, prints, and original art, including one of these Audrey Kawasaki original drawings on wood). It would be fun to see this kind of model used in other spheres of interest -- a Makerville, or Cookerville, for instance.

I've never been to ComicCon, and I never want to -- it's way too crowded and noisy. Babytattooville was the exact opposite. It's more like joining a club. (If you want to go in 2010, hurry up -- only 5 new memberships are available.)

I took a lot of photos and shot some video, which I'll post in the coming days. To get started, here are some photos of one of the events from the first day of Babytattooville: a figure drawing session produced by Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, and held at the Riverside Art Museum. Founder Molly Crabapple was their to direct the event, and the model, Mosh, was a big hit with everyone there.

Babytattooville 2009 Dr Sketchy figure drawing

(Ken Harman took 110 photos of Dr. Sketchys, every one of them much better than any of mine.)


  1. A community-based fans and experts “Maker” experience at $1,800 a pop? Isn’t that like taking one of those sea cruises with conservative pundits? Yikes, but it sounds like Maker and Market imperatives are wildly clashing in that model. Ooo, and with exclusive memberships!

  2. And now that I think on it, the idea of a BoingBoing cruise tickles me quite: imagine Cory holding forth on the perils of copyfight as the boat nears the white nights of an arctic summer, imagine Mark sharing kombucha recipes as the last iceberg is glimpsed off to port…. Magical!

    Editors, who’s “Cory Doctorow David Pescowitz” on the masthead? The missing comma has monstrously linked two of you…. unless there’s something you’re not telling us…. (scary music. Ghastly Cronenberg images). Seriously, put the comma in!

  3. I have to say that $1800 for a weekend with artists you like, meals & hotel included, is a steal. As someone who used to attend Comic-Con regularly, you’d be hardpressed to spend less than 2 grand for the weekend, plus it’s so insanely crowded and has nothing to do with art or comics anymore.

  4. I can’t get past staring at the picture. What is that on her thigh, a hot water bottle? Not that I would be staring any less without that mystery…

  5. Kwl! bnch f psd-hpstr dchbgs n crcl jrk! . nd ths xctly wht th wrld nds t ths pnt n tm – mr jxtpz-wnk, cncptlly-vd dcrtv wll hngngs!

  6. Actually, I am kinda with Pablo on this one (just a little less colorful in my language). I have big reservations about the whole pop surrealism thing. Too often it consists of random imagery devoid of context, jumbled compositions, an imbalanced focus on technique and details at the expense of the conceptual whole, kitsch color schemes of lime green, purple and pink, and a cynical sort of commercialism that targets a specific demographic (with plenty of disposable income).

    Sometimes pop surrealism can be meaningful (Glenn Barr’s car crash paintings) and sometimes the images can function well as illustration (Mark Bodner’s animals on the steamboat), but too often it’s just a million non sequitur references jammed into a crowded, overworked canvas.

    I sit squarely in the middle of the demographic for this stuff- I love the things being referenced- but I can’t work up much enthusiasm for the overall style.

  7. Here is a great money-making tip for Boing Boing readers… Become your own “lowbrow artist”!

    I think Thomas Kinkade could probably qualify as pop surrealism if you present his work with the proper jaundiced sales pitch. His prints aren’t hard to get- they’re lining the bottoms of birdcages right about now, and the bird droppings could be a “pithy comment on the sorry state of art in the world today”. I could see collages of STP, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Skoal stickers partially obscuring Keane kids and Ted De Grazia Indian children. Repaint a few plastic banks in day-glo colors- Speedy Alka Seltzer, the Michelin Tire man and Bob’s Big Boy- and call them $400 limited edition vinyl figures. Sprinkle in some dogs playing poker, Monkeyshines calendar pages of chimps playing golf and pages torn out of Harvey’s Hot Stuff comics and you’d be all ready for a show at La Loose d’ Hachoo and a career retrospective in Aspartame magazine. If those jaded hipsters complain that your work isn’t original enough, rip up a few pages from some 1950s softcore muscle man photo magazines and paste cutouts of the pelvic region over the top of random Hanna Barbera cartoon characters.

    The best part is that you could pick all this stuff up at the local swap meet for a song, and mark it up at least 500 to 1000 times over your cost! Better yet, throw a pop surrealism tupperware party with all the stuff at your local Holiday Inn and charge folks a grand to get in the door. Instant fame and fortune!

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As much as I take pride in technique , I don’t believe an artist should become a slave to it. Unfortunately, most of the artists who are part of the low-brow genre have succumbed to not only technique-over-substance but they are recycling the same tired tropes.

      Hopefully my language is a little less florid this time and I thus avoid a disemvoweling.

  8. Thanks for the comments, Mark. Too bad we weren’t introduced; it would have been nice to meet you. Glad you enjoyed Baby Tattooville and our Son of Baby Tattooville exhibit + Molly Crabapple’s Anti-Art School figure drawing session.
    Just to clarify for the commenters above, Baby Tattooville (the weekend retreat) charges people to attend the full retreat, but the museum does not charge an admission during the reception for the Son of Baby Tattooville exhibit. We partner with Baby Tattoo to present a public event that everyone can attend. The exhibit is up through November 21st, so come check it out.
    More photos from the event can be found here:

    This kind of physical, realtime event goes way beyond the web. It’s nice to see art and artists and interact in real life. The combination of having art available online, having a low or no-cost public event, and then the intimate experience between artists and fans makes for a good combination. If this is a model for other things in the future, I would keep this in mind: make sure there are components accessible to all. The artist Cory Arcangel is a good model of an artist that creates gallery pieces at gallery prices, affordable posters and other multiples, and freely downloable open-source projects as well.

  9. Between this and TED, we can make sure that both art AND science are locked up for the idle rich.


  10. How is a planned event like playing murder manor with a bunch of paying guests an “authentic, unmediated experience” ?

    1. How is a planned event like playing murder manor with a bunch of paying guests an “authentic, unmediated experience” ?

      You can pay to spend the afternoon with me without knowing if I’m going to serve you Jello or kick you in the nuts. Art has content as well as form.

      1. Sounds intriguing, but I’d rather hang out with the hot girl in the neckbrace.
        Don’t get me wrong, this would be probably be a fun weekend, (although not $1800 worth of fun) but it is a completely artificial situation.

        Odd. Somehow the song Private Dancer has gotten stuck in my head while reading this.

  11. urgh, pay to hang about with artists. just plain sycophantic. For people with more money than sense. The artists also being sell outs – everyone’s a loser.

  12. It sounds interesting, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to Comic-Con–they’re two different types of events for two different types of people.

  13. The price is steep…so? Artists aren’t allowed to make money? If someone is willing to pay you a good price for what you do, you’re a sell out?


    And I can’t afford stuff like that, good grief, $1800 is so far beyond my means I’m not even laughing. But I went to the Dr. Sketchy sessions in LA, at $10, organised by the same publisher. It was awesome, I can tell you that.

    Art isn’t made by the price, whether high, or low. Just because this thing is expensive doesn’t mean it isn’t any good.

  14. I’m going to leave the question of whether it’s worth $1800 for this experience to the people who actually paid and went. (Might be interesting to ask Mark if he personally paid to participate?)

    Looks like fun, and seeing and talking to pro artists working together in an informal and intimate setting like this sounds really great. I know I would love it. The small scale of the event would be lost if it were free or much lower priced. Easy to see how it might all be seen as elitist, tho.

    The take away, I think, is that these kind of in-person, creative and participatory events like this are worth seeking out, specially when on-line communication is often replacing it.

    One of my favorite events like this is in Seattle. The Gage Academy, a small private art school, has a fun ‘Drawing Jam” every holiday season. An all day event features dozens of live models, both nude and costumed, performers, cross dressers, live music, food, free art supplies, holiday cheer, all are welcome, kids, too–and it’s ten bucks.

    So, look around, you might find a local event near you, connect with other creative types, make art, have fun…and save $1790!

  15. I attended the event for the past 2 years. Its expensive for me to attend. I don’t really have too many original art pieces because they are out of my price range. I do collect prints though. I like the art represented in this event so for me $2500 is a steal for this piece.

    *You get many items released and exclusive to this event. (original art, toys, prints, etc. )
    *Watching 10+ popular artists collaborating roughly 24 hours on 1 painting is incredible.
    *Getting a 1:1 scale canvas print of that “Art jam” painting the next day is amazing! (These prints are only available to the attendees and are limited to less than 100. Past years prints have sold on ebay in the $1000’s if you can find one on there.)
    *All of the artists are approachable and friendly
    *All the artists will gladly sketch in your sketchbook for free.
    *Many of the past years artists come back and hang out even if they aren’t a featured artist for that year
    *Other unannounced artists drop in on the event also
    *Another price point is that the Mission Inn is usually a $200 per night stay.

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