Drawing and painting can sometimes feel like solitary activities, but whether you are the next Turner Prize winner or you just like to doodle, there is a social Tokyo art event for you. Beyond art classes targeted at tourists, Tokyo’s art scene offers some great opportunities for the discerning cheapo to get arty and meet new people at the same time. For most of these events, you are expected to bring your own materials—and it couldn’t be easier to equip yourself with a cheap sketchpad and pen or pencil from a combini or 100 yen shop and head out for a social arty time.

For the daytime casual artist: PauseDraw

The quiet king of the daytime social art scene in Tokyo right now is perhaps PauseDraw. Meeting monthly (usually on a Sunday afternoon), PauseDraw is the answer to the arty Cheapo’s dreams. This free, friendly, entirely bilingual event brings together Japanese and non-Japanese people from all over the city to sit and stand together for an afternoon and draw.

The event usually involves a range of short exercises and drawing ‘games’, and a longer, place-based drawing project. So you may be invited to start by rapidly drawing the person sitting opposite you—then repeat without looking down at your paper—now turn that drawing into a picture of an animal. Later you’ll be drawing things around you based on the location: this could be drawing plants in a park, finding traditional elements in a modern-looking street, capturing people in motion at a sports field, etc.

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You get to explore places in Tokyo you’ve never been before, and while there are plenty of people who speak English, it’s also a relaxed place where you can practice your Japanese as you draw if you wish. PauseDraw must be one of the friendliest, relaxed yet well-organized events in Tokyo. The best part: as long as you like to draw, your actual skill level is pretty irrelevant. Check their Facebook page for time and location, then just turn up.

tokyo art
Artists descend on a Tokyo location with their sketchpads.

For the saucy evening artist: Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School has been running in Tokyo for a decade, which perhaps makes it the granddaddy of Tokyo’s social art scene. Like your social art to be a little more risqué? Enjoy life drawing in a relaxed, social surrounding? If you’d think that spending the last Friday of the month drawing cool people while you drink sounds amazing, then Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School in Omotesando is for you.

This irreverent social art event happens in cities all over the world and it combines burlesque performances with the opportunity to draw the performers in their amazing costumes. Again, you bring your own drawing equipment and it doesn’t matter how good you are at drawing: you just need to enjoy it. This time there’s also music, performances, silly contests. It costs 2,000 yen and that includes a drink. If you forget your sketchpad they’ll sell you one for 400 yen. Check their Facebook page for time and location, then just turn up.

tokyo art
Another night with the sketchpads at Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School | Photo by Louise Rouse

For the serious artist: Life Drawing Tokyo

Life Drawing Tokyo pitches its sessions specifically at artists and students, so the sessions are a little less casual than some of the others listed here. It takes place in Meguro on Saturday evenings, has an instructor, and incorporates short poses, long poses and movement sessions. Bring your own equipment. Again, it costs 2,000 yen per session. The most up-to-date details are usually on their Meetup group.

Life tokyo art
Photo by Jun Matsushima

For the artist who likes to take their time: Tokyo Artists League of Life Drawing

If you are the sort of person who likes small-group life drawing in single, long poses, using your own equipment, why not try Tokyo Artists League of Life Drawing. They provide a little instruction, delivered in both English and Japanese. The group meets in a variety of studios or bars and the cost is usually around 2,000 yen for live model sessions, and 1,000 yen for occasional still life sessions. They like you to sign up on meetup.com but you can also just drop in.

Photo by Tokyo Artists League of Life Drawing

For the artist who likes step-by-step instruction (and wine): Artbar Tokyo

The least cheapo-friendly of the options presented here at around 5,000 yen per session, Artbar Tokyo deserves a mention as their Sendagaya studio is a professional social art outfit, offering Thursday evening sessions (plus Sunday sessions for parents and children) where you can attend alone or as part of a social group activity. You’ll need to book in advance and all materials are provided—plus instruction and wine. The class is led so that each participant will methodically paint their own version of an assigned picture onto a canvas, which you then get to take home, ready to hang in pride of place in your home (or bestow upon a lucky relative). Some of the classes have instruction in English and Japanese, while others are Japanese-only. Best to check before booking.

Artbar painting session
Artbar painting session | Photo by Yoshiyuki Chiba
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