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Brockley Adult Education Centre, London, 4 May 2022

This class at Brockley Adult Education Centre wanted for nothing except, alas, the necessary minimum students to keep it viable. Three had signed-up, but one couldn’t attend due to sickness. As I always say, I’ll give of my best whether modelling for 2 or 200 artists. Unfortunately the adult learning sector can’t afford to be so airily carefree.

Coronavirus pandemic, wholesale gas prices, war in Ukraine… all factors contributing to a worldwide cost-of-living crisis that has been vastly amplified in this country by the collective insanity of Brexit, and compounded by our self-serving, debauched, corrupt far-right Tory government of elites and hangers-on. Art is an inevitable early casualty.

But it’s not only art. All courses are affected. The trickle-down effects are everywhere. It’s to be expected when people have less disposable income, no disposable income, or not even enough to pay for essentials. When people have to choose between food or heating, who chooses art? Tories are destroying all that sustains and defines us.

When people say “life goes on” they mean “existence goes on“. For some people life won’t go on; under this government, needlessly, avoidably, tragically it won’t go on. In this session, for this evening at least, we went on: 1-minute, 1, 1, 1, 1, 5, 20, a break, and 50-minutes to the end. Me, tutor Jo (who made these drawings), and 2 students.

West Wickham Arts, Hayes, 25 April 2022

The journey from my Essex roost to Hayes in Kent, by train, Docklands Light Railway and train again, is surely the longest I undertake for life modelling. On this occasion it was also one of the more dramatic. The first train was running late it so sped past my interchange without stopping. Luckily at the next station I was able to race across the platform and, with barely half a minute to spare, get a train back.

Even so, at the interchange I missed my first possible connection by just 10 seconds. The next one, four minutes behind it, would have to reach Lewisham bang on time if I was to avoid arriving late for my booking; sprinting across that station, I leapt through the train doors as they started to bleep and close. Fine margins! But now I could chill. And amusingly, when I got to the Hayes Free Church venue, no-one was there…

Within a couple of minutes, the good folk of West Wickham Arts Association joined me, unlocked the doors, and began preparing the room. Ten artists made themselves comfortable at tables spread out in an arc. I was to pose on my feet or seated upon a well-padded wicker sofa. A bright white light was put in front of me to create shadows, and two small heaters did an excellent job of warming such a cavernous space.

We opened with short poses of 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes and 10 minutes. I first stood cruciform, then squatted on the sofa with left arm raised, then stood with arms forward making a horizontal circle, then stood with arms behind me making a vertical square, then sat with left knee up and head turned down to rest on right knuckles, then stood with both arms fanned outwards at waist level.

For 25 minutes until our break I sat on the sofa again, this time with my right knee up and right forearm bridging between knee and forehead. My left arm twisted such that the elbow was up and the hand rested on the wicker arm. It was comfortable enough but wickerwork certainly leaves its mark. Any palmist worth their salt would have had no difficulty divining my recent past.

After tea and biscuits, time enough remained for a final pose of 40 minutes. I sat with both feet on the floor and my left arm resting in an outward reach across my left knee. My idea was that the arm would block light from the white lamp by my feet and cast a few interesting shadows. Whether it worked, I’m not sure. Perhaps the foreshortening alone was sufficiently vexing for the artists.

It had been a warm-spirited, warmly-heated, comfortable session. Furthermore, great consideration was shown in timing the last post to end at 9:25pm rather than 9:30pm, thereby gifting me an extra five minutes to catch the 9:45pm train; first leg of my long journey home. Happily, all conveyances were on time and connections made without any need to rush. It had been a full evening. Curiously pleasing.

Harmony Hall, London, 11 April 2022

I was pleasantly surprised to return so soon. My début session in Harmony Hall for Walthamstow Lifedrawing was arranged at a mere two days’ notice. One can never be entirely sure in such circumstances, whether it’s a booking born of appreciation or desperation. Happily, being asked to return just 6 weeks later looks like the former.

This session differed from the last in a couple of noteworthy ways. First, I could meet Harriet, who booked me each time but wasn’t able to attend in February. Second, the group had to vacate the premises by 9:30pm so a community gathering for Ramadan could begin promptly. Fine. At 7:30pm sharp, we started with four 5-minute poses.

Three longer poses followed: 10 minutes sitting on the floor, 10 minutes upright, then 20 minutes on my backside again, albeit differently angled. Part of the challenge was not only to vary the poses in this session, but also to avoid repeating any I’d used my previous – very recent – visit.

Our mid-session break was kept short to make sure we would finish a little before the usual time of quarter past nine. The temperature had dropped so I was obliged with a heater for the last half-hour. I’d planned to sit in the group’s small canvas tripod chair, but it felt ungainly when I tried. Instead I said: “Oh, I’ll just stand and be done with it!

During the pose there was a knock on the door as someone outside wanted a word. I sensed the Ramadan crowd had assembled… At the end, we had just enough time to admire everyone’s art before loud prayers began booming beyond the main entrance and we were all ushered out the fire escape! Crazy times, but a really good session.

Lochaber Hall, London, 2 April 2022

I’ve always been one who feels the cold. You might think it strange then, that I should pick a career demanding nakedness in all seasons. For me it’s simply a calling rather than a choice; barring ridiculous extremes, its elements will be embraced or endured. As I walked past frost-covered cars after a night of sub-zero temperatures, I guessed this 9:30am session at Lochaber Hall would call for a degree of endurance…

Usually if I have two heaters on the go and I’m offered a third, I’ll catch myself saying, “No thanks, I’m fine.” Even if I’m actually rather chilly, a false futile machismo kicks-in and insists I can take it. Mercifully, on this occasion my rational brain managed to get the first word in, responding, “Yes, please!” In fact, I could have asked no more of the group’s organiser, David. He’d switched on all the radiators long before I arrived.

Temperatures outside tarried at single-digits so, notwithstanding radiators or heaters, three hours in a cavernous hall with windows that won’t fully shut and a door missing from its hinges, was fated to have cool spells. What to do but go at it with full vigour? We started with ‘warm-up’ poses: seven of 5-minutes and ten of 1-minute. These did indeed warm me up. Not least because I felt the artists’ appreciation of my efforts.

The rest of the session was occupied by a single 90-minute pose: 40 minutes took us to our tea-break, then a further 50 minutes took us to the end. I was asked to assume an upright seated position with assorted angles. Bread and butter for me, though with care not to duplicate any of my previous long poses here. Variations were added and comfort was maintained, to an extent that no additional stretch breaks were needed.

By my own misjudgement the first 40 minutes were a tad nippy. After attending to the heaters’ alignment and dragging them all a few inches closer, however, the latter half was comparatively snug. And therein lies much of what it is to be a life model; finding in each situation the optimum blend of artistry and discovery, intuition and practicality both to inspire and survive. Maybe that’s what all art is: inspiration and survival.

Central Park Café, East Ham, 24 March 2022

It’s rare these days that I respond to a new call-out for life models. My enthusiasm for each job has not waned, but the appetite for chasing every possible opportunity is no longer there. I’m thirsting less and appreciating more, but a call-out for this session at Central Park Café in East Ham really spoke to me. And happily I was accepted.

Best of all, it was only after being accepted that I discovered it would be a fund-raiser for the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal. Gladly, I waived my fee for the job to boost their total donation. Hattie, who booked me, said: “we’re also operating a bar and serving some light bites so I’ll make sure you have refreshments!” Perfect. 🙂

The café itself turned out to be a ideal space for life drawing. Lots of room for serving exquisite food and drinks at one end, plus a chilling-out area at the other end offering ample room for me to pose in a circle of 15-20 artists. Oddly, two wooden pallets had been provided as my stage. Not the last word in comfort, but hey. One was plenty!

I spread my trusty white sheet upon the pallet, stuffed a couple of the café’s cushions beneath it, and we began. Short poses first: two of 1-minute, two of 2-minutes, two of 5-minutes. Two poses of 20-minutes took us to our break. I sat for the first, I stood for the second, and I felt at peace throughout.

There was no music to play us along, so audible accompaniment came in the form of soft, friendly chatter between twos and threes of artists around the room. I was asked during the interval, whether I found this distracting. Not at all! I am only there to make interesting shapes; as long as everyone sounds happy, I’m happy too.

It was planned that one single long pose would occupy the second half. I shifted from the round and made angles from the comfort of an armchair against a wall instead. In this position I remained for between 30-40 minutes, at which point it was decided that we could finished with a few more quickies: 2 minutes, 2 minutes and 5 minutes.

By 10pm, we were done. I’d thoroughly enjoyed modelling, the artists also seemed to have enjoyed a nice social evening of life drawing, the food and wine provided by the café had been exceptional, second to none, and Central Park Life Drawing raised a commendable £300 for the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal. Fantastic.

To cap it all, after I’d dressed and was saying my farewells, Sophie who runs the café (see also Bread Club) kindly allowed me to take my pick of any opened wine bottles. This typified the kind-hearted hospitality I experienced all evening. I left with a goodly Tuscan white in my bag, and the streets of East Ham never looked more beautiful!

The Conservatoire, Blackheath, 14 March 2022

Whilst life modelling sessions have kept me nicely busy of late, the rest of my life has felt overloaded. No one thing is an overwhelming problem; there’s just a bit too much of everything. On this day, I’d started my full-time job at 7:30am, finished it at 4:30pm, made a freshly-topped pizza, then got the train to Blackheath for The Conservatoire. And I couldn’t stop yawning exhaustedly all the way there. I needed to energise.

The only way energising would be likely to happen was through poses that prioritised effort over comfort. After a few quick poses – three of 1-minute, one of 5 minutes and one of 10 minutes – I offered to stand for the long pose of up to two hours. The week before, model Peter had semi-reclined here in the style of work by Michelangelo. If I was going stand, I reckoned it had to be in the style of Michelangelo’s David

The artists would have to imagine me as a version of David at least 35 years past his prime, having shed all of his muscle bulk and most of his vitality but still dining-out on the pose responsible for his best-known artistic interpretation. I assumed the position on my bare platform at 8:05pm. If I’d been granted just one wish for embellishment, it would have been to encircle myself with the magical mini clay henges drying nearby.

OK, so mini clay henges would have been incongruous in context, but they appealed to my current passion for posing at ancient megalithic sites. I remained in David pose till 8:40pm before accepting the offer of a break. We resumed at 8:50pm after various suggestions for adjustments that might return me to my exact former stance. Another half-hour passed before I took a shorter break. We then continued to our 10pm finish.

It remains unknown whether a cosy reclining pose would have lulled me to sleep, but the standing pose certainly kept me alert. It calls for motionlessness without passivity. As aches begin to set in, constant muscle management is required at a micro level to keep them tolerable. It worked. I left feeling in better shape than I’d arrived. I think life drawing does that for human beings. Physically and mentally, we reset.

47/49 Tanner Street, London, 2 March 2022

Tanner Street life drawing is a well-established group that, in my opinion, keeps on getting better and better. Now located in ‘the flat’ – but more akin to a photographer’s studio – behind the vast redbrick ‘Ugly Duck‘ building, it has found an ideal home for its welcoming Wednesday evening gatherings.

Proportions are perfect for posing in the round, with between a dozen and two dozen artists at an optimal orbit from the model and a comfortable distance from each other. Neutral lighting is mellow while spotlights emphasise shadows and textures. With fair temperatures, plus tea and biscuits for the break, we are indeed in a good place.

And then the long and short of it… or rather the short and long. I started with six short poses – three of 2 minutes and three of 5 minutes – followed by one 10-minute pose, seated side-saddle on the floor, leaning forward on both hands. A 15-minute standing pose, arms folded behind my back, took us to the interval.

The 10-minute pose during my previous visit here was an old favourite; sitting upon the floor with one knee raised and an arm resting across it. A particularly fine drawing of that moment had been used to promote this event, so I was asked whether I would be able to recreate it for the full 55-minutes of our second half. No problem.

It’s an easy pose for me. Somehow last time I managed to put a twist in the balanced arm that made it ridiculously painful, but this time I kept everything loose and relaxed. So much so, that I declined a stretch-break after twenty minutes and opted instead to continue for twenty more before shaking out a few formative aches in my limbs.

Five minutes short of an hour, my work was done. A lack of pains does not guarantee that one will spring effortlessly into motion. Slowly, gracelessly I clambered to my feet and into clothes before joining in an appreciation of the outstanding artworks created. Such inspiration. This surely is a group that just keeps getting better and better…

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