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The Star*, London, 6 November 2019

Maybe I’d given myself a hard act to follow. After the previous week’s Jolly Sketcher short-pose Halloween special at The Star* in Archway, I was returning to the same venue for an evening of long poses. No skeletal body paint or props this time around; just me, my body, the floor and a sofa. This was one for the purists.

By the time this evening’s artists had settled down in a wide arc around me, we were running a couple of minutes late. Group organiser, Tanja immediately got us back on track by starting with a 3-minute pose instead of the originally-intended five. We then continued: 5-minutes, 10, 10, 15 and 15-minutes.

At the interval everyone headed downstairs to enjoy pre-ordered pies in the main bar area. I wasn’t having a pie myself but I followed anyway, not least because it gave an excuse for me to get back into my chunky clothes and warm-up for a while. Our room hadn’t been terribly cold – the heaters did their job – but extra insulation never hurts.

A single long pose occupied the whole of our second half. I got myself comfortable on the sofa and mentally prepared for 55-60 minutes thus. No matter how cosy one feels at the outset, a few aches will always manifest towards the end of a static hour. It was fine, though. Two enjoyable visits in two weeks – a recommended venue.

The Star*, London, 30 October 2019

The Jolly Sketcher has brought life drawing joy to new venues across north London. This Halloween booking would be the first of two successive Wednesday evenings at The Star* in Archway. I arrived an hour early for our 7pm start so I had plenty of time to apply the skeletal make-up last seen in Penge just two days before.

The first-floor room seemed a perfect space for life drawing. It felt large and light, with a sofa for poses, plus a wide arc of tables and chairs guaranteeing every artist a clear line of sight. Functionally ideal but decoratively spartan, it gained ornamentation when regular London life artist Hugh arrived with his own exquisitely hand-carved pumpkin.

As well as having its Halloween theme, this was to be a session of short work with no pose longer than 20-minutes. While artists were settling down, group organiser Tanja Hassel started a random spooky Spotify playlist and then got us underway by calling for three poses of 2-minutes and three of 5-minutes.

On Monday, I’d worn a cape and a long white wig for my opening three short poses. I decided against them here, however, as they seemed superfluous. Plus I would have my back to a wall rather than being in the round. My only props were a narrow length of black material and a grim plastic skull. Next came two 10-minutes poses.

Having sat and stood, clutching my skull, I opted to end the first half with a 15-minute semi-reclining pose for which I extended one arm and draped the material around me. This presented a bit of a foreshortening horrorshow for those directly in front, but they handled it superbly. In fact, characterful work emerged around the room.

At the interval, Tanja and most of the artists departed downstairs to dine heartily from the pub’s selection of home-cooked hot pies. I was invited to join them but suspected that a bellyful of pie might undermine my credibility as a skeleton. Instead, I stayed in lean form for the three 20-minute poses of our second half – first seated on a stool.

I stood for the penultimately pose, holding up the dark material over my left shoulder, around my back and out beyond my right thigh. To conclude the evening, I sat on the floor with right arm on right knee, left arm on the sofa arm and both hands hanging in claw-like pretence. I felt in good shape and the sketchers did indeed seem jolly.

Our playlist swung from the Ghostbusters theme to Willow’s Song, from Thriller to The Time Warp, from Get Ur Freak On to The Monster Mash – tracks not heard at every fine art atelier but creative juices were stimulated nonetheless, to superb effect. After helping to clean-up, I headed home; I think I remembered everything…

Bridge House, London, 28 October 2019

A chance encounter with Tatiana Moressoni on a Brockley street corner… the next day I’m kindly invited to model on Monday and Wednesday the following week at her south London life drawing groups… but I can’t do Wednesday as I have a Halloween booking that evening… so we confirm Monday… and say: “We’ll do Halloween too!

I arrived at Bridge House fully one hour early so I could get a glass of wine and settle down with body paints to give my face, neck and ribcage a skeleton make-over. It was the first time I’d self-applied a skull face, so thanks go out to Art Macabre – London’s original purveyors of death drawing – for showing me the way all those years ago.

Artwork by Matthew Taylor.

Artwork by Curtis Holder.


Artwork by Curtis Holder.

For my first three poses – all standing, two of 5-minutes, one of 10-minutes – I wore a long white wig and a cape of blingy cobwebs. Just about on-theme, but perhaps more 70s glam rock than vintage Halloween, so thereafter it was just my bare painted body. After all, artists had come to draw the human figure. Costume is not everyone’s thing.

Artwork by Matthew Taylor.

Artwork by Matthew Taylor.

I’d neglected to have a warm-up stretch before diving excitedly into the first pose, so I ended up over-exerting my leg muscles. Once the cape came off I sat for 10-minutes, taking it easier with arms and claw-like hands resting across my legs. Next I stood for another 10-minutes, holding a long strip of black material diagonally behind my back.

Artwork by Daisy Hayden.

For the 15-minute pose before our break I sat gazing into the lifeless eyes of a plastic skull – my final prop. By now I was feeling in good shape and having fun. Our second half would have poses of 10, 15 and 20 minutes. To start these, I stood with the black material draped across my shoulders and held outwards in both hands at waist level.

Artwork by Matthew Taylor.

Next I flicked the material off my right shoulder, spiralled it round my left arm, then lay flat on my back with the entwined limb extended vertically upwards. In truth, this pose and the previous one were merely recent favourites rather than seasonal specials but my props, paint and naturally skeletal physique seemed to take care of business.

Artwork by Matthew Taylor.

I saw out the evening by sitting upright on the floor, black material over one shoulder, my other hand resting on the skull. There was a lovely show of appreciation from the artists when Tatiana called time, and not only in the tips jar – but thank you! Rather, I think everyone got into it, and what started as a novelty actually elevated their work.

Artwork by Tatiana Moressoni.

Drawings were spread across the floor and received much admiration. Artists finished their drinks and consumed the remaining trick-or-treat sweets that Tatiana had placed on every table, while I scrubbed away my body paint in the pub’s bathroom. Normality was restored. It had been a very good night at Anerley and Penge Life Drawing.

Mall Galleries, London, 25 October 2019

For this Friday evening gathering of Hesketh Hubbard Art Society at Mall Galleries the models were Esther on 15-minute poses (sensuous slot), me on 30-minute poses (workhorse slot), Tanja smiling serenely on portraits, and Magda – who I have not yet met – in the separate space for gruelling long poses.

Artwork by Anthony Roe.

For the first half-hour I stood with my right foot a pace forward, right arm out, left hand on hip and a slight twist to the torso. For the second half-hour I reclined and extended my left arm fully vertical. On Monday I had pushed this pose to 25-minutes for the first time and now I’d made it to 30; still quite comfortable, but maybe that’s the safe limit.

Once our 15-minute break for tea and biscuits had raced by with indecent haste, I got into a seated position for my third pose. This one probably overran by a minute as the chap who calls “change please” for the 15-minute slots – and who is barely audible at the best of times – now entered whisper mode at the very moment I needed him.

Artwork by Simon Whittle.

Esther wasn’t fully in my line of sight but I thought I saw a movement. Still uncertain, I asked my artists if they’d heard a time call and a couple of voices confirmed they had. Very well. I clambered to my feet and for the last 30-minutes stood with both forearms angled outwards at waist level.

Artwork by Anthony Roe.

My right arm started to ache a little towards the end but in general this was a painless evening’s toil. Afterwards it was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in months, and to photograph some fine artworks before they were spirited away – one has to be quick. In all, a positive session. It was nice to be back life modelling here.

National Maritime Museum, London, 21 October 2019

My return to the National Maritime Museum to model for its employees’ after-hours life drawing was not a direct repeat booking but rather the result of me responding to their model call-out posted on the Register of Artists’ Models (RAM) website. Their fee would cover 78% of this year’s RAM subscription, and thus goes 78% of the way towards vindicating renewal. I’m now 45th in the list of long-standing RAM members.

In the session itself, there was no need for long-standing as all poses were less than half an hour in length. We began with four 1-minute poses, two 5-minute poses, then 10-minutes, 15-minutes, and another 10-minute pose up to a break. We finished with poses of 20-minutes and 25-minutes. I’d felt comfortable throughout, albeit I was told at the end: “The longer the poses got, the more difficult you seemed to make them!

RAM membership is a curious thing. I first signed-up back in March 2012, yet of 473 people currently registered as models, 216 joined in the past year alone. As the total membership seems to oscillate around 500, it shows the drop-out rate must be quite high. RAM doesn’t meet every model’s needs, but I find it’s still just about worthwhile financially, and they do play a useful role in setting standards. I’ll stick with them.

Lewisham Arthouse, London, 20 October 2019

Monotype printmaking involves drawing or painting ink onto a non-absorbent surface, or removing ink using brushes or rags, then transferring the image to a sheet of paper by mangling the two together. The process creates a unique print as most of the ink is removed during the initial pressing – any further attempt results in a ‘ghost’ at best. I’d never before modelled for monotype, so relished the chance at Lewisham Arthouse.

This was a London Drawing Group event led by Frances Stanfield, so whilst I did not know quite how monotype modelling requirements might differ, I knew the session itself would be enjoyable. It began at 10am with activities that let artists practice using their materials, after which I was to start work at 10:45am. My first joy came before I’d even entered the building; when I rang the doorbell it was answered by Lily Holder.

Lily has both posed with me as a model, and hired me when she’s been a life drawing class teacher or facilitator; now here she was as an artist honing another skill – kudos for that. I myself had to demonstrate but one skill: sustaining poses that were suitable for monotype production. These commenced with a pair of 10-minute standing poses, first facing one way, then modified and facing the opposite direction.

From the warm-up exercises I noticed that prints seemed to emerge as a combination of strong outlines and washes of texture; almost no internal detail or shading featured. Thus, I made sure all my initial poses were open and outward-reaching, with my limbs creating at least one area of negative space. For poses three and four, I sat on a stool for 15-minutes, and then lay on the floor with one arm raised for another 15-minutes.

In most life drawing sessions there is a gap of just a few seconds between poses – as long as it takes the model to move, basically – but here it was five minutes each time, allowing artists to press their inking onto paper. After the fourth pose, we took a longer break so people could pop out for snacks. Upon resuming, we had 40 minutes left so I settled on the stool again for a single pose that would take us to our 1pm finish.

I felt 40 minutes offered the artists more time to experiment with detail, if they wished, so I folded my arms in to make a loop around one knee. Anyone who wanted to study the fiddly connections of limbs could do so, whilst an interesting (hopefully) silhouette with many negative spaces remained for those focused on outline. The diverse set of resulting artworks seemed to vindicate that choice. In all, a fascinating experience.

Lochaber Hall, London, 12 October 2019

After a quiet week with zero life modelling, this Saturday morning return to Lochabar Hall was just what I needed. The pose times here are ideal for me; lots of quick work to get us started, then a mid-length piece and finally one long pose to the end. In fact my spirits were sufficiently upbeat that not even portentous utterances like “I’m afraid the council hasn’t switched on the radiators yet” could render them low.

Daybreak had been a drizzly and none-too-warm affair, but I was furnished with a pair of small heaters and the promise of a third if needed. I opened with six poses each of 5-minutes – standing, squatting, standing, sitting, standing, and standing – in a range of orientations, with nine artists at easels or holding sketchbooks, set as a semi-circle around me. The poses alone would have kept me tolerably warm, I think. Maybe.

For the mid-length pose I lay down with my body twisted and one arm pointed directly upwards for 20-minutes. This was the third successive booking in which I’ve used this pose. Each time doubts have been expressed at the outset, followed by admiration at the end. For me, however, it’s relatively effortless and sustainable. If I didn’t suspect it might be bad for my circulation, I would be happy to hold it for much longer.

With one pose and two hours remaining, I got into a comfortable position seated upon cushions and sheets on the floor. The third heater was brought into play and acquitted itself well for about quarter of an hour before fizzling out. Tea and chocolate biscuits at the break provided a more reliable tonic. I felt neither pain nor numbness, so I finished the session with high spirits intact. A fitting way to begin a fine weekend.

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