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Shine, London, 11 March 2020

It’s been precisely one month since this evening of life drawing at Shine in Haringey, north London – my last life modelling gig before the coronavirus lockdown. People in the UK had begun dying of COVID-19 only the week before, and there was a shared sense of foreboding that all our lives would soon undergo a fundamental upheaval…

In spite of this – or more likely, because of it – everyone seemed determined to enjoy life, liberty and happiness together before isolation was enforced. There was a strong turn-out of artists at Life Draw Shine, all keeping calm and all carrying on. Organiser Ruth Pickard got us underway with poses of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 10, 10 and 10 minutes.

One person left us during the break, apparently more overwhelmed by six foot four of nude angles than by fears of a global pandemic. Others remained resolute and it was nice to chat about passions rather than pathogens. For the second half, I resumed by perching on the edge of a high stool with my torso twisted and left arm bent forward.

After 15 minutes on the stool there was time for one final pose of 35 minutes. I asked the group whether they would prefer me standing, sitting or reclining and got greatest encouragement for a seated pose on the Shine sofa. Fine by me. I settled myself into an agreeable composition. It was to be my last pose until… who knows when?

Such is the community spirit of this group that when the session was over, most went to the pub together. As for the rest of the life drawing world, many groups have opted to run online alternatives. Good luck to them all. Barring exceptional circumstances, I will leave their scarce modelling opportunities for those most in need. Stay safe!

cave, London, 10 March 2020

Originally Esther and I were booked to life model at cave for a Valentine’s Day event, but sadly this had to be postponed when group organiser Karen Turner was taken ill. We rearranged to one month later, by which time Karen was back at her irrepressible best but the rest of the world was on the cusp of a pandemic. London was still active, although not without some tentative trepidation for what might be brewing.

It was understandable that slightly fewer artists had opted to join us than on previous visits here. As with all Karen’s events however, anything less than joyfulness was out of the question. Karen pressed play on a Macy Gray CD then got us started with five poses of 1 minute each – a real test when two models are entangled! We lengthened to 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 10 minutes before breaking for cakes and wine.

When we resumed it was to the beats of ‘Native New Yorker Disco Classics‘. Not that we were dancing. Rather, we settled into a motionless half-hour, with Esther reclining and me curled by her side. A final embrace for 18-20 minutes completed our session. Artists had struggled with our plethora of limbs, but there was little we could do about that. Nobody really complained, though – tougher life challenges would lie ahead…

Workers’ playtime, London, 5 March 2020

Last December, I posed clothed for employees’ after-hours life drawing at Blue Zoo Animation Studio. Then a month later, I returned and posed nude. For this session in March there would be a bit of both. Nude first. With a handful of artists present, we commenced with five poses of 1-minute, four of 2-minutes, four of 3-minutes and two of 7-minutes. A high-energy first half; no heater required.

During the break, I sat quietly feeling old and out-of-touch as all the young animators chatted enthusiastically about the latest cutting edge computer games. In fact, I even feel old writing “cutting edge computer games” as I suspect that type of phrasing was sounding dated at least 20 years ago. But, hey, I’m quite happy with my current life in the real world – each to their own! I put on my white garments, ready for part two.

When we resumed, it was with five poses of 3-minutes and five poses of 7-minutes. I oscillated high and low: standing up, down on the floor, in a chair, under the table, on a stool; in fact, any place and shape that my imagination could conjure. Time enough remained for poses of 6 minutes, 3 minutes and 3 minutes, taking us to the end. Lots of fun. I do like the expressive possibilities of dynamic work.

Thank you again, Wei Wu, who created all the wonderful artworks in this post.

The Star by Hackney Downs, 25 February 2020

One of the most pleasurable venues to life model over the past half-decade has been The Star by Hackney Downs. To help celebrate the fifth anniversary of Drawing the Star life drawing, organiser Catherine Hall invited me and Esther back once more to pose as a couple. We opened this special treat with 10-minute and 5-minute poses.

It was nice to get a goodly gathering of artists around us, including long-time regulars and welcome new faces. This group has a genuine community spirit – drink and draw as it should be – where the highly-proficient and complete novice can relax and enjoy their art side-by-side. Three poses of 2-minutes each came next.

For our second 2-minute pose, Esther stood while I sat on the floor holding her hands and her gaze. Star artist Giovanni Forlino immediately hailed it the cutest pose he’d ever seen, so as an antidote we wrestled for the final 2-minutes. With 22-minutes left till the break, Esther loomed above me as I stretched one hand up to her belly.

Drinks were taken, and then a vote was taken: should we wrap-up with one 30-minute pose, two of 15 minutes, three of 10 minutes, or a 20 and a 10? A show of hands was unambiguous in calling for two 15s. We started by reclining together, me leaning over and gently cradling Esther’s impeccably sprawled form.

With two models together as a couple, there is sure to be cuddling at some point. We saved ours till last. Cuddles must be deployed sparingly, otherwise all the poor artists get to draw is a succession of backs. Mindful of this, we sat holding each other tightly in an asymmetrical embrace.

I first modelled here on 23 April 2015, not long after the group began. This five-year anniversary special was my twenty-third visit as the model, while on other occasions I’ve come simply to draw and stay for a drink afterwards. Every time is a joy, and it is clear that many artists feel the same way. Bravo, Catherine, and thank you.

West Wickham Arts, Hayes, 24 February 2020

It seemed to take an age for the preceding class of young girls and their instructors to vacate Hayes Free Church hall so West Wickham Arts Association could move in. One can’t help feeling a bit self-conscious, waiting patiently amongst parents who are there to collect their daughters. I imagined them glaring contemptuously and ushering their offspring away in haste if they knew my purpose was to bare all. Not that there is anything shameful about the profession of a life model – but people do spook easily…

…or maybe I was just being paranoid; either way, I was glad when we got started. We were down on numbers from my last visit, but the setting-up of tables, chairs, easels, heaters and extension cables still takes time. Eventually with a horseshoe of artists in position around me, I opened with a 15-minute standing pose, followed by 30-minutes seated on the floor. Only the scratchy sounds of mark-making on paper and the warm hum of two highly effective heaters broke our silence.

With about ten minutes of the second pose remaining, two chaps broke ranks and set about making the half-time tea. It was a most welcome beverage. Whilst artists talked intently about the forthcoming Annual General Meeting, I partook of refreshments and admired their work. For the last 45-minute pose, I asked if they would prefer me to sit, stand or recline. The preference was sitting on the floor again, which suited me fine. It was a most comfortable end to a pleasant evening with an affable group.

Lewisham Arthouse, London, 23 February 2020

Five identical poses, each one held for 1-minute then rotated 72° or thereabouts, and held again. Thus began ‘Printing from Life: Monotype and Life Drawing‘, organised by London Drawing Group at Lewisham Arthouse.

I’d posed for one of the group’s monotype sessions at this venue last autumn, loving its novelty; with the final act of creation coming after each pose, not during. As before, the session was expertly guided by Frances Stanfield.

I followed the single-minute rotation with a twisted upright pose of 10 minutes. Next, I sat with my right leg outstretched, my left foot on my right knee and hands behind my head for 20-minutes. Not quite the position of total relaxation it may have appeared.

For sitting, I had the choice of either a regular plastic chair or a tiny little six-inch high wooden stool. In the previous pose I’d used the latter to support my heels, but for the next 15 minutes I tried perching my backside upon it… and just about succeeded.

A brace of 8-minute poses took us to the session’s end: first standing, then squatting once more on the cute wee stool. As I found the last time I posed for monotype work, the most effective poses are those with strong outlines, shapes and negative space.

It’s fascinating to observe so many different styles emerge from this process; curious textures, scrapes and lines. My favourites were dark backgrounds with scratched out blocks or swirls or light. Lots of experimenting, lots of imagination, lots of fun.

Garrett Centre, London, 19 February 2020

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, dear Dawn!
Happy birthday to you!

Participation in regular life drawing is not just about the models, instructors and artists or the skills of posing, seeing and mark-making; there’s also a spirit of community. No more so than at Adrian Dutton’s long-established London Life Drawing groups such as here at the Garrett Centre. During the break, when Adrian brought out a cake with candles for much-loved ever-present attendee, Dawn, everybody joined in singing.

An hour earlier I’d started the session with a 15-minute standing pose, during which a couple of late arrivals filled the last seats and made it another full house. We followed with five 1-minute poses, then poses of 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 20 minutes, taking us to the interval. I suspected the 20 minutes might have drifted closer to half an hour, but I was comfortable and quite happy laying down in front of two heaters.

In addition to Dawn’s cake, Adrian provided half-time victuals that ranged from dhal to jelly babies, from exotic teas to boxes of wine. After much consuming and conversing, we had time left for poses of 10, 15 and 20 minutes. I stood, sat and stood again until our 9:30pm finish. Generous applause and art-sharing followed, then slowly we faded away to our respective homes. Next week, the thriving community gathers again.

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