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Harmony Hall, London, 13 June 2022

Around midday before this Monday evening session I exchanged text messages with Walthamstow Lifedrawing organiser, Harriet and forewarned her: “I managed to get sunburned yesterday so you’ll need your bright pink paints…

On Saturday, I’d taken part in the London Naked Bike Ride painted silver from head to toe. Then on Sunday I joined in the Brighton Naked Bike Ride with no body paint and hardly any sun cream. Tsk. The rest writes itself.

And so to Harmony Hall. I disrobed, revealing the extent of my bright pinkness, then began with four poses of 5 minutes, one of 10 minutes, one of 15 minutes and one of 20 minutes. Shifting shape and direction in the round, every pink patch was shared.

I hadn’t caught the sun all over, I’d just been mottled with a (naked) cyclist’s burn: top of legs, front of arms, upper back, lower belly (striped white where my fat folded) and across my groin. Classy. After a short break I ended with a 25-minute reclining pose.

Notwithstanding my discolouration, I’d felt comfort and warmth throughout, both from the ambient temperature and the cheery good nature of the artists. They managed to create some excellent works; a couple even used their bright pink paints… 🙂

Christ Church Methodist Addiscombe, Croydon, 6 June 2022

It’s not often one starts a long-pose session knowing the UK might have a new prime minister at its close. Such was the case, however, on this evening of life drawing with The Croydon Art Society. I would stand for one single pose from 7:30pm to 9:30pm with a break for tea. At 6pm, Conservative MPs had begun voting on their confidence in atrocious hypocritical law-breaker Boris Johnson. The result was expected at 9pm.

Johnson is, and always has been, an odious self-serving liar without ethics, empathy, compassion or care for anybody other than himself. His only interest is in possessing the power, wealth, sexual partners and sycophantic cronies that he believes to be his innate entitlement by virtue of class status and personal privilege. He is a disgraceful fraud, utterly unfit for any position of responsibility. Tory MPs backed him 211 to 148.

I have never understood how my fellow working class voters can allow themselves to be seduced by such transparently empty promises on their behalf, while in plain sight his actions serve only to feather his own nest and those of his hangers-on. Some say “he’s the kind of bloke you could enjoy a pint with down the pub“… well, there are lots of people with whom I enjoy having a drink, but I don’t want them running the country.

Session organiser, Evie (“livid and embarrassed by our Tory leadership and cabinet“) and I grumbled about politics during the interval. Either side, the pose had gone well. My angled arm went numb after 30 minutes but I recovered feeling with back-of-neck finger-wiggling. By such discreet methods I avoided the need for stretch breaks, yet I had a very stiff back by the end… As with this government, I endured it.

Lochaber Hall, London, 4 June 2022

Since the start of the year it’s been my pleasure to life model at Lochaber Hall every couple of months. I’m experiencing it through the seasons; it was a single-heater day today, and hayfever satisfactory. We opened with seven 5-minute poses. I stood, sat, stood, reclined, stood, sat, stood. Next were ten poses of 1-minute, in which I tried to represent a plant growing from seed and withering. I have a garden full of examples.

After the 1-minute poses came a 10-minute pose, and then it was time to prepare the long pose that would occupy the remainder of this session – about 2-hours, including tea interval. Group organiser David Weekes had a clear vision of what he would like: standing but leaning back with my buttocks resting on the edge of a table. As I knew I could arrange this to be relatively comfortable, I cheerfully agreed.

Whilst it’s not unknown for me to make abysmal misjudgements, on this occasion my prediction of relative comfort was not defective. In the first hour before we paused for tea and digestives I was content to decline all offers of a stretch-break. In the second half I did take two opportunities to shake the numbness from my hands, but both feet remained firmly planted until we reached our conclusion.

The table relieved my feet and legs of carrying much weight. I’d put plenty of padding under my backside to prevent posterior pains. One lower leg was kept straight and its foot flat on the ground to stop the table from sliding. My back remained straight. Thus, only my shoulders felt any aches as my arms served as supports, and only my hands tingled to intermittent loss of sensation. But it was fine, and the art developed nicely.

The Conservatoire, Blackheath, 23 May 2022

It’s hard to explain, but there seemed to be extra positive energy around the Victorian life drawing studio at The Conservatoire this evening. Warmer outside temperatures meant two windows could stay open throughout – albeit I needed a heater for the last hour. I even thought we had more artists than usual… then realised it only looked that way to me because I had my back to the wall rather than posing in the round. I began with quick poses: three of 1-minute, one of 5 minutes and one of 10 minutes.

Inspired by the ongoing British Museum: Feminine Power exhibition, tutor Victoria Rance suggested that for the long pose I should be seated in the powerful attitude of ‘Lilith‘ by Henry Keen. I’ve reproduced the lithograph image (c.1925-30) below but at the time we didn’t have a copy so Victoria described her to me: a strong female nude sitting with one arm hooked over the back of her chair, a rock star’s confidence and a sun disc radiating behind her head.

Of course, flying blind, I didn’t get even remotely close to channelling Lilith. I lacked a sun disc and, whilst able to manifest other elements as described within the broadest possible interpretation, I rightly suspected I’d fallen a long way short of presenting the intended sum of these parts. I wasn’t feeling too distraught about this, however. I was going to have to hold this pose for nigh on two hours, so comfort was a priority. Also I was hopeful the artists drawing me were no more familiar with ‘Lilith‘ than I was…

After much fidgeting and fussing into a suitable arrangement, I felt the result probably looked quite simplistic to our artists. Even so, I was balanced on three layers of foam, had a loose sheet draped around me and one foot perched on a shifty tub, all of which meant the pose would be tricky to recreate with precision after taking a break. Thus, I remained in situ for over an hour before having a stretch. As predicted, it was a tough getting back into position, but I then went the distance: ‘Steve as Lilith‘. Kind of. 🙂

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.

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