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Portrait in a library

17 Sep 2013

I sat for my first portrait modelling assignment on Saturday. The occasion was an art trail event at Wanstead library that saw stone carvers, wool spinners, glass stainers, cake makers and many other artists and artisans present their craft to the masses.


I was there to help promote local life drawing courses, for which I had modelled nude on several occasions. Needless to say nudity was out of the question before midday in a public library, so portrait it had to be.

On the face of it this would seem to be much less bother than life modelling: just the one passive pose for two-hours, seated in comfort, not even troubling to undress. It’s not hard work, but it is quite tiring in its own way.

Two hours with a ten minute tea-break. One hour and then fifty minutes, motionless, shallow breathing, staring at a fixed gaze point a metre below a bright lamp, blurred vision, an indistinct hubbub of low noise in the background…

Over the first hour I was fine: bright as a button, alert, little more than a few blinks to break the pose. Two artists were sketching me, a third joined late on, and there was conversation all around. It got trickier after the break. The number of artists doubled but the chat faded away and I could feel myself drift towards drowsiness.

I needed a distraction that never came. Instead my eyelids felt the pull of gravity and the battle to resist became a losing one. It couldn’t have, and didn’t, pass unnoticed by the artists but their good-natured humour at the end of the session helped to ease my embarrassment slightly. At least I did not actually fall asleep. I think.

It was a good introduction to a new discipline. I’ve since learned that drowsiness is a noted occupational hazard for portrait models. Equipped with this knowledge and the experience, I can improve my approach and be better next time around. And so the show goes on.

From → Art

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