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Life drawing online, 6 March 2021

21 Mar 2021

Locking down

I’d said I wasn’t going do this. The idea of online life modelling hadn’t appealed to me right from day-one. Through much of last year that feeling only strengthened.

In September 2020, I’d shared my unease at how online life drawing had manifested during the UK’s first coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. My primary concern was that: “newcomers to London-based life drawing might see it as an elitist scene accepting only bodily perfection” as “the overwhelming majority of models being booked were either conventionally attractive, physically athletic or – most likely – both.

After its incipient rush of blood, the scene eventually calmed down but I still harboured reservations. As recent as December 2020, a tutor for whom I have the highest regard offered me an ‘in-person’ booking with a caveat that it might have to be moved online. I declined ruefully, saying:

It has emerged that online life drawing is by far the most profitable format for models – even if the rate isn’t increased, there’s still a saving on travel – and potentially the most comfortable, but the idea of it still leaves me very cold (metaphorically). Perhaps it’s too much like my day job, which also currently keeps me stuck at home in front of a computer with no real life human interaction.

Furthermore, having seen so much of London life modelling being ‘sexed up’ over the past year, I’ve become slightly disenchanted with the whole profession recently. I need to rediscover my love of it properly, as it was always meant to be, and leave the online world to those with a greater need or passion.

So in short, if you remain in the position of potentially having to flip an in-person booking to be an online booking at relatively short notice, I will respectfully bow out and leave the floor to my fellow models who can commit to either.

Even as 2020 drew to a close, in my Life during lockdown, part 2 blog, I was clear: “I’m yet to find a place in my heart for life drawing online and still see it as a substitute of last resort rather than a desirable practice.

Opening up

I can’t trace the mollifying of my stance to a single moment. I’d helped Esther set-up cameras and presided as Zoom gatekeeper for her events, in which she was model, performer or host. I’d also modelled for a ‘hybrid’ event at Lewisham College, where some artists were in the room while others were online. Maybe these soft encounters were a first dose of vaccine against my doubts.

I was also aware that the New Year lockdown would probably ease from early spring, allowing in-person life drawing to come back. I’m certain the online version will never disappear but I could foresee it slipping in my consciousness without me ever having tried it. Even so, I still had no appetite for a full evening of modelling alone at home in front of my laptop, straight after a full day of non-modelling work in the same manner.

On 4 February 2021, I received a text message from Joanna McCormick asking me whether I might like to repeat my hybrid event of last year for Lewisham College, only this time fully online. It would be from 10am to 3:30pm on the Saturday of a weekend to which I’d already tagged a day’s leave from my day job on the Monday. It felt like a now-or-never alignment of chance and opportunity, so… I accepted.

Of course, I still had technical matters to work out. First I bought add-ons to convert a top-notch but decades-old Velbon camera tripod into a tilting, turning smartphone grip that could be extended to almost 2m high. Next, I tested simultaneous Zoom links on my phone and laptop. Finally I created a pose space in front of a bare wall at the rear of a spare room that gets plenty of natural light. Everything seemed fine. I was ready.

Being me

Cometh the day, Jo opened the Zoom session at 9:55am. I signed-in using my phone and laptop – the former to capture my modelling; the latter so I could engage with the session between poses. After about dozen artists had joined us, Jo secured the room and we began: five 1-minute poses as a warm-up; three 3-minute poses searching for circles, rectangles, triangles; two 5-minute poses for negative space and shadows.

The plan was to have music playing with each pose but that ended when Jo’s Spotify account ground to a halt. Instead we enjoyed the soothing sounds of her pen at work. My next offerings were 10 minutes seated holding one knee, 15 minutes striding with one arm high, one arm low, and a 20-minute portrait sitting for which the camera had to be moved unnervingly close. At intervals, Jo demonstrated drawing techniques.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. For an upcoming 35-minute pose I had made up my mind to stand with one arm across my head and all my weight bearing down through one leg. From the outset my body warned me the leg had been weakened by a previous pose, but I didn’t listen and duly endured a lot of pain. This was compounded when an artist asked me to stand for a further 2 minutes while they re-measured my proportions.

As a recovery pose for the next half an hour, I slouched upon the floor with head and arms resting on a chair. This was the first and only pose in which I couldn’t see either my phone or laptop, and thus it was also the only pose in which I wouldn’t know if my internet connection dropped. Needless to say it dropped, albeit only enough to knock out the camera for a couple of minutes. Jo’s voice alerted me. Lesson learned.

We reconvened after lunch to finish with an hour-long pose. Before getting underway, Jo demonstrated blind contour drawing using a continuous line – unusual techniques to deploy on a long pose but suggested mainly as a means of making initial marks for subsequent refinement. I positioned myself comfortably on a padded chair and, whilst offered the chance to take regular stretch breaks, opted to stay in situ throughout.

Once I had completed my hour it was time for artists to take the Zoom spotlight. Each took a turn in holding up favourite works and saying a few words. Their feedback was positive and the mood appeared genuinely upbeat, which is especially gratifying after a long day. I felt the same way myself, having suppressed most of my earlier agonies by that stage… although I was destined to be achy for a couple more days.

Despite this enjoyable experience, the opinion I expressed in December remains true: “I’m yet to find a place in my heart for life drawing online and still see it as a substitute of last resort rather than a desirable practice.” Really, however, that says more about me than about online life drawing. I’ve now seen the happiness and satisfaction it can bring others, and I wouldn’t deny that to anyone. Thank you, Jo, for giving this.

From → Art

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