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Create98, Leigh-on-Sea, 23 November 2021

28 Nov 2021

Not only is Leigh-on-Sea widely regarded as the creative epicentre for visual arts on the north side of the Thames Estuary, it’s also only 15 minutes from my front door. It may seem extraordinary then, that in almost a decade of working as a life model and art performer I’ve never plied my trade in Leigh. In Essex, yes, in Hockley, Horndon and Hutton, but perhaps Leigh had felt a little too close to home.

Whether there’d been a mental block or (more likely) I just never had the opportunity, my breakthrough came at Create98 – an intimate little community hub for all manner of artistic workshops. I’d been booked to pose at one of their portrait classes led by artist Susan Allen. Upon arrival, I entered an immaculately-refurbished, characterful, charming space and was called down to a bright lower-level with a lower ceiling.

Being well over six feet tall I had no chance of standing up straight, but then that’s not why I was there. Instead I was to be seated within a horseshoe of tables from which a half-dozen artists would observe and draw me: face-on, three-quarter face or profile. I don’t usual take my seat till the last minute for portrait poses but it seemed sensible to make this an exception rather than stand with one ear pressed against the ceiling.

Artists who arrived first were able to choose their preferred vantage point, with advice from Susan on the considerations for each. Everyone was relaxed, friendly, open and engaging as they settled for the start. When we began, I entered the trance-like state required of my role, with gaze fixed on the white wall directly before me. ‘Trance-like’, most certainly, but not actually detached…

People often assume I’m lost in thought, meditating or mentally withdrawn when fixed with a blank expression for long periods, but that rarely happens for me. Blankness is the job; inside I remain attentive to everything in the room. Silence is golden for some artists, but it can also be dreary. This was the ideal class for my inner being, however, as Susan circumnavigated the floor offering positive one-to-one tutelage throughout.

I’m happy when art groups play music while I’m modelling, but I’m even happier when there’s fascinating tuition to eavesdrop. I love learning new things. For example, don’t shade-in 5 o’clock beard growth before capturing the shadows that define structure. It seems obvious when I think about it but I’d never heard it said before. Such first class guidance – clear, focused and practical – was given from blank page to final marks.

The icing on the cake was literally icing on the cake: at our half-time interval everyone was offered a choice of home-made sweet desserts, vegan variety, to accompany tea or coffee. I opted for the carrot cake and was blessed with a huge portion. Everything here was both proper and pleasant. I thoroughly enjoyed my first time posing in Leigh, at Create98, and for one of Susan’s classes. Close-to-home is where the heart is.

From → Art

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