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Life during lockdown, part 1

Today, Friday 11 September, marks 6 months since the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General gave a coronavirus (COVID-19) media briefing to announce:

WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic.

A pandemic. The first in my lifetime. The first ever to be caused by a coronavirus. Its impact on the UK had been limited up until that point, but we would soon experience its full force. Six months on, this country’s official COVID-19 death toll is 41,608 and rising, plus it’s estimated a further 23,000 people have died in excess of the number expected for the same period during an ‘average’ year.

The date of that WHO media briefing, Wednesday 11 March, was also the last date I modelled for artists. Seemingly every aspect of life has changed since then, and life drawing has been no exception. This blog is my reflection on a half-year of disruption and disconnection, but also evolution, both within my own personal state of being and across the wider world of life art.


Six months ago at Shine.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

That the virus would reach the UK and hit us hard was never in doubt. We followed its progress from New Year’s Eve when case details were first reported to WHO in China, through its unrelenting transmission across continents, to the nationwide lockdown in Italy from 10 March, and the declaration of a pandemic just one day later.

In the fortnight up to that point, life for me and Esther had continued pretty much as usual, albeit with a shadow of apprehension ever present. We even managed to get abroad for a 5-day break in Albania around the first weekend of March. Our last duo life modelling was for our friends at cave the day before WHO’s announcement.


In the Roman amphitheatre of Durrës, Albania.


From our last duo session, at cave.

As we entered official pandemic, however, the weight of concern could no longer be brushed aside lightly. One after another, life drawing groups started to close. Some ceased without hesitation, unwilling to countenance even the slenderest risk; others kept going until the unbearable burden of social responsibility, and eventually the law, made continuing impossible.

At the time, I had bookings in my diary through to 19 August. Early in the pandemic, life drawing organisers would send apologetic messages when inevitably they had to cancel. This practice didn’t last long, however. After a couple of weeks it was merely taken as understood that regular life drawing could not happen. Days drifted by and bookings evaporated until eventually all were gone. Respect goes to institutions that honoured their fees and even offered sick pay for models.

Escape from London

By mid-March we had some serious decisions to make. Esther’s autobiographical performance event with life drawing, ‘Growing Roots‘ had been due to take place at Candid Arts on 18 March. Would it be safe to go ahead? After long consideration of potential risks, she decided: “yes”. Ticket sales were limited and audience members could be seated 2m apart. It must have been one of the last shows in London before the arts sector closed completely. We’ve since verified there were no casualties.

Next came a bigger decision. If the country was to go into lockdown, where would we want to be locked down? We’ve been a couple for over 4 years but kept our separate abodes: my house in south Essex, Esther’s flat in south London. If we were to get through the coming months together we would have to share a home. We agreed the safest option was probably my place. On Friday 20 March, we packed as many bags as we could carry on a single train journey and, with little ado, Esther moved in.

We’d imagined we could shuttle to-and-fro her flat when other things were needed but as the national picture worsened over that weekend, it became clear this might not be the case. On the evening of Monday 23 March, we returned for all remaining items we could think would be useful. Whilst we were still there, it was announced the UK had officially entered a full lockdown. My mind reeled with dramatic visions of troops and tanks deployed onto the night-time streets – I said: “We need to go… now.

In fact the streets were quiet; not wholly deserted, yet still somehow oppressive. We took the DLR north to Limehouse, where we waited for a train to convey us from the capital. It felt like a wartime evacuation, albeit tinged with absurdity. Esther wheeled her bicycle with loaded panniers, whilst I cradled her beloved basil plant in one arm and hefted various bags on the other. It was late when, at last, we retreated into our Essex sanctuary, lowering the curtains on an unseen personal drama.


On the run – with seasoning.

Opting out

From this moment we effectively opted out of the life drawing world. Five days before full lockdown, as Admin of the London Life Drawing Models and Artists Facebook group I’d presciently posted:

The closure of life drawing institutions and groups for a few weeks – maybe months – is going hit hardest those who rely on them for financial independence. My personal suggestion for our community:

Artists and organisers – if/when you do book a model in the coming months, please could you prioritise on those for whom you know life modelling is a sole or essential form of income?

Life models – if (like me) you have a separate steady source of income but you are offered a new booking in the next few weeks, please could you consider suggesting the name of another model who you know relies on the work for their financial independence?

Around that time, Esther and I were approached by a life drawing group organiser to explore the idea of live-streaming a series of sessions for which we would meet with a tutor and camera operator once a week. At first, all parties were very keen – we even offered a spare room in our home for filming – but then unforeseen logistical problems and ultimately the full severity of lockdown extinguished our plans. The idea was never revisited and we were content not to pursue any similar notions.

Nonetheless, those who were determined to keep running life drawing sessions in a safe and economically-viable way realised they had but one choice: to go online. It was an enforced evolution for both artists and models alike; one that few would have favoured by natural inclination, but which turned out to be right for the circumstances. Life drawing had been forced to adapt and, as Jeff Goldblum put it in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way…

Life drawing online

Just one week after the nationwide lockdown on 23 March, several London-based life drawing groups held their first online sessions. A few had sensed what was coming and made provision even earlier. Technology was not an obstacle; Zoom became the de facto standard platform for connecting artists with organisers and models whilst all remained socially-distanced in their respective homes. It’s free for participants, easily installed and enables events to run safely within prevalent coronavirus restrictions.

A few details unrelated to the virus were less straightforward to resolve:

  • how much should organisers charge artists?
  • how much should organisers pay models?
  • how to safeguard nude models from exploitation on the internet?

Having stepped back from the community, I paid little attention to online discussion of these subjects at the time. It was clear, however, that impassioned polarised opinions were at large. For example, some people realised their livelihood might be dependent on this for a long time and wanted to establish a fair business footing from the outset. Others saw it solely as an interim measure for the mental well-being of those isolated at home with no income, and felt participation should be by voluntary donation only.

Ultimately, a mixture of social ethics, peer pressure and market forces determined the broad commercial ground. Artists in general pay less, perhaps half as much as they would to attend a session in person. Models, by contrast, get paid more to recognise their extra commitment in creating the pose space, providing good quality broadband and accepting the lifelong implications of exposure on the internet. Event organisers, meanwhile, have realised the world has no limits as their marketplace for income.

Sex sells

The shift online was driven by organisers and models in desperation, doing whatever they could to keep their vocations alive, their finances afloat and spirits uplifted. Even so, necessity is the mother of invention and within days a whole new genre was born. The early ground-breakers helped many lonely confined people assuage their artistic cravings. It wasn’t the same in 2D but it offered contact and continuity for life drawing devotees, whilst opening the practice for hitherto unreachable audiences.

This brand new dawn was not without a societal cost, however. As life drawing went back to square one, so did its sense of body equality. In the first month of online life drawing, it was evident that the overwhelming majority of models being booked were either conventionally attractive, physically athletic or – most likely – both. There was very little, if any, representation of ‘ordinary’ everyday or unconventional body types. Given the wonderful diversity of models in London, this made a stark statement.

I don’t believe any individual made the conscious decision to ‘sex up’ life drawing but there’s absolutely no doubt that years of progress on body positivity went backwards in a matter of weeks. As a non-participating bystander, I wondered what was behind this apparent ethical slide. Three possible reasons came to mind:

  • commercial – organisers starting a new business selected only those models they felt would be alluring to the most customers and maximise their income in competition with other groups starting at the same time
  • excitement – organisers suddenly realised they were no longer restricted to the same loyal pool of London models they’d relied upon for years and could instead take their pick from around the world
  • availability – models who do not conform to mainstream body ideals may have felt less comfortable in baring all for scrutiny online, where bullying, abuse and body-shaming are still rife

Whatever, I felt sad that newcomers to London-based life drawing might see it as an elitist scene accepting only bodily perfection. Other life models may have experience and talent but during that period, if they weren’t a young dancer or acrobat, physically ripped or classically curvaceous, they had to look elsewhere for income. After the first month or two, a bit more diversity emerged – perhaps self-consciously in response to Black Lives Matter – but body equality still didn’t seem to be a consideration.

Much of the art world had come to a sudden halt. Institutions were pleading for funds, stressing the invaluable role of art in developing us, elevating us, lifting up our spirits and tearing down barriers. With so many people struggling to manage their mental health during on-going lockdowns and isolation, I hope life drawing online will realise its own potential to fulfil these roles. It helps people create, but can also help them simply to cope, to face their body image issues and show them they’re not alone.

Life on the outside

I’d publicly put myself out the game before the scene shifted in a way that would have probably excluded me anyway. Esther was of a similar mind. We’d agreed we would model online if it was for an exciting project or close friends but otherwise we weren’t drawn to it. For both of us, life modelling is about a connection with those in the room; a response to the space, the atmosphere, the relative positions of artists, the invisible signals, the inspirations of the moment. It’s about people and presence.



Working the spaces – at The Birds and cave last year.

With life modelling off the agenda for us, we looked for different ways to satisfy our artistic urges. The first priority, of course, was basic survival. By April, disease was running rampant and deaths were being counted by the thousand. Life was all about isolation, prolonged hand-washing, crossing the road to avoid other pedestrians and waiting in long solemn socially-distanced queues at supermarkets. Still, the sun was shining most days and we relished our long walks on open land behind my house.

My day-job continued throughout, busier than ever, though now working from home rather than an office. Enforced cancellation of foreign holidays meant I was left with several days’ leave to take, so I contrived about two months’ worth of 3-day or 4-day weeks. As England recorded its sunniest May on record, so Esther and I spent many hours pottering naked in the garden, tending our newly planted tomatoes, beans and courgettes. The pandemic slowed our lives and brought us back closer to nature.


Tending our crops.

Back indoors I began spring cleaning with the aim of completely clearing a room that would become Esther’s studio for art, yoga and mindfulness. I feel rather ashamed it took a global crisis for me to tidy the place, but maybe when our world seems out of control, all that’s left to do is get one’s own house in order. As a performance project, whilst on our once-a-day rationed walks for exercise we recorded location footage to create a short film marking a personal milestone for Esther – Friday 8 May.

Salvaging summer

On 10 May, the government announced a “conditional plan” to reopen society. Esther visited her flat that weekend for the first time since lockdown; gradually thereafter she divided her time between our two homes. Reopening society was to be a frustratingly slow process. Most people’s plans for summer gatherings or events or holidays were in some way thwarted. Even the London Naked Bike Ride – a June tradition – was cancelled, so Esther and I improvised our own ‘Not the World Naked Bike Ride‘.


Not world naked bike riders.

Another tradition each June is our gathering with friends to mark the summer solstice. This year we went to the Millennium Stone Circle on Hilly Fields, expecting to see a handful of people. Instead we found the place crammed with musicians, Black Lives Matters activists, and many young people. The public had lost its faith in government hypocrites who break their own coronavirus rules, and this was a consequence. Only in the evening was there space enough for some fleetingly-skyclad solstice capers.


Hilly Fields solstice by day…


…and by night.

Come the first week of July, lockdown rules were eased to allow overnight stays away from home. By lucky alignment, this was exactly in time for a trip north we’d booked months before. We weren’t allowed to stay in Scotland as originally planned, but our train tickets took us to the Lake District instead. A change of scenery was bliss, as was being ahead of the UK’s ‘staycation’ rush. We even managed an outdoor meet at Castlerigg Stone Circle with our Cumbria-based friends, Ursula and Simon.


On Castlerigg Stone Circle.


Simon, Ursula – with Octy, of course – and Esther.

When subsequently we tried making plans for a mid-August break, it was clear we’d lost our initiative. The rest of the UK had caught up and overtaken us. Trendy holiday hotspots had long since been fully booked, but we managed to find room at Havant on the south coast. From there we explored the islands of Hayling, Thorney and Portsea, and dined on pub cuisine of varying merit. Life was creeping back towards normality; even life modelling in the same room as artists looked set to return.


On Thorney Island.


On Hayling Island.

The new normal

But life still isn’t a recognisable normal. Not the normal of last year or the year before. Our new normal is uncertainty. Sure, we have life model bookings in our diaries again, we boldly make plans to travel abroad, we book gallery tickets and restaurant tables; we wear masks, wash our hands, keep a distance. Yet we may lose it all within days. Coronavirus cases are once more on the rise, scientists are gravely prophesying and our piss-poor politicians are priming us for another lockdown.

Although I’ve written critically of life drawing online, I mean no malice towards anyone involved. We’ve all done the best we can simply to keep going and survive. There was never a guidebook for this. Now, however, I believe life drawing online is here to stay, with or without a pandemic. The earning potential has proven far too great for it to be abandoned, even when traditional life drawing returns – in the flesh. I can’t see it ever being my thing, but I do hope it will re-evolve to embrace broad-based body equality.

In the past six months I’ve felt fear of loss, fear of a future I’m powerless to influence, the stresses of work and making life work, the extra burden of responsibility to others. I’ve also found moments of tranquillity, learned new skills, discovered beauty outdoors that I never knew was within walking distance of my home. Above all, I’ve been lucky. My sincerest condolences to anyone reading this who has lost friends or loved ones. The virus does not discriminate. It could easily have been me. It might be me next.

I appended “part 1” to the title of this blog because the virus is still out there…

Stay safe, everyone! Life goes on.

Not the World Naked Bike Ride 2020

Context – it all happened so fast

On 31 December 2019, a pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in Wuhan, China, was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). A month later, on 31 January, the first cases of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the UK were confirmed. On 5 March, a first death in the UK from the coronavirus disease – COVID-19 – was confirmed. The number of known UK cases passed 100. Six days later, WHO declared a pandemic.

On 23 March, the UK was ordered into partial lockdown. We were instructed only to leave our homes for limited purposes such as: for any medical need; to go shopping for basic necessities; to take one form of exercise a day; and to go to and from work, only when absolutely necessary. By 12 April, the number of people reported to have died with the coronavirus in UK hospitals alone exceeded 10,000.

On 14 April, just 105 days after that first report to WHO in China and with more than 12,000 deaths in the UK, the inevitable announcement came from WNBR London:

“So sorry to say it, but here is the news you were probably expecting to hear. The World Naked Bike Ride in London will not take place on 13 June 2020. Participants and spectators should not go to the start locations. WNBR London has considered current circumstances and concluded we must take a cautious approach for the safety of our participants and the general public. We assume it will still be unwise to encourage public gatherings in June.

“We have seen no reliable evidence to indicate when it will be safe to take the ride onto the streets so we have not proposed a new date for the ride. It is possible that there will be no ride in 2020. We will review the situation at each of our monthly meetings and have the ability to mount a ride at short notice if circumstances change. We will let you know if there is any news.”

Many other regional rides had already cancelled, as indeed had most events across most of the whole world. We were all shut away in our homes for our own safety and the safety of others, only allowed to take exercise outdoors with members of our own household. People were dying by the thousand, while the living were going stir-crazy within their own four walls. We all needed a lift. We needed to do something. Safely.

Bowers Marsh Naked Bike Ride

Locked-down in south Essex, Esther and I decided that for one day, our ‘one form of exercise‘ would be our very own naked bike ride. Not a World Naked Bike Ride – not an official one – but one for ourselves, somewhere local, without many people about, where we could ride for at least 10km, for more than hour, without courting trouble or breaking the lockdown rules. We opted for RSPB Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve.


9:47am by Church Road: ready to roll

Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve facilities were closed but its walking and cycling trails remained accessible. In early sunshine on Monday 1 June, we painted our chests with positive slogans, saddled-up in loose clothing and set off. Our start point was by Church Road, a couple of kilometres from home, just south of its bridge over the A13. We undressed in the tree-shadows of a discreet side turning.

Church Road descent

At 9:47am, we began. This upper part of Church Road passes beside a crematorium and cemetery so we took great care to check that nobody was visiting. Further along, we were ignored by a mother and daughters out walking, before we hooked right and freewheeled down the steep hill leading to St Margaret’s Church. After a brief photo stop, we continued to the end of the road and turned right, into the reserve itself.


9:48am by Church Road: waiting for traffic to clear


9:49am on Church Road: about to turn south


9:51am on Church Road: freewheeling downhill


9:53am on Church Road: a pose at St Margaret’s Church


9:54am on Church Road: under the c2c rail line between Benfleet and Pitsea


9:54am on Church Road: the parked cars of other visitors


9:55am on Church Road: into the reserve we go

Round to Great Pound

For the rest of our ride we would be bumping along stone tracks. Our outbound route would be roughly circular, going anticlockwise: north to west to south to east to north. We started slowly, our city bike wheels crackling the pale gravel beneath us. The first quarter of the ride took us to the most westerly point of our circle, the first lake of our traverse, evocatively named ‘Great Pound scrape‘.


9:58am: starting slowly off road


9:59am: no knowing what’s around each corner


10:00am: our only encounter on this stretch – a lone twitcher


10:02am: not many obstacles, but this was one


10:05am: emerging from the bushes into marshland and reeds

Between the lagoons

The south part of this circuit sent us between two lagoons: a freshwater lagoon to our left and a saline lagoon to our right. On the path by a reedbed at the first of these, we met our second twitcher; a nice chap with whom we stopped to talk for a few minutes. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by our nudity, but warned us that other people ahead might take offence. I smiled; we were natural in nature, just part of the wildlife.


10:10am: a sign of life, part 1


10:11am: now heading south-east


10:20am: a chat with a friendly twitcher


10:27am: ignoring a helicopter overhead


10:28am: freshwater left, saline right


10:29am: gates for grazing cattle


10:31am: under a big sky

The long way

A couple of women on bicycles passed while we chatted, taking no notice and surely no offence. We pushed on: first left towards the Old Saltings viewing point, then right, but a missed left-turn meant we would be going the long way around. Ahead we saw the people about whom we’d been warned, but it looked like they were only a couple of minutes’ walk from their parked cars. We waited a short while, then continued.


10:32am: first left


10:34am: Old Saltings left… but we’re going right


10:36am: a sign of life, part 2


10:38am: passing a frogless pond


10:44am: within metres of completing one circuit

Parking and picnic tables

Almost back at Church Road, we turned left onto a narrow path running alongside the pre-pandemic entrance to the car park. We walked our bikes over a low embankment, cycled across its surface of broken white shells, walked over another embankment on the far side, then veered right, around a barn and between picnic tables. On a superb morning like this, I was surprised to find the whole area deserted.


10:46am: entering the car park


10:46am: car park crossing


10:48am: one hour into our ride


10:49am: no picnickers here


10:50am: back towards the Old Saltings

Saline Lagoon

We soon completed a loop back to the Old Saltings crossroads from where we would start our long return journey. We hadn’t gone very far, however, when we took a short detour along a more overgrown track down to East Haven wildlife viewing point at the saline lagoon. Here it was private enough for us to get off our bikes and take a break, with little chance any random encounters.


10:51am: an utterly pointless gate


10:55am: up to East Haven wildlife viewing point


10:59am: us

Backtracking

It was a few minutes past 11am when we rejoined the main track. From this point on, we would be backtracking paths we’d already ridden. With a friendly nod, we passed another cyclist (clothed) and we met our twitcher friend again as he looked for marsh harriers and cuckoos. In the last quarter, we overtook a guy that we’d crossed on our outbound journey, and we passed a couple of women walkers. None complained.


11:03am: between the lagoons again


11:13am: with an RSPB van away to our right – distant, but did they see us?


11:14am: into the final quarter


11:16am: a walker we’d passed once before


11:18am: cracked my chain guard on this bloody barrier


11:22am: St Margaret’s Church in sight

Finished!

We called a halt to our ride just before we rejoined Church Road. It was 11:23am and we’d been cycling naked for more than an hour and a half. Under a cloudless sky, our backs had been baked, our nostrils assailed by pollen and our exhilaration eventually became exhaustion. Our ride was finished and so were we; but we had honoured the official WNBR spirit. Let’s hope that spirit can reclaim our cities before 2020 ends.


11:23am: end of the first – and probably last – Bowers Marsh Naked Bike Ride

Our ride on Vimeo

Our route around Bowers Marsh

Open the official RSPB Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve trails guide (PDF 156KB).

About the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR)

WNBR is a worldwide campaign that demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists and protests against car culture. Its linked objectives are to:

  1. protest against the global dependency on oil
  2. curb car culture
  3. obtain real rights for cyclists
  4. demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on city streets
  5. celebrate body freedom

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.

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