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Royal Inn on the Park, London, 5 December 2019

This was my first life model booking since returning from a summer fortnight in South Africa. Here winter was beginning to assert itself and Christmas was fewer than three weeks away. I walked briskly through the busy murk of east London, to the Royal Inn on the Park, wondering whether many artists would do likewise; the answer was yes! Using the venue’s Christmas flowers, I made my pose space a bit festive for them…

In fact I think almost 30 people joined us to draw – a good turn-out, and very pleasing as I like to see Adrian Dutton’s London Life Drawing groups doing well. We began the evening with a 10-minute standing pose then swept through three 3-minute poses before closing the first half with poses of 5, 15 and 20-minutes. One small heater plus the warmth emanating from an intense oval of sketchers kept me cosy throughout.

Some of my poses were new, others were recent favourites, but as always I checked my blog to make sure I hadn’t used any of them when I was last here in August. For the second half I provided two poses of 30-minutes each. The first saw me seated on the floor with crossed legs and one forearm weaving between them. The second was less fussy, more natural; a simple standing pose with one hand on its shoulder.

At 9:30pm we were done. Applause was kindly forthcoming and works were set upon the floor for general admiration. Several eye-catching drawings managed to elude my camera, which was frustrating, but there was good quality, fun and commitment in the creations all around the room. Returning to my bulky clothes, I bade my farewells and departed into the December night air, reacclimatised to joyful London life modelling.

Four artworks above by Peter Dobbin

Observatory Community Centre, Cape Town, 27 November 2019

If you ask life models about the personal benefits of nude modelling, most are likely to talk about inward things like improved self-confidence, body acceptance and personal development on a physical, mental, spiritual and emotional level. But I also appreciate the places it’s taken me – parts of cities I would never otherwise visit – and the people I’ve met. So now when I travel, I keep an eye out for life modelling opportunities.

The familiar profile of Table Mountain looming over Cape Town, South Africa

A less familiar outline of Table Mountain from the Observatory district

Ahead of our trip to South Africa, Esther and I contacted The Artists’ Co-operative based in the Observatory district of Cape Town, to ask if they might be interested in drawing us as a couple. They were, so after exchanging several messages, an event was arranged at Observatory Community Centre. This was to be a special session, which meant no local models missed out on their regular paid work.

Observatory Community Hall, Cape Town

Observatory is Cape Town’s Bohemian suburb. We arrived early by Uber to avoid the city’s notorious rush hour traffic and also to have a little look about. After an excellent veggie meal and wine around the corner at Mimi’s, we walked to our venue. Helpfully our contact, Terence, just happened to be outside the entrance at the time. He guided us to the art room and introduced us to the group.

The art room

Special guest model!

Once everyone who’d been expected was present, we settled comfortably together on a sheet-covered sofa. The group was friendly and welcoming, but when the art started they drifted into a quiet focus – the only noise came from window shutters that banged in the wind. We remained motionless for the first hour of what would be a 2-hour pose, with a tea break midway. Excellent works had already emerged by half-time.

During the half-hour internal we joined our artists at the kitchen end of the studio and talked about Cape Town’s art scene. I felt somewhat anomalous as I seemed to be a male model in a room festooned with female-only life studies – possibly symptomatic of male artists outnumbering females two-to-one. Nonetheless, life drawing seems to be thriving here, with several groups meeting regularly. All very encouraging.

Artwork by Terence Visagie

Artwork by Hilary Iwanski

Our sofa was covered with bits of masking tape – legacy place-markers for countless previous models – but we located the ones relevant to us and got into position for our last hour. A couple of stretches for stiff necks and numb arms got us to the finish. The session was unremarkable in its demands on us as models, but I think enriching as a fresh experience for all concerned. There were lots of smiles at the end.

Artwork by Andrew Berman

Thank you, Terence, for making this event, and to all from The Artists’ Co-operative!

47/49 Tanner Street, London, 13 November 2019

After a chilly traipse through the dull, damp streets of Bermondsey, I was surprised to find the cavernous ground floor area of 47/49 Tanner Street comfortably warm. I laid my white sheet on the floor, undressed and commenced with four 5-minute poses.

This was my first time here since February so I wasn’t self-conscious about re-using poses I’d come up with since then, and subsequently deployed across London. It was all new stuff as far as Tanner Street Life Drawing was concerned.

After further poses of 10 and 15-minutes, we took a short break for tea and chocolate digestives. Some striking artworks were already emerging; not least those drawn with marker pen on reflective gold or ombre glitter card. I’d never seen the like before.

For a final long pose, I sat on the group’s newly acquired platform work bench. I soon found it had a slight propensity for creaking, so staying still was never more important. 50-minutes and just two creaks later, my work was done. It went well.

cave, London, 12 November 2019

I arrived at the entrance gate to cave just in time to catch group organiser, Karen tell one of her artists: “we’re due to start in five minutes but I’m a bit worried because our model, Steve, isn’t here yet.” In best seasonal panto style, I boomed: “Oh yes he is!

Vagaries of the Jubilee and Victoria line had slowed my progress – in an unexpected encounter, I’d almost knocked over Hesketh Hubbard Art Society president, Simon as I dashed between platforms – but we started on time with five 1-minute poses.

Two 5-minute poses and two 10-minute poses took us to a break. Karen served wine and various confections to her bumper turn-out of artists, and we had time for a good catch-up natter. There was lots of positivity in the house.

We resumed with a 25-minute pose that may have drifted closer to half-an-hour, but I was comfortable and all was well. A 20-minute pose concluded the session. So much colour, vigour and quality in the resultant artworks! A lovely evening all-round.

Spirited Bodies at Figure This! 2019

Figure This!

Between 9 November and 1 December 2019, Thames-Side Studios Gallery hosted an exhibition, conference and workshops, convening international artists whose work addresses the human figure. The aim of Figure This! was to pose questions such as: Is figuration a useful label? Can a work be apolitical? What is the role of beauty? Can the artist’s gaze ever be neutral? It would also showcase some fantastic art.

As part of her ambitious programme, curator Elina Cerla had invited Spirited Bodies to organise a model-led life drawing workshop in which two models – Esther Bunting and myself – would lead discussions about the role of the model, body image, and the challenges of traditional life drawing perceptions. On a balmy August evening in Paris, we all got together to make exciting plans over a light repast at Chez Marianne.

Exhibition preview

Our workshop was to begin at 5:30pm on Saturday 9 November, immediately after the exhibition closed at the end of its first day. Ahead of that we checked out the artworks and what would be our pose space during the exhibition preview the evening before. It was cold, dark and damp outside, but a good crowd of people made the effort to come along. No doubt they appreciated the great art – and tasty wine – as much as we did.

Details above: Max Middleton, Irene Cuadrado, Charmaine Watkiss, Jennifer Sendall, Luca Indraccolo; Nan Qiao, Elina Cerla, Jane Clatworthy, Marilyn Durkin, Wendy Elia.

The artworks were inspiring, but it didn’t escape our notice that the gallery space was rather chilly. We wondered whether it could be made warmer for our nude poses…

Model-led life drawing workshop

As it turned out we had nothing to fear. Large plastic sheets partitioned the far end of the gallery to retain its heat. We occupied one side of the space with artists arranged as two arcs before us. This being a model-led session, Esther and I decided the type and duration of each pose. We set our timer to open at 5-minutes, then began to talk; taking turns to share our personal backgrounds, experiences, insights and opinions.

Poses were 5-minutes, 5, 10, 10, and 20-minutes up to a break; then five of 1-minute, 15-minutes and 20-minutes to the close. We had prepared an outline of all the issues we wanted to cover, but in practice our delivery was loose, spontaneous, diverse and unscripted. Artists engaged with questions and seemed receptive to observations we shared. Our dynamic developed at a steady pace and overall it seemed to go well.


I can neither recall nor recount everything we said throughout the full two hours but I can share an essay I’d written while supping cocktails and wine at the Masoch Café in Lviv, 40 days earlier. I didn’t read or recite it at our workshop; I’d scribbled it solely as an exercise to help focus my own thoughts ahead of the event – but, for better or worse, here it is now…

Where I’m from

I was fortunate to have a very safe, secure working class upbringing near Tilbury in south Essex. Money was never in abundance but always well managed. We lived in an area defined by its industry and docks, mitigated by surrounding swathes of open countryside.

My father worked the land before becoming a labourer at an oil and chemical terminal on the River Thames. My mother was – in the terminology of the era – a housewife; cooking, cleaning and making clothes for me and my younger brother. When my father was made redundant about four years before his pension was due, my mother immediately took work on a supermarket checkout while he saw out his career doing back-breaking shifts in a dockside warehouse.

In both cases, they endured grindingly hard, under-appreciated employment of a kind I’ve been spared in my own working life, but their example has shown me a strong work ethic that I’ve tried to carry forward into my life modelling. By that, I don’t mean unquestioning adherence to instructions or unimaginative repetition, but understanding the value and contribution of every piece of work in any setting, doing it to the best of one’s ability, respecting those who pay for it and being due full respect in return.

My attitude as life model

I work as a life model because that is what I choose to do for myself, but I give all I can for every individual in the room, as far as my body and mind will allow.

I am neither athletic nor muscle-bound nor beautiful nor sexy by any classical or contemporary standard, but I am a unique human being with a singular physique and an innate will to use it as best as I’m able for artists observing me from every vantage point.


I understand that it’s not good enough for me to revel in self-indulgent satisfaction simply at being the centre of attention, or to expect you should gaze with wonder, awe, admiration and gratitude at the sensational sight of me naked before you. Life modelling is work – hard work, requiring focus and imagination. It exacts a physical and emotional toll. It should be valued on both sides of the easel.

I believe there are very few models that can be considered true narcissists of the type who glory in flaunting their own self-assured magnificence or gorgeousness. I’m not one of those and, whilst I wouldn’t mind having a bit of magnificence or gorgeousness, I am also aware that without a touch of humility it can inspire as much sniggering as admiration.

No, I suspect I belong to a much more common species of life model, one that is hugely self-critical and dislikes many aspects of their body, but who has arrived at a point of thinking: if I am to be seen and judged at all, then let all of me be seen and judged.

This is a surprisingly powerful idea. Once it has taken root, it can quickly flourish into a compulsion that urgently needs an outlet – ideally a legal one.

The logic of nudity

When a person is fully clothed, they may be judged by their tastes and choices – outward manifestations of their personality. Even when they’re in swimwear we are judging, consciously or subconsciously: how well they have conformed to society’s expectations; what they’ve chosen to reveal; what they conceal; the apparent confidence with which they do both.

Naked, however… if we judge the naked body, we’re daring to judge nature itself, in it’s purity and authenticity.

Nakedness is truth – it is the honesty of life.

I remember once in my late teens, sunbathing alone in my parents’ back garden and – in a vivid moment of clarity – realising how insane it was that I’d undressed indoors, but then put on shorts to get a tan. And how when we go swimming we get naked, then put on trunks or a swimsuit or bikini before getting in the water. Afterwards we have to wring out these bits of cloth, deal with their dampness, let them dry, wash them, dry them again… it seems so senseless.

Since that time I’ve been very much at ease with the comfortable common-sense of nakedness. But I’m aware it’s also something I enjoy and for which I actually have an enthusiasm. That’s a circumstance I’m less able to intellectualise, but then why do any of us have particular predilections? In my case, perhaps I was simply marked from birth to live my best days as I was born: naked.

Bodily perfection

It’s important to understand that having the capacity, keenness and professional capability to be naked in an art room or even society at large is not the same as having a body positive self-image. There’s a big difference. But the condition of the body that nature has given me should be a matter of concern for me alone. Nowadays I’m pretty much at ease with it in the art studio, but not all days are good days. I’m grateful to artists who discover and capture the best of me.

I suspect many of us share a common idea of the perfect male body, or at least would imagine many common attributes. This form of perfection is, for most men, an unrealistic ideal that has been partly predetermined by human evolution, but is also relentlessly reinforced by modern social conditioning.

We’re an intelligent species – we can discern reality from fantasy – yet still we constantly judge ourselves against fantasy ideals and think less of ourselves if we don’t conform. Through art, print, film, television, and now in maximum overdrive through the tyranny of social media, we continue propagating flawless archetypes with which to torment each other, subliminally if not literally. I defy anyone to tell me that’s not the case. And it’s happening in life drawing too.

In London

In present day London – the greatest melting pot of diversity and creativity on the face of Earth – we’re witnessing an unprecedented boom in life drawing, with new groups springing up almost on a weekly basis. But what are we seeing in terms of representation?

Whilst an increase in groups ought to mean more work for a greater diversity of models, in fact it appears that competition for a finite pool of artist ‘customers’ means we’re lapsing back onto the well-worn mantra that “sex sells”.

Don’t just take my word for it.

Check the social media adverts for life drawing sessions in any given week; are those models representative of the whole population?

Check the range of artworks posted on Instagram and in Facebook life drawing groups; are those images an observation of all humanity?

Even when a life drawing event is advertised as being – quotes – “Body Positive” it’s mostly likely to mean they’ve booked a young female model who is – quotes – “fat”. I understand the strong body politics of that choice, but as a perpetual totem for body positivity, it’s as though youthful female fleshiness is the only imaginable variation from the physical ideals of antiquity.


There are more people willing to try life modelling than ever before, but I do feel that over recent years, in London especially, life drawing has been ‘sexed up’. It’s now artists alone – as paying ‘customers’ – who can exercise their influence and reverse this trend by demanding more from their groups and classes.

Of course, show us young bodies that are effortlessly lithe and sexy, but also show us old bodies, ancient bodies, lived-in bodies with character; show us the able and the disabled; and let us use our full palette of colours.

Shows us confidence and trepidation, show us ordinary bodies and extraordinary bodies, show us ourselves and the other, and all the others. Show us the easy choices and show us the hard sells.

If an artist says “I found that body difficult to draw” then challenge them again and again – not mercilessly nor relentlessly, but with fair regularity.

The role of art

I’m sentimental enough to believe that the figurative arts should serve a higher purpose than just aping popular culture, and that a goal of the artist should be to develop their talent to observe and creatively interpret all that humanity can offer, be that mainstream or mundane or magnificently mutant.

The art world loves to see itself as cutting-edge, confrontational, uncompromising and pushing boundaries, but I fear in twenty-first century cosmopolitan London, the life drawing scene has drifted closer to Love Island than biennale Venice.

That’s not to say it isn’t the most progressive life drawing city in the world – in all likelihood it really is – it’s just that the ingredients are here to facilitate a wildly diverse study of human bodies and all their astonishing colours, shapes, sizes, ages and abilities, yet the default seems to be stuck on bland beauty; the unimaginative erotic.

I don’t know what it will take to shift this position in reality. Maybe artists are quite happy with the scene as it is, and in fact there is no appetite for change.

I do believe London life drawing has its own cultural elite who for the most part are good honourable people, but who seem so mired in commercial considerations – maybe with one eye also favouring their own personal preferences – that perhaps they don’t realise how their own modest yet not insignificant contribution is helping perpetuate toxic body ideals.

The London life drawing scene offers innumerable opportunities to draw the nude human form but caters disproportionately for traditional hackneyed tastes.

Reclaim life

My appeal to life drawing artists is this:

If you truly wish to develop your observational abilities and your skill at capturing unfamiliar forms, then ask your group organisers for more variety.

That doesn’t mean a variety of clichéd sexiness, and nor does it mean only the extremes of any given variation. It means the ordinary variety we see around us every day; naturalness without sensation or glorification – or to put it another way, ‘life’.

Let life drawing turn its gaze back to ‘life’ as it really is, not how mass media would have us believe it should look.

Whilst Esther and I have our own unique physicalities and styles, we are nonetheless slim, white and able-bodied, and thus part of an over-represented demographic within the modelling world. My appeal for more ordinary variety is not with ourselves in mind, but rather for those who may have much to offer as life models yet feel excluded from opportunities that increasingly seem to favour glamour or outlandishness.


Somehow despite receiving a double-barrelled outpouring of life model ideology and probable egotism, our artists successfully retained enough focus to create wonderful drawings from beginning to end. A selection are shared below, with the names of the artists who were happy to be credited. As the saying goes, “it’s good to talk” – I hope we did justice to our profession.

Two 5-minute poses, two 10-minute poses

Artwork by Sue T

Artwork by Rodger Kibble

Artwork by Steve Carey


Artwork by Nan Qiao

Artwork by Steve Carey

Artwork by Elina Cerla

Artwork by Rodger Kibble


Artwork by Sue T

Artwork by Nan Qiao

20-minute pose

Artwork by Elina Cerla

Artwork by Elina Cerla

Artwork by Rodger Kibble

Artwork by Sue T

Artwork by Steve Carey

Artwork by Lee Fether

Artwork by Nan Qiao


Artwork by Ken Bruin

Five 1-minute poses


Artwork by Steve Carey

Artwork by Rodger Kibble

Artwork by Rodger Kibble


15-minute pose

Artwork by Ken Bruin

Artwork by Nan Qiao

Artwork by Steve Carey

Artwork by Rodger Kibble

Artwork by Sue T

Artwork by Elina Cerla

20-minute pose

Artwork by Sue T

Artwork by Rodger Kibble

Artwork by Nan Qiao

Artwork by Lee Fether

Artwork by Steve Carey

Artwork by Elina Cerla

The Star*, London, 6 November 2019

Maybe I’d given myself a hard act to follow. After the previous week’s Jolly Sketcher short-pose Halloween special at The Star* in Archway, I was returning to the same venue for an evening of long poses. No skeletal body paint or props this time around; just me, my body, the floor and a sofa. This was one for the purists.

By the time this evening’s artists had settled down in a wide arc around me, we were running a couple of minutes late. Group organiser, Tanja immediately got us back on track by starting with a 3-minute pose instead of the originally-intended five. We then continued: 5-minutes, 10, 10, 15 and 15-minutes.

At the interval everyone headed downstairs to enjoy pre-ordered pies in the main bar area. I wasn’t having a pie myself but I followed anyway, not least because it gave an excuse for me to get back into my chunky clothes and warm-up for a while. Our room hadn’t been terribly cold – the heaters did their job – but extra insulation never hurts.

A single long pose occupied the whole of our second half. I got myself comfortable on the sofa and mentally prepared for 55-60 minutes thus. No matter how cosy one feels at the outset, a few aches will always manifest towards the end of a static hour. It was fine, though. Two enjoyable visits in two weeks – a recommended venue.

The Star*, London, 30 October 2019

The Jolly Sketcher has brought life drawing joy to new venues across north London. This Halloween booking would be the first of two successive Wednesday evenings at The Star* in Archway. I arrived an hour early for our 7pm start so I had plenty of time to apply the skeletal make-up last seen in Penge just two days before.

The first-floor room seemed a perfect space for life drawing. It felt large and light, with a sofa for poses, plus a wide arc of tables and chairs guaranteeing every artist a clear line of sight. Functionally ideal but decoratively spartan, it gained ornamentation when regular London life artist Hugh arrived with his own exquisitely hand-carved pumpkin.

As well as having its Halloween theme, this was to be a session of short work with no pose longer than 20-minutes. While artists were settling down, group organiser Tanja Hassel started a random spooky Spotify playlist and then got us underway by calling for three poses of 2-minutes and three of 5-minutes.

On Monday, I’d worn a cape and a long white wig for my opening three short poses. I decided against them here, however, as they seemed superfluous. Plus I would have my back to a wall rather than being in the round. My only props were a narrow length of black material and a grim plastic skull. Next came two 10-minutes poses.

Having sat and stood, clutching my skull, I opted to end the first half with a 15-minute semi-reclining pose for which I extended one arm and draped the material around me. This presented a bit of a foreshortening horrorshow for those directly in front, but they handled it superbly. In fact, characterful work emerged around the room.

At the interval, Tanja and most of the artists departed downstairs to dine heartily from the pub’s selection of home-cooked hot pies. I was invited to join them but suspected that a bellyful of pie might undermine my credibility as a skeleton. Instead, I stayed in lean form for the three 20-minute poses of our second half – first seated on a stool.

I stood for the penultimately pose, holding up the dark material over my left shoulder, around my back and out beyond my right thigh. To conclude the evening, I sat on the floor with right arm on right knee, left arm on the sofa arm and both hands hanging in claw-like pretence. I felt in good shape and the sketchers did indeed seem jolly.

Our playlist swung from the Ghostbusters theme to Willow’s Song, from Thriller to The Time Warp, from Get Ur Freak On to The Monster Mash – tracks not heard at every fine art atelier but creative juices were stimulated nonetheless, to superb effect. After helping to clean-up, I headed home; I think I remembered everything…

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