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Garrett Centre, London, 15 March 2023

Late 2022, early 2023 has been a time of strikes. Unionised British people are at last drawing a line and saying enough-is-enough to the duplicitous, self-serving cronyism of successive Conservative governments. Good! I support them all. And if a strike by tube workers shuts down the London Underground, so be it. We have to draw a line.

The strike on 15 March meant that instead of an 8-minute walk to the Garrett Centre from Bethnal Green tube station, I had a 38-minute trek from Limehouse train station. No problem, even in the rain. But would any artists turn up? The answer was a “yes”! About 17, I think. A tad down for one of Adrian Dutton’s groups, but commendable.

I started with a 15-minute standing pose, and artists began drawing their lines. It was comfortable work, but maybe I should have heeded an early warning when it overran by 5 minutes. Timing is crucial. We followed with five speedy poses of 1-minute each before lengthening gradually with 5 minutes (seated) and 10 minutes (standing).

The last pose before the break was supposed to be 20 minutes so I got into a seated position that I knew to be sustainable for 20 minutes. As so often happens before the break, however, we overran again. Eventually after 30 minutes with stabbing pains in my supporting left wrist, time was called. (sigh). I’ll set an alarm for myself next time!

Consolation during our interval came in the form of a tasty hot dhal, plus tea, biscuits and assorted other snacks. Notwithstanding this fine refreshment I guess I was still a bit moody as we began the second half, judging by my facial expression as captured by a few of the artists. I sat for 10 minutes then stood for the final 23 minutes.

We finished bang on time. Artists finished drawing their lines and spread their superb artworks across the floor for shared appreciation. Many extraordinarily accomplished creations had emerged. I was even gifted a fantastic set of drawings by shachartzin. My mood was much better on the 38-minute return walk. I’d drawn a line.

Hackney Den, London, 14 March 2023

Hackney Den Drawing is a Tuesday evening life drawing group started in December last year by brilliant artist, tutor, organiser and friend Catherine Hall. Her much-loved Drawing the Star sessions have now shifted to be one day later on Wednesdays, so what better way to fill the void than by launching a new group? New… and different.

This was my first visit to the Hackney Den pub and its downstairs art space. The bar area felt chilled, comfortable and came close to luring me into drink, but I’d had a few too many at the weekend so stayed dry. I drifted down to what I imagined would be a murky spot-lit cellar, but instead found a bright clinically-clean tiled gallery space.

It seems I was unlucky to encounter it between exhibitions, otherwise there would be art aplenty. The stark purity of its unadorned monochrome decor had an appeal of its own, however. Soon the walls were lined with artists – the event was a sell-out – and we got underway: a 5 minute pose to begin, like at The Star, but then 10 minutes.

Whereas The Star’s pose lengths start at 5 minutes then dwindle all the way down to three of 30 seconds before increasing again, here they go up and up from the outset. This wasn’t the only difference; the best news is that Catherine is once more offering feedback, tips and informal tuition to the artists. My next pose: 20 minutes seated.

Not since the days of posing for Catherine’s groups at The Russet café (2015-2016), and before that the A-side B-side Gallery (2014-2015), have I had the opportunity to eavesdrop while she gives artistic advice and guidance. With perception, experience, knowledge, clarity and enthusiasm, she’s a natural – I’m so glad she’s doing it again.

After a short break for refreshments, we completed this session with two more poses of 20 minutes each. For the first I stood with left leg a pace forward and arms out low on each side; for the last I sat upright with knees crooked on the floor, leaning slightly forward over my right thigh. Proven postures, both composed and sustainable.

One tradition happily carried over from The Star is that of artists being encouraged to lay their drawings on the floor for mutual appreciation at the end of the evening. Such wonders to behold! From the strong to the stylish to the simple joy of mark-making. It was a pleasure to be here. Sorry I couldn’t stay longer for post-art socialising!

The Conservatoire, Blackheath, 6 March 2023

Quick poses to begin: three of 1-minute, which I timed for the class by counting in my head “30, 30, 29, 29, 28, 28…“, then 5 and 10 minutes timed by tutor Victoria Rance shrewdly using a clock. One long pose would follow. Arriving at The Conservatoire, I had agreed to stand for the long pose so I sat for the 5 and 10 minutes. I think I must have sat well, however, as the plan was changed and I sat for the long pose too.

We started the long pose a few minutes before 8pm and would be staying with it until 10pm. I’d been offered stretch breaks every 20 minutes but declined the first two and instead went through till close to 9pm before taking time-out. I’d taken care with each angled limb, twisted muscle and supporting pressure point, to ensure the pose would be as ache-free and sustainable for as long as possible.

I’ve probably said before but it’s worth saying again: on a long pose, make the period before the first break last as long as possible. The reason? We relax when creating a new pose, but we must tense our muscles to recreate it – it’s not possible to relax the same way twice. I had one more arm-stretch before the session reached its end. And then: the artworks… such wonderful drawings! A particularly rewarding session.

Arts Theatre, London, 28 February 2023

February ended with me back in the hot seat at Arts Theatre for the third of my three bookings with City Academy. After ‘Painting the Figure‘ six days before, and ‘Portrait Drawing‘ four days ago, I was now to be the subject for ‘Portrait Painting‘. First, some quick warm-up sketches: blind contour, harsh shadows, soft light.

Thereafter the session would be devoted to a single study. I raided the arts cupboard for cushions and a velvet sheet to my transform my hard plastic chair into a throne of utmost comfort. Tutor Jenny Boat put on a playlist of ’80s Classics’ – the very notion of which made me feel every decade of my age – and thus we proceeded.

Despite being offered regular opportunities to stretch, I felt settled and comfortable in my space so I remained in situ for the full 90 minutes of this pose. Occasional private musings helped pass the time but mostly I enjoyed listening to Jenny’s guidance and the music of my teenage years. Little did I know back then what I’d be doing now…

St Peter de Beauvoir Town, London, 27 February 2023

It’s a sign of the times: for life models these days it’s not sufficient to spend two hours naked sustaining strenuous physical contortions under the scrutiny of strangers. Now we must also star in promotional videos for social media. Bruce Thomas creates the reels for Adrian Dutton’s groups. When I arrived at St Peter de Beauvoir Town he asked me to think of a song for use as my video soundtrack and tell him at the end. A song? First I had to think of a 5-minute pose followed by fifteen 1-minute poses…

A classic ska track had been looping in my head as I travelled to the venue. It carried on looping throughout the multi-pose start, but not for the life of me could I remember its title. Frustrating! I cleared my mind, reset my body, coiled into a 10-minute stance, then sat on the floor for 20 minutes till the break. A new sound rose within me: ‘Spies in the Wires‘ by Cabaret Voltaire, probably inspired by last week’s documentary on the sinister Pegasus spyware. But this still wasn’t my song.

Freed by the interval, I mellowed with a mug of tea, a modicum of crisps, and a mere twain of custard creams. I meandered round the room admiring so many magnificent works already made. Much socialising, more crisps, then once more to the middle of my space. Two poses would take us to the end: 15 minutes and 20 minutes. I took to my feet for both. And as I did, as I stood there, the music found me… “a sympathetic touch from a voyager soul…”

Innovations precipitated by social media can never change the fundamental basics of life modelling. When you are naked and alone at the centre of a room, surrounded by scores of expectant artists, in that pure moment the work is as it’s been for centuries. That those same artists can now leave tips by card or cash is a nice innovation. I can roll with the rest. I still adore the art, the process, the feeling. I offered Bruce my song: ‘Glitterships‘ by Momus from the album ‘Sunbutler’. Check out the Instagram reel.

And as I walked home I finally got that ska track: Liquidator: The Harry J All Stars.

Arts Theatre, London, 24 February 2023

This evening’s ‘Portrait Drawing’ class was the second of my three bookings in seven days for City Academy at Arts Theatre. It was the first class of a three-week course, so I took a back seat while tutor Stephen Nicholas amiably went through formalities, background, group introductions and a bit of theory. We then jumped straight into the long pose that would occupy most of the students’ time at their easels.

Almost all the artists declared they had little or no previous experience – certainly not portrait experience – yet the standard was extraordinarily high around the studio. As I sat at the centre of scrutiny however, it was amusing to hear Stephen tell each one in turn that they’d made my nose too big. As if it needs any extra enlargement! This isn’t suitable employment for those of a sensitive self-conscious disposition…

It’s not unusual for classes to start with warm-up exercises, but this one ended with a few warm-downs: quirky quick work, drawing in pairs, drawing each other. They were still drawing each other when I left! I was sorry to go as it had been a real pleasure to pose for the group. This had much to do with the light disarming tone set by Stephen, but also the artists being open and actively engaged throughout. An ideal session.

Arts Theatre, London, 22 February 2023

After taking a six-week break from life modelling – much of it six thousand miles from home, opting to use my hard-earned income for a holiday rather than sky-high winter fuel bills – I resumed with the first of three bookings in seven days for City Academy at Arts Theatre.

I would be posing for three different courses – ‘Painting the Figure’, ‘Portrait Drawing’ and ‘Portrait Painting’ – led by three different tutors, all of whom I’d worked with in the past. This evening’s ‘Painting the Figure’ session was led by Lawrence F Crane. We started with warm-up drawings: six poses of 2 minutes each.

For the remainder of our two-and-a-half hours I sat in a single pose based loosely on the 1923 painting ‘Portrait of Olga Picasso‘ by Pablo Picasso. My white sheet was beneath me, blue fabric round my neck, black velvet across the adjacent table, and a red vase beside me. Six artists at easels. We began.

Nobody painted the red vase. I guess they had their work cut out sufficiently with me. My own effort wasn’t too strenuous. Only the final half-hour got a little achy. I allowed myself a one-and-only stretch before these closing moments, albeit without standing, and that was enough. I was back as a model. Bring on the next challenge!

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