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The Star by Hackney Downs, 20 October 2021

Oh happy day, Tuesday 7 September, when after an absence of 18 months, Drawing the Star life drawing returned to The Star by Hackney Downs. We’re post-lockdown but still mid-pandemic, so organiser Catherine Hall is rightly taking care to safeguard all attendees. My own return was on 20 October. I could barely wait to get started!

This venue, the group, the format, the music, the atmosphere, the organisation, have always energised me whenever I’ve modelled here. We began with very quick poses: 5, 4, 3 and 2 minutes, then three of 1 minute and three of 30 seconds. Working in the round, I knew what the next pose would be only a few moments before the artists.

After this whirlwind of standing, kneeling, reaching, cowering, twisting and stretching contortions, I needed to sit down and take a breather. I draped my trusty white sheet over a footstool and perched upon it, hands on thighs, with my left leg fully extended for the gratification of a toe enthusiast amongst the artists. 🙂

Having sat for 10 minutes, I got back on my feet for one more 10-minute pose before the break. I kept it simple: body vertical with right foot a short pace forwards, arms at my sides and hands clasped below my buttocks. As a pose, it doesn’t feel especially angular but the artists’ drawings demonstrate it’s just a matter of perspective.

To fill the last half-hour, Catherine offered her artists a choice: three 10-minute poses, two 15-minute poses, one 30-minute pose, or a 10 and a 20. It appeared half wanted three 10s and half wanted the 30 so our compromise was a 10-minute and 20-minute pose. I started with a standing cringe, left hand on head, right hand on knee.

For the long pose I was seated once more. This time, rather than draping the sheet I folded it beneath me so my own legs and those of the footstool would remain in view from all sides. With limbs comprehensively angled, I settled down in unlikely comfort to enjoy the final moments of a splendid session.

Applause at the end of both halves is a hopeful sign that a good time was had by all. Certainly there were some great drawings to show for it. As ever, these were spread upon the floor for general admiration. Works by professionals and amateurs lay side by side; the enjoyment of art-making is truly a gift for everyone.

Mall Galleries, London, 16 October 2021

When I modelled for Hesketh Hubbard Art Society at Mall Galleries in late October last year, artist numbers were low. Pre-vaccine, we were between COVID lockdowns and understandably many people still observed self-imposed restrictions. A year later the pandemic remains but, notwithstanding more than a thousand deaths each week, medically and mentally we’re in a different place. Now the room was busy.

This evening I was to sit for Hesketh Hubbard’s portrait artists. My throne awaited me at the west end of the main space, framed on all sides by beautiful, colourful, uplifting works from the Society of Wildlife Artists‘ annual exhibition 2021, ‘The Natural Eye‘. At 6pm, I froze in position and fixed my gaze point. Having removed my spectacles, it was more a ‘gaze haze’ than a gaze point. Nonetheless, I eyeballed it attentively.

The first hour was comfortable enough. My only sense of time’s passage comes from overhearing calls for the model on short poses to “change, please” every 15 minutes. I’ve no reason to doubt the accuracy of these calls but while locked within myself and under the intense scrutiny of artists, some 15-minutes seem to last much longer than others. At the interval I drank tea and gorged on copious biscuits before resuming.

The second hour was, for reasons I would struggle to define, less satisfying. My mind lacked focus in its wanderings and my legs wanted to stretch out; or maybe it was my legs that needed to wander and my mind to be stretched. Also I was mortified when it was pointed out belatedly that my hair had shifted to cover one ear and should be put back. Details are important. But we made it through, and the art was outstanding.

The portrait above is by Desmond Sloane: on the left, work accomplished in 2 hours; on the right, the same work having been completed sans-model in the studio.

Lochaber Hall, London, 16 October 2021

This return to Lochaber Hall for Saturday morning life drawing came exactly 2 years and 4 days since my last visit. I had been meant model there on 4 April 2020 but that booking was an early casualty of the pandemic. Still, better late than never. Eighteen months later than expected, I was back… and it was as though nothing had changed. As I ascended Lochaber Road, the familiar old brick building waited patiently, sturdily squatting on high. Inside, an arc of well-spaced easels embraced my pose space.

We began with six poses of 5-minutes each. I like this format a lot as it speaks to my preference for multiple dynamic poses, whilst allowing the artists just enough time for extra observation and consideration of their basic mark-making. But really quick work was to follow: ten poses of 1-minute each. Next, going from one extreme to the other, it was time to set-up the session’s long pose that would last around 2 hours. Naïvely I asked what kind of pose they would prefer. The answer: would standing be OK?

I’m an obliging chap so of course it was OK. Having said that, if anyone had insisted I sprawl down on soft pillows and sheets, I may have kissed the hem of their garments. Instead I opted for a simple, sustainable, balanced posture and settled in. By keeping it simple, I could get through with just two breaks; one for tea and one to stretch. This meant less disruption for the pose and the artists’ flow of concentration. Not everyone found room for my feet on the page, but this is usual! The rest of me was done proud.

Life drawing online, 12 October 2021

Just a fortnight on from the end of her last 5-week online life drawing course, Joanna McCormick was back with her next term. Once again, I was honoured with the job of providing poses for week 1 of 5, this time on the theme of ‘shading’.

With autumn nights drawing in, it’s no longer certain that natural light will be sufficient for a 4pm to 6pm slot. I set-up an extra table lamp by my pose space as a precaution, but also realised I could use it to cast varying shadows as we progressed.

After reviewing some excellent drawings of dauntingly sublime poses from last term’s final session, Jo gave a demo of various shading techniques. We then got under way with five poses of 1 minute, two of 3 minutes and one of 5 minutes.

Slight longer poses of 10 minutes and 15 minutes followed – each time I repositioned my lamp with the hope of enlivening any shadow contrasts. Next came the 20-minute close-up portrait slot. For this shading session I was asked to wear… shades! 🙂

Aside from the general unusualness of posing in sunglasses, the weird aspect for me was being able to see clearly. I always take off my spectacles when modelling but my shades have prescription lenses. I could focus at last, but only on my own four walls.

For the final 30-minute pose, I got back into character with a trademark smörgåsbord of lines and angles. My left foot kept me guessing as to whether it might slip from the chair at any moment, but ultimately behaved. It had been a fun session.

West Wickham Arts, Hayes, 11 October 2021

It’s always a delicate moment when one expects to be posing naked in front of artists at the local church hall, but instead finds the place still swarming with Brownies. So it was at Hayes Free Church on Monday, where the Brownies were supposed to leave at quarter past seven so West Wickham Arts Association life drawing could start at half-past. It was Brownies’ enrolment evening, however, and they were running late. I guess I could have brought matters to a head simply by walking in and undressing…

Fortunately there was no need. A few gentle representations from the artists was all it took to get the last stragglers out the door while we were still only ten minutes behind schedule. Meanwhile, on the plus side, more and more artists had arrived. The petrol shortage at the pumps meant just five people turned up to draw last week. With tanks filled-up again, I was pleased to see more than twice that number were sitting around me in an arc as I opened with two 10-minute poses (I’d travelled by train myself).

After one standing pose and one seated pose, I stood again for 25 minutes, taking us to a break for tea and biscuits. I feel I’m eating relentlessly these days so resisted the offer to partake but, just like the Brownies, our interval overran and with each passing minute my resolve weakened till eventually I was on the outside of two McVitie’s dark chocolate digestives and a mug of PG Tips. I was then summoned back into position, once more to search for my inner skinny model.

The final pose lasted between 40 and 45 minutes. I sat side-saddle on a sofa and did my customary angular thing with legs and arms. Lots of straight lines, negative space and confounding proportions to grapple with. Everyone seemed in high spirits despite my challenges and starting each half late. The group had only resumed in September for the first time since last March. After 18 months with no sessions at all, a few minor delays must have seemed a trifling inconvenience. It was good to see them back.

The Conservatoire, Blackheath, 4 October 2021

That most encouraging of sights greeted me as I entered the high-ceilinged Victorian art building of The Conservatoire in Blackheath: a full complement of artists’ easels set-out in a circle. In-person life drawing is back and perhaps more popular than ever. A wooden platform awaited me in the round. I positioned layers of foam across it to a satisfactory depth, spread my trusty white sheet over the top and was ready to begin. When tutor Victoria Rance and ten artists were ready too, I started with a traditional warm-up sequence: three poses of 1 minute, one of 5 minutes, one of 10 minutes.

There were plenty of new young faces behind the pencils extended at arm’s length to measure my proportions. This is also encouraging, though it would be nice to see the pre-pandemic regulars enjoying their practice too. I hope they’ve stayed well and can return in their own good time. Meanwhile my next priority was to prepare a long pose. Victoria had a clear vision: my platform was moved to a side wall and a high stool put on top for me to part-sit, part-lean upon for around 2 hours. Quite straightforward and symmetrical; I think my only creative input was to rest my hands on my thighs.

Once in position I felt pretty good – more optimistic for relative comfort than fearful of aching endurance. And so it was. Only three rest breaks were required between 8pm and 10pm. Nothing in the pose was painful; stretches were taken solely to relieve the creeping effect of changelessness stiffening my muscles. Warmth is the other crucial factor for comfort and this was very well provided by two ceramic heating elements in the electric heater at my feet. I’ll take one of this type rather than multiple fan heaters any day. A tropical cocoon is assured.

When artists observe my upright figure in a long pose, their primary challenge seems always to be getting the proportions right. Specifically, overriding what their brain tells them about the more-often observed relative proportionalities of body and leg lengths so they can accurately represent my own somewhat freakish ratios. In this pose, they had the extra complication of angled legs lending a foreshortening effect from certain perspectives. All things considered, I reckon they did splendidly. I hope they returned home feeling as pleased with their artworks as I was.

Life drawing online, 31 August 2021

Life modelling resumed with a booking from Jo McCormick. It was for a session that would form part of a 5-week online course. When she posted her schedule of themes to be covered each week, I guessed immediately which was my destiny:

  • Week 1 – shapes
  • Week 2 – colour
  • Week 3 – pastels
  • Week 4 – Degas
  • Week 5 – Alice Neel

Sure enough, I would be making shapes. To the begin, Jo gave quick demonstrations of simplification, drawing shapes in the figure, and abstraction of the figure by looking for shapes. Then it was my turn for the spotlight with some quickfire work.

We opened with three 1-minute poses, three 2-minute poses, two 3-minutes poses, a 5-minute pose and a 10-minute pose. For the first nine, I evoked rectangles, triangles and arcs with my limbs whilst either standing or kneeling. For the tenth, I took a seat.

Having settled into a 10-minute seated pose with one arm hooked high behind me on the back of the chair, it occurred to me I might regret it. But no, it remained a painless position, taking me through to my 20-minute portrait pose.

Online portrait poses can feel more painful in the sense that the webcam needs to be brought excruciatingly close. If you’re paranoid about any aspect of your appearance, don’t try this at home! Sweet relief, we finished with a ‘long’ pose of 30 minutes.

Whether through loose lineaments, audacious shading or a crescendo of colours, the artists enjoyed maximum creative self-expression for this final half-hour, finishing with flourishes. I’d enjoyed myself too. It felt like a good workout for us all.

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