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Garrett Centre, London, 19 February 2020

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, dear Dawn!
Happy birthday to you!

Participation in regular life drawing is not just about the models, instructors and artists or the skills of posing, seeing and mark-making; there’s also a spirit of community. No more so than at Adrian Dutton’s long-established London Life Drawing groups such as here at the Garrett Centre. During the break, when Adrian brought out a cake with candles for much-loved ever-present attendee, Dawn, everybody joined in singing.

An hour earlier I’d started the session with a 15-minute standing pose, during which a couple of late arrivals filled the last seats and made it another full house. We followed with five 1-minute poses, then poses of 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 20 minutes, taking us to the interval. I suspected the 20 minutes might have drifted closer to half an hour, but I was comfortable and quite happy laying down in front of two heaters.

In addition to Dawn’s cake, Adrian provided half-time victuals that ranged from dhal to jelly babies, from exotic teas to boxes of wine. After much consuming and conversing, we had time left for poses of 10, 15 and 20 minutes. I stood, sat and stood again until our 9:30pm finish. Generous applause and art-sharing followed, then slowly we faded away to our respective homes. Next week, the thriving community gathers again.

Bread and Butler, Deptford, 18 February 2020

Posing nude for artists, one becomes accustomed to the sight of each person having their preferred painting and drawing materials set out beside them. How quirky it was at this session, therefore, to see everybody sat with a sticky bun! Such is life drawing when it takes place at a real bakery – Bread and Butler in Deptford.

This was only the second evening of Deptford Life Drawing at the Bakery. Horrible weather meant attendance was down from the grand opening, but every rain-soaked artist walked in with a smile. Organiser Tatiana Moressoni got us started with poses of 2 minutes, 2, 5, 5, 5, 10, 10 and 15-minutes up to an interval.

After refreshments – hot drinks or wine – and more buns, Tatiana offered the group a choice of either 15-minute and 30-minute poses or a 20 and 25, taking us to our 9pm finish. A lone call for 15 and 30 met with general murmurs of consent. I began seated upon a high stool, and ended laying down on the floor.

Notwithstanding a temperamental heater cable plus the torrential rain resuming when it was time to go home, this was a pleasant booking. There’s an abundance of space, sturdy tables for the artists, food, drink, music and smooth timing. I imagine it will feel particularly idyllic on warm summer evenings, but still I enjoyed my winter experience.

The Exchange, Erith, 6 February 2020

It’s a wonderful story: a grand red-brick library building more than a hundred years old but fallen out of use and into disrepair, now reopened and re-energised by community activists. The Exchange in Erith today is home to artist workshops for print-making, textiles, woodwork and ceramics, has its own bar, restaurant and gardens, and hosts a diverse programme of events – including life drawing. I was its first model.

Upon arriving early, I was welcomed by Peter, the group’s organiser and Colin, one of the resident artists. Colin gave me a full tour of the three-storey building, enabling me to appreciate the true passion being poured into its restoration. The life drawing room was a simple cosy space equipped with easels and nice touches like pot plants either side of the model’s chair. I started on the chair with what became a 45-minute pose.

I say “became” as it was originally supposed to be 15-20 minutes, but I was asked if I would mind extending it. I felt comfortable, so I didn’t mind at all. After a short interval, we went with a single 50-minute pose that took us through to the end. Apart from one of my arms going numb and two artists’ easels collapsing, it all went splendidly well. I was treated with genuine warmth – great place, great story, great people.

The Prince Regent, Herne Hill, 29 January 2020

Any exciting costumes always very well received…” was the hint given to Esther and me by Lisa – organiser of SketchPad Drawing – when she reconfirmed our booking. I’ve long since run out of original garments to take to The Prince Regent but Esther always comes good. And this time she’d brought enough for both of us…


Artwork by Shiv Grewal


Artwork by jorisbaboris

Artwork by jorisbaboris

Whilst I’ve never shied away from wearing unlikely outfits in the name of art, I admit I felt rather daft in that dress. I thought it was only to be for the opening 5-minute pose but I was implored to keep it on for a second of 5-10 minutes. With great relief, I then un-dressed and we wore nothing but feather boas for the next four 2-minute poses.


Artwork by natblatt

 


Artwork by artshivinder

Unusually for this venue, we were posing together in the round rather than working in separate adjacent rooms. A handful of artists had given notice they were struck down with the flu so wouldn’t be attending. It meant everyone could fit in a single room, and Esther and I could do our duo thing. We did so next for 15 minutes, still just in boas.


Artwork by artshivinder


Artwork by jorisbaboris

 

 

Artwork by natblatt

And then at last we were completely nude; it was the first and would be the only time this evening. We sat upon the floor facing each other, as close as possible with arms and legs embracing, for fully 20 minutes. In the break that followed, we slipped away to take opportunistic promo photos for Esther’s forthcoming ‘Growing Roots‘ event.


Artwork by artshivinder


 

Artwork by natblatt


Artwork by jorisbaboris

When our artists returned to complete the session, we had time enough left for poses of 20 and 15 minutes. I remained nude, whilst Esther manifested magnificence in just about every other item she’d packed for the occasion. First we were on the floor, then Esther sat on a stool while I – not for the first time – languished beneath her stiletto.


Artwork by jorisbaboris


Artwork by artshivinder


 

Artwork by natblatt


Artwork by jorisbaboris


Artwork by artshivinder


Artwork by natblatt

 

In sessions like this, where we’re indulged and trusted to be playfully self-expressive, it’s particularly important to create strong poses that work for the whole room. We did our best and, whatever the artists may have thought of our shenanigans, their artistic response was superb throughout. I hope I’m right to think a good time was had by all.

The Star by Hackney Downs, 28 January 2020

Ah, a rotating a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling at The Star by Hackney Downs! In all my years posing for Drawing the Star, I couldn’t recall noticing that before. So for my opening 5-minute pose, I stood at full stretch, reaching up towards it. And then we continued: 4-minutes, 3, 2, three of 1-minute, three of 30-seconds.

Two poses each of 10-minutes would complete the first half. First I sat on a low stool, one leg extended and body tilted back, then I rotated and stood with elbows high and hands curled down on shoulder tops. A reliable playlist and flawless timekeeping took me through comfortably to our drinks break. A large red wine awaited.

It was a busy night, with about seventeen artists seated about the walls of The Star’s upstairs function room. A show-of-hands vote for our second half pose times seemed to have resulted in a tie between three of 10-minutes and two of 15-minutes… that is, until a latecomer returned, one hand holding his pint, the other held aloft for fifteens.

I lay down crookedly, then sat in such a way as to attempt square proportions. Alas, I didn’t succeed with the square, although it was still a nice shape. After the merriment of admiring artworks, I would have loved to stay for another drink but I had a late one the night before and would be late the next night too. Never mind! I’ll be back soon!

Christ Church Methodist Addiscombe, Croydon, 27 January 2020

This January portrait sitting for The Croydon Art Society started as the offer of a life model booking in September last year. Alas, I wasn’t free for that date; neither could I make their next date in November, but my diary was open for January. It being winter, they thoughtfully reserve this session for clothed posing.

Their venue is a hall attached to Christ Church Methodist Addiscombe. I’ve worked in chilly church halls on many occasions so took the precaution of wearing especially thick clothing. Sod’s Law, however, decreed this to be warmest church hall anywhere in Christendom. I duly sweltered my way through two tropical hours.

We began not long after 7:30pm. Although I was offered some early stretch breaks, I felt comfortable enough to hold my pose till tea and biscuits, at half-eight. After much socialising, we resumed for a further 35-40 minutes, to our finish. Some artists opted to start a new work for the second half, whilst others ploughed on with a single study.

Over the years I’ve been artistically recreated in many styles with diverse media, but this was the first time I’d been fashioned out of papier-mâché. Initially I wasn’t aware what happening and was thus perplexed by sounds of paper tearing and scrunching, but I love my little 3D double – photos at half-time and full-time. Uncannily me!

Stephanie Mills portrait sessions, August 2019 to January 2020

After two pleasant evenings life modelling for artists at Hutton Community Centre in June and July last year, I was invited by group organiser Stephanie Mills to pose for portraiture at her home studio. Having beheld the astoundingly fine quality of her art, I needed no encouragement to accept. The intended drawing would be developed over multiple sittings, each one lasting 3 hours. Work commenced on 8 August 2019.


At the end of week 1.

That first session set the pattern for all that followed. I stared at my gaze point on the far wall for seven periods of 20 minutes, with five timed breaks of 5-minutes plus one break of 15-minutes giving us the full 3 hours. Measurements and marks were made, some blocking-in began, and then… nearly five months elapsed. Even art has to wait for the right moments on a long journey. We resumed on 3 January 2020.


At the end of week 3.

I wondered whether Stephanie would prefer to start anew after so much time, but she was happy to continue from where we’d left off. We recalibrated the required direction for my gaze and stuck a lump of black putty onto the wall as a marker. That putty held my unwavering attention throughout this session and three that came after. It was just a blurry smudge without my glasses, and hazed-out even more as my mind drifted.


At the end of week 5.

The third, fourth and fifth of our five sessions followed swiftly on 6, 14 and 21 January. While I remained transfixed by putty, Stephanie’s long-nibbed pencils fizzed feverishly upon her paper. The sound seemed so rough, sketchy, haphazard – it was impossible to reconcile it with the extraordinarily fine and precise work of art emerging. Such skill is beyond my comprehension. I felt privileged to be its subject.

Time never dragged; neither did the notorious soporific effects of portrait posing ever take a hold. Weirdly the third of every seven 20-minute pose periods seemed to race by. K+E on Soundcloud played us through till, at the finish, when the last periods of the last session had at last accelerated away, I turned away from my putty, rose from my comfy chair and… gazed upon the most exquisite drawing of me ever made.

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