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Mall Galleries, London, 21 February 2022

There’s a lot I like about posing for Hesketh Hubbard Art Society at Mall Galleries. Portrait modelling is satisfying work for a kindly, close-up crowd of talented devotees. Short poses of 15 minutes (just the once) and 30 minutes (pre-pandemic) attracted a bigger crowd of keen observants at centre stage in the main gallery. And long poses, well… that can be rather more detached and gruelling. Yup, I was back on ‘long’.


Artwork by Anthony Roe.

I arrive. I adjust cushions. I spread my sheet. I disrobe. I sit. I remain motionless from whenever seems about right. An hour elapses. No sounds. No speaking. A hubbub in the short-pose space eventually tells me it’s surely half-time. Yet no-one speaks here. Two walk off. Still I sit. Another minute or so. Still artists paint. Then one says, “I think that’s the break”. I have been motionless for over an hour. I put on my robe. I get tea.


Artwork by Anthony Roe.

The interval lasts 15 minutes. A voice from the main gallery calls: “OK, it’s time to get started”. I resume as before. We repeat as before. One hour passes. A hubbub in the short-pose space tells me time’s up. I remain motionless. Artists are packing up to go home. Still I sit. Still my artists paint. Then one says, “I think that’s it”. We exchange a “thank you”. I get dressed… And, you know, everyone I talk with is genuinely lovely.

The Prince Regent, Herne Hill, 16 February 2022

When Esther and I modelled for SketchPad Drawing at The Prince Regent, Herne Hill in January 2020, nobody suspected a prolonged pandemic hibernation was only six weeks away. Life drawing easels went in a cupboard on 11 March 2020 and didn’t re-emerge until 10 November 2021. How hungry for art the regulars must have been! Certainly I was delighted to return, and happy to see so many familiar faces.

There were compromises, of course. Easels were now set further apart, meaning the two function rooms could accommodate just 14 artists instead of 20. In turn, this duly meant they could afford only one model instead of two, albeit with increased pay. But how can one model be present for 14 artists socially-distanced through two adjoining rooms? By posing in the doorway, of course. It’s limiting, but I’m up for a challenge.

We started with four standing poses of 5-minutes each. For the first I leaned forward, forming my own arch within the door frame. Nice pose, but an unforeseen side-effect was latecomers and group organiser, Lisa, walking to and fro beneath me. I reckon it lasted more like 7 or 8 minutes, so it couldn’t have been too terribly inconvenient. My third pose also stretched to 8 minutes, prolonged on request with my willing consent.

Pose four, with arms up and tensed from side-to-side, became rather painful so there was no chance of me extending it. With hindsight I should have asked for a reduction to offset my earlier generosity! No worries, though. Next there would be two poses of 15 minutes each, taking us to the interval. I stood for the first, right hand on neck, left hand on hip, then followed it by sitting side-saddle on a low table.

The second half was intended to provide a single pose of 40-45 minutes. So bereft of socialising had the artists been, however, that our break time over-ran and eventually there was only a half-hour left for life drawing. Just as well for me as I’d decided to sit with my feet higher up on the opposite door jamb. By the time we finished, my left leg was completely numb and I was unable to stand for a couple of minutes.

The end of a session is no time to be legless as I like to see and ideally get photos of as many artworks as possible. I fumbled into my dressing gown, hauled myself up on one leg, and gradually worked sensation back into the other so I could hobble around the easels. Restored feeling within my hitherto dead limb was not the only sensation I appreciated. So many great drawings and paintings tonight! So good to be back.

The Star by Hackney Downs, 15 February 2022

I arrived at The Star by Hackney Downs fully half-an-hour early. I’d brought forward my departure from home as severe delays were reported on the London Overground, but by the time I reached its afflicted area the problem had been fixed. This was all to the good, however, as I could enjoy a nice catch-up and excellent home-made lemon drizzle cake with Drawing the Star organiser, Catherine Hall before the first poses.

5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, three of 1 minute, three of 30 seconds. If any artist wanted warming-up, they got their wish. Catherine’s playlist urged them yet faster, reaching a crescendo of buzzsaw acoustic guitar as they attempted to capture all six-foot-four of me in just half a minute. After this, at 10 minutes each, the final two poses before our break were comparatively sedate.

The 10-minute poses must have gone down well – when Catherine offered her artists the option of either three more 10-minute poses, two 15s, a 10 and a 20, or one 30 to complete the session, they voted for 10s. That suited me just fine. I stood for the first, both hands around the back of my neck; I semi-reclined for the second, limbs making angles and negative space; I sat for the third, elbow on knee, fingertips on forehead.

As is traditional at the end, artists placed their drawings on the floor where they could be appreciated and admired by all. So much talent in the room this evening! So many strong distinct styles too. No doubt I looked part-vain, part-insane as I tiptoed around, eagerly photographing my own image in scores of variations. But I’ll never stop being impressed by humankind’s ability and desire to keep making wonderful art.

Lochaber Hall, London, 12 February 2022

When this booking at Lochaber Hall was offered to me towards the end of January, I was fairly forewarned that “gas fired heating in the hall is broken at the moment“, and therefore the group would “be running the sessions as portrait classes until either the heating is fixed or the weather warms up.” I accepted, saying we could “keep options open, depending on temperatures, for 100% portrait, 100% life, or a mix of both…

Two and a half weeks after agreeing, as I walked to the venue in temperatures barely above freezing, my game-for-anything attitude was more subdued. It came as a huge relief when I walked through the door and was told the heating had been repaired the day before! Lucky me. We could have a full life drawing session in comfort, beginning with six poses of 5 minutes, ten of 1 minute, and the first 45 minutes of a long pose.

I was offered all sorts of options for the long pose but chose to be seated on the floor. With a fan heater on either side and a pile of soft furnishings beneath me, I was cosy enough not to need a stretch break. A mug of tea – my second since arriving – and a few dark chocolate digestives were, nonetheless welcome respite during the interval. Walking around, it was clear that drawings were coming along very nicely.

We resumed with one hour of the session remaining. Settling back into position, I did my best to rediscover the pose. Always slightly trickier than would be imagined, even with masking tape markers as a guide. One relaxes into a new pose but must use all one’s muscles for an act of exact replication. I think we got there, or extremely close, and continued to the end without requiring a further pause.

Ironically considering I turned up expecting to freeze, the only intervention required in the second half was to turn aside one fan heater that was slowly roasting my left shin. All then ended well. The hall’s heating issues meant full life drawing sessions had not been possible here since before Christmas, yet there was no sign of rustiness among the artists. Lots of strong works produced. A welcome return for all.

Life drawing online, 3 February 2022

I’m sure any life model would agree that posing alone in front of a web camera for an online session lacks the energy and engagement of in-person classes. Nevertheless, experience and familiarity will eventually teach one how to maximise what the format can offer. Online portrait modelling, however, is a whole different world of weirdness.

Portrait modelling in-person, for me has never been about energy and engagement. It is much more serene, and I always feel much more closely observed. This closeness of observation is taken to a literal extreme for online portrait posing as one must sit in isolation with a camera just inches from one’s face. Intimidating!

When the camera that’s inches from one’s face is the camera of one’s phone, and its forward-facing screen must remain active throughout, there’s also a definite potential for sore eyes. Many people stare at their phones for long periods, but perhaps not so near or so unblinkingly, and certainly not without variation of gaze or distance.

Such details aside, there are positives. This session for Lewisham College was my first time working with artist Caroline Underwood as tutor. It began with half an hour of review and tuition, looking at students’ work from the previous week along with the work of established artists to inspire their efforts at capturing my likeness.

I always enjoy listening to good tuition – it feels like a bonus on top of my wages. The focus of this session was colour and its use to realise an idea or an effect. We looked at portraits by Mike Brennan, Raoul Dufy, Curtis Holder, Jean-Michel Basquiat; at colours wielded by Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler; plus more besides.

And then I posed. Not the single continuous portrait that I’d presumed, but short work with intervals for review and more tuition after each. I sat for: 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 20 minutes, and finally 5 minutes. There’s limited scope for variations but I shifted my gaze around and even attempted a smile for the finale (not shared here, alas).

Not quite being movie star material, feedback suggested my more ‘characterful’ looks had presented a few challenges. But hey, isn’t the practice of art all about challenging ourselves? Colour was our theme and colour was to the fore with pastels the weapon of choice in wonderful, vibrant, striking combinations. I was happy to be the template.

Canada Street Studios, London, 22 January 2022

Some life drawing groups were determined to keep going throughout the coronavirus pandemic by any legitimate means. Others went into hibernation back in March 2020 and have not been seen since. And others, like the group of artists at Canada Street Studios, are now joyfully re-emerging. It was my privilege to be their restart model.

Upon arrival I was taken upstairs, and led past cubicles strewn high and low with any conceivable manifestation of art-making bric-a-brac, to the farthest corner. I would be modelling here for half a dozen occupier artists. After some impromptu brainstorming on how best to set the space and where I should be situated within it, we began.

I convinced myself we would probably start with a warm-up of 1, 2 or 5 minutes, tops. When it turned out to be 10-minutes, I failed to reset my mind and got a into kneeling pose not at all suitable for that length; nice for artists, but less so for my body. During the 5-minute standing pose that followed, my left thigh fibrillated violently throughout.

Heeding that particular lesson of cause and effect, I assumed more moderate though nonetheless interesting angular poses for the next two 5-minutes, then reclined upon my chair from the floor for a final 15 minutes before our break. After a refreshing mug of tea, I resumed with a 20-minute seated pose that emphasised hands and feet.

With 25 minutes remaining, I asked if there was any strong preference for a standing, sitting (chair or floor) or reclining pose for a finale. There wasn’t so, having the choice returned to me, I opted to sit upright on the floor with limbs forming a web of negative spaces. Thus I remained, absorbing the gentle ambience of weekend art in the city.

I’d only been booked here once before, back in 2019, but then as now I was warmed by the community-spirit, positivity and kindness of everyone present. At the end I was asked if I could suggest models for future sessions. Duly I put forward 10 names, and hope that any who accept the offer are able to share in the same bonhomie.

The Beehive, London, 13 January 2022

At last, an occasion to celebrate. Tottenham Art Classes had invited Esther and me to life model as a duo for their 8-year anniversary special at The Beehive pub. It was the second time we’d been honoured like this, having posed together when the group turned 5 years-old back in – what seems a lifetime ago – January 2018.

Whether it was to join the celebrations, or the promise of half-time cake, or – perhaps most likely – because the event was free to attend, the good folk of Tottenham turned up in droves. I reckon almost 40 people were present. Organiser Taz tried to get them seated in COVID ‘bubbles’, bless her; within the rules, everyone knows their choices.

So, with a fantastic birthday vibe in the room, we started with four poses of 2-minutes each. We posed separately and dynamically, switching to opposite ends of the space at every change. I couldn’t see Esther’s poses, but knew they would be extraordinary, so I got into some strong shapes myself. The aches and pains began here!

Next, a 10-minute pose for which Esther stood whilst I sat on the floor and embraced her hips. It was an intimate joy, but alas our only pose close together. The Beehive is an excellent pub, but cursed with a central supporting column that inevitably blocks a few lines of sight. Of course, it would be more cursed if the column was removed…

We reluctantly separated to make sure everyone in the room could clearly observe at least one of us, as we finished the first half with poses of 15-minutes and 20-minutes. An energetic connection was created when I sat on a stool and Esther reached out to me; a literal connection was restored as Esther sat both on the stool and my hand.

Break time was cake time. And what a superb cake too, courtesy of Sophia at Sugar Team Room. I was twice blessed, as a wholly unsubtle hint saw me rewarded with a second helping. That letter in the photo below? Not the proverbial ‘p, please‘, but the ‘d’ from ‘Celebrating 8 years of drawing‘. Never was an inverted ‘d’ more tasty.

When we restarted after the interval, it was once more with quick-fire poses, only this time even quicker: 30 seconds to begin, then three of 1-minute each. Throughout the next 15 minutes we stood side-by-side at a slight distance but near enough to have a hold of each others’ hands.

For the final 20 minutes of the session we were back-to-back; or rather, bum-to-back. Esther sat upon the stool whilst I stood behind her. My hands settled upon whichever surfaces of Esther’s skin they could reach, and vice-versa. Connections made. In this way we concluded a splendidly enjoyable evening’s work.

During darkest days of the pandemic, opportunities for modelling in person had been scarce, and modelling as a duo even more so. Things are still far from being what we once knew as ‘normal’ but this was a lovely return for us and another great milestone for Tottenham Art Classes. Let’s hope they have many more to come.

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