Being with people naked with all different bodies, still and silent is liberating. Our bodies are ok, there is beauty in each, from the essence being allowed to be. Open and free allows, encourages each to flourish. That is a gift, that is magic, to share that is bliss.
To witness the unlocking of pain, but simply all I see is beauty. Individual expression, sometimes connection, the love of friends, couples, and the inclusion of all. The connections of the more confident and brave, the shapes of different bodies, sometimes balancing, sometimes relaxing, sometimes wanting to be looked at or not; to have all the variety is the magic of life.
As I was posing on the stage with everyone I noticed this wonderful feeling and it didn’t matter if we were being drawn or not, that was incidental. It was just being with everyone that mattered, and knowing we were all ok. I guess the artists do help though! That way you have a reason to stay still which helps. And impressions beyond photographs.
As Esther knows, I’ve long wanted to do a Spirited Bodies using ‘The Raft of the Medusa‘ as the inspiration point. Reluctantly accepting reality, I know that this is not an appropriate re-enactment for inexperienced models, the poses involved are tough and hard to hold. Tonight, I was modelling for Lucy Sullivan’s evening class at Kingston University. Lucy and I have history together, I enjoy working with her because she is one of the tutors that encourages my desire to create challenging and intriguing poses, using props to the max. She’s never forgotten working with me for the first time, with the University of the Arts London student life drawing group. She insists that I posed with a chair on my head. This may very well be true, a chair on the head is not unusual for me.
Tonight, I am sick with a horrid head cold, sneezing and generally feeling miserable and definitely weak and feeble. I am thinking that I will do only simple low stress poses. There is a donkey, a small bench that allows an artist to sit on it, while the front part can be propped up to form an easel. Its about two foot high and under 4 foot long. Hmm. I’m thinking about the possibilities. We start with short poses, 5 and 10 minutes, and I start thinking about the Raft of the Medusa, lie on the donkey with one knee up, one leg dangling over the other, my head off the end of the donkey and an arm hanging down into space. Apart from a 30 minute reclining pose, I stick to my muse. I stand looking for the ship on the horizon, I clamber over the donkey, I sprawl, as corpse-like as possible, across it. I am re-enacting at least 17 different bodies, dead and alive, the artists don’t know that – well, they wouldn’t if only I stopped saying ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ with glee as I land in another contorted way. The artists have to cope with lots of unusual foreshortenings, trust their eyes not their head’s interpretation of what a human body is like. Everyone is happy.
The images created show that, while I might have been thinking corpses and crowded rafts, the artists were working on their own ideas. That’s one of the things I most like about modelling – you create a pose and the artist creates their work, somewhere between the two is transformation. It happened at the last workshop we did on Sunday – 3 people were given an everyday drama and created something artistic. LaDawn had nicked Carlos’ parking space, they were arguing about it, and David was the peace maker. Out of this mundane beginning, they formed a pose that could have come out of a Caravaggio of a religious scene. LaDawn standing, shaking her finger at Carlos, who, on one knee, one arm up entreating, and David with arms outstretched, touching both of them in a clear gesture of reconciliation. Enacting a scene is liberating, helps you think of poses that mean something through their stance and gesture, and this gives the artists something extra. Posing for artists is about more than just lounging about naked – its about evoking presence.
Lucy Sullivan, tonight’s tutor, attended one Spirited Bodies workshop and gave great feedback to the participants about their poses and how artists might react to them. She said that the Spirited Bodies models, all amateur and new to it, were better than professional models she’d booked for her class. She’d had one model recently who wouldn’t keep still in any pose, and irritated all the artists. She said that the people modelling at the workshop came up with good poses which they held, were still and a pleasure to draw, and she’d like to work with them again if they wished to after their Spirited Bodies experience. There could be no better recommendation. The artists coming on Saturday 20 October are in for a treat.
Looking again at the Raft of the Medusa, I can see that I got the arms the wrong way round for the man spotting the ship on the horizon and there were some more twisty poses that I missed out. I shall have another go another time. Some of the images are creased, that’s because the artists had thrown them away – life drawing for artists is like doing scales and arpeggios is for musicians, an essential way of keeping in practice, maintaining and developing technique, a building block not the end itself. I rather like rootling round in the rubbish bin after an evening’s posing, you never know what you will find. Sometimes you are amazed at what artists will throw away – other times equally amazed at what they will keep.
Returning from a workshop of ours I mused that we are teaching people how to be naked! It ought to be natural. It is!
Today I took a Spirited Body to work and I don’t just mean my own. James couldn’t make any of our workshops but through emailing I could tell he was pretty nervous. He wanted a chance to try out on a smaller scale and talk about the experience face to face which can make all the difference. I checked my schedule and thought my session with ‘Arts For All’ in Shoreditch might be just the ticket. I asked fellow life model Lydia Julien who volunteers at the charity, running the session what she thought, and after checking with boss Caroline Barlow she said they welcomed the chance to have 2 models for the price of one! They also fully supported my initiative which matches their own to make art available to people who might not otherwise get to it.
“We believe strongly in inclusion and, at Arts For All, people from many different social and cultural backgrounds unite in friendship and creative exploration.” http://artsforall.co.uk/
The class really enjoyed the opportunity to draw from 2 models and were a lovely supportive environment for James’ first time. Lydia let me plan the pose schedule according to my requirement to best instruct in life modelling.
James was incredibly nervous at first and it took a bit of prodding from me to get him to remove his clothes! He didn’t want to draw and just looked awkward at the side so I did push him, knowing that once he got past the first hurdle, it would start to get easier.
After the 1st pose he quickly got his shorts back on again, probably worried I would lure him into some further trickiness should he remain unguarded… so he stood out while I rocked on alone for 10 minutes. For the 15 minuter I had an idea to make him more comfortable, offering him a seat while I again stood.
From 15 minutes we went straight into half an hour, so that by midday (tea break time) James had experienced a variety of poses. I asked him to lie down however he wanted for this while I took a seat.
In the break we caught up with the artists who were very encouraging, pointing out which parts of James they liked to draw.
The main event after tea was a long pose where I lay and James sat.
Lydia was ecstatic by the end – she is always very happy but I could tell she loved the ambience as much as I had of initiating a newbie in the art of the pose. She’d been showing him her work as we went along so he could understand how well he was doing and see what was coming out well. Caroline too was really enthused by the experience and James was invited to model on his own some time! He couldn’t quite believe it, it felt like such a big leap.
We went for coffee after to pick up the bigger picture of the event and James’ background. He is depressed in a full time ‘proper’ job which drains him and leaves him feeling a mug. There have been major body issues of a particular kind in his past which I have asked him to write about separately, as I think this will resonate with many men. It was great to get to know another of the new cast of Spirited Bodies for Saturday’s exciting event. What a brilliant morning and I feel positive that James is so much closer to feeling confident about the 20th.
Caroline Barlow said that Spirited Bodies are welcome to try out at Arts For All life drawing sessions in future, with or without me. If they approach her alone she will want to meet them first. She has given many new models their first opportunity, already aware that her group is the perfect environment for welcoming and putting at ease a nervous model.
To attend the group to draw; it is on Mondays 10:30am – 1:30pm, at The Tab Centre, 18-20 Hackney Road, E2 7NT at a very reasonable rate – Unwaged/Student £2.50, Part time employed £3.50, Employed £5 and they provide materials
Last night I went to bed thinking how amazing is Lucy Saunders! Yesterday she ran a workshop in creating the business plan when you start up your own business. It was held on an estate in Wandsworth for the Women of Wandsworth Mums Enterprise group.
With the current government kicking millions off the dole and yet few jobs, there is a massive need nation wide for business know-how and confidence, especially among those who have been outside of the business arena for some years or indeed all their lives. The WoW Mums are mostly single parents with a variety of skills from accounting to video making and charity setting up. They have found they get very organised with local issues like saving libraries and adventure playgrounds and keeping young kids off the streets by setting up sports clubs etc, but feel somewhat remote from the reality of making money out of these not inconsiderable activities. They have also found they naturally work for each other, and therefore do so for free in a bartering system, but as their benefits are cut, they will have to turn social capital into pounds.
Lucy began the morning by saying how brave she thought they were – they already did something which terrified her – claiming benefits!! She has a mortal fear of form filling, explaining that life doesn’t fit in a form, she always looks for connections and cannot box things up simply.
She pointed out as well – if you can manage a household budget, you can manage the finances of a business. She set about demystifying the language of the business plan. She explained how she is a words person, others operate best in pictures, but the language of the plan is unfortunately in numbers, so that’s what you have to deal with.
In 2 short hours Lucy covered a lot of ground from deciding on your business, marketting, costs, having a surplus (people seemed to be allergic to the term profit), principles of selling, checking in with your plan periodically, real cost of hiring staff, how customers will pay and whether it is worth getting a loan. She ended by handing out copies of a book she ordered to inspire the group – ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’, by Paul Arden and proffering the homework that each person must sell something – anything – in the next 2 weeks, be it at a car boot sale or on ebay or wherever, the point is to observe what is involved in the process.
What Lucy intended to leave the group with was the message that failure is fine; most projects don’t work the first time round, but then you will learn; a business doesn’t have to be new but can be your own version of an existing idea and in fact this way you know there is a market. She generally wanted to instil confidence as well as challenge their assumptions, for example stating that big mark ups in price in many trades, are entirely normal.
We originally approached these women to model for us, but they are clearly more interested in learning some business tactics. Very wise. If they thought life modelling would be lucrative I am sure they would give it a go. Lucy does say that life modelling gives you great experience in running yourself as a business, as you are mostly self employed. It’s true and one of the things I love about it is not being employed by any one body or boss – I am independent and to some extent choose where I go to work. I rarely get paid for holidays or being sick, but I feel free to say what I think. There is no given protocol for the delicate nature of appropriately talking to a life model, so it’s up to you to let others know how it works if they transgress sensitivity. What I mean is, some tutors almost apologise for your nudity in front of a class, revealing their own discomfort/horror at the idea of being nude in that situation. They almost without realising it shame you as doing something no normal person would do. To my mind that ought to be challenged, but is most effectively done so subtley.
Here are some pictures from a session I recently did in Tadworth with a group of artists who normally focus on landscapes. Once a year they have a model for figure drawing, and they asked me to keep my clothes on. They wanted some Degas style poses, thinking of dancers, and asked if I have done ballet and have a costume. I said I can do the poses, but I will wear what I would when I go dancing.