Ever wondered what it’s like to model for artists? Spirited Bodies offer a unique way to reconnect with your body, discovering appreciation within and without, by striking poses for artists. Led by professional female life models, the quiet space afforded by art modelling is unveiled and opened up to newcomers.
Founded in October 2010, Spirited Bodies like Sh! has always been a female run organisation, and in the beginning only invited women to try life modelling. Now men have an opportunity too as many events are mixed, but it is important to keep creating women-only environments to explore our relationship with our bodies, and each other through art.
At events groups of people model together nude, many for the first time, guided by Spirited Bodies. There is training available at workshops, and women only sessions always nurture a particularly supportive space.
On Thursday October 3rd women are invited to meet and chat with Spirited Bodies team members in the Hoxton Sh! store, from 6 – 8pm downstairs. Morimda, Thelma & Esther will be there to answer your questions and talk about the etiquette of being nude for art in a clothed environment, what it’s like to stay still for half an hour plus, and why the liberation of baring all and posing can offer a new level of sensuality. Everything you wanted to know about life modelling but were afraid to ask!
On Thursday November 7th, the Spirited Bodies team will be back – this time to hold a workshop for women only, in modelling, though not fully nude. As the shop licence will not allow nudity, women are invited to pose wearing clothes they feel sexy in. This could be a corset and stockings, a negligee, bikini or sari; whatever turns you on as long as nipples and bits are covered. Women are also invited to come and draw or paint the models in the workshop – whether experienced artists or relative beginners, all are welcome to pick up some charcoal and lose oneself in the moment of capturing the female form. Drawing materials are provided; of course you may bring your own if you prefer.
People come to model with Spirited Bodies for a great number of reasons, from rediscovering and celebrating their body post illness/divorce to overcoming eating disorders or wanting to be part of the process of creating art. They also come from all backgrounds, have been aged 17 – 82, are all sizes, colours and shapes. Spirited Bodies can help you find poses that bring out the best in you, whilst taking into consideration any physical limitations/disability.
Both sessions at Sh! fall on Happy Hour so an ideal time to make the most of that, perhaps buy an outfit to pose in! Also both occasions are in the basement of the store which we regret is not accessible for wheelchair. If you are unable to get downstairs but want to join in on October 3rd, let us or the store know and we can arrange to be upstairs; for November 7th however we cannot change floor. Spirited Bodies do have other events and workshops however which are accessible so please get in touch if that applies.
The women-only life modelling workshop on Thursday November 7th is from 6:30 – 8:30pm, with poses from 1 – 20 minutes led by Esther and the team, with guidance on posing throughout. Tickets cost £20 and may be booked here.
As well as these special evenings at Sh! Spirited Bodies artwork will be decorating
the walls of the Hoxton store throughout the month of November. If you have drawn
or painted at a Spirited Bodies event and produced artwork there that you are proud
Towards the end of July Spirited Bodies will be visiting Edinburgh to spread our message of nude liberation! We will be sowing seeds; giving workshops and presentations, networking and leafleting. In September when we return there will be a ripe harvest, sprouted and succulent, poised for artful appreciation.
A big event is scheduled for Saturday September 21st in The Arts Complex – a former office block taken over as artists’ studios and hub where substantial gallery space will afford a perfect venue for one of our larger events. As well as locating artists of the figure drawing variety, we will be scouting for models, of all shapes and sizes, colours and persuasions. This is not paid modelling work, but will be a chance to see if life modelling may be for you, and perhaps to free yourself of body image issues or be a step on that path. It is an opportunity to be part of a unique work of art that is as much about energetic connections made between models (and artists) in the space as it is the drawings created. Participants (and there have been over 150 in 2 and a half years) frequently report a natural high lasting several days following the event, and for some the timing is instrumental to their life changing direction for the best. See our Feedback page for a variety of testimonies.
We want to offer our usual workshops in advance of the big event, including women only if there is demand. If you want to host a workshop (usually for up to 15 people including about 10 people modelling and 5 drawing) please get in touch; we aim to be in Edinburgh from 22nd – 26th July or perhaps a bit longer and again from 17th – 22nd September. In any case we should have some workshops at The Arts Complex and another artist has already shown interest in holding one at her studio. We will also do a presentation hosted by The Ragged University in July where we will explain ourselves with visuals including ourselves modelling; expect to be entertained! If you want to host a presentation or talk, do get in touch.
During our Edinburgh trips we intend to bring life drawing to older people by offering free life drawing sessions in old people’s homes. If you are associated with a home and would like to introduce us we would be honoured, otherwise we will be cold calling. To be clear; we will not be asking older people to undress, but to draw if they want. Alternatively we can give them a dynamic interactive talk if that’s more appealing. We’ve done presentations in some fancy places so do ask for references! We are about spreading the word to as many people as we can; unfortunately some people are unlikely to make it to us, so we’re going to them.
To make all this happen we are on the brink of applying for some funding but would likely appreciate any available help. We are still consolidating which resources are available to us, and if you have anything to offer, be it time, a car, a spare couch, theatre lights, good photographing skills or inside knowledge on where to find our models… Please get in touch. In Edinburgh we largely start from scratch so this whole episode will mark a big milestone in our development. It’s an exciting time to join us and we will have lots of fun.
At the same time that Spirited Bodies is preparing for its first venture out of London, we are welcoming two new co-conspirators! They have been Spirited Bodies themselves of course, and bring with them a wealth of experience and expertise which we are only too ready to absorb. They will be introduced properly in the next blog post, but let’s just say if up until now Spirited Bodies has been run by one younger skinny woman and one plus-size middle-aged woman – both white and well spoken, that configuration is about to change substantially. Our average age is getting older, our dress size is increased, our skin tone darkened and our origin begins to feel more global. We are however still all female, and driven to find more women to join us as Spirited Bodies. Men we are not short of, but for women we continue to show that what we do is powerful and inspiring, and it can be for them too.
I had the pleasure of modelling with another model this week and what a confident young woman. Lydia is a burlesque performer whom I hope to see on stage sometime soon.
On Tuesday we modelled for London Drawing at The Goldsmiths’ Centre in Clerkenwell where they have an exhibition called ‘Rocks’ – ‘Exploring the natural world through jewellery and silversmithing’. The image on the poster is of gold surrounding some rock and from there we took our inspiration to be gold. My new blue hair looked silver next to the shiny gold! Artists were encouraged to draw us in charcoal or pencil and add sequins, glitter and sparkly cut up paper to create part drawings and part collages.
The following photographs were taken by Anne Noble-Partridge of London Drawing.
On Tuesday 23rd April I will address an audience of women at a Women on Fire event; it is part of their A Woman Cubed series. I will be speaking about how modelling nude may bring women confidence.
I will draw from my experience as well as that of some of our Spirited Bodies.
I will look at how nudity has changed in its status through history, how it has become incredibly sexualised where it used to represent purity. Indeed the naked body has been of the highest spiritual significance. There is of course a political element; it may be convenient that a population ashamed of the natural human body is a society living in fear. In fear how easily are people subjugated and controlled? I may not have time in the talk to cover this element, but it is related.
I will discuss what is unique to life modelling; as well as the nudity, the usual silence and stillness. Shed of our daily trappings we have an opportunity to reexamine who we are.
This is a women only event.
About Women on Fire: “Women on Fire is designed to link up the women of the world who make brilliant things happen. It promotes women as decision makers, especially in the many areas that have a direct effect on the wellbeing of all life on earth. It aims to embolden, uplift, inform and inspire women in all circumstances to live their power – but without the loss of lovely, feminine tenderness.”
I first came across Women on Fire at a women’s business networking conference a couple years ago. I was looking at ways to take Spirited Bodies further; we had done one event and I was preparing for the second, which was called ‘The Ages of Woman’. One of the speakers at the London Women Mean Business event mentioned Women on Fire, so I checked them out. They had a big event coming up with some very inspiring speakers from Camilla Batmanghelidjh to Polly Higgins, covering many areas of life. I decided to go to their regular meetings and stay in touch. I am thrilled to be asked to take part in next week’s event!
At Southbank’s Women of the World Festival 2013 we had a Women Only event which was also a presentation. Some women who have modelled with us during the last two and a half years took part to model as well as talk about their experiences. In this first section we talk to Arleen, an 82 year old who has had a mastectomy and been a life model for the last 30 years, and also to Emma-Jane, a younger woman who joined us very recently. Whilst Lucy and I were talking to them on one half of the platform, 3 other models were posing and being drawn on the other half.
Esther (EB): When did you start life modelling?Arleen: In the 1980s EB: How did you get into it?Arleen: Oh well I met a young man who was an artist you see and he somehow detected that I would make quite a good model. EB: It’s amazing how they do that …Arleen: …and that was the very beginning really. It was Daniel of course. This was the early 1980s, and we’ve lived together, after a few years, for all that time, so our lives have developed. His parents have died, my daughter emigrated to New Zealand, I had cancer and a mastectomy and I’ve grown older – he has too but I mean, well he’s still under 60. But he didn’t paint until he knew me, until he lived with me. Because his mother, although she was an artist, both his parents were very artistic, she couldn’t stand the mess that painting made in the house you see, so although he drew there and she encouraged him to produce, but painting no, that was out of the question. And she had a wonderful sense of colour. EB: Is it Daniel that keeps you modelling or is it another reason?Arleen: No it’s Daniel, I’m sorry to say it. I was trained as a dancer but I had TB which I caught off my mother in my teens, my mid-teens, so I was in bed for 12 months then. That was the end, professionally anyway. I mean I always went to some sort of keep fit or exercise of some sort or pilates or … I can’t help but go to something like that. When I was quite young, I would see these glorious dancers, Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer, Pamela Mayne, and they’d got these wonderful figures, and they were older than me, and I thought well, so can i. I’ve never been the sort to over eat and I’ve always taken care of myself. But it was partly really about the TB that made me take care of myself, and I’ve never had a lot of energy, so I’ve had to conserve what energy I have had, and in point of fact, my modelling means I can just sit, instead. [One of the models posing, LaDawn, had chosen a very tricky pose on one knee and leaning somewhat, is sweating, and has to change pose]Arleen: So you say you’ve got to put up with pain? EB: Well, sometimes we choose to. We all pose for different reasons and something I get out of it is I like the challenge, so I’ll put myself into a difficult pose because I kind of get bored doing the same poses and when it’s painful, I like overriding that and you move beyond the pain, and you go into trance, but that’s something that is not going to appeal to everyone. Other people prefer to keep it simple and they’ll go into a meditative state in a more relaxed way. It can depend on which day of the week it is, what time of the month it is; sometimes I will be really pushing myself because that appeals to the part of me that likes to work out, that wants to feel my muscles aching afterwards, and other times I’ve had enough, I’ve been to 3 jobs already that day and travelled all over London, and I just want to flop and I’ll zone out that way. I just wanted to ask you Arleen about when you became a model, so it wasn’t like a big deal for you to pose nude, and did you pose for groups or did you just pose for Daniel?Arleen: Well, I started off just posing for Daniel, but that very quickly led to the classes that he went to. He introduced me and then we had a few people come to our house. EB: After your operation, were you at all concerned about posing again?Arleen: No I wasn’t, not at all. You see, by that time, I was very happy in my own skin. EB: So it was no issueArleen: No, no. I was working at a technical college where there were quite a lot of German students, and I did go back fairly quickly after my operation but the teachers used that as a catalyst to talk to these students …EB: What, about breast cancer?Arleen: Oh yes, so I was delighted that I could help them in that way. EB: Thank you.
Lucy Saunders (FLS): It’s very new to you, Emma-Jane; what made you think this would be an interesting thing to try?Emma-Jane: Well do you know what I’m going to say? Arleen talked about Daniel, and I feel really awkward at this wonderful feminist day to say that I probably wouldn’t have walked through the door on Tuesday if it wasn’t for my new partner Davide, who is this wonderful curious man not at all an artist who came along to an event that Spirited Bodies ran back in October. I think since Tuesday I’ve really been interrogating why I went and why now at this time in my life and I think it is about key events. I think this new relationship really has been a bit of a catalyst. When I came on Tuesday, I thought, I was there because I have this wonderful flatmate who is really into fashion and as I left she was flicking through Marie Claire and she said, “I think you’re mad going to this thing,” and I just looked at the content of her magazine and I thought that was mad. As a larger girl, probably a size 18, size 20 on a bad day – or a good day – … I feel like there are not enough images or connections for women to make to the real world of feminity because we are saturated with that kind of media image. There is a woman at work who weighs just under 6 stone. She’s really really really poorly with anorexia and I just feel like, for both of us, that is the idea that we’re supposed to aspire to and its making both of us unhappy and in some ways unwell. And so I think for me coming here – one – one reason for getting into it was a curiosity and to see real women, different shapes, different sizes, colours, and just to remember what a woman looks like, because you don’t get that opportunity, really, outside of the family to see these shapes. I think another – this is what I’ve been interrogating – another very personal element to it which is what connects really to the new relationship is that I had spent a number of years with somebody who was very abusive and had lost my relationship with my body beyond it being a sexual tool and so being here reminded me of its function, its biological function, and just connecting with it and other women in a completely non-sexual way was actually …. That was the after shock that I’ve come to realise now a few days later and I was only here to volunteer on the stall. I arrived this morning and Esther said, “Oh no a model’s dropped out,” and I said I’ve only got till half past four. My colleague said, “Are you going to get your kit off again today?” and I said “No no definitely not, I’ve got to be somewhere by 5pm” – here I am and there’s my boobs so … (pointing to a drawing on the floor in front).FLS: It’s interesting because we’ve had several functioning anorexics come and model with us, obviously anorexia gives the most dramatic difference between how someone sees themselves and how anybody else would see them in reality. We’d see the skeleton and they’d see a fat person. That can be a very interesting process when they come and work with us. There are also those who work very hard on their body. We had one woman once, a young woman, good job in the City, very lovely, as she said, “I spend a lot of time, energy and money on keeping my body perfect, and then I don’t share it with anybody. I’ve been celibate for the last seven years and I’m hoping that coming along to SB will help me relax that and maybe be more open to a new relationship in the future.” I don’t know whether she’s got a new relationship yet, but I thought it was an interesting reason for coming. LaDawn: Especially since I’ve got the perfect body.FLS: Absolutely and me too LaDawn, let’s face it, between the two of us, Helen of Troy’s way out the shop. Emma-Jane: This is the thing, this is I think what I learnt from Tuesday and here today and looking actually out at you as artists is – we’ve all got the perfect body. It functions, it carries you around your day, it allows you to do the things that you want to do even if it is physically very very limited, if you are wheel chair bound, it is a perfect body, it’s your perfect body, and I think owning it and appreciating that, this really facilitates that. EB: Right, very well said.Emma-Jane: You can have that on your business cards!FLS: Emma-Jane, any ideas how you are going to take this forward? & are you going to get your partner to start drawing?Emma-Jane: Well, actually we were having a chat when he popped in this afternoon and he was very jealous because I drew, I posed and drew, on Tuesday, and he was really jealous of the pictures. He said, when he went, he went mainly as a model. And so we had a little chat and we’ve just made an agreement that he’s going to practise, um, he’s going to practise drawing me, and we’ll see how long that lasts. FLS: Well hopefully you get to draw him.Emma-Jane: Yes, yes and we did actually talk about maybe sharing it together. So far I’ve only done it within a women only environment but he did a mixed session. FLS: We have had a few couples in the past who came to model together to get a remembrance of themselves as a couple at that time. EB: And you said that possibly having tried it in a safe environment of just women you might feel more comfortable to do it in a mixed one soon. Emma-Jane: Absolutely absolutely.
We come under criticism by some life models who resent that what we do opens up life modelling to many who would otherwise not get into it. We contribute to an ever increasing pool of life models, and those who depend on it for their livelihood and are without other alternatives worry that they may lose work as a result. It is feared that new, less experienced models will accept lower wages, and some who already have decent incomes, will even do it for free. I appreciate these comments, they have some validity, but I also have plenty to say in response.
Most who try life modelling with us will do it just for the experience, not continuing further. Life modelling is not easy or for everyone; you have to be particularly good and/or unusual to make it work regularly.
Artists or class organisers still overall prefer regular, reliable models they trust. A few groups low on resources will opt for cheap models.
We also contribute new artists to the pool as we promote drawing in our workshops. A newcomer is equally likely to take up life drawing and they often do, thus expanding the possible market for life models.
We are part of a general increase in life modelling/drawing interest in the UK and beyond at the moment as evidenced by several newspaper articles on the subject and TV programmes, plus a rise in experimental as well as traditional groups, even if curriculum based life art in art schools has declined.
I understand being stuck in a rut and down on your luck for years on end, on drugs even, in unhealthy relationships, not enough real friends… it can be hard to appreciate others’ good fortune then. Actually in the long run it’s better to celebrate others’ success, and at least not be down on it. Emphasizing negativity only brings more of it, when maybe what you really want is a bit more of the pie! I know what it’s like to look at others and imagine they are doing better than you and perhaps assume they are more privileged. Did that for years and it is miserable, futile and wrong-headed. In that respect, karmically I may well deserve the very same that is being done to me now. On the other hand I know that in that time there is no way else to be; that is how the world looks, and being less happy, you have less control over it or ability to alter that viewpoint. I accept this state in others just as it was in me and bear no malice in return or grievance. It is a shame they feel that way, but c’est la vie.
One criticism leveled at us is that Lucy and I are privileged as life models go, both being English, almost educated (well Lucy went to Cambridge, I barely passed an experimental theatre degree!) and with posh accents. It’s easy for us to make this happen – what about the majority of foreign life models whose English is not so good? One of the reasons they like or choose to live in the UK is that open free market policies have made us a diverse culture with the possibility for trying new and creative projects and businesses. There is help available for starting up new businesses and if you put your mind to it there are ways to transform your potential. Lucy and I have both suffered with mental conditions, Lucy with physical conditions, and I have worked alongside Eastern European ilegal immigrants (in the ’90s before their migration status had been changed) as a sex worker effectively choosing life options beneath my status. The stigma and psychological damage rendered by this has taken years to overcome.
Lucy and I fully offer advice when asked about how to improve others’ projects. We happily share what we know, for free. And that goes for life modelling too, since the benefits to others seem too positive to be overlooked. Yes we do charge for workshops, but if you are broke it is totally possible to attend for free. And our availability extends beyond the paid workshop. Naturally helping others helps us. We have both gained immeasurably from this project in ways that go way beyond any money made (which is negligible compared to the time/energy put in).
I don’t need to write this, but it was bubbling inside me so I guess I wanted to get it off my chest!
Pictures to follow from recent event at The Mall Galleries. We have packs of 8 postcards of these photographs available for sale, including some of the pictures shown here. Get in touch if you are interested. We also have packs of 10 postcards of artwork from our events.
This brings us to the end of a very full and special season of weekly workshops around London and 3 very different events. This evening was part of Telegraph Hill Festival, local to me. 11 models created powerful poses based on the theme of a ’20s cocktail party, a naked protest, and a turkish sauna/baths. Some fabulous art work will be uploaded to Facebook soon!
Lucy and I will get to plotting the future imminently and then return with a new schedule after a short break. Thanks to all who have been involved, we love our art baby very much!