Life modelling workshop at Islington Arts Factory

I had an opportunity to cover for an existing life drawing group, as coordinator, and jumped at the chance. This was the RAM (Register of Artists’ Models) audition session on Wednesday 13th January, at Islington Arts Factory. I knew this could be a chance to bring in a bit of Spirited Bodies, as new life models were auditioning, and I used to facilitate this at my own workshops in the past. Where I used to have about 8 models present however (not all auditioning for RAM mind, perhaps just one or two), this was going to be a smaller session. This was on account of the size of the space, and because it was my first time there, I wanted to see how the regular artists responded.

Rachel Welch who usually runs the session, arranged for two audition models to be present, and I invited someone who had recently contacted me about trying modelling. All three models were to pose for the first time, and we had two men and one woman. I decided to follow Rachel’s suggested pose time schedule, as it is fairly standard and would maintain continuity for the long standing artist group. I came up with some themes for the poses, and other than that did not have to prepare very much, as everything I needed was at the venue. The space turned out to be bigger than I had imagined, well heated (for a very cold January evening), and with plenty of cushions as well as art materials. There were ten artists – a friendly group who helped me by letting me know where things were and what they are used to. I recognised a few of them from when I have been modelling elsewhere, and at least one had been to Spirited Bodies.

For the first 3 five minute poses, I asked the models to take turns at each creating an expansive, a compact and a connecting pose. The idea was that the model who was connecting, was energetically bringing cohesion to the three, joining the otherwise opposite stances. The models shared a platform, with a small mattress on one side, and some cushions available. I instructed them to pose in different parts of the space and face in alternate directions, whilst maintaining an outside eye myself to check each overall tableau from all sides, as they were in the round.

There followed two ten minute poses; the first I suggested to represent some sort of dance, as these shorter poses are more ideal for standing and being a bit dynamic. The second saw them as if casting a spell together, focused on a scarf which they each held snaking between them. I encouraged them to experiment with levels – whether standing, sitting, crouching or reclining, and to find expressive shapes with their bodies. This sometimes inevitably found them pushing themselves perhaps unexpectedly, a little over-ambitiously. I tried to talk them through their agony, which was evident from the outside – shaking was visible. I have been there all too often, still find myself in such predicaments after many years experience. Each day and every pose is new, and particularly a new space or group, can catch us off-guard. I may feel more energetic than my body is in fact capable of. I know it doesn’t matter though, that rediscovering comfort is important, so I remind the novices of this. “There is a fine line between challenging yourself and torturing yourself; try not to cross that line too much!” I warn.

 

The next 15 minutes becomes an awkward silence – I ask them to pose as if there is an elephant in the room. This is about energetic and atmospheric connection. A pose may be simple, yet convey a great deal of drama.

 

For the final 15 minutes before the break, I ask the models to regard the artists with suspicion; it’s all about the tension, the sternness. They are excelling themselves, and I can really see how one model especially is getting into his flow. It looks potentially painful the way he is leaning on an elbow, with the rest of his body contorted in interesting diagonals, so I advise him to focus on a single point ahead of him. Before this, he had a tendency to move his head around a bit more than is ideal. Focussing the eyes will hopefully aid finding a meditative zone, or moving beyond the pain barrier. It is a mental exercise and not for all, but worth trying, especially if you do want to be a life model.

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To another model, again I try to encourage when I witness pain on his face. “With a pose as interesting as that, you don’t know which bit of you is going to feel the agony first, you just can’t predict it. But the angles are brilliant. Feel free to drop your extended arm if it is too painful.”

And warning against another danger, “Some numbness is better than others! Some is outright painful, while others you don’t notice until you stand or try to, afterwards, and then collapse without enough blood to support you!”

I keep my comments to a minimum, being mindful of the artists’ concentration, whilst trying to sense what will be helpful for models, and artists to hear. I decide not to give a theme for the longer poses after the break, as I think it’s important that the models find their own pose for their bodies, without trying to focus on too much else. For 20 minutes, one is standing, which I remind them can be easier than other postures which make it harder to stretch for body parts being stacked upon and across each other. Another is lying belly down, and one sitting, with considerable poise I would add.

“In longer poses we sometimes find a way to secretly move, without the artists noticing. Subtley shifting where our weight is, so that we can have a little break internally, and the artists may carry on drawing,” I mention during a sustained pose. Finally, there is half an hour left for a last pose. Two models want to stand, and at first the other does too, as he pushed it in a seated pose just before. He then settles, sitting on the corner of the dais upright, alert. I give him a cushion for his bum, having described to them just earlier the varied etiquette around sheets and bodily fluids. It’s a matter of personal choice, often left to the model. As ever in the moment, we models often go with the flow. If we weren’t so relaxed, we probably wouldn’t be doing this.

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I feel less pressure than when I ran workshops regularly a few years ago, as there’s enough artists here, and they are not expecting to model. It’s the right balance with the necessary reverence towards those posing. Also, I have discovered that with just three student models, I feel I am giving enough attention to each. At the end we give a round of applause to our models, and I ask that we may look at the artwork, which is the first time that these models have seen such. It turns out that at least one of the artists is very shy about showing this, and I think it reminds the models that everyone is nervous about different things.

I really enjoyed this evening; it was a genuine pleasure to welcome new models into the life drawing arena. I had taken the unusual step of inviting a new male model, who wasn’t a RAM auditioner. He had contacted me and been informed that I had lost faith in accepting new men to Spirited Bodies. Well I had, for a while. But something told me that with such a small group, and not having to be concerned with finding the artists (which may consume attention), I would be safe (we all would). Plus an instinct about his messages put me at ease. What a relief and even a breakthrough! I had taken care, been watchful, and I will continue with that, in I hope the appropriate measure for each new instance. (Re)building a supportive foundation for Spirited Bodies – women, men, or humans beyond gender.

Communicating a Pose: from Model to Artist (to canvas)

My practical application of life drawing techniques is pretty ropey. I’ve heard and seen a lot; but done – there I lack. When instructing others on how to draw me I explain – “Convey my essence, what does the pose feel like? Express that with your charcoal marks!”

Today I observed the communication process again. My typical poses are not often like naturalism, I mean mainly my shorter poses (less than half an hour). They are abstract, geometric, dynamic, concerned with balance and not obviously expressive of an emotion. They are about form. As I shift from angular shape to perpendicular groove, it is my body that tells me which way to go. Or rather it just does it. Today I saw/felt an artist watching me first, before he put pencil to paper. Taking it in – ‘what does it mean?’

I looked at myself: balancing on the sides of my feet, legs crossed, back leaning slightly forward and arms out front about belly level, hands together in an almost begging fashion. My head was tilted up and to the left. I thought: “There is nothing obvious which I am telling you, at least not with your left brain. So best not to analyse too much.” I was right all along. Feel the essence, don’t think about it. Take time to absorb the information given before your eyes, your senses. Then translate to paper. Measure by all means; but let the charcoal interpret the meaning, which in any case never need be clear. Not in linear terms at least. It may strike on another plane.

by the artist in question, Joe Goldman at Idun Eustace’s class (Wimbledon Art Studios); longer pose

Next week we have another meeting for new models; this time at Battersea Arts Centre on Wednesday 19th September, 7-9pm.

Also we have life modelling workshops lined up where participants get to try drawing each other as well as us. The emphasis is not on being able to draw, rather on seeing what the model is from the artist’s point of view. These are on Wednesday evenings of 26th September and 3rd October at Battersea Library. This is great preparation for our event on October 20. Do get in touch to book a place, there is a charge of £10. Drawing materials provided.

John turned up to a meeting, and made us look good!

Spirited Bodies with The Drawing Theatre, February 2012

Seriously, we couldn’t have paid him to big us up more! And he wrote this about us on Streetlife:

“I participated in Spirited Bodies’ last event at Battersea Arts Centre; it was one of the best, and most interesting, things I have done this year. If you have any curiosity about what it would be like to be a life model, go along to meet the organisers (at the Leather Bottle tonight), or contact them via Streetlife. I had no knowledge of Spirited Bodies before signing up, and no modelling experience.

I would particularly encourage you if “public performance” – in its widest definition – is any part of your life. Whether it is acting, music (like me), public speaking, giving presentations, teaching, or just interviewing for a job, most people need the confidence to put themselves in front of other people, and I can guarantee Spirited Bodies will give you that.

SB leaders Lucy and Esther are very organised, prepare their events rigorously, and have a real gift for putting newbie models like me at their ease, telling them what to expect, and helping you get the most out of the experience.  They are very patient with novices, make sure everyone is comfortable with what they are doing, and are not expecting you to have the perfect body or any experience, just a willingness to try.  I didn’t notice the gender balance, but it seemed about 50/50.

They also liaise with the artists, who are very professional, enthusiastic and really appreciate the models giving their time in service of their art. It’s really interesting to see the finished product at the end of the day; artists’ view of your body may be very different to your own perception. If you have any thoughts about the whole issue of body image, this experience will vastly enhance your mindset.  The art group is very structured, and SB works with the organisers to ensure there is no inappropriate behaviour or time wasting. The artists are much too focused for that. I was surprised to learn there are rules and a certain etiquette applied to life modelling, and the organisers take it seriously. For example, models are not allowed to appear naked except when and where they are posing.

Actually, one of the best things about the day was meeting the models themselves. There were about 20 of us and a more diverse, educated,  engaged and welcoming group is hard to imagine. They were truly impressive as people. Models came in every body type, age, ethnicity, and background. Sure there was some nervousness at first among the first-timers, but we were inspired by the professional life models, who were awesome! They make it look easy, but there’s more to it than you might think.  Within minutes, everyone was really comfortable and enjoying themselves, and frankly the nudity just didn’t seem to matter. The artists were all clothed, but were far too focused on what they were doing to gawk or giggle.

If you have heard horror stories about having to contort yourself into uncomfortable poses for hours and hours, that won’t happen at Spirited Bodies. We were encouraged to change poses and experiment. Of course it had to be on the coldest day of the year – powerful heaters were provided!

One of the most valuable things was the training session SB organised a few days before the  event. Newbie models (clothed) were invited to try drawing a nude model. Having the tables turned that way made me re-think how I look at bodies, despite my pathetic drawing skills, which were not required or expected.  It also allowed the models to get to know each other before the event, which was helpful. Some of them I should add, are excellent artists themselves.

So if you want a real confidence-building challenge to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, forget that triathlon, Est workshop or fad exercise class, check out Spirited Bodies. You won’t regret it.”

Thanks John, great to see you again.

from Spirited Bodies with The Drawing Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre, February 2012

A Few Tips For Life Models From Andre R, plus images by Rob Black

Andre took part in last Saturday’s multi-life modelling event in Mortlake and would like to share this advice which is particularly good for those new to life modelling;

  • It’s a good idea to stretch thoroughly before a posing session.  Calves, thighs, hamstrings, neck, back and shoulders are all vital.  This helps muscles from seizing up or going into unhelpful spasm.  My personal preference is to stretch at home and then again at the venue

On this point, it is probably ideal also to soak in a hot bath both before and after a posing session – but that’s not a very green thing to do!  Maybe a Jacuzzi at your gym is a good compromise!

  • Have only a light meal before a posing session
  • Take a dressing gown, towel (for wiping away perspiration), facial tissues and bottled water into the posing room with you – the core “kit” for any model to have handy
  • If you find you have to sit on chairs or cushions etc provided at the venue, it might be good “etiquette” to cover these with your own towel or dressing gown and sit on this
  • When posing for any period longer than 10 minutes, consider how your body weight is distributed onto pressure points onto your limbs.

Always aim to distribute weight and pressure onto feet, hands and joints as evenly as possible.  Be realistic about how long you can hold any pose that generates even the smallest seeming: pressure points, muscle tension, muscle stretch, muscle lock, joint strain or any feeling of holding or bearing weight – yet having to keep still

  • Never look directly at artists, it is unnatural and soon becomes uncomfortable for both artist and model.  Pick a point in the room – it might be a light switch, a spot on the wall, a bracket on a pipe, a red paint splotch on the back of an easel.  Point your nose at this spot.  If you ever have to move your head or return to a pose, you will always be able to return your head to a precise position again
  • Try not to have limbs doing anything symmetrical, have each leg or arm doing something different – it is more interesting for the artist(s)
  • One trick for being able to hold arms away from the body for long periods is to use a pole, but you still have to think about weight, stretching and pressure points and be realistic
  • There’s no harm in planning poses ahead of a session.  Maybe flick through life drawing tutorial books to get ideas for poses.  Steal ideas from other models! Always be realistic about what your own body can manage
  • Plan a “repertoire” of what you can achieve for the range of poses you might be asked to undertake: short dynamic poses (2mins to 5mins), mid-length poses (15-25mins) and long poses (30-45mins)
  • If you find you are in trouble in a pose (it can happen to even the most experienced) and decide  you must break the pose to stretch, unlock frozen muscles, deal with a building spasm etc, you can try warning the artist(s) that you are going to have to break the pose in 2 minutes’ time (or whatever)
  • When memorising your pose (so that you can return to it) the two key things to make a mental note of are head position (see above) and feet position (some people even have their feet position chalk marked on the floor). Arm positions just have to be memorised
  • The following is a personal view.  Posing nude for life drawing is not a naturist thing.  My belief about “etiquette” is that as soon as any break or session end is called, you should put on your dressing gown.  I once saw a male model walk around the room nude looking at what artists had drawn – don’t make such assumptions about what strangers are comfortable with.  Keep to the line that is drawn about why you are there to be nude.  As I say, just a personal view.
  • Always ensure tutors or hosts are going to both time poses strictly and call out time remaining during any poses of 10 minutes and above.  Most mobile phones have stop watches these days! Models can lose all sense of time, even in a 15 minute pose.  It helps both models and artists to have someone call out “10 minutes left” “halfway through”, “5 minutes left” etc.  This is so incredibly helpful that you must always ensure it is going to be done

Here are some bold, colourful images created on an i-pad at last week’s event by Rob Black

Thank you Rob, we really appreciate your work, it’s great to share it. Lovely compositions

Rob can be found on rob@lambentgallery.co.uk

Examples of Life Modelling Poses

Here are some pictures of recent poses I have done. If you are about to try life modelling for the 1st time and have not seen a model posing, this can give you some ideas for how to pose. It is a very individual activity however and must be necessarily adapted to suit each model.

by Deborah Collins

These six 10 minute poses demonstrate some varieties of balance. One is leaning on a chair; there is one pose with weight distributed evenly between the legs; the others have most weight on one leg. The top left hand pose is a good example of a twist, whereby the body faces one direction lower down, then another further up. Artists tend to love a twist; it is a challenge, but also makes the pose more interesting and lets them see more of you from one position.

One leg up on the seat gives more levels to the pose. Arms leaning back makes the pose feel open and lends complementary triangles of negative space, shown here balancing the shape of the upward bent knee.
I am skinny so taking advantage of my angles works for me. Different body types do well to emphasize their features accordingly

Here my back is arched forward gently creating a different impression. My back naturally forms an ‘S’ shape which artists frequently want to draw. Posing to accentuate the ‘S’ however is not good for my back if done excessively. Sometimes I need to give it a break and rebalance by curving the other way. As a model it is vital to understand these needs of the body so you don’t over do it.

A pose showing the curve of the back
The same 10 minute poses as above, from a different point of view
Longer poses tend to be more natural so the model may settle into them. Picture by Deborah Collins
Some artists use longer poses to concentrate on portrait. These are by tutor Cathy Bird
Elbow to knee connection creates negative space and helps artists to measure

Negative space is the area in between which is not the body, and may be formed by limbs connecting with the body and creating a shape. Artists use particular measurements in a pose to relate to other lengths to help them achieve an accurate sense of proportion. They often hold a pencil up in line with a pose and with one eye open measure how much of the pencil length is taken up by the head for example. They then use that measurement to compare other details in the picture. The length of the head may be comparable to say that of the arm touching the knee.

Here is a post I wrote a while back about how particularly to pose in the group situation at Spirited Bodies;

https://spiritedbodies.com/2012/03/13/how-to-pose-guidelines-for-life-models-at-spirited-bodies/

That was for a previous event and I would like to add that on the forthcoming occasion – 21st July – there will be some shorter timed poses to warm up, from 5 to 15 minutes. Then there will be a period of freestyle posing when models may change pose when they prefer.

There will also be at least one timed half hour pose when I would like all models to remain still at the same time. This is good for feeling what life modelling is like, as well as giving artists a better chance of creating a good picture!

Also I have just found this http://jasonandthegoldenpose.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/finding-your-happy-place/#comment-103 which is the blog of a male model describing his experience as a life model. He’s got some good advice and covers many topics from what to think about whilst posing to what to expect financially from being an artist’s model.