A fusion of art forms, experimental creativity, and a healing space.
Meditation circle to begin; focus and calm.
Slowly moving as a group, in a circle
Like flowers growing towards the sun.
A pregnant woman and a midwife pose together.
A large paper everyone draws on
Outlines of women on top of each other, coloured in.
Playing instruments we didn’t know the names of
Spread out on a picnic rug to sample.
A group symphony of sound, and a tableau of nudity.
Here is the women’s collaborative soundscape, led by Sarah Kent.
Some feedback from the women’s session
“I can see retrospectively that my belief and trust in myself got totally wrapped up into the dynamic of my relationship with my ex. And I had lost my faith in myself. I didn’t think my body was mine anymore. When shit hit the fan it was my body that I blamed and victimised. When I gave myself permission to process what had happened, I had the revelation that I don’t exist to please anyone else. When I posed for Spirited Bodies I felt liberated. To be naked, without sexual purpose, was the ultimate declaration of self. This is ME. This body is mine.” Ellie.
“I really enjoyed the day, key thoughts:
– very alternative
– open and welcoming
– a bit experimental which is probably not for everyone e.g. Joint drawing was a bit 1960s art ‘happening’.
– the music and movement component was interesting and Challenging to draw.
– I enjoyed the modelling experience and felt very comfortable. I guess I also realised how comfortable and at home i felt in my body and pregnant. it felt therapeutic in some ways.” Philippa.
Here is the mixed collaborative soundscape, again led by Sarah Kent.
Kathy Dutton writes of the day
“#drawing #live capturing the essence of continuous movement #observing each second and putting it onto paper #softly drifting into sound and seeing only. #spiritedbodies
1 minute #drawing capturing the #curve of the body and a #moments #movement #spiritedbodies
During the event ….I felt our minds connected in a way that made it easy to work in silence…with only the sound and our intention. The circle at the start and the spiral within the meditation rippled into our consciousness subtle yet present… it surprised me how a few people drew the spiral we connected with in the visualisation
The soundscapes reached into us and made us melt into energy… connected by the sound into each moment, and the intense heat of that day.”
On Saturday 23rd July there will be Sound, Movement & Life Drawing in New Cross, South East London; for women, as well as mixed. Follow link for details.
I get really nervous about (life) drawing and it’s because I am uncomfortable doing things I am not confident at. I overly criticise my marks and that harsh voice in my head surely inhibits my ease of flow when I put marker to paper. It’s there before I have even started! Worrying how the drawing will look relative to how the model actually looks, and how other (better) artists fare in their efforts. I am especially anxious if the group is busy and/or there is likely to be a tutor peering over my shoulder telling me how it ought to work. I will freeze, ashamed of my attempts and be unable to take in their advice. I feel even more out of sorts considering I am so often on the other side, pulling the most contorted angles I can muster – yet can I cope with a talented model giving that right back to me?
I exaggerate. I have been leading modelling and drawing workshops for long enough for my own advice to have penetrated my nervous system. Sometimes I relax and am unbothered by the outcome. It very much is about state of mind. Sometimes I even like what I produce.
I felt extra awful on occasion trying to draw my partner (who is a professional life model). I think I felt like I of all people ought to know his body and be able to capture it well, I mean I’ve looked at it long enough! But it doesn’t translate so easily, and most of all it takes practice, and worrying less!
Kathy Dutton is going to lead the drawing side of things at our next workshops on 23rd July. Her style is very accessible to newcomers who don’t want to be bombarded with technical wizardry, but more gently guided towards expressing their reaction and interpretation of the unfolding tableaux. Having the confidence to draw is liberating, and confidence-enhancing, just as being able to pose nude can be.
The modelling side of things has an emphasis on movement this time, as in very slow movement that allows us to respond more fluidly to Sarah Kent‘s soundwaves. Lewisham Arthouse is on a busy road and I have posed there many times. The sound of the traffic can be heavy, however with powerful gongs vibrating, and other more delicate sounds from Sarah’s collection, we will be transported elsewhere!
This is a 3 way collaboration where we each bring our unique talents. I am a life model who specialises in (slow) movement poses and many of my bookings are focused that way. I think it’s a facility I have always had, developed on dancefloors in my teens, and in drama studios later on. I will be guiding, within participants’ capabilities and inclinations, very much working with individuals’ intentions.
Models may take a turn at drawing, and artists may swap too, which is the best way to understand each others’ roles. There may even be a chance to try making some sounds, whether voice or borrowing Sarah’s instruments.
Poses are likely to last around 20 minutes and involve some slow movement, as well as stillness. Drawings may be collaborative, on large pieces of paper on the floor or wall as is Kathy’s way, and models will move together also, relating to one another more closely as the session evolves. Sometimes they may respond more to the sounds than each other.
A theatrical ensemble of professional models will lead a chorus of women, young and old, through the inspirational Ages of Woman. You are invited to try life modelling as part of the chorus, or turn your artistic hand to drawing scenes of the Virgin, Mother, Enchantress and Matriarch. Throughout the session, chorus models within this supportive environment will be invited to share insights from their life modelling, motherhood and menopause experiences. No previous drawing or modelling experience necessary. This is a women-only session where models will work in a group with poses lasting up to 15 minutes. Art materials, robes, a changing area, and a warm comfortable space to pose in are provided.
You will need a WOW Pass to attend the session, though I do have limited free places available for women artists (email me at email@example.com). Donating a sketch to a model is highly appreciated, in return for their posing.
If you would like to be part of the chorus from the beginning (not as an audience member/artist joining in later) do get in touch. If selected you will not need a pass, and we may be able to cover some transport and assistance costs. I am particularly interested in hearing from older women. The venue is accessible and carers are welcome to join you – we especially welcome disabled women who may otherwise not have such an opportunity. Do spread the word if you think someone may appreciate being included. We are lucky to already have one confirmed chorus member who is 65, and completely paralysed. She has modelled with us several times and become something of a star at Spirited Bodies due to her incredibly powerful testimony given in recorded interviews. Another star who we hope to have joining us again is a model who is in her 80s and has had a mastectomy. Read transcripts of live interviews we made with models at our first WOW event in 2013, here – Part 1, and here – Part 2.
We will be in the Blue Room, which is on the Spirit Level of the Royal Festival Hall building, and the session lasts approximately 1 hour and a half.
There will be a warm up Women’s Life Modelling session a week before as part of The Telegraph Hill Festival, on Saturday 5th March, from 2:30pm – 4:30pm, in the Craft Room at Telegraph Hill Centre. This will be much smaller, and a straight forward life modelling and drawing workshop. You may book online or just turn up; there is a small charge but if money is tight, don’t let that stop you – get in touch, we may be able to work something out.
If you are concerned about menstruating whilst posing, well this is natural especially if you are new to life modelling. You are welcome to wear knickers, a tampon or mooncup, or even to bleed free. My previous blog post covers this subject somewhat; we all experience this differently.
There will also be a mixed life modelling workshop as part of The Telegraph Hill Festival, on Thursday 10th March, 7:30pm – 9:30pm, also in the Craft Room. This is hosted by Frances Felgate as it is part of her regular life drawing group session. This is free to attend as it is a taster session for the festival.
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.
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.
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.
I wanted to cancel a week before; there just wasn’t enough interest. From models or artists. It was a very painful feeling, tinged with failure, just when I had felt like things were getting back on track. I’d quit smoking a couple of days earlier, and emotions were rising to the surface, after a year or so’s burial. Most of my ambition stifled in a dense cloud, while I stumbled vaguely forward. A sleepless night of crying in my lover’s arms. But I picked up the reins the next day and did some more emails.
A few days before and still not enough women to model, let alone artists to make it seem worth finding the women. All I could rely on was faith, and perhaps a few reliable supporters and friends. Meetings with Alessandra, who was helping to prepare the women’s session, and Sarah who was again bringing her healing sounds, got me fired up again. Sarah and I practised an exercise on her living room floor, lying connected soles to souls. We made our own sounds in rhythm with ourselves and each other, and I felt my face energised, vibrant, while our soles tingled together. Alessandra showed me the gestures connected to different organs, according to Chinese medicine, the basis of her instruction, and I knew that I could make a movement pose work from one of those.
Still I was sleepless in anticipation, but Saturday I completed all necessary tasks for preparation. Stocking up on art materials, checking in with people helping, finalising the pose schedule and booking the taxi. My last email done, I was ready to open some wine when a piece of news arrived which gravely triggered me. I plunged into an abyss of self-doubt and debilitating darkness.
One of the hardest things I have found with Spirited Bodies, is that I give opportunities to people who actually have a lot higher status than I do, say in their careers and earning power. They’ve ‘got it all’, except body confidence, confidence in dating and relationships, or a groovy artist’s lifestyle! And that’s where I come in. I have those things, yet not with qualifications to command a high fee for imparting my wisdom. So I give it away; they transform their lives for a few hours and a few quid, but can I have a piece of their success? It hasn’t happened yet. That’s ok though, because one thing Spirited Bodies has given me, is some really good friends. And that is more valuable to me than travelling the world, having children, a house etc.
There is something I do covet however. Not fame exactly, but recognition (a little more than I currently have), and so the possibility to expand, to relax a little and work less as a life model on a weekly basis.
When the morning came, I was in a state I had not yet experienced prior to doing one of my events. I was raw for sure, on edge in a way reminiscent of myself quite some years ago. It wasn’t a happy place to revisit, but I did remember how utterly wrecked and desolate I had once been more often in my life. Thank goodness it felt almost unfamiliar now. And I had the tools, the know-how, just about, to pick myself up, dust myself off, and muster some impression of togetherness. Just enough.
Sabine picked me up at 8:45am and we loaded the car full of cushions, paper, gowns, sheets, foam… She was perky and I was grateful for girl time. It was a miserable day on all counts, but she shared jolly tales of parties with flatmates, screaming rock tunes with her singing teacher, and learning guitar. We arrived early and found breakfast in Rope Street, before our venue was opened, and we could start setting up.
My rougher edges started to smooth over once we’d done the basics, turning on heaters, buying refreshments for models and artists, unpacking the gear, and, women started to arrive ahead of time. Alessandra was nowhere in sight, but there were women, and that really was all that mattered, apart from a warm room, almost compromised by yet again, dodgy electrics. Sabine and I were on the case, swapping cables, rearranging the room so that posing happened nearer the heat, handing out robes and making sure enough people were naked for the start time. Women artists were ready to draw, and they needed muses.
Alessandra joined us Italian time and took over the programme, in time for Sabine and I to once again, fix the electrics. Heating models in Winter in atmospheric buildings, always a challenge. Ursula was with us too now, and added oomph to the poses, which Aless was otherwise keeping strict Chinese style. Focused on the internal organs with meditation and specific sounds which models made together with each pose, this was a journey through the inner body. Instead of worrying about how big their bums looked, models tuned into their liver, spleen and lungs for several minutes each.
By now, my fear had faded, and at least this part of the day was going well. I could rejoice in that, though there was no time to spare. Not long after 1pm, we had to wrap up, and transfer everything to the larger space, because, however many people showed up for the mixed session, we would have to accommodate Sarah’s gongs and other instruments. There was no way they were going in the small room we had fitted the women’s session into.
Cliff was arriving with easels, and Steve with fuses as we had bust about four in the morning. Sarah was lifting singing bowls up the stairs with the help of her husband and daughter. I fetched a few easels in my dressing gown from the street. Artists were arriving, and I was aware of the sharp juxtaposition between the nutter I had been the night before, on the verge of some wayward collapse, longing to be sucked into the ground, and the switched on artiste now commandeering the Spirited Bodies ship with a brilliant smile!
2pm rocked on, and it was time to get some poses afoot. I called out for nakedness, and some of the usual suspects lurched towards the sheeted arena. A few new faces gladly glided forwards too. For the first 15 minutes we were doing dynamic poses inspired by the emotions of the Lungs – continuing from the morning’s lesson. Moving through sadness to joy, the models opened up in stages, from 1 minute of grief, then 2, 3, 4 and 5 minutes into exhilaration. Sarah crashed a cymbol, rang a few bells and blew on a flute.
Secondly it was the Kidneys for 25 minutes. I instructed models to either cower in fear, or stand tall and strong with courage.
It would have been Liver next, but that was going to involve a lot of gongs (anger), and we’d been asked to keep the noise down during that phase for an event downstairs. So I led a slow movement sequence to the rhythm of the Heart. Standing in formation, me at the front, they copied as I moved my arms extremely slowly (think tai chi slowed down a lot) from hands placed on the heart, to raised high in the air. And repeat, for 15 minutes, raising and lowering, while Sarah made her heartbeat drum noise. I knew I was going slow when Steve called out halfway through. We’d only opened up twice I think. I was conscious that while I regularly do slow movement poses for my work, am considered a specialist, the new models may be struggling with the pace. Nevertheless, they could probably work something out, and I’d suggested if it was a bit hard, to just rest their hands on their heart.
After that, it was teatime, and at this point there was no doubt about it. It was a success; I was a success. It was just a good feeling and such a massive relief. Mainly that people had showed up. I have confidence in my ability to perform and make sure people have a good time, I just need an audience or a class, or both. Marketing isn’t my strong point, and I am so bent on authenticity that social media eludes me quite a lot. It was time to collect dosh and Steve took some pictures of the pictures. Everyone else had tea and biscuits.
With a slight cast change, we returned to posing, now ready for half an hour of Liver. I told models they could change poses at will, but try to be moderate, afterall, we do want to get drawn. I was having a fight with Steve, our arms locked in an arch, under which I could look up at his face. He was pulling the most extraordinary fashion of expressions, and through my exhaustion and exhilaration, I found it hilarious! We’d come a long way in just over 2 months, and he was supporting me magnificently. Halfway through the pose, Sarah came crashing in from silence with gongs. My arms were aching trying to reach up to Steve’s even-bent-over posture so tall. I fell into him as if frustratedly attacking his towering frame. He kept me in place, leaning over and watching me.
For the Spleen, we did 20 minutes of each of us posing as if sympathising with, or blaming the artists, so a direct confrontation or connection. I sat tentatively at the back, looking sweetly at the guy who was shaping us all out of a long piece of wire. We haven’t had that before, he normally makes large floor drawings on a big roll. His wire constructions were genius and I was fascinated. Also I had had enough of being angry in one 12 hour period.
Sarah left her instruments to lead the next exercise. For the Triple Warmer, she had 2 pairs of models lying sole to sole as we had practised before. They were next to each other, and above them 2 other pairs, including me and Steve, formed arches, palms on palms. We were all sounding first ee sounds, and later ooh sounds, alternating, sometimes leaving spaces in order to feel the shifts in our bodies, between vibrations. The group of 8 models collectively created a human resonator. Sarah was the 8th model, and for the first time in her life, her second time in a life session (the first being Spirited Sound), she whipped off her dress after instructing us, to complete the nude composition. We hadn’t arranged this, I am not about putting pressure on newcomers, but it was a welcome surprise. I’d told her she could be dressed if she preferred. The mood had taken her not to be.
About halfway through (we’d asked an artist to time us), those of us standing were feeling the ache in our arms, and were grateful when Sarah decided to drop her arms, as if it had been planned. By mutual consensus we all followed suit.
The final pose was freestyle, and there were now 6 of us posing. Within the 6, there were 2 couples who naturally after the long session’s posing, fell into each others’ arms for some amorous duos. Alessandra grabbed the remaining male model and said, “Look, it’s all about the couples, so we should join up!” Everyone’s a winner!
We ended on a round of applause, and I couldn’t be happier with today’s result. It was totally unprecedented after my night of headfuckery. The hard work had paid off. We cleared up, models bonded, and artists laid their works on the floorboards. Artist Steve Carey hung his wire creations from coat hangers. I was still in my dressing gown, saying goodbye to people till just before our cab arrived. The teacups had been rinsed, drawing boards replaced downstairs, and every last piece of charcoal boxed and bagged. Off we trundled into Sunday evening traffic. Once home, the last few hours at home with Steve before he left again for Essex, were precious. Healing time, after a tumultuous night earlier. Now the love was strong again. I was sorry for having been so difficult, after all he had never known me before in such an anxious moment. It felt unfair to have unleashed myself rather unduly on him, especially when he has only been positive and loving towards me. The awkward emotions weren’t important now. Just the kindness and gratitude for all that we share. I may not be succeeding in every way that I would like to, yet, but there is time. We are still new together, and all the magic that we can create, has only just begun.