Murder in Mortlake – Images from a mysterious event

I awoke before the alarm to unfamiliar rays fraying the curtain edges. Today! Yes! Mortlake! New models in a church woohoo, and some artists. God knows I’d bamboozled the place with my laminated signs inviting anyone almost to a) take their clothes off, b) make some art. The big day.

I print out questionnaires for models (checking that Lucy who loves the questionnaires has not already done so). Check. Coffee, shower, clothes and train. I am meeting an Eastern European man who will let me in the building, his instructions are mostly clear. I like this dilapidated building, I mean the church isn’t bad, but the room I model in for Paul’s group has not been redecorated since the 50s I reckon. There are holes in the walls showing the bones. Yellowed lino to set off several more dreary shades of yellow and brown that adorn the cupboards. It reminds me of a room I used to live in, homely. Character. None of this Argos/Ikea bullshit.

I heft easels into the hall, sort out the heating which is so powerful there’s no need to bake the place out. It’ll whip up a temperature in no time when the models need. Sun is shining and there’s a tap at the window. Expecting Lucy I unlock the door to find an uncertain looking asian male. “Are you Esther?” I am. “I emailed you, about the modelling.” Come in, are you going to join us today?

He looks really tired but asks if I can inspect his body to see if he will be ok to model. I say there’s no need, he looks fine to me, but if the 3 hour stint will be too much bother on a warm day in Ramadan with no water, then I’m sure we can fit him in another time. He shuffles off as Lucy arrives. He hadn’t looked quite right, today, however it’s so nice to have interest from a non-white guy.

Lucy occupies the kitchen and models start to drift in and assist with easels etc. Such friendly people, and the artists too look excited as they set up.
I’m not used to being wanted this much as everyone seems to fancy a chat, but I really should gather the models. The men all arrive first which is almost worrying; but makes the emergence of a gaggle of females all the more exhilarating at the last minute. Just like Mum I remember all the models’ names, all 15. Only 2 are returning from previous events, and one is Ursula who I modelled with before. Some will go on the altar, others in the middle of the hall. They can pose how they like at first.

That crouching pose looked a killer, still that’s partly what makes new models so good – they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for so they strike some of the best (most excruciating) poses

Sylvana is late and prefers to hang out in the changing area till break. Any anxiety she displayed before has mysteriously vanished once she is in pose. Lucy and I harrangue the models into group poses which look like scenes to show more connectedness between these almost total strangers in the buff. Sylvana is a queen on her throne, dismissing unwanted advisers and turning her nose up at suitors. I must congratulate Lucy on her dramatic skills.

Wench commands a good deal of attention

One larger woman takes the gaze off of several smaller ones

A little direction helps for connection

Towards the end no one can stand up any more

Ursula brings a friend and they make good poses together

It is eerily quiet except for scratchings of charcoal and one artist’s balmy monologue. I decide to put on some of Lucy’s music to jolly things up, but unfamilar with her selection the spirited salsa sounds I choose somehow seem too hectic; I sense a franticness amongst the artists jolted out of their calm, and a shiftiness from the models, itching to dance!

Overall I am overwhelmed by a fantastic turn out – artists I know from all over London have shown up, and almost all the models I expected have made an appearance. There’s just one thing missing. Having given up on the music I soon notice a gap in the silence. Where is the murmering that came from the table next to the piano? I’d made special arrangements for a certain peculiar man to be here after an incident of him (not meaning to) follow a model some of her journey home after the last event. But it seems my management has just now eluded him as I scan the room for his large orange headphones.

On Holy Ground a Space for Transformation

I visited the hall where Saturday’s event will take place

Lots of floor space and more light from above too bright for my pesky phone camera to capture the awesome high ceiling

The building is only sometimes still a church, mostly it is used as a community space for a choir, a dance school, a creche, amateur dramatics etc. Not a pretty church but a good space. There is an organ and a piano if anyone would like to accompany the service!

a very plain church which will point up the awesomeness of the models

Spirited Bodies team is reunited once more! It is a bit like an ethereal organisation; sometimes we needs must disappear. We are now very much on the Earth plane and busy connecting with our excellent group of models to be and also the artists.

This will be our first event entirely run by us. The last one in Telegraph Hill was almost such, but being part of a festival, it was promoted and the space given by the festival. It has been tricky to have time etc to invite as many artists as we possibly could to do the event justice. As you can see the space is large, so there is room. Do get in touch if you would like to come and draw, or just turn up. Last time we fitted into a much smaller space, so it will be beautiful to enjoy extra leg room and more possibilities for moving about to get a different view.

As well we may divide the models into smaller groups some of the time, and space them out around the hall.
Lucy unearthed some gorgeous pictures of artwork created at the Drawing Theatre event at Battersea Arts Centre earlier this year.

The bodies look very connected




collage figures


beautiful pose by 2 models who met on the day and joined up!


Looking forward to the magic!




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;

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 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.

Expectation & Collaboration – of a model & an artist

Feedback answers from Charlie who both modelled and photographed

a) Did it live up to your expectations?
Spirited Bodies 5 certainly did live up to my expectations, and in some ways exceeded them as well. It was lovely being a homogenous part of the group. I was somewhat unsure of my capability to hold a pose for 30 minutes, so I certainly surprised myself by doing so. I think that having so many fellow models with me made the task of holding a pose much easier, feeling that we were all supporting each other in a very bonding way. I love the way that we all bonded from the start and felt totally comfortable with each other. I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet some of the other models in advance.

From an artistic point of view, I was also very pleased. The evening was a form of testing ground for me, so I came with a very open mind and was not expecting too much. However, the results were far better than I anticipated, and as I go through the numerous shots, I am finding more and more details that I would love to work on and refine on future occasions. I did have some expectation shortfalls, but these were almost exclusively related to technical things such as camera settings, backdrops and lighting.

b) Was anything lacking?

I would say that the space was a bit awkward to work in, but this did not seriously impede the artists’ work. I was amazed to see how 30 artists managed to squeeze their way into the space, but still have a good area to work in. More time before and after the artists’ sessions would have been nice; time for us models to meet and chat, get to know each other, time to set up a few well thought out tableaux – the table worked, but I felt that with a bit more time, we could have been really creative with the space and with each other, and possibly planned in advance what scenes we would like to create for our artists.

From a photographic point of view, time was very limited. I would have loved a couple of hours to really think out the set carefully, have around 30 minutes or so before models arrive to experiment with lighting and camera settings, and have the luxury to work with the models over the course of a very chilled and relaxed day.

c) What did you gain from it?

In no particular order: Wonderful people to create art with and collaborate with, new friendships, new artistic ideas, the confidence that I can hold a pose for at least 30 minutes, some lovely photographic works, a better understanding of how to best utilise awkward space for a nude tableau featuring 14 models, the satisfaction that many artists were able to benefit from my contribution, the experience of building trust with first-time models, it was an invaluable experience all around and I learned loads from it.

Here are a couple of Charlie’s nude abstracts:

A Feeling of Intimacy & Communion

“A feeling of coming together, sharing in intimacy and real connection more pure and truthful than many everyday personal exchanges”, this is a quote from Kim, one of our models at Telegraph Hill, 21/3/12.

by Francis Wardale, ” For most of the time I tried to draw the whole group – taking advantage in having that number of models.”
by Charles Patey, "The challenge of multiple models is to try to catch the spatial relationship between the models."

“I felt trusted and grateful to be included in the other participant’s personal threshold experiences.”

by Brian McKenzie,

“I have modelled for life drawing groups before and even once in a group setting but never before has the experience been tinged with such nuances of communion as it was at The Spirited Bodies event. It really was an experience of opening, freeing and honouring ourselves and one another and I feel so grateful to have been trusted and accepted as witness and participant in this event. Thank you!” You are very welcome!

by Brian McKenzie

Whenever I watch the models as they pose together at one of our events, part of me wishes to be with them. I do enjoy the pleasure of watching them, as they find their part in the picture. Sometimes I try to draw. Next time I hope Lucy and I have a chance to join them, at least for part of the time, because I know their experience is one I have not yet had. And it is a beautiful one, of togetherness and bonding. They are quite elated, if challenged by the difficulty too.

by Brian McKenzie
by Francis Wardale