The Power of saying ‘No’

Spirited Bodies presents the next Stories of Women event, featuring co-founder Morimda, a professional life model of over 20 years experience. This will be held on Tuesday September 25th, 7pm – 9pm at The Feminist Library.

Morimda

 

From being an extremely shy person, it was through life modelling that Morimda emerged – found out who she was and was able to express that to other people.

by Julia Thompson

Morimda did not do well in school, so her parents tried to arrange a marriage for her when she was 16. This was when she first realised the power of saying ‘No’!

She was extremely shy, and living in Paris found herself in relationships but was unable to come out of her shell, and deep down she knew that the only way to properly emerge as herself, was to be alone, a single woman in order to find her own voice. She wanted to come to England and learn English, and pursuing this dream gave her the strength to say ‘No’ for the second time, to an episode of unfulfilling relationships in France.

In London working as a window dresser, she wanted to be a mannequin! That was when she hit upon the idea of becoming a life model. The futility of continually being sacked, basically because she was shy, pushed her to actively take on becoming a full time life model. Her 3rd ‘No’ was when she refused to keep looking for a more mainstream job.

by Ray Marwyck

She discovered how liberating it was to be nude, to own her body, and learnt through this profession the subtleties of her own boundaries more clearly. For the first time in her life, she stopped feeling ugly and like a failure for not fitting with conventions. Her confidence developed as she learnt how to manage herself as a business.

Modelling helped Morimda to cure her depression, as it allowed her to be herself, to accept herself, and in this way encouraged her innate inner joy to shine through again. Through the life model network she was introduced to Buddhism and chanting which is a strong focus in her life to this day.

She is very keen to empower other women about their bodies, nudity and sensuality, as she truly feels that modelling has given her so much in these regards. It helped her to be aware of the significance of posture, and how each of us have different shapes and forms to play with. She was inspired to come up with the idea for Spirited Bodies, whilst posing at the Mall Galleries in 2010 before sharing it with Esther & Lucy.

Life modelling and drawing are a really good way to address body image issues, as well as gaining confidence and broadening our experience by stepping out of our comfort zones.

At this Stories of Women event there is also the chance to try life modelling yourself, or you may come to draw and/or listen or join in the conversation. During the second half there is a discussion about the body politics of life modelling and related matters. There is guidance for new models – no experience necessary, and some drawing materials are provided – again no experience necessary.

For more information about this event and to buy tickets online, see here.

Women of the World and Beyond

Our event at ‘Women of the World’ last Sunday has moved me profoundly. Having recordings of interviews with models was very powerful, as some of those women would have been too nervous to say those things live or even turn up. I am copying a message I received from one of the models, Niomi, as it expresses well some of the passion felt by those involved. I am also posting images from the event.

To summarise; ten women with varying levels of experience started the posing. They were aged about 30 – 63 and had a wide range of body types between them, as well as reasons for participating. From being an experienced professional model disillusioned with it all and wanting a different more empowering space in which to model again; embracing a new body post-op transgender; to stop feeling invisible as an older woman with MS and mostly paralysed; or wanting to engage with a wider discussion about body and sexual politics as we consider how best to move forward with Spirited Bodies.

Whilst the models posed I played the recordings of four of them as well as two others by women who did not pose on the day. Each testimony told a different story – from the relatively light-hearted journey of embracing one’s body in a new way through life modelling, to the more intense reality of wishing that one day you might be able to move your limbs again and your degenerative disease go into reverse. Where I could, I asked the model who was talking in the recording to be in the centre of that pose. One bit of feedback I got from one of the women drawing, was that hearing the models’ thoughts whilst drawing them, affected the way she drew. The model instead of relatively silent was expressing her innermost thoughts, fears and ambitions.

About half way through the session I started asking members of the ‘audience’ if they would like to try posing, and some of them did, so that was lovely to have some total newcomers.

When I was interviewing models, the conversation sometimes moved towards the future. When and how will we invite men back again? Could we have a post-event discussion session to allow models to process together as a group their thoughts, to make an event more complete, and beyond the act of modelling itself? How open can we be towards men when we have had a few tricky experiences with male models being involved in the past? Would we just work with the ones we know and trust? After all, the safety of vulnerable women must be our priority.

Here is some of the artwork from Sunday; the poses lasted from about 6 to 17 minutes.

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Here is Niomi’s letter;

HI ESTHER.

 
I was very touched with the experience that I had yesterday – the way you facilitated the event – went I thought very well – with the life models you knew starting off – then the new girls who wanted to have a go – then back to the Spirited Bodies life models – and your Mum was just amazing at the centre piece of it all.
 
I was very touched by your interview with her – she is a brave amazing person – and I can see that she has had some deep emotional issues to work through in her life – it touched me so much when she was talking about how she would love to get her active and functioning body back. 
 
It was a nice surprise for me when you called me up to do my 17 minutes life model pose – I found listening to my interview with you deeply touching – I was able to hold my pose regardless of being emotional and tears streaming down my face.
 
I hope that we will be able to carry on this dialogue within an open minded and safe space together – feeling free to explore all sides of the debate from the female side – and being open to listening to and hearing the men’s side of the story too – in connection with exploring and being together in Spirited Bodies Life Modelling.
 
Thank You again for this amazing opportunity to explore My Life – My Journey – My Body – Within the context of being in a safe and comfortable environment – in the way of working together as a group and team work – to share together in our body form and presence in connection with each other – to embrace – be open – and enjoy the bodies that we have been given and feel comfortable in our own skin.
 
This of course would not be possible without the artists – and I saw a lot of art work on the floor at the end – so I hope that the photographs will go on the Spirited Bodies website for us all to see.
 
If you find any of me I would be so grateful if you could send it to me.
 
I also do not know if it is possible for you to give me a copy of the recording the girl gave to you – I have an elderly couple I am friendly with – I would like to play it to them one day – as I think it is so touching.
 
With My Best Wishes To You.
NIOMI GABRIELLE
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With thanks to all the artists and the models, and as well Jude Kelly and Domino Pateman and all the staff who helped at Southbank Centre

Introducing LaDawn to the Spirited Bodies team

I wish I could remember with greater clarity that moment when I thought life modelling would be a good experience for me.  But the fact is I don’t.

I do remember being adrift.  I had been suffering from severe depression and my days were a jumble of hoping I had enough energy to get out of bed and then pure anxiety coursed through my blood stream all day as I tried to keep myself from returning to the comfort of the duvet.  My life was nothing like it used to be.  I was nothing like I used to be.

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For the previous 25 years, I had worked in IT.  I was a senior manager in a FTSE 50 company.  I was a mother to two children, a son who is now 12, and a daughter, now 9.  I was the wife of a man who ran his own IT consulting company.  I juggled the demands of a working wife and mother with the precision of a military operation.  I had weekly menus for our meals planned out for the next 3 months and their corresponding grocery lists just waiting for the calendar reminder to alert me to the exact time the order needed to be placed online.  I raced from office to school to home and back again.  Our social life was a whirl of engagements.  I loved hosting dinner parties.

One day it all went horribly wrong.  The doctor diagnosed me with depression and put me on anti-depressant tablets.  I was catatonic.  My husband took the children and me on holiday hoping that would help but instead of the lively, chatty, laughing wife that would normally accompany him on our road trips, he was left with a wife who spoke only to announce she needed the services.

It only got worse when we got home.  Finally, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and after 2 separate stays totalling nearly 4 months, I finally had the right cocktails of medication that meant I could be trusted to be left on my own.  But I was far from “cured”.  I couldn’t plan meals and I certainly couldn’t cook.  The multi-tasking required of my brain was a step beyond what my impaired cognitive abilities allowed me to process without having a major anxiety attack.  I found just leaving the house an insurmountable challenge.

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In the eternal quest to fill my days with something, anything that was meaningful I found myself reading an article written by an artist friend of mine about a life drawing event she had attended.  The models were provided by an organisation called Spirited Bodies.  The organisation was founded on the principle that life modelling had the power to redefine the definition of what society saw as beautiful.

Having been curvy since puberty and having gained several stones as I had babies and grew older, my inactivity during my depression had resulted in even more pounds being piled on.  I always found my ability to make friends relied most heavily on my sunshiney personality.  But my confidence, the place where the sunshine gained its potency, was lost; not just misplaced but dead and buried under a mountain of fear and shame and disgust and futility.  My self-esteem had evaporated as I laid in my bed and tried to come up with another plausible way to kill myself while not destroying my children’s lives.

Spirited Bodies indicated that life modelling could be a way to improve not only the image you had of your body but also your own confidence and build your self-esteem.

This made sense to me.  I mean, look at all the beautiful art of nudes hanging on all those walls of the best museums in the world.  Those women were gorgeous.  One day that might be me.  That would be cool.

This all made perfect sense to me.  Not so much for my husband.

He was quite possibly the angriest I have ever seen him when I returned home from my introductory meeting with Spirited Bodies at a pub on Lavender Hill in London.  Quite rightly, he was angry because I hadn’t told him much about it.  I hadn’t even told him where I was going or who these people were.  He was worried for my safety.  On the other hand, it’s not like I took my clothes off or anything.  Yet.  Instead I explained that I had learned about the role of nudity in art:  painting, drawing, sculpture.  I explained how you had to choose your poses carefully because you need to be able to maintain that pose for what could be a long time.

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I patiently explained to the man who had been caring for me virtually night and day that this was important to me.  He said I had never done anything like this before.  And I said, “Precisely.”  I wanted to step so far outside my comfort zone that I wouldn’t have a point of reference for my anxiety or fear or depression to take hold of me.  “But you are going to be naked” was his only reply.

I went to the second workshop and my anxiety levels were a little bit higher since there was a fairly good chance that I would need to get my kit off.  I’d brought my dressing gown just in case I was feeling super brave.

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Lucy, of Spirited Bodies, explained that we would be drawing each other.  No one was obliged to take off their clothes.  They could choose to be drawn clothed.  We were asked to take some paper and our pick of various drawing utensils.  Now this put the fear of god in me.  I can’t draw stick figures.  As I fidgeted around in my seat trying to look uber cool and comfortable holding my pencils and charcoal, Esther, of Spirited Bodies, stood in the middle of our circle and dropped her sarong and simply said “Draw.”

I looked at my blank sheet of paper.  I looked at the form standing in front of me.  I looked at my pencils.  I looked back up at Esther’s elbow, then her toe, then her neck, then her knee.  I looked back at my blank piece of paper.  As I put pencil and charcoal to paper, I struggled to transfer what I saw in front of me to the paper in a way that anyone would recognise as a human form.  I got lost in the moment and before I knew it 5 minutes was up, Esther had picked up her sarong and tied it around her neck and we were being asked how our drawings looked.

In those moments I realised that Esther had become little more than a bowl a fruit, a beautiful bowl of fruit, but a bowl of fruit nonetheless.  As more people volunteered to model I then realised that the beauty of life modelling is that everyone completely forgets that there is a naked person in the room.  The new model is consumed with thoughts of holding the pose, maintaining utter stillness, and the itch on her nose.  The artists in the room are consumed with capturing the curve of the spine, the droop of a breast, the length of the femur and those hands and feet.  Oh, the dreaded hands and feet.

One observation I’ve made is that not a single one of us looks even remotely the same when we don’t have our clothes on.  I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between a bowl full of apples, but put a bunch of naked bodies in front of me and I can guarantee that every man’s knee looks remarkably dissimilar to another man’s knee.  One woman’s nipple looks very different from another’s.  Everyone has something rather odd about their elbows.  Shoulders are amazing.

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I took my turn that day.  For a surprisingly brief 10 minutes I joined 2 other models, both males, and we pretended to be caught in the heat of a battle over a parking spot.  As one does, wearing nothing at all.  The funny thing was, it never crossed my mind, that I was nude.  I was more worried about holding the pose, not moving, respecting the other models, and making sure the artists had something interesting to capture.

On the day of the Spirited Bodies event at the Battersea Arts Centre, I was more excited than nervous, although in that moment before we took to the stage I thought I might vomit.  I took solace in the fact that I was surrounded by dozens of people, young old, small, large, fit and unfit, of every colour, with disabilities of the bodies, with tattoos, with scars, with breasts, without breasts, shaved, unshaved, tall, short, with hair long and short and colours representing every shade of the rainbow.

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There was an audible gasp from the artists as we entered the room.  We assumed our positions like professionals.  You would have thought we had been doing this all our life.  Models interacted with each other on the various levels of the stage and created beauty.  Created art.

During our breaks and at the end of the day, the models were given an opportunity to walk around and view the works that had been created.  It was also at this point that we got to interact with the artists.

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It was at this point that the real value of life modelling comes into its own.  Artists were effusive with their praise, generous with their compliments and it was easy to dismiss them as just being polite.  But then you looked at the art.  You may recognise your bum or your breasts or your back.  And there you were:  in a beautiful, stunning, breath-taking piece of art.  The partnership between artists and model had combusted and created this incredible piece of art.

My opinion of myself, my body, my whole being changed in an instance.  I could feel the endorphins coursing through my veins.  I was bubbling over with confidence, enthusiasm, passion, and joy.  Pure unadulterated joy.

The very next day I registered with RAM, the Registry of Artists Models.  Within a week, I had a few inquiries.  I had business cards printed.  Every time I posed, I handed out my business card to everyone in the class.  Soon I had more inquiries.

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Now I regularly model for various classes, universities, and groups all over the south.  Most of my work is in London but I do travel as far as Hook in Hampshire usually once every 6 weeks for a lovely group of older artists who create some of those most creative and remarkable work I’ve seen.

Sometimes I get cold.  Most are very accommodating about turning up the heating.  Sometimes the job is 2 hours of short poses (< 5 minutes each) which is exhausting and painful the next day when you are as unfit as I am.  Sometimes the job is a couple of really short poses (<1 minute) followed by 3 hours of one very long pose for 3 weeks in a row.  Must make sure that is a comfortable pose!

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I have met so many interesting people outside my normal social demographic. Life modelling has made me aware of my body and certainly more aware of the people around me.  I have gained confidence I never had and my self-esteem has fully recovered.  I can honestly say that life modelling has changed my life.

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Model Interviews at WOW; part 1 ~ Arleen & Emma-Jane

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.

by Kate Hardie
by Kate Hardie

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 issue Arleen: 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.

Drawing of Arleen made at this event
Drawing of Arleen made at this event
a drawing of all the models in pose before we interviewed them
a drawing of all the models in pose before we interviewed them

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. IMG_1616

charcoal drawing by Cloe Cloherty

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LaDawn's precarious pose on one knee clearly shown here
LaDawn’s precarious pose on one knee clearly shown here
a pregnant woman took the plunge when the audience were invited. By Cloe Cloherty
a pregnant woman took the plunge when the audience were invited.

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artist at work
artist at work
first pose with a couple models from the audience
first pose with a couple models from the audience

IMG_1625 All photographs in this post are copyright of Sophie Stanes, www.livinglifethroughalensphotography.co.uk

Part 2 of my Interview with a New Model & more images from Notting Hill

I always find it refreshing to hear from those newer to life modelling what it is they find so exciting about it. For Liz it was many things – the way that modelling encourages you to be just the way you are. Whichever body type you are, that is what you accentuate. You cannot hide from yourself. She has long felt her bottom to be too large, disproportionate to the rest of her figure. As a life model her bottom becomes a feature which artists consider her best part, to be shown off.

Liz has only modelled twice; once at Spirited Bodies and once for an artist who met her at Mortlake. She likes the way it makes you want to look after your body so that you do feel good about presenting it. This is a positive side effect I agree, and something I sometimes forget. It’s nice to be maintaining my body not just for myself or a lover, but for all the people I work with too.

A greater interest in art was another plus offset by life modelling Liz found. She wants to see what artists look for and what has been done before.

She has a strong idea about the professionalism involved in life modelling, largely due to being advised by Morimda. She says that the model should never embarress an artist. Many poses for example, could be erotic or not depending on your facial expression. By behaving in a very straight way, you avoid any confusion or awkwardness. This is again something I have just gotten used to. Life modelling I think has allowed me to regain a sort of innocence, since I am not about making erotic art particularly but do love to be expressive and am naturally quite a sexy person. Thinking about it, that is a big gift, to be myself unselfconsciously.

At Spirited Bodies Liz says, you learn from watching others model. First you do a simple pose, then you see someone else do something more free and expressive. Now she thinks of asking artists what they would like to see in her. This is a good tactic; personally I have several ways I can pose or styles, and I know that some artists prefer natural looking poses while others like extremely posed positions. It can be worth checking how they roll or if there is something in particular they are looking for.

Liz feels more aware of her own beauty now because of displaying herself. She is always looking for new inspiration artistically, and she is enthused by the way that every artist can show her something new about herself. Just as every model brings a position out in different ways.

This piece will be continued, and here follows some more images from Spirited Bodies at Notting Hill Visual Arts Festival.

rugby scrum!
pen and ink
on top of a pile of bodies (undrawn) posed these 2 sirens holding a flower!
from below (models were raised on a platform)
again the scrum – 5 or 10 minute pose
back to back in a circle
women on top of bodies!
Hooray for colour
the corpses below
This artist made very large paintings on the floor which I loved watching her do. I don’t think they come out so well on here unfortunately