Hello, I am the model, now let’s put you on a Pedestal

Tomorrow is our 1st workshop of the season and Steve who modelled with us in Mortlake is kindly stepping into the breach; as the new models arrive he will be in pose, greeting them with a cracker to get their teeth into. Whether they are familiar with drawing or not, all will be introduced to charcoal and paper so that they can analyse poses from an artist’s perspective. Seeing the model like that shows one how hard drawing is and how technical before expression is really unleashed.

Each new model will have a chance to pose and be drawn, and we will build up the number of models so that we can have a look at tableaux. New models don’t have to be nude as we will be, but if they want to be that’s fine. Just getting used to being still and watched intently is enough for some; there’ll be plenty of time for birthday suits on October 20th which is in fact Spirited Bodies 2nd Birthday! In October 2010 Morimda called me up to get Lucy’s number – she’d heard what a great organiser Lucy is. I was intrigued and Morimda said she’d send me the brief. ‘Find 20 women to pose nude for artists in one month’s time at the Mall Galleries‘. Wow – there were extra bits about selling the paintings at an auction to raise money for charity, something which has not yet manifested but hasn’t been forgotten. We are just waiting for the right collaboration. With London Drawing the emphasis is more on theatrical life drawing; when we team up with the bang on feminists at Southbank there will be a stronger impetus to push the fundraising element. Time darlings is on our side and everything happens in the right time.

We only found 9 women in the end, but it did not feel too few. They were various ages and shapes, sizes… with different reasons, and they were all new to it. We didn’t coach them beyond encouraging emails and on the day it was a massive rush as the format at the Mall is intense with very little time either side, but my Goodness it worked and it was magic! After that Morimda got busy elsewhere, Lucy was baffled by the craziness of it all – why should it work I mean rationally how is that project going to have a future?! And I couldn’t let it go. It wanted to happen and my main other project was writing a play about my family which was far too close to the bone. I needed a damn good distraction which is exactly what Spirited Bodies was.

I’m getting excited about this big event coming up and beyond as well. Some of the people who model with us are professionals – including some actors – and some have come back to us once or more and with these models amongst the totally new ones it really will be possible to create a variety of striking tableaux all at once. Think I’ll count down the days to 20/10/12 as we prepare the icing for a very special cake.

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

Mall Reunion

Last Monday Lucy, Morimda and I met up again for the first time since Spring 2011; we were at the Private View of an exhibition of work done by Hesketh Hubbard – the organisation of artists who first hosted Spirited Bodies when Morimda originally set it up in Autumn 2010.

Most of the art was figurative and we recognised many of the models in the pictures, some of whom were also there in person.

This is Matthew Oghene

Lucy took pictures of the artworks and we asked a tipsy artist to take a few snaps of us;

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks; I dropped out of a long pose at The Slade because my Mum was more ill than usual, and I wanted to concentrate more on Spirited Bodies. Not that you can tell from this blog, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at the moment as we begin postering the borough of Wandsworth and engaging with local communities about life modelling and body image.

We are getting a small amount of funding from Wandsworth Council which ties us to sourcing models from the borough. I am enjoying this challenge more than I expected to. Having a reason to find local people especially women (we still hear from so many more men) brings us back to what it’s all about – reaching out to people who might not otherwise know about us or consider such an activity.

Here are some more artworks – hover over to see the name of the artist and the piece.

I like to smile when I model too!

lovely pose – possibly Matthew
Looks like a rooftop of sirens!

I love Lucy’s pottery, I have 3 of her bowls
Matthew has various projects; http://www.thematthewevent.com/ quite a model to watch out for. I recently worked with him at The Slade, he is such a sweet guy!
This is Tansy who first life modelled at the 1st Spirited Bodies when she was 17. Now she is a pro and an excellent photographic model – http://tansyblue.tumblr.com/

Spirited Bodies follow-ups Part 2: All The Rest Is Drag

It was serving tea and biscuits that had got me into modelling. Who’d have thought? Here I was l cast amidst all these artists and naked bodies, seemingly devoid of shame. It wasn’t meant as an apprenticeship but it served me well in the end.

People had hinted that I might give it a try and artists were always asking if I modelled, as I proffered fig rolls and chocolate digestives, but I always slightly recoiled when I thought about the idea – I mean really, me? Whilst I was no stranger to acting before a crowd of unknowns, how could I do the same with no clothes on? Then I thought, hmn, but on the stage you are still naked out there, performing, acting, being. Wasn’t modelling just the same?  Wasn’t it also a performance, conveying a look, a feeling an emotion just as an actor would? The only difference was the lack of costume.

My biggest hurdle was that I had forgotten how to love my body. The possible reconnection with it that I felt modelling would bring excited me. I would say it was my primary reason at first for doing it.  The world of men has changed in my lifetime. Now we have make-up for men, semi nude images of men on giant billboards are commonplace and body fascism has crossed over from gay club to straight gym.  As a gay male I can say that I felt this more acutely than most and had ended up embarrassed of my body.

I don’t know if I would have become a model without the assistance of Spirited Bodies, events like theirs help you find your feet and even had I not liked it, then at least I’d given it a go.  I arrived at the gallery at the allotted hour, making a couple of casual jokes to friends of mine that I’d got involved, about member shrinkage (as well as the opposite problem). It calmed our nerves a bit. But no time for that, suddenly it seemed we we’re on, cue lights! Then all done, exhilarated a touch bewildered, we models swapped stories in the changing area – this time no bashfulness. We were naked but we weren’t. It all seemed so normal.

That must be some six months ago now. I still remember the initial advice we got at that event: understanding what poses can be maintained comfortably and what can’t, understanding the power you have being the naked one, and working with the artist. I still get it wrong on the poses of course, but it’s all the fun of the fair. You learn from experience. I even surprised myself with how knowledgeable and experienced I sounded when meeting artists for the first time.

As Ru Paul once said: ‘we’re all born naked, all the rest is drag’. We talk of being ‘naked’ as a metaphor and it has only been through modelling that I have truly understood it. To remove your clothes to a public audience makes you feel vulnerable, but this vulnerability has helped me gain strength. I’ve all but lost my feelings of my body letting me down. It’s funny, I don’t know when I first noticed it but I suddenly thought that it didn’t matter what I looked like. I started to like myself from the inside out. The drag that we wear because of convention is just that. My experience of modelling and now being a professional model has literally stripped away much of my negative bodily associations. I always knew that modelling would do this for me. I just didn’t realise how much.

Male models posed with a horse sculpture at Spirited Bodies 3

Some Feedback from Participants

We asked the women who tried life modelling for the first time how they felt afterwards. Here’s some things they said:

“I really enjoyed it – it was the relationship between the models and the artists – and the comfortable feeling between the models as well.
I enjoyed feeling unselfconscious about my body, and I enjoyed the challenge of staying still – which was easier at some times than at others! I enjoyed having such attention not for something that I had done or said, but simply to help the artists to do what they love doing; there was every chance of succeeding in the task just by existing rather than having to outwit someone else; I loved the lack of competition but the success of us all as a group.
I didn’t really think about the poses much beforehand, but when you were explaining it to us, I did worry a bit about whether I’d be able to cope – not only in holding the poses but also in thinking of how to pose – whether I could provide a pose that was interesting to the artists; they did actually say that we would have been interesting if we’d stood just upright and rigid – but undoubtedly there would be poses that were more interesting than others. The artists were very kind and appreciative!
I liked to see the pictures people had done of me, but I was also interested in seeing the pics of other models. The standard of work seemed to be extremely high.
It was thoroughly enjoyable and felt like a treat – so when everyone applauded us and the artsists were really grateful, it was such a surprise!” Laura Yeates

“Modelling was much more physically challenging than I expected it to be. Poses which I thought would be quite easy to hold for some time turned out to be very tricky, as pressure points which weren’t immediately obvious became clear, limbs went numb, and horrific pins and needles developed. My karate training helped me deal with the pain, but when finding poses I focused on my understanding of composition (learnt from a strong interest in art and a photography hobby), in particular triangular shapes and negative space; poses based on karate are too physically challenging. Seeing the sketches of me was definitely my favourite part; it was interesting to see my body through another person’s eyes, and made me realise that though my body isn’t perfect, it’s still beautiful. Many young women have problems centred around their body image, including myself, and modelling has – I feel – helped me with that. I wouldn’t say I discovered a new passion, but I definitely found a lucrative (I can make 3 times as much modelling as waitressing) and flexible part time job that provides a physical challenge and has collateral benefits for my self esteem.” Tansy

“I really just enjoyed being on the other side… artists not necessarily looking at it as a body but a combination of shapes and lines and shading/tinting.
I loved focusing on a particular artist and his/her actions and facial expressions while they were drawing… plus it helped to have something to concentrate on. Being in a group of women felt very safe and it was very beautiful to see everyone transforming from nervous and shy to empowered.
At the beginning it was both physically and mentally challenging – I just had to let go of the fact that my body is bigger right now than it has been… something that I feel pretty self conscious about – and just fully relax into the pose instead of constantly judging the way you look… 5 minutes into the first pose I felt fine… it was just the initial plunge. Luckily I have done some meditation so that really helped with focus and being able to still myself.
It’s a pretty incredible feeling to walk around and see yourself represented in so many different ways. It was interesting to see what certain people focus on… and how different body expressions are displayed. All the artists were really lovely.
It was a lovely experience. A beautiful group of women and I think that everyone did their best to make us feel comfortable and confident going in there. I never thought that I would have been able to stand in front of 50 people naked… but now it’s like this huge check mark in life… and it feels wonderful. I would definitely be interested in looking into more modelling in the future… especially in a group setting… it felt like a modern version of ‘The Bathers’!” Katrina Jurgens

“It was liberating to be nude in front of people, as well as observing my thoughts during the modelling and accepting myself as I was and my body as I was. It was nice to be able to share the experience with other women specially older women who were in there as naturally as I was. I would have felt very insecure to add to my insecurities to have only young slim women in the group.” Romina Naito

“I really enjoyed the Spirited Bodies event. It was lovely meeting all the women. I was glad there was a woman my own age modelling.
The reason I decided to take part in the event is that as a middle aged unmarried woman without a family I am invisible! In Darwinian terms I have no worth as I am past it! I can walk down a street and no one notices. In a group of women I have nothing to say as I don’t have children or grandchildren. One of the nicest things about the Spirited Bodies event is the women talk about the event and not their kids! To be drawn by a group of artists was my way of giving myself value, to be noticed. It was a way of overcoming the bad body image I have developed since menopause… Also to prove to myself that I could pose naked. To boost my self worth and to motivate myself in taking care of my body – seeing it as an instrument which houses me as a person.

I enjoyed talking to the other women. Women tend to be bombarded with images of what their bodies should be like. I enjoyed seeing that women’s bodies are beautiful no matter what shape or size they are. The posing was liberating and peaceful. Being still and quiet gave one space to think and breathe.
It is not as difficult as I expected. But I don’t think I challenged myself with difficult poses as it was my first time.” Rain

“By the last pose I was relaxed about my nudity! I did a bold standing pose as prompted by you guys, having realised that lying down can be less comfortable.
I found the half hour poses quite difficult, and getting into poses – you think you’re comfy, but you’re not.
I didn’t find it relaxing, I didn’t master it.
It was a bit like performing (theatre) for the attention.
Seeing the pictures afterwards reminds me of my bravery, I feel proud of myself. I see myself, and it’s neither flattering, nor awful. Just as I am.
Before doing this I really didn’t want to. I hated the idea of showing my body, I’m not happy about the way I look. I only took part as a favour to a friend! When it actually happened it was fun, it went quickly, and it was nice to be in a group. Lovely women, we got to bond a bit, especially in the pub.
A week later I tried another evening of life modelling, after initially thinking I’d hate doing it. I had gained confidence.” Szilvi Keffert