Spirited Bodies with All The Young Nudes, Edinburgh

On the eve of my travelling to the Highlands in late July, arrived an email from Joanna of All The Young Nudes – the Scottish life drawing organisation that runs groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. I was invited to bring Spirited Bodies to the Edinburgh Fringe festival again, as one of ATYN 4 special events there. I was offered dates and was immediately keen; August generally being quiet meant I had time, and it had been such a fun gig last year.

I first worked with Joanna in 2013 when Lucy, Thelma and I had driven to Scotland and created 3 separate Spirited Bodies events – one in Glasgow at The Flying Duck with ATYN; and two in Edinburgh – one at Marchmont St Giles Church hall, and one at St Margaret’s House (formerly Arts Complex).

Time was short as the next day I was travelling North, and for all I knew might well have poor connectivity once in the Highlands. So we quickly arranged a date, and I made the necessary bookings for transport and a room. I also put out a call on social media to let people know that I was coming – and was looking for people to try modelling for the first time, as well as for experienced models keen to join in. Steve would unfortunately not be able to join me this time due to work commitments, which he was very sorry about, partly because he likes joining in the modelling, also the social aspect of meeting all the models. And then there’s visiting stunning Edinburgh!

I had about a month to prepare, and gradually a mix of newcomers, familiar faces and experienced models got in touch, interested in taking part. A lovely variety and refreshingly all seemed most genuine. In plenty of time before the event there was a group of 10 models emerging, and I had to turn several others away. I then set to sending them as detailed instructions as possible on what to expect, especially for the total newcomers. I described a couple of poses that we would recreate from last year, and in a later email outlined the full pose schedule. There would be 4 poses in the first half, then a break, followed by 5 poses in the second half. Our venue was the light and spacious Whitespace at Norloch House.

We would begin with the chain of movement pose where the models are positioned in a circle and take turns to move a little until they touch the model next to them. At that point they freeze in a new pose, and the next model is released into motion, so that at any one time, one model is moving and the rest are still. I advised them not to leave themselves in too awkward a position at the moment of freezing, as it could be a while till they could move again. I also said they could modify a tricky position to deal with that very predicament, so there was flexibility, and the models’ comfort was paramount. This is meant to be a positive and empowering experience of being part of the creation of nude art as models, and is not the same as modelling alone for a job. The models are not being paid, so they are doing it to gain experience, whether towards getting work, for personal reasons or because it’s something they enjoy.

The second pose was a 5 minute dynamic pose where they would balance the space, which means spreading out across it evenly, rather than the relatively tight circle they had just been in.

I abandoned the pose I originally had in mind to go next. This was because the session was half an hour shorter than I had thought! So I trimmed a few poses by several minutes and scapped an idea for a court scene. I considered that this tableau would be the least simple to put across with 10 nude figures. Plus in the interests of gender equality I would have to insist on some of the women standing for the roles of judge and lawyers, but I didn’t really want to do that as they’d all been stretching themselves considerably in the previous poses.

The following pose on the agenda was a recreation of Gericault’s famous Raft of the Medusa, which we have done before at Spirited Bodies, most notably in 2012 at a Christmas event in Mortlake. This suits a longer pose, and 25 minutes was scheduled. With a more coherent tableau, artists may hopefully be inclined to draw the whole scene, however challenging in the relatively short time. Several figures are lying down as either dying or dead, on what remains of a shipwreck off the coast of Africa (the scene is based on a real life event that happened 200 years ago). Some upright figures are looking out scanning the horizon for help. There is a sense of urgency and poor weather conditions heightening the drama. Overall the picture has a diagonal trajectory which informs the gaze and gives it direction.

I asked if anyone was by chance prepared to stand the duration. I encouraged by pointing out that standing figures are often more likely to be drawn, and it’s good practice for any budding new models. A willing participant came forward and I suggested distributing his weight between both legs to make it easier, and in any case that would lend an appearance of strenth since his role was as a leading figure in the ensemble, perhaps even mimicking the position of the mast of a ship. Another new model sat by him on a chair, also looking out to the horizon. Several models were strewn across the raft, less than alert if maintaining interesting angular forms, while two experienced models took on the most challenging roles centrally. Jude from Cumbria kneeled in the poise of a desperate prayer to the heavens, holding an expression of fear and dread throughout. Behind her a male model was upright on his knees, mainly on his right knee and twisting his body to the head of the raft. Our picture was complete and a very fine recreation it was.

As the pose drew to a close, we had 10 more minutes until the break, so I brought forward a pose from the second half. This was another revisiting of a favourite pose from last year – the models imagine that someone they weren’t expecting to be there, walks in the room! Someone whom they might not wish to be seen by when nude, or who might themselves be embarressed to witness the nudity. It makes for a potentailly expressive gesture, whether the shyness of a new model, or the out there brazenness of a seasoned professional.

The break arrived and the models were most ready for it. They checked out the drawings of them, chatted excitedly, and we made use of a nice evening light outdoors to capture a group pose in robes. It was just a 10 minute break as we wanted to maximise the modelling and drawing time which already requires more time between poses than a usual session, with so many models including novices to arrange.

We began the second half with three x 3 minute poses. My direction to the models was simply concerned with their connection with each other; for the first pose they would be huddled together, the second they would break away a bit, and for the third they were to be completely separate and more individually engaged with the artists. Within that they could find whichever poses felt right for them.

After this burst of dynamism they settled into the final long pose of about half an hour. The scene was paradise, with strawberries! They could find more comfortable positions, holding strawberries which I handed out once they were in pose, and some of them were relating to each other. All The Young Nudes had brought some pillows and pieces of fabric which were made use of, as well as two large arm chairs which belonged to the venue.

It was lovely to see how the artists had risen to the challenge of drawing ten models! Some beautiful works I am sure you will agree. The models themselves had given a lot, many of them trying something completely new and very much embracing the chance. I hope they find many more opportunities to pose for art, feel comfortable nude, as well as share the joy of this liberation. It was wonderful to meet them, and also spend a bit of time afterwards together over a drink in a nearby pub. We were lucky to find enough space in a bar in central Edinburgh during festival time to accommodate our large group. Fortunately Keira from All The Young Nudes guided us towards The Red Squirrel where we quickly found a couple of tables together.

Finding out what motivates people to get involved, and how they found the experience makes the occasion more whole. A few artists joined us too, so some drawings were being shown.

This event was a lot of fun and most enriching. I hope to return sometime.

by Stephen Najda

 

A Natural Part of the Journey

Last week I visited 2 naturist clubs in the heart of the rich south of this land. One was a site visit for Sex Maniacs’ Ball, and then a few of us went to a sexual energy channelling workshop at another club down the road. It was all in the spirit of the Ball, because amongst other naturist activities will be an energy healing workshop and we were being briefed in how to help facilitate. No private parts are touched, but the power of the sexually focussed reiki can be such that participants are brought to orgasm. Personally I experienced a very pleasant euphoria, but I guess it all depends on who you are with. Both clubs had a very open, sexy vibe, most fitting for the mission.

Last month I was invited to model at Naturist Foundation, also in Kent, which is a more regular naturist resort. They have a life drawing group amongst other art clubs, and the organiser knew me from a class in Sidcup where I model. He picked me up at Orpington station and drove us to the club. As soon as he parked inside the grounds, he stripped off to acclimatise; I didn’t feel quite ready. It was a fairly mild day, and once we had been to the cafe and had a coffee and sandwich, said hello to quite a few people, I felt adjusted. I shed all other items, and just draped a shawl over my shoulders whilst being given a tour. It is quite a large space, with woodland and different camping and games areas. Children and teenagers were present though not nude like the older folks. I posed outdoors for the second time this year, and enjoyed it more than the first for the liberation of artists also naked. It was a special occasion as normally they take turns to draw each other. Nudity no problem, they some of them struggle with finding interesting poses. I said next time I’d give them a lesson, maybe get some group poses going on. After the session I swum in the warm pool. I don’t remember swimming nude in such relaxed setting before.

Posing in a garden in South East London, a warm evening and a red shawl. Pastel by Arnie
Posing in a garden in South East London, a warm evening and a red shawl. Pastel by Arnie
Scenery at Naturist Foundation where I posed outdoors
Scenery at Naturist Foundation where I posed outdoors
perching
perching
the red shawl (from my Grand Father) is popular this Summer
the red shawl (from my Grand Father) is popular this Summer

In Scotland we exalted in student digs, right in the middle of Edinburgh. Noisy, cheap, no frills but what we needed. A bust tyre on our journey down slowed our progress to Glasgow the next day, but we got to All The Young Nudes just in time. We had trouble finding the venue once we had parked and found the street. We asked an Italian for directions and she told us “It is down a very nasty alley”. Every corner led to a nasty alley and on we shrugged till we reached the last corner. A sign on the main road told us to go round the back. Right at the back and down into the depths of some cave of a club, nothing much to look at, but that seemed to be the way with Glasgow. Inside they were waiting, keeping the artists out till the last minute, and what a queue there must have been, of artists who kept arriving through the first half and packing out this cellar of nooks and pillars, levels and pathways, no obvious centre to work with. We divided up our group of models or else not all artists would get a look. They drunk and music played, we fitted poses into spaces right in front of artists’ noses, making much of all our Scottish collaborators being professionals too. I could see why; if I was new to life modelling I would probably feel daunted by this intense and in yer face set up.

Thelma I believe
Thelma I believe
a Scottish model
a Scottish model
linking up
linking up

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Next night in Edinburgh was at the opposite end of the scale, in a well-to-do part of town (or is it all like that?) in a well kept church hall, attached to the church. A handful of artists drew intently, a more measured affair but the artwork was really special. We had a couple of new models and one pro joining us; I stayed out to direct this time.

Scottish Witches
Scottish Witches
Friends
Friends

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This was a mini-Pieta pose for 15 minutes!

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Loads more beautiful art work from this session here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.607794702576542.1073741837.320375434651805&type=1&l=f30476d02a

There was a hiccup with our final gig north of the border – the venue were unprepared for us, the room double booked, and though we still managed some nice poses together in a different space, we realised this place was not on the case (though some very lovely people did come to our rescue). We are still seeking a resolution here in terms of our next step on the Scottish mission. Overall we made some brilliant connections and can’t wait to get back, in the best possible fashion.

We all loved being on the road too, even Little Chef, takes me right back! That chance to share a bit more of our lives together, get to know each other in closer quarters and have an adventure.

With this baby, Baby Spirited Bodies, well technically a toddler now, like many Mums I make friends on the path. Friends who might not take the plunge if they didn’t know me, if we didn’t become close. Makes it accessible, less scary to be able to talk about it and feel safe with someone who knows. I’ve never been less lonely and it’s a good feeling, but I am getting familiar with some friends passing through for that part of the journey. It’s just so intense for a while, and sometimes the flame goes right out, suddenly because invariably emotions come up, and maybe a clash. I cannot hold their hand all the time, and bam they feel rejected! Onwards. Hopefully I’ll learn to smooth that phase more delicately. I am not a counsillor but I could be a better friend. Fortunately other friends that I have usually known longer, get involved and the effect is just uplifting, because of where they are at in their own journey, and how established our bond already is. Modelling with Spirited Bodies brings us closer, and I am beginning to see that some who needs must part from my company a while, do return when ready, for a new lease of friendship, with a stronger bond.

So lately I’ve been to several naturist places, and while I think these people have the right idea, not only do I not live near enough to one to consider joining, but also, it’s like they are in a timewarp somewhere between the ’70s and ’80s. Of course it’s not about appearances and that’s the point, but at least it’s about having people your own age you share cultural identity with. My own cultural identity may be quite comfortable in the ’80s and ’90s, but most naturists are older. I think it is becoming cool again though. Groups I am part of on Facebook testify to this trend, and the desire to shift the naturist way more into the modern day is a popular conversation topic;¬†how to attract more women, and how to attract more young folks. The growing popularity of nudist events outside of naturist clubs also indicates a change; it may be young people are more inclined to undress socially within a more familiar setting, be it urban such as at this evening’s private view of an exhibition at Guerilla Galleries in Holloway (Daniel Libeskind Space) to be part of an installation (I am involved with several friends, see https://www.eventbrite.com/event/6785468519 for details), or outdoor such as tomorrow’s Streak for Tigers at London Zoo (http://www.zsl.org/support-us/challenge-events/streak-for-tigers-thursday-15-august,2096,AR.html) which is a fundraiser to help save the Sumatran Tiger, or further in nature for a mass skinny-dip!

Last Monday Thelma and I went to The Outsiders Trust Jamboree, which is a light-hearted daytripping prequel to The Sex Maniacs Ball. With children present it was all very tame, but we got to talk a little to the party about what we do with Spirited Bodies, and how that may relate to people gaining sexual self confidence. A gentleman after described how with his unusual condition he is used to being prodded mercilessly by doctors to the point that he is unfussed about his body, but feels it has lost its specialness, just a curiosity and problem to be solved by the medical profession. My Mum is familiar with that too; paralysed from the neck down she relies on others for every bodily function, dignity plays little part, or rather dignity may be redefined according to necessity. The idea of being regarded for art is exceptional, appealing, and I found that with The Outsiders themselves I felt drawn to create a life modelling event just for them. The Ball will likely be a jolly rollicking affair, less time for quiet drawing even if tantric reiki is happening. I would prefer to give my baby the true attention it deserves, although a little taster might spread the message.

At The Mall Galleries last Wednesday, it was a special day for Mum.

water colour by Graham Wood
water colour by Graham Wood
drawing by Margaret
drawing by Margaret

There are more pictures of Mum from this event but they have not been shared yet. There are also many pictures of all the other models of course too; see our Facebook page for them. I just wanted to emphasize Mum as it is harder for her to make herself known, being paralysed and less able to attract artists with dazzling moves. I look forward to events which bring disabled/differently abled people modelling to the fore. It is on the agenda.

Holborn, Toynbee & getting excited about SB road trip North of the border!

I am totally hyper. I can’t write blog posts any more. I don’t have a shrink any more and the drafts folder is piling up. Chaos.

We Are Going To Scotland!! Soon!!

Groovy All The Young Nudes have invited us to Glasgow. Well we emailed them. They asked if we have a setlist, as in music, because they always do. Lucy who has only just recovered from some sort of plague and wants to get in touch with Scottish press, find more East London artists, learn how to make crowdfunding videos properly, cajol us into completing more funding applications, set up an etsy page for selling postcards, create a proper website so my free-reigning babble is not our most prominent web presence, would like to compile our playlist. To be fair she does have an impressive music collection, and she may be driving us for 7 hours or whatever it is each way in a very crowded car. Good music might save us, we will need several hours of it.

Lat Sunday I modelled at Toynbee Arts Club in Aldgate
Last Sunday I modelled at Toynbee Arts Club in Aldgate
These are pics of the venue where our next big event will be
These are pics of the venue where our next big event will be
on sunday 21st July. I have booked most of the models; there is plenty space for artists
on Sunday 21st July. I have booked most of the models; there is plenty space for artists

On Wednesday this week I discovered there is a role for an MC in life drawing events. It was the audience that swung it, though David Plank who runs Holborn Life Drawing thought I was just being neurotic. Artists have pointed out before how manic I am in the thick of directing; it’s an art I am working on. Clearly so different to being the incredibly calm person doing the poses.

Very nice atmosphere that evening, good location, lovely models. One asian male model with cerebral palsy made a noted entry. Richard (a long time supporter and friend of ours, also a professional model) was stirring things up with the dramatic content. I supplied themes, and he whipped the new models into an exerted response, I mean he puts so much energy into crafting a tension filled pose, the whole space is filled with a peaking vibe. There was a natural complementary shape making going on – what drama students know as balancing the space, and work very hard to achieve in Viewpoints exercises.

a whodunnit
a whodunnit
in fear of a bear
in fear of a bear

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fractious relationships
fractious relationships

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These are a few of the pictures from Wednesday, for more take a look here. Thanks Santosh

That’s about all I can manage this Friday night just in time for the weekend blog post. Except to say I need to make it more clear that models do pay to pose at workshops and I know that upsets the sensibilities of some professional models. But we are creating an environment for an experience. We remove the pressure of life modelling as a job. We are reassuring. People love it, people who have proper jobs, don’t want to become life models because it would never pay the mortgage, but love having a go, and what we do is different too. It’s a naked drama class with a very special pause button. And there’s so much more I could say, but it’s all on the About page.

Having said that, while we are in Scotland, no one needs pay to pose. Artists will pay at most of our gigs but at Arts Complex it is free unless people want to make a donation (to the venue). That’s because we have been invited by Ragged University in the first place, and from that beginning have set up our own other arrangements. Ragged have a policy of free events, free education for all in the community – in pubs, arts centres, cafes and more. They are continuing the tradition of the Ragged Schools in our time. They are awesome and that’s why we are going to Scotland first (and my boyfriend introduced me to Alex of Ragged when we first met). For all the latest on our Scotland itinerary, see here

Silence is Golden; & Edinburgh Calling

Towards the end of July Spirited Bodies will be visiting Edinburgh to spread our message of nude liberation! We will be sowing seeds; giving workshops and presentations, networking and leafleting. In September when we return there will be a ripe harvest, sprouted and succulent, poised for artful appreciation.

A big event is scheduled for Saturday September 21st in The Arts Complex – a former office block taken over as artists’ studios and hub where substantial gallery space will afford a perfect venue for one of our larger events. As well as locating artists of the figure drawing variety, we will be scouting for models, of all shapes and sizes, colours and persuasions. This is not paid modelling work, but will be a chance to see if life modelling may be for you, and perhaps to free yourself of body image issues or be a step on that path. It is an opportunity to be part of a unique work of art that is as much about energetic connections made between models (and artists) in the space as it is the drawings created. Participants (and there have been over 150 in 2 and a half years) frequently report a natural high lasting several days following the event, and for some the timing is instrumental to their life changing direction for the best. See our Feedback page for a variety of testimonies.

We want to offer our usual workshops in advance of the big event, including women only if there is demand. If you want to host a workshop (usually for up to 15 people including about 10 people modelling and 5 drawing) please get in touch; we aim to be in Edinburgh from 22nd – 26th July or perhaps a bit longer and again from 17th – 22nd September. In any case we should have some workshops at The Arts Complex and another artist has already shown interest in holding one at her studio. We will also do a presentation hosted by The Ragged University in July where we will explain ourselves with visuals including ourselves modelling; expect to be entertained! If you want to host a presentation or talk, do get in touch.

During our Edinburgh trips we intend to bring life drawing to older people by offering free life drawing sessions in old people’s homes. If you are associated with a home and would like to introduce us we would be honoured, otherwise we will be cold calling. To be clear; we will not be asking older people to undress, but to draw if they want. Alternatively we can give them a dynamic interactive talk if that’s more appealing. We’ve done presentations in some fancy places so do ask for references! We are about spreading the word to as many people as we can; unfortunately some people are unlikely to make it to us, so we’re going to them.

To make all this happen we are on the brink of applying for some funding but would likely appreciate any available help. We are still consolidating which resources are available to us, and if you have anything to offer, be it time, a car, a spare couch, theatre lights, good photographing skills or inside knowledge on where to find our models… Please get in touch. In Edinburgh we largely start from scratch so this whole episode will mark a big milestone in our development. It’s an exciting time to join us and we will have lots of fun.

At the same time that Spirited Bodies is preparing for its first venture out of London, we are welcoming two new co-conspirators! They have been Spirited Bodies themselves of course, and bring with them a wealth of experience and expertise which we are only too ready to absorb. They will be introduced properly in the next blog post, but let’s just say if up until now Spirited Bodies has been run by one younger skinny woman and one plus-size middle-aged woman – both white and well spoken, that configuration is about to change substantially. Our average age is getting older, our dress size is increased, our skin tone darkened and our origin begins to feel more global. We are however still all female, and driven to find more women to join us as Spirited Bodies. Men we are not short of, but for women we continue to show that what we do is powerful and inspiring, and it can be for them too.

I had the pleasure of modelling with another model this week and what a confident young woman. Lydia is a burlesque performer whom I hope to see on stage sometime soon.

Lydia and I were painted gold and decked in bling
Lydia and I were painted gold and decked in bling

On Tuesday we modelled for London Drawing at The Goldsmiths’ Centre in Clerkenwell where they have an exhibition called ‘Rocks’ – ‘Exploring the natural world through jewellery and silversmithing’. The image on the poster is of gold surrounding some rock and from there we took our inspiration to be gold. My new blue hair looked silver next to the shiny gold! Artists were encouraged to draw us in charcoal or pencil and add sequins, glitter and sparkly cut up paper to create part drawings and part collages.

Posing while the artists got ready
Posing while the artists got ready

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The following photographs were taken by Anne Noble-Partridge of London Drawing.

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