SB 8Feb13.03
I have done quite a lot in my life, so it’s quite refreshing to be able to find a new experience. I was able to do so last week, courtesy of Spirited Bodies. They organised a large scale life drawing session in The Mall Galleries, just down the road from Buckingham Palace, next to Admiralty Arch. About 16 models participated, and there were, I think, 60 or 70 artists. Two of the models sat clothed for portrait work. Four formed a naked pose based on Michaelangelo’s The Deposition, which stayed the same for the full 2-hour session. All of the other models formed a mass nude tableau, re-setting to 3 different positions during the evening.

I was in the 4-model pose, standing as the Nicodemus (or possibly Joseph of Arimathea) figure at the back. This was physically challenging, there being no room for any movement, but the results made it worthwhile. One drawing is shown above. More can be seen on the Spirited Bodies website.

Life models usually work alone, so as well as the artistic satisfaction, this event afforded a welcome opportunity to meet and talk to other models. In my pose, all had some experience, but in the main tableau, some were first-time models. They seemed enormously pleased with the boost to their confidence after the posing was over.

So, all in all, this was an excellent occasion. I am so glad that I was able to participate.

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Stress

Stress

This picture shows me in a fairly uncomfortable pose in physical terms. It offers interesting body and muscle shapes for the artists to depict, but can hurt after a while. If one were a prisoner of war, sitting naked on a stool with hands on head would probably contravene a Geneva Convention. In the art studio, I have used this pose for an entire 2.5 hour session, albeit with frequent breaks; this picture was a result of such a job. It’s an unfortunate fact that interesting poses may involve physical stress for models, but as a model, you learn that interest can also result from more comfortable positions. The latter are the ones that I try to offer more often.

I am also interested in the psychological level of comfort involved in nudity. In the worst situation, the desire to avoid embarrassment can have dire results, as related in  http://www.malecancer.org/nnm/abouts/campaign. I hope that my work as a life model contributes in some small way to making a few young people accept the naked human body as something quite normal, not something to be avoided unnecessarily. National attitudes to nakedness vary a lot. My experience  leads me to believe that the way it is dealt with in Germany is much more healthy than that seen in the UK or most of the USA. Germans accept that nudity can be non-sexual, and so spend much less time worrying about it.

Mother and baby

Mother and baby

This picture nicely shows how an artist managed to draw just what he saw – a mother who knew that the aim was to sit still while being drawn, plus a baby who didn’t.

My working routine as a life model is far from routine. Even within colleges where I have worked for years, the use of life drawing within the syllabus varies with each academic year. Usually, this change seems to be driven by a desire to save money. In a college where I started 7 years ago, in the first year I did 2 or 3 half days a week throughout the year. With students working towards the same qualification, this year I did 4 sessions a week for 2 months, and that was all. I mostly work in colleges of further education, which sit between high schools and universities, bridging the gap for those 16-19 year old students that don’t move directly from one to the other. I have just taken on another assignment with such an establishment, but they have booked me for a block of 5 weeks (half a term) to do 7 sessions a week. They appear to use 1 model per half term like this, so completing a lot of classes per year. I have yet to find whether this is a small number of students getting a lot of experience, or many different students taking fewer classes. I do, however, despite the fact that it means less work for me, like this college’s aim of letting the students work with a variety of models. The other college I have referred to here uses only me, so the students do not even get to draw both genders. That way, I get more work, but the students see quite a lot of just me. This makes for a more relaxed class atmosphere, but may limit their portfolios.

Because of the uneven work loading, I need to watch constantly for new work opportunities. The 5-week assignment appeared this week, and I was glad that the tutor and I agreed that this arrangement would suit both of us. Conversely, another job for which I applied did not come my way. It was quite local, my CV fitted the requirements, and we had a pleasant interview. However, with a young male tutor calling the shots, I suspect that the successful applicant was not a mature man like me.

Just as the initial rush of the academic year was tapering off, and I was settling into a more relaxed routine, events conspired to test my flexibility.

First, seeking to fill in some of the gaps in my modelling year, I applied to do some work with a reasonably nearby college. They liked my CV and I was invited for an interview, which seemed to go well. However, I didn’t get the job. Perhaps the young male tutor didn’t feel comfortable at the prospect of an older male model. I don’t know.

Due to a lack of tutors, I have been standing in as a tutor myself at hen party life drawing sessions. For those unfamiliar with the concept, these are activities undertaken by groups of friends of the prospective bride before the wedding, corresponding to the men’s stag party. It is a purely recreational activity, usually with an all-female group, lasting just 1 hour, and frequently one part of a celebratory weekend. The models are usually young fit men, who often are not traditional life models. I did such a class with a first-time model who really looked the part, but seemed unsure about the job. The next week, we were due for a repeat, but with 3 hours to go, he called in sick. A flurry of messages failed to find a replacement, so as a last resort, it was decided that I would be both model and tutor. I arrived just in time to greet the 26 women, who had been for a lunchtime drink, and were then welcomed with the champagne provided by the organiser to soften the blow of the missing model. So with the 26 relaxed ladies and me in the venue, it was with some trepidation that, after a short briefing, I disrobed for the lesson. I need not have worried. The ladies were delightful, and the hour soon flew by, leaving them expressing what seemed like sincere appreciation. And I earned 2 fees!

The next day, a Sunday, at 1530, I got a message asking me to model the next morning at 0900. Fortunately, I was easily able to reorganise my life to accommodate this request.

Then on the Monday afternoon, I got another late request to model on Thursday evening. This time, a near overlap of times and the distance between events forced me to decline the invitation.

So overall, it has been an interesting week so far.

Warm-up poses

Student drawing

My first technological concern as I disrobed for this week’s classes was how to maintain adequate body temperature. With a failed heating boiler in my main place of work, I had to resort to small electrical heaters to achieve  a modicum of comfort, but the classes were completed.

With many beginners’ classes at this early stage of the academic year, I often hear tutors referring to lines through the figure. The usual start for a drawing of the figure is a vertical line down from the top of the head, from which the positions of various body parts can be plotted. Artists also need to check the alignment of reference points on the figure in order to achieve realism and conformity. Traditionally, these lines are visualised by holding  a pencil at arm’s length across the view of the model. To help the tutor explain this, I carry a useful little builder’s tool, a laser line projector. The one I use is made by Bosch, and is about 5 inches long and 1 inch diameter. It produces a neat red line that quickly allows the student to see the theoretical line that the tutor is asking them to use. There is probably some health and safety concern about such use, but I  just ask the tutor to tell me when he is likely to get near my face, so that I can close my eyes.

More generally, there is concern among life models about cameras. Traditionally, cameras are taboo in the life room, both to protect the model’s privacy and to discourage drawing copies of photograph. Now, everyone carries a phone and every phone contains a camera, so complete prohibition is impractical. Also, it is useful for a student to photograph their own work at various stages, so as to record the creative process. The advent of tablet computers with sophisticated drawing programmes has added another complication. If an artist uses a tablet for drawing, its lens will be pointed at the model. Some models try to control this by insisting that the lens is covered by tape. I see this as impractical, and simply ask students to use photographs just for their study work, and not to publish them. After several years of this policy, I have yet to find any embarrassing photos of me on the internet.

This has been a fairly routine week on the modeling front, but a busy one. On the busiest day, I modeled for 3 classes lasting 3 hours, 2 hours and 2.5 hours. The first was about 15 miles from home, the second within 1 mile of my house, and the third 40 miles away in the opposite direction from the first. This meant setting off for the first before 8am and returning from the last after 10pm. The timing between 1 and 2 was tight, but I had time between 2 and 3 for a rest and a meal. All 3 had a good number of students, which makes it more worthwhile.

The main problem this week has been the weather. It has turned distinctly colder, which is obviously a concern for a nude life model. At 2 of the locations, the heating system coped, but at the 3rd, in the biggest, oldest building, the boiler failed. The solution was to provide a 1kw electric heater. In a drawing studio big enough for some 30 students at easels, with 15ft high ceilings, this is woefully inadequate. By standing almost touching the heater, just far enough off to avoid burning, and taking frequent breaks to move and restore circulation, I was able to cope. However, the experience was far from ideal for me or for the artists working in their coats.

The pace of the classes progresses along 3 distinct streams. At one college, I was with a class of absolute beginners for 3 sessions. This was just like the previous week with another group, and next week will be the same with a 3rd group. In the 3 sessions, I hold a single pose each time, the first for a pencil line drawing, the second adding tone, again with pencil or graphite, the third a tonal drawing using charcoal. My 2 sessions at another college are with the same 2 groups each week, steadily progressing between techniques in their 1 class per week. Both again used a series of poses this week. The evening classes are for adult education. This week, they were ostensibly beginners, but there was some obvious variation of experience level. After a few short warm-up poses, I used just 1 long pose, seated on a stool.

Next week, the total number of classes will be the same, but fortunately with no more than 2 in any 1 day.

The title reflects the unexpected reaction of one new student this week. Somehow, this 18 year old male had missed the part of the briefing about life drawing that explained what he would be drawing. He arrived late for his first class, and the first thing he saw as he entered was me standing naked facing him. He promptly turned on his heels and left again. When the tutor found him and enquired about the problem, he asked if the model could be dressed, please. For that first lesson, he agreed to a compromise of drawing me from the waist up only. Fortunately, he was one of a group that had 3 x 3-hour classes with me during the week, so by the end he was able to conquer some of his inhibitions. It was a sad reflection of our society that a young person can still be so shocked by simple nudity.

That group was the largest and most challenging of the week. All of their classes used a single pose, 2 standing and 1 sitting on the floor, but all physically demanding. The remaining 2 sessions this week were more varied, with 2 different student groups and many much shorter poses. These were less stressful on the body, but required considerable mental activity to produce a wide variety of interesting poses that could be held for the required length of time. All were standing poses, and I probably used about 20 variations. Knowing the tutor, I could allow for an artistic interpretation of time – one of the 1-2 minute poses lasted 11 minutes!

So, now I am well back into the swing of things, and ready for an even busier week to come, this time with the same 5 core classes, plus 2 evening sessions. One of the latter falls after a day with 2 other classes, so that will be a tiring day.