Archives for posts with tag: art

Museworthy’s seasonal post reminded me of a past event. A couple of years ago, Spirited Bodies did a pietà-based pose for a drawing event in London. The inspiration and the pose are shown here. Two English men and two American women provided plenty of pounds for the dollar.





I occasionally feel that I am able to cross-pollinate artistic ideas, rather like a bee moving between flowers. Working in a number of colleges that use the same, or similar, syllabus lessons, I see and hear a variety of tutors working towards a common aim. Often, they use surprisingly different methods. If I hear one that sounds useful, I like to pass it on to others who might be interested. Sometimes this information is ignored, but surprisingly often it is introduced to another educational establishment. A recent example was the use of crushed charcoal, applied manually, in forcing students to concentrate on tone rather than using lines. I mentioned it to another teacher, who introduced the technique to a couple of classes. Later, I saw a few of the students, when given a free choice in developing their portfolio pieces, using this as their preferred method. Another example arose when I arrived slightly late for a lesson on negative spaces, whereby students draw the shapes between solid objects to develop their picture of the model. This class had started drawing the rather geometric background of easels, frames and stools before I took up my place standing naked in the front. The artists then had to remove parts of their drawings that were no longer visible, thus producing surprisingly accurate images of me. Again, I related this incident to another tutor, who tried it with some success. Perhaps the students give more attention to the background without me as a distraction.

I received a pleasant surprise from one of my colleges in the form of a Christmas bonus. It was particularly surprising because I became a member of the staff of this college as a life model about 3 years ago. In the first couple of months, I attend 2 sessions of mandatory induction training, but after that I heard no more from them. I assumed that their needs had changed, so didn’t bother to chase them. Now, they pay me an annual bonus. I need to find more jobs like this! Conversely, I modelled for classes funded by a city council for several years. A few months ago, they sent me my end of employment tax forms without so much as a letter of explanation. I know that they are facing savage cutbacks due to a lack of funds, but I would have expected better treatment; perhaps the people who might have explained were also laid off. 



The tutor had ambitious aims for the session. He would split the class in 2, half working in sketch pads while seated, the others doing larger pictures while standing at easels. This would get more students in the available space, the seated students forming an inner circle around the model, while those standing formed a concentric outer ring. All students would use 2 techniques, first laying out the form of the pose in black ink, then adding tone in the form of coloured chalk. While the ink pictures were drying, the students were briefed on a later assignment coming their way. During the 2 drawing periods, I reclined on a podium in the centre, lit only by a single high spotlight. 

The first bout of ink drawing in semi-darkness led to a certain amount of spillage of the sticky Indian ink, some of which transferred to the soles of my feet during the posing break. For the second part of the drawing, each student used 3 colours of chalk, applied somewhat hastily due to the impending end of the session. All was well until the first of the seated students found that the chalk dust was blurring the detail on his near-horizontal pad. So he blew it away. The 3-coloured chalk dust swirled up into the beam of the spotlight, producing a pleasing, changing, rising and falling, active work of art. Which was fine until a second student joined in, then a third, and so on. Then the sneezing started, and the coughing, while I lay there collecting the fallout.

There being no convenient foot-washing facilities in the college (have you ever tried washing your feet one at a time in a restroom wash basin? It is physically difficult, and earns strange looks from other users, who usually wash just their hands) I had to wash my feet 3 times in order to remove all of the ink and chalk mixture.   

The picture above is not from that lesson, but is fairly typical of my records of student work. I try to get quick photos before everyone leaves, so put the work on the floor, and often get pictures including my toes. This one is unusual only in that I have managed to put on my shoes before using the camera. Read the rest of this entry »


I suppose I should have known when I typed the title that I was tempting fate. I had this picture in mind, but it was not where I expected to find it. It was on the hard drive of an old laptop that I had replaced due to its increasing unreliability. Now, after an hour playing with 2 laptops, 1 tablet and a wifi network reset, I finally have the image where I need it.

By chance, this picture was captured shortly before the hazardous nature of the life studio became apparent. It shows a large studio divided into 2 in an effort to get more students in more classes so as to maximise utilisation of resources. The division is achieved by those big white screens across the room. They consist of large (8′ x 4′ ?) wooden panels joined in pairs by hinges. When a pair of panels is stood hinged at 90 degrees, it makes a stable screen. However, the photo shows the angle in this pair approaching 180, at which point they form an unstable straight line. Later, I was posing on a stool, facing away from the screen, with students at easels all around me, and another group of students on the other side of the screen. Unfortunately, one of those other students attempted to pin a picture to the far side of that pair of boards, pushing them just enough to straighten the angle and to topple them towards our side. I was aware of some commotion behind me, but maintained the pose until I was told to stop and robe up. Turning around, I found that the boards had landed on 2 of our students and their easels, while the group on the other side stared open mouthed into our area. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.

This reminded me of the first interview I ever did for a life model job. A question that surprised me was regarding my comfort level when standing on tables. It’s not a thing I do every day, but I was happy with the idea. Since then, I have spent a lot of time on tables, giving various viewing angle for artists. In the meantime, the drive to get more students into the available space has led to solid tables being replaced by the folding type. I now need to be careful in testing the weight-bearing capacity of tables before committing to a pose. Foldability is a good quality for space saving, but less so for model confidence.

The only time I have fallen in a life class was when using a stool. It was to be a long pose, with breaks, showing twisting of the body. The twist caused me to put most of my weight on my left hip. After 20 minutes, this hurt. 10 minutes later, the pain had gone. At 40 minutes, I got down from the tall stool to take a break and promptly fell over, my left leg being completely numb. I should have realised that the disappearance of pain at 30 minutes signalled my loss of sensation. The tutor was quite worried by my fall: not for my welfare, but that I had disturbed the stool, so might be unable to precisely resume the pose!

Other hazards vary with the previous users of studios. Artists typically leave dirty floors, which I am used to. If fashion students have been using the room, I need to be careful in looking for discarded pins, of which there are often many. Nature can also interfere: the thing that perhaps worries me the most is a wasp. I can resist moving with a fly on me, but a wasp is difficult to tolerate, particularly depending on where it alights.

Finally, here I am in a pose in that same room. Note the wheeled platform (skid and tilt risk), mannequin (pins), plant (tickling leaves and insects), and skull (who knows?)


Dirty drawings! The pictures at the start of my previous post remind me of one of the hazards of the life model’s job – grubby floors. The tone shown on the soles of my feet doesn’t depict the position of the light source, but rather the amount of charcoal dust picked up by my feet. I have in the past attempted to clean them periodically during a session, but now I just accept that my soles are generally black. This coloured drawing shows a fairly mild level of contamination:


This photograph is also fairly typical:


The rest of my body may pick up the odd smudge, but my feet take the brunt of the dirt. Charcoal drawing produces most of the dust, simply by abrasion from the stick. When a tutor issues students sticks of charcoal plus a hammer at the start, I know things are going to get worse. This indicates a lesson on tonal drawing in which the students first reduce the charcoal to dust, then draw by applying the dust to paper with their fingers. All stages of this process inevitably spread dust.

Complications can arise with other media. Splashes of drawing ink can easily be lost among the floor charcoal, and make it much more adhesive. Years ago, I left my dark coloured towelling robe at the edge of the room during a long pose, only to find it splattered with drying white acrylic paint when I recovered it. It still bears the marks of that day.

But my feet remain my main concern. In particular, I must remember to clean them before I get into bed. While I don’t see the soles of my feet most of the time, the evidence on bed sheets will remind me if I forget!

Foreshortening 1

Foreshortening 1

Foreshortening 2

Foreshortening 2

The annual scheduling chaos of the start of the new academic year is upon us, and I am in the Groundhog Day situation of attempting to reconcile overlapping demands on my time. Sadly, I have already needed to turn down an offer of modelling work, but this came at very short notice due to the unavailability of another model. I have taken over some of the sessions, but prior bookings had to take priority over the rest. No doubt things will settle down soon.

The illustrations relate to another form of resumption, that of the model’s pose. I have previously alluded to the difficulty of reproducing the pose after a break in a lesson, which makes me quite pleased about the 2 drawings shown here. The lesson was concentrating on the challenge of foreshortening. I was lying on a table, so the students at easels in line with either my head or my feet had the most difficult task. The lesson was delivered several times to different groups of students, and these drawings were from different artists, in different sets, 2 weeks apart. At first glance, it seems that my pose is pretty much the same. A closer look at my nose shows that I had forgotten the head angle, but otherwise, I think that I was quite consistent.

Now, back to the studio.



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.



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 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.

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.