Reflections of the Novice in Life Drawing Class

I’ve been thinking a lot about my first experiences of drawing a life model.  It was something I had not expected to be part of the programme: it seemed a major endeavour, something much too serious for the complete novice to have someone stand before me in that way, while I managed a very poor attempt at a sketch.

Over the five days we had four models, as different from each other as it is possible to be.

Inevitably, I became fascinated by the unwritten rules that govern the dynamics of what is, looked at objectively, quite an odd thing to be doing.

The distinctions were clear, while we were in posing/drawing periods, I was entirely focussed on the shape of the leg or the way the arm flexed over the back of the chair; only in the breaks did they revert to being a person.

Each model avoided eye contact; the key is clearly to take your mind somewhere else, without letting the face become completely blank.  A skill set I’d never previously considered.

Fabia was the only one who spoke to the models, agreeing with each of them what they should do, checking with them periodically that they were still comfortable; the class was a private affair with large sheets of newsprint paper taped to the windows to shield it from being overlooked by the adjacent office buildings; when they were ‘on’ we could look as intently as we wished; when they was ‘off’ and clothed, looking would be considered rude.

On Tuesday, during the breaks, when Ronald put his track suit on and sat reading the Daily Mirror, eating a fruit salad out of a plastic dish, I wondered about his story.  His posture on the chair, lent over the paper was entirely different to when he was posing; his concentration on the news clearly a technique to avoid any casual interaction with the strangers in the class who were drawing him.

Caitlin on Wednesday wrapped herself in a purple throw when she was ‘off’, and wandered away into the little back room in search of a cup of tea until she was needed again.  She had carefully applied eye make up and lipstick, so that when she was posing everything was naked apart from her face.

Where I had remarked on the extreme stillness of the first two models, the extraordinary thing about Ian on Wednesday afternoon was his calm repetition of a sequence of moves along a runway across the middle of the studio.  He was also interested in looking at the drawings we had done; he sat on the stool in the middle of the room and scanned the pictures, adding his own comments to the teacher’s feedback.

Finally, Zoe on Thursday lay in an Odalisque type pose up on a makeshift couch made up of a table and a few cushions.  She stayed in the same position for two sessions of 45 minutes each, the position of her hands, feet and shoulders marked by gaffer tape while she had a break in the middle.  How do you sit still for that long?  Where do you have to go inside your head to keep your fingers still and your head from drooping?

Of course, I had to ask the teacher about the models.  Where do they come from; is there a lot of competition for the job, or does the academy find it hard to find models.  How long does it take to overcome self consciousness?  Do  they tell their friends about modelling?    Can they tell who’s doing a good drawing and who’s not?  Do they care either way?

There’s a story there somewhere.

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