Friday, 12 October 2007
So after this dramatic start the rest of the day withered away into boredom. A half-hour standing pose challenged my muscle control a little, not aided by the stuffiness of the room and my rather late night, which meant I was trying not to fall asleep on my feet as the time went on. This was followed by a sitting pose until the end of the morning session, with a five minute break every half hour. Humdrum stuff, just hard on the muscles.
In the lunch-break he accompanied me to the personnel office where I handed in the first lot of forms (applying for the job I was already doing), realised I had forgotten my photo ID, and picked up the new form - how to get paid. I went back to the Art building for lunch and filled it in, followed by some musing...
I'd forgotten how much I like being in places where people learn - colleges, universities. Even schools I suppose. People learning fires me up, in a slightly different way to people creating, but roughly similar. At the next table a woman is doing her homework, consulting a Spanish/English dictionary. Lecturers breeze in and out in their moments free from responsibility and (useful) stress. Students chatter in groups and discover themselves anew - a lifelong journey indeed. And I am here too - neither one nor the other, privileged observer who is here to be observed.
Did the C19th anthropologists ever wonder how much their studied tribes learnt about an alien culture? Observer and observed are not always separate. All human interaction is a two-way flow.
The afternoon session was with an exclusively female class. The tutor told me they were very relieved to have a female model this week. They'd found it difficult to be faced with a naked wrinkly old man. The format was exactly the same as the morning session though, and equally as boring and taxing for me. Never mind. I might get paid soon.
Thursday dawned with very thick mist and a golden sunshine trying to break through. I had to find a new venue so left very early and joined the ghostly lines of vehicles snaking their way across the Levels. Turning off towards the village I stopped for a while by a bridge to observe swans and the multitude of spider webs glistening with water drops. Birds sang continuously and the water roared over a weir. I got out my diary with the scribbled directions. As I continued on my way it became apparent that I'd taken the wrong turning towards the village, and was in fact approaching from the opposite direction, but after some confusion I did enjoy the drive and the discoveries, and was still early enough to read an article or two in my new writing magazine.
The group and their tutor were like old friends already, they'd simply moved venue to a smaller,warmer and more modern hall. They are having an exhibition together soon and are going to send me an invite for the private view, which I'm already quite excited about. I might even see some drawings or paintings of myself exhibited, properly, on a wall, for all to see... success of a sort, I suppose.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
I did 2 hours last week at a new venue but with my favourite tutor, and started a totally new job this week - at the nearest college, the one I said I wouldn't work at because my son goes there. He could do without the embarrassment. But I had a desperate phone call from one of the tutors, they were having great difficulty finding models, could I possibly do a whole day (6 hours)... or two...
Well, the first whole day was cancelled due to a flood in the Art Dept, but this week I turned up bright and early on a Monday morning to meet him at Reception. After checking with son to make sure none of his mates are doing 2nd year Art courses.
We walked across the entire college (fortunately it had just stopped raining) to the newish Art block and I was introduced to the dedicated Life Drawing room. Ah, what luxury - compared to my usual working conditions. No battered toilets or poky dusty stockrooms to change in, but a little cubicle with shelf and chair and box full of (clean) material for draping etc. The class had only seen one real live model before - male - as the previous week they'd been drawing mannikins, so I did my usual 'total nonchalance, gaze out of the window' act while they got used to me. Nice easy session - ten minutes standing so they could sketch proportions, followed by a long pose sitting upright in a chair, with breaks. During the long break we went to the staff room where I met other tutors and had coffee.
At the lunch break he took me over to the Admin block and we started on the tortuous procedure of giving me a job... the first two lots of forms were a formal application and a police disclosure form, which I am to return next time I'm in and we'll start the second round... wonder when I might get paid then - in time for Christmas, perhaps?
Talking of money, I'm still engaged in the delights of re-applying for Housing Benefit - for two weeks last April and the period from the end of May until September. I managed to send off two letters last week and a completed form yesterday, and am now awaiting Round Five (hoping I have the stamina to stay in the ring until I can achieve the knock-out blow and regain some semblance of sanity). I've discovered that I need to limit my income, basically - can't do too much work in one week. Ah well, I suppose the Universe is trying to give me a message in all this...
Monday afternoon was a repeat of the morning session, but with a different tutor and class. I went home quite happy with the day and looking forward to returning next week. I think this could become my favourite college work. Better conditions AND higher pay than the previous one (slightly...)
Tuesday evening I went off for two hours for a session with the inspirational tutor - the first of the term, as they'd had to re-schedule due to their new Art block not yet being ready... so it was back to the Annex where last year's evening classes had been held. Very cold room, she'd brought two heaters which helped, but I was still cold by the end of the evening - car heater on full as I drove through grey drizzle. Lots of forms for everyone to fill in of course - except she hadn't brought any for me to claim my wages, so she'll get someone to send them to me. I met another Model, who appears to be the partner of one of the artists; she asked for my phone number and wants to call me for a chat, and to pass on work we can't fit in. Friendly woman.
And tonight (Wed) I'm off to see my favourite tutor again for Adult Learning and Leisure. Hmm, too much work this week, better do a lot less next week then - I think they average out four or five weeks to work out your 'usual' income.
Apart from work, I went to a private view on Sunday of a textile art exhibition, wrote two new poems, and attended a poetry reading on Monday night. Thursday I'll be reading my winning entry at a conference and picking up the cheque - which covers expenses and a bit more, but is hardly riches. Good chance to network though.
And next week my Diploma course begins.
What it is to be lazy. Where's that novel I was losing myself in earlier, it's time for another session...
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
It now appears that all that extra work I was doing in the Spring has simply landed me in the Benefits Trap - by earning more, I am actually losing out. I seem to owe more for rent, council tax and overpaid housing benefit than I actually earned... and that's before factoring in the hours of writing letters, filling in forms, phoning and sending yet more evidence, and detailed accounts of everything I did to check if their figures add up. I'm working on yet more letters and forms this morning. It's just as well my new modelling job was cancelled due to a flood in the Art Department yesterday.
More interesting posts to come soon, I hope. I'd like to keep this blog up - even if no-one reads it apart from myself and one or two regular admirers...
Sunday, 20 May 2007
The lesson was based on a Schiele drawing - thankfully one of the less unflattering ones - and was about the use of line. Six girls and three boys arranged themselves around the room while I did one of my famous 'perched on the edge of a table' poses, but this being the friendly tutor at least the table was padded and covered. Half an hour became forty minutes - he checked to make sure I was OK with that - and we had some good conversation during the ensuing break. I'd been observing the students and noticing they could be categorised as cocksure youths with hairstyles, and thin bored timid girls, so we got into a discussion of teenagers in general and in particular. He has four of them at home, lucky man. This lot are sixteen to seventeen - one is his oldest daughter - and I could assure him that they did develop more personality and originality, but that yes, they were growing up in a completely different social and economic milieu to our times - we had feminism, Thatcher, and mass unemployment; they have consumerism, technology and debt as the norm.
There were only four students in the second group and I did the same pose, but facing the other way. The undergrowth outside the window is now thick, green and impenetrable. I watched the occasional dapple of sunlight struggle through to reach the grubby floor, wavering like light reflected off moving water. Then I started imagining drawing hands - mainly my own - as the next stage of my personal artistic odyssey. Hands and gloves seem to be a bit of a theme. And by the end of the session I'd moved on to imagining making a music track with multiple samples of blackbirds' song - liquid honey over pebbles interspersed with the sharp chirr of alarm... shame I don't have the skills or equipment to create it, but that's usually the case with my creative flights of fancy.
So all in all, it was pleasant and easy work today, in messy grubby surroundings. I'm not an old hippy for nothing...
The ash trees are finally in leaf. The wild roses are flowering, weeks too early. And it was raining again by the time I got home. No mowing today then.
Thursday, 17 May 2007
I arrived far too early at the village hall this morning, it didn't seem worth going home after dropping the son off at college. His bike has another puncture. So I took myself off for a walk as I was feeling a bit stiff, about a mile out of the village in intermittent sunshine. Dark grey clouds were louring but I thought I could get back to the car before they emptied all over me. Once I'd passed two noisy strimmers at work in the garden of a newly-renovated cottage (which called itself a villa) I enjoyed the urgent birdsong emanating from several orchards, admired a small group of cows with young calves, and startled some rather large rabbits. Reaching a pumping station I climbed the bank to look at the river, which was alarmingly slightly higher than the road, while enduring the oily boiled cabbage stink of the ubiquitous fields of rape.
Further on there were some very prosperous-looking (ex?)farms, complete with topiary in the gardens and some beautiful horses. I also spotted a moorhen with one half-grown chick on a rhyne. It all reminded me of my time in Norfolk many years ago, when I'd lived in a similar red-brick farm cottage in the middle of nowhere.
I had to remove two layers before I got back back to the car park, the threatened rain didn't fall and the gusty wind was decidedly warm. But the interior of the hall wasn't. The artists complained, and the tutor put the heating on. After a lot of short warm-up poses to Brazilian dance music I wasn't feeling the cold at all.
I'd remembered to bring my own accessories this week, and the tutor had her hat box full of goodies, so we had a field day deciding what to dress me in. One of the artists requested a curled-up pose after so many stretched-out 'limby' ones, so I ended up on a cushion on the floor wearing a hat and red slinky gloves with a floaty scarf wrapped round me. Forty minutes later it was a bit difficult to uncurl for coffee and a huge range of delicious biscuits - I managed to limit myself to one with almonds and pistachios and one curly finger covered in chocolate...
I was determined to wear my long purple velvet gloves and purple feather boa - I had the excuse that one of the artists had the exact shade of purple in her collection of pastels - so after another long curled-up pose which was even more difficult to extricate myself from (fortunately I spent the last ten minutes of it in a state of mystical trance listening to Tallis' Spem in Alium) I had the chance to admire how she'd used it. She'd captured all sorts of colours reflected on my skin too, nice.
The evening session was much the same - short warm-ups to the Brazilian music followed by long accessorised poses. I'd taken my own CD to play this time, called 'Kora So Far' by Ravi (not Ravi Shankar), and as it was their last session the artists used whatever materials they wanted - two worked in watercolour, one in pastels, one with acrylics (I think) and the other tried to stick to pencil drawing until the tutor gently urged him to experiment with some colour. He's one of the slow precise draftsman types, need a bit of loosening up. I had a chat with him during the break and at the end, mainly about books - we share an inability to get rid of books once read, leading to overloaded bookshelves in one's bedroom.
As it was their last session, they had the usual consignment of forms to fill in, and the tutor had to quiz them on their future plans, which was interesting to listen to. She'd brought all the biscuits that were left over from this morning's session too... perhaps she wants me to keep putting the weight on?
No more work for her until hopefully September, but I might invite her to my birthday bash - to play dressing up.
Wild roses in bloom now. A month early.
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
Monday evening was the untutored village hall group, eight ladies from my age to happily retired. They're still getting the hang of organising themselves co-operatively.
They agreed on the format - two lots of ten minutes, a twenty minutes, a half-hour, then the break, followed by one long pose until 9 o'clock. One lady was delegated to keep the time, and I think she's the one who has worked as a model because she was very good at saying 'ten/five/two minutes to go...', which is extremely helpful to the one with aching muscles who can't see the clock.
Another of the artists told me how much she'd enjoyed my singing - she'd been at one of our choir events. They're all very friendly and pretty good artists too - a pleasure to work with. And every one of them managed to capture my features and 'essence'...
They especially liked my last, long, pose - curled up on a comfortable mattress. Yes, so did I, my back-ache had gone by the time I got up. Makes a nice change to feel better after modelling than before.
Drove home just after dusk accompanied by several bats.
Tuesday evening was an Adult Learning and Leisure group, and this week they were studying Euan Uglow, an artist new to me, so I learnt quite a bit. He was a figurative painter who taught at the Slade school (I met someone who'd studied there at one of last year's evening classes. The tutor seemed impressed so I assumed it was one of the best).
This Euan had a thing about geometry, always placing his subjects in a 'Golden Rectangle' or a square, and taking years to finish a painting. Our students had two hours to do the best they could, so after a few short poses they set me up on a stool for the remainder of the session. Their handout was of a model in a very awkward position with her arms at right angles behind her - there was no way I was doing that, so we plumped for a geometric pose against a corner of the room, feet flat on floor, bum half off stool, arms angled back a little at least - as if I was just getting up.
Didn't hurt too much. No, really.
Friday, 11 May 2007
It was raining all day. I drove across the Levels with the windscreen wipers and heaters on thinking 'the gardens need the rain...' and observing how full the rivers were. The hall was as cold as ever. Even the artists were complaining. The little fan heater did a good job of warming my legs as long as I stood right in front of it.
We started with the usual sequence of ten minute warm-up poses while stragglers struggled in, laden with easels and art materials and raincoats. Then came the fun part - she'd brought a hat box full of nice accessories for me to play with. I helped bring in four padded chairs and drape them to suggest a chaise longue, then selected a wide-brimmed black summer hat with red rose, a red scarf and red leather gloves, and settled down to resemble a Lady Of Leisure being slightly naughty in her back garden. I think. Nice pictures anyway.
After coffee - and delicious biscuits - I did one long pose until almost the end, with a change of props but still lolling at my ease, except for the goose pimples which spread alarmingly across my arms and legs. The last ten minutes were an interesting experiment, she said. ('Note she didn't say an enjoyable experiment,' muttered one artist). They had to stare at me for two minutes or so, measuring my face, then draw me from memory while I went off to get changed.
I was even recognisable on some of them.
The evening session was not so much fun. Last week's model had cancelled at the last minute so they'd spent the evening drawing their own hands instead. So rather than the props I had to cover the work they'd been meant to do before - continuous movement. Oh no, not my favourite. 'A long sequence of very short poses please, maybe twenty seconds each?' I negotiated that up to a minute each, and kept an eye on the clock or counted my own breaths to time the changes. Seriously hard work for both the model (to keep thinking up new positions) and especially the students. I could see how good it was for them, though. It really frees up the line.
So that was basically it for two hours, with breathers and breaks. One of the sequences saw me perched on a high chair and moving only my arms - I expected to look a little like a Hindu Goddess by the end - another had my feet planted firmly and I twisted and moved the rest of me. Ah well, at least it was warm.
More rain coming home, more rain still today. My youngest returns from her school trip soon and will be disappointed that we haven't put her trampoline up. I've been trying to finish my own artistic attempts and clear up, but the second large piece lost a big chunk as I picked it up off the dining table... I made the filler too dry I think, it's crumbled. Most annoying. That was the one with the rusty nails embedded in filler at the bottom, covered with spray paint... anyone would thing I'd been influenced by Miro and Tapies or something.
Anyway, that's my little manic art binge done for a while. I'm back to thinking it's complete crap, after the creative high of thinking it's the most wonderful thing I've ever done. I'm used to it by now.
Better stick to poetry methinks.
Wednesday, 9 May 2007
I'd initially only primed one large board - with interior paint left over from painting a room years ago - but once I'd discovered the joys of masking and spraying and dripping, I couldn't wait to move on. I brought in another of the large white boards and managed to cut it roughly in half, giving me two attempts at spreading filler around in big chunks and painting over it. The most annoying thing was waiting for stuff to dry before I could add the next layer.
The 'theme' is gloves/handprints. I took on board all the various tutors' comments over the last weeks on being experimental, trying out new techniques, and of course sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I'm very happy with the first one I did though, in yellow, black, white and 'rust'. In fact I was so happy with it I brought in yet another board and primed it yellow like the first. This one will probably incorporate rusty nails along with hands.
Unfortunately I can't do any more tonight, and tomorrow I've got 2 modelling jobs and a rehearsal in-between, plus the supermarket trip I promised my poor starving son... but it's all got to be finished and tidied up before Friday at 3pm.
I don't have to wait until I'm doing an Art Foundation course before I can play!
And nor do you. Just give yourself permission and go for it.
Tuesday, 8 May 2007
I haven't been to this group for ages but I do like the tutor a lot. She was looking a bit forlorn in an empty room with lots of easels spread out, wondering where her students had got to. 'There were ten last week,' she affirmed, 'and I did tell them we had a female model again, after many weeks of an older man. Maybe they're all framing their pictures.' Apparently they have an exhibition starting this weekend, to which I was duly invited, but regrettably I can't make the private view due to daughter's dance classes.
Finally a few artists trickled in - only four altogether, and one of them had brought his frame with him - and I started work. They were studying back views, so I spent the first long pose perching on the edge of a table leaning back - again. The tutor is very thoughtful and brought over a couple of prints for me to look at so I didn't have to stare at black venetian blinds the whole time.
During the break we all helped choose which of several sketches to frame - not one of me this time - and I admired their work. They are good, this lot. Then on to a curved back pose. I sat on a stool with my feet up on a donkey and head down between my knees. 'Ooh, that's weird, great,' they said.
Yes. I can do weird. I'm getting to be quite an expert.
Afterwards I asked advice about spray paints. I'm playing with a collage on a large piece of white board, which I primed with standard interior paint this morning. My youngest is away on a school trip for three days, so I can be as messily creative as I want, all over the dining table.
Incidentally, I forgot to write about how busy I was last week. Several singing gigs, a poetry gig to read at and the monthly poetry group to run, attended my first ever slam, and discovered I'd won 2nd prize in a poetry competition - from last October. Only managed one gym visit though. Seems to be down to one a week now so I cancelled the direct debit in favour of pay per session, it works out cheaper.
I was asked to do one long pose for the entire session - with break - perched on the edge of the table sort of half-standing and half-leaning. I used my dressing gown as padding, as usual. I had to point out the student who was holding his paper plate sideways as he concentrated on drawing my outline; I just couldn't bear to say nothing and watch his glue drip all over the floor.
There was an observer sitting in for the first part of the session, I'm assuming that earrings man is another tutor-in-training, and maybe that was why the group was so much quieter than normal. But strangely the absolute silence continued even after she'd left, and after the break. Serious concentration broken only by the sound of tearing sugar paper.
I have to say their drawing is improving. Perhaps it's because they all knew the initial sketch would be covered over so were looser and less fussy in its execution, but both I and the tutor were impressed at how much better they are now compared to where they started a few weeks ago. None of them managed to finish their collages in the time allotted, but they're going to continue working on them next week and the one after, when I won't be there. I'm booked for a village hall group instead.
Friday morning was one of those, a portrait class but featuring some of the same students that I'd previously met as a life model. I passed a dead deer on the side of the road as I drove across Somerset, quite a small one but the first I've seen outside Exmoor. It wasn't there on the way back though - probably on its way to someone's freezer.
It was a three hour class, entirely inhabited by women, a newly-formed group and late starting. I did three twenty-minute 'warm-up' poses (I suppose they're still called poses when it's for a portrait rather than full body?), and two hour-long ones, less the break-time. Coffee and chocolate digestives.
The difficult part of sitting for a portrait is keeping your eyes still. My gaze was darting around all over the place, prompting a call of exasperation from one of the artists, so I had to find a technique for staring fixedly at one spot. I used it as a meditation, rather like staring at a candle, and counted slow breaths. But then the first hornet was discovered...
There was a fair amount of distracted discussion as to what it actually was (a queen wasp, perhaps?) and how to remove it safely, accomplished by a down-to-earth woman with cup and sheet of cardboard, and they took a while to settle down again. About half an hour later the second one appeared in a different window. We came to the conclusion that there was a hornet's nest in the eaves, and they were falling in through cracks in the tongue-and-groove ceiling.
At the end of the session I heard the clicking of cameras, and wondered why no-one had asked me if I minded having my photo taken. Then I realised that I was fully clothed, for once, and it didn't matter.
Friday, 27 April 2007
I did a couple of fifteen minute poses for them to get the hang of the new way of working, then a longer one up on the table - earrings man said, 'whatever is comfortable for you,' so I told him that it was very difficult to get comfortable on a bare and grubby table. I'd been using my dressing gown to sit on already.
Point taken by both tutors I think. Hopefully the facilities and props will improve a little.
As was inevitable, drops of ink fell on white trainers and pale-coloured trousers and students were sent off to wash it out quick. And a plastic cup full of ink solution was accidentally kicked over onto the already well-stained flooring. Roll on next year and the new Arts building.
Friday was a new group in a new obscure village hall. I've been booked for a few sessions over the course of the whole year, by a man who attends the Tuesday evening group so at least I've met him a couple of times now. I arrived very early having given myself plenty of time to get lost on the way. It was a glorious sunny afternoon and a man was out strimming the verges when I arrived. Two artists were there before me and another two arrived before the start time and made themselves tea in the kitchen. Four retired men. Two women arrived late. They are a non-tutored group, enthusiastic amateur artists of varying styles and ability. One man worked very slowly and painstakingly, managing only most of my head for the five-minute warm-up poses, and two finely detailed and quite accurate drawings in each of the hour-long ones. I wanted to tell him to loosen up and experiment with new techniques, but kept my mouth shut. I'm paid to sit still, not to tell them what to do.
There was a nicely padded 'throne' provided for me, with backdrop, and a floppy summer hat to wear. As I said, we started with a few fairly fast poses, a 'dancing' sequence again, but none of them could really get to grips with that style of working. I told them that some tutors I worked for asked for two minute and one minute poses, and they visibly winced.
The first long pose was set for me - on the throne, legs together and sideways on, with hat and loose hair. In the break they asked me what I'd like to suggest for another pose. I sat sideways with one leg by my chin, looking pensive. 'Yes, wonderful!' they enthused, so I was too easily encouraged to hold a pose that I knew after five minutes was going to be a nightmare. This is when my stoicism kicks in.
They're a nice group, in a very nice tiny hall in a very nice small village. But definitely no street cred allowed.
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
Yesterday was one of my obscure village hall jobs - cash in hand so most welcome, and always an interesting bunch of usually retired village-dwellers. I've 'sat' at this venue, and for this group, before, but they've lost their tutor and are going it alone now. So I had one person phoning me to make sure I was coming, another person bringing the props, and a third arranging and timing the poses. There were 10 artists signed up and paid, but one or two couldn't make it this week.
We agreed that I would do a few ten minute poses 'to warm them up', followed by a longer one until the break, and an hour-long pose after that. It was sweet and easy. No probs. Basically I could do whatever I felt comfortable with and they were all most appreciative.
I was so chuffed I gave the son an extra fiver for sister-minding beyond the call of duty (all weekend, plus Monday and Tuesday evenings... even though I'd had a few panicked phone calls from her over the weekend when he was late back and it was dark).
But tonight was a different story. It was the inspirational tutor running her evening class - I called her 'inspirational' on the basis of her work with the Adult Art Foundation course, but I have to say she does very little actual teaching on a Tuesday evening, confining herself to sitting at the back of the room and occasionally wandering round to whisper a little to a student or two.
This evening we started with a couple of five minute poses, then it was onto a (hard, unpadded) table for a long sitting pose, 'with a break every half an hour' she promised. As soon as they'd started I knew I would regret the pose I'd assumed. And I did. It was one of those stoic evenings when I just had to count my breaths and watch the clock and wait for it all to be over.
Eventually it was. I remembered to ask for directions to my new group this Friday, the chap who'd booked me was a student at this one, and the tutor did at least praise me at the end for how still I'd been right through. Yes, I pride myself on keeping still - it's what I thought the job was about, after all.
I nearly forgot to mention all the little bunny rabbits nibbling the roadside verges on the way there, early evening. Makes me happy, that sort of thing.
Monday, 23 April 2007
When I arrived he was in a bit of a panic because he'd just been given some garbled message about the life model not coming in. Did I phone the college last night, he asked? No, not me. I'm here.
The helpful tutor tries to anticipate everyone's needs. He asks me if I'm warm enough every half hour or so. He asks me if I'd like a break to stretch. He lays out all the oil paints in tins in the middle of the floor and ensures each student has all the colours he or she needs on their palettes. He goes round the room handing out paper towels.
There were 12 students for the first half of the session, a few of them from last term's group wanting extra life drawing practice - including the eccentric painter, who was sitting on the floor sketching this time - but mainly the new group, who were painting with oils. The tutor went round opening windows and giving short breaks because of fumes from the white spirit. We started with a half hour pose, sitting on a (padded) plastic chair leaning my arm on a table and head in hand... this continued for another twenty-five minutes up to the break, as I'd suspected it would - oils take longer than half an hour I've already learnt. And after the break - the same pose again, as two students who hadn't finished their paintings came back. One was his daughter. There were five new students for the second session, and four who returned from the earlier one.
Oh, and he did bring me a very nice coffee too. We chatted about a number of things, from travelling in Australia and New Zealand to the state of the FE sector. Seems he's still studying for his PGCE, but had done a number of other jobs before, including running his own painting and decorating business.
On the way home I saw a magpie harassing a pheasant in a tree, and three hawks circling over a hedgerow.
I was keen to get home in time as I had a lot to do and a quick turn-around before... going to London for the weekend! It must be at least fifteen years since I've ventured to the big smoke, and I was not expecting to enjoy it. But strangely I did. It was a writing expedition, staying with an old friend and working on a fantasy novel that three of us are attempting to write together. She lives in Bonnington Square in Vauxhall, a hippy haven right in the middle of the city complete with cheap and superb vegetarian cafe and community gardens. On Saturday before starting work we all went for a walk along the river to see the sights, and called in at the Tate Britain for a few minutes. Long enough for me to discover Basil Beattie. So on Sunday I snuck back there for a blissful hour while my friends were enjoying the spring sunshine and doing their community gardening rota. Ahhhh - Jacob Epstein... John Piper... Turner! Wow, what a revolutionary Turner was. And just as I was leaving to meet them for lunch I was pulled into the the room with the huge Stanley Spencer picture, the Resurrection. Amazing. I could stare at it for hours.
I'm so pleased I've rediscovered the joys of visiting famous Art Galleries in cities. Can't wait to go back.
Thursday, 19 April 2007
So it was up on the grubby table at the front of the room again, and leaning to one side for the first pose. The five minutes he'd promised me turned into ten as the tutor demonstrated techniques first, but I managed all right. The next pose was 'starting blocks', which gets a bit painful on the knee after a few minutes, rapidly followed by 'throwing a hand grenade', and a twisted leaning standing one - and so it went on.
The students were working with felt pen on large sheets of paper, several poses to a sheet, no detail at all. Simply catching the pose - 'this is how Manga artists work' they were told.
I had to endure several uncomplimentary comments, such as comparing my tummy and bum to a kidney bean on its side, and references to 'no bumpy bits today'. When we'd run out of his sketches I had to improvise whatever weird poses I could come up with, the more unusual the better he said. Makes them look more, makes for better drawings.
At least the teenagers got tired before me! They were moaning about how hard he was working them this morning, and it was with some relief that he declared the last pose. I was using my dressing gown for padding by this point, as he'd introduced a hard plastic chair to the set-up, and also asked for one with me perched on the edge of a filing cabinet (still on the grubby table though). Ho hum, makes up for all the times when I just sit and gaze into space for an hour I suppose.
The drive back was glorious, and the car was pleasingly warm. The hut had been unheated today. I noticed quite a lot of May blossom out already and the first pink buds of apple blossom about to open. A very early Spring round here.
Sunday, 1 April 2007
I was totally knackered after my Barcelona weekend, could sleep for England, only just fully recovered now. Comes of being middle-aged I suppose!
I'm away visiting family over Easter, then onto a friend on Exmoor to hear about her travel adventures, and finally a writing weekend in London. Scary. I've not been to the big smoke for many a year, being a country girl myself...
I have work bookings all through April and May, but nothing in June so far. The college work is tailing off now, so it's down to a few private groups. I could do with an artist booking me up for several sessions, or some more proofreading work, or even getting paid to do summer festivals. I usually get a performer's ticket to two or three, with a community choir, but I haven't worked as 'crew' for many a year.
Anyway, back to the modelling work. On Thursday I was back at the college with the usual group, but a different tutor. I'll call him earrings man. The talkative tutor was there part of the time to help him out on his first session teaching this group - it was a bit of a shambles to start with. There were 14 students in the room, and not enough easels or drawing boards. Mr earrings wasn't quite sure what to do with me either. Finally they were all set up with lines of sight and charcoal and chalk and paper and masking tape, and I was posed on the edge of a table with my legs at an angle resting on a bench - and that was it for an hour and a half. Earrings man gave individual help where required, the talkative tutor dropped in and out to keep an eye on proceedings, and I just got colder and stiffer as usual.
After the session earrings man asked me if they were always this rowdy. I told him they were better behaved today than most weeks. At least there was no rubber-chucking or charcoal face-painting this session.
Friday was rainy. I drove over in drizzle and as expected, was asked for same pose as the day before. Talkative tutor seems to run out of imagination by Fridays. I varied it a bit by sitting with my knees at the opposite angle - for another hour and a half, with one stretch. There were six students today, it was their last session with me and they were basically left to their own devices. One used a fineline pen, three used charcoal and chalk, and two were painting. When I checked out the results at break time the paintings were the most interesting, but the least anatomically correct.
Gazing out of the window again, I watched a shower of silver drops falling by the window, perhaps a squirrel passing on a branch overhead. Later the sun came out and multicoloured drops winked at me from every branch. A bluetit perched momentarily on a twig by the window. The two squirrels passed by again, accompanied by a rather worried-looking male blackbird.
I mused on the nature of beauty, and the strange propensity of this furless primate to appreciate it, and to want to create it. Wandering on in my thoughts to creativity in general, I decided that one day I'd like to write poetry in Spanish. I'm not sure if that'll be before or after I take an Art Foundation course and study music composition.
Talkative tutor suggested either the same pose or something 'wild and interesting' for after the break - so of course I opted for the latter. I opened out the grubby mattress, laid my robe over it and tried out a few of my scrunched-up supine poses. 'Yes!' declared the eccentric painter. Oh dear, I thought, I'm going to regret this arm flung over my head. Never mind.
Forty-five minutes went quite fast with my eyes closed, and the tutor remarked that these were much better than their earlier efforts, probably because the odd angles and unusual viewpoints made them really look.
I had a chat with the eccentric painter after the session, about my desire to paint and the advantages of working on hardboard rather than canvas (mainly cost - £1 as opposed to £20). He said he'd like to do lots more Life Drawing - nice to have a fan - and I told him I was just off to check at admin when they might want me for next term.
Amid the usual chaos we managed to sort out some dates for me and I filled in new forms (as I'd forgotten to bring mine) so as to get them in before the Easter break. Just enough time left for a bowl of thick leek and potato soup at the canteen before the afternoon's photography session.
One of the girls wanted to do some big paintings for her end of term project, and was interested in bodies and body parts. I think. So she'd brought a digital camera to capture lots of different poses from different angles. I dutifully curled up foetally, stretched out limbs, twisted back and shoulders to her requirements against a backdrop of black sugar paper, with the lights angled by an attentive tutor. I gave thanks for my previous yoga experience, and decided I'd like to come to their end of year show.
'Oh yes,' said the tutor.'You'll be much in evidence.'
Better not bring the kids then.
So, back to the novel. I promised myself and my appointed slave-driver that I'd do another thousand words by the end of today. Bugger. I really do go to great lengths to avoid writing. Perhaps I should see it as an enjoyable and self-indulgent pastime resorted to in private... I'm sure I'd get far more done.
Friday, 30 March 2007
THE SEA AT
It was worth coming just to see the sea.
Just to see the deep turquoise shining with silver
in early spring sunshine.
It was almost worth coming just to see the
turquoise, orange, green, yellow, red, purple and blue
walls and shutters and folding doors of the hostel,
the surprise of patterned walls opposite our window in the morning.
It was well worth coming to experience Miro, to feel the
infinite sadness of a missing yellow, to almost weep before
simple lines and splotches of colour, to wonder and laugh with
dolls arms and feet and hanging gloves all rendered in bronze.
And to know that this is me,
that I am here, responding to
iconic trees, painted tiles, graffiti,
washing hung from balconies.
And then there was the man gesticulating into his
mobile phone while occasionally remembering to push his
young daughter on her stabilisered bicycle
up the wooden decking towards us,
with the sea on both sides and the sun overhead.
Just all of it.
Friday, 23 March 2007
So, Tuesday saw a new group but with an existing tutor - the inspirational one. I had to find a different building, but my directions got me to the door and the Reception very well and on time. Unfortunately there was no-one on Reception at that time in the evening, and I had no idea which room the class was in.
Eventually a passing artist with half-eaten plastic-wrapped sandwich in hand, took pity on me and escorted me down stairs and through double doors, endlessly and repeatedly it seemed, until we finally found a blue-floored white-painted aggressively-strip-lighted room in the bowels of the earth, where a group of people were setting up easels.
I was shown into the store room to change. It was markedly colder in there. I was taken to the tables at the front as soon as I stepped out, with a request that one of the students would like to take pictures of my back, if that was OK?
Fine. I assumed a curled up posture facing away from the camera on the hard table top (thoughtfully and tastefully decorated with a curtain, but no padding), but realised after a few flashes that the tutor was assuming I'd started and would stay still for the next hour... I broke my own rule and moved, just to get more comfortable for a long session.
Several of the students - a mixed bunch aged from twenties to well-retired - were working with a scratch crayon technique, whereby they have already covered a sheet of paper with crayon, dark shades over light, and they 'etch' the figure with sharp pointy tools. However this didn't seem to be compulsory, and one lad sat on the floor doing pencil sketches the whole way through.
The first pose, curled up with back view, was for half an hour, followed by a standing pose for twenty five minutes, then a break. A gentleman came up to introduce himself, he'd booked me for a different group later on in the year.
After the break I did a sitting pose on the edge of the table for almost an hour, with one stretch partway through. A fairly boring evening's work really. The tutor did very little too, sitting in a matching pose at the back of the room looking exhausted and letting them get on with it. Must have been a long day - I know she teaches the other group at 9.30 in the morning.
Mind you, I was half way through my gym routine at that time.
Thursday was Botticelli day. The village hall group were in the kitchen again, musing over their research material and early morning cups of coffee. They established that he used a very white tone and stylised poses and figures, and apparently I needed to put on at least a stone in weight - oh, and grow my hair down to the floor. They posed me as the famous 'Venus' painting, using a yellow sheet to stand in for the rather coy hairstyle - at least some parts of me were kept warm. One imaginative artist even managed a good approximation of a clam shell beneath my feet.
The evening session was warmer, at least. We covered much the same ground but with fewer and less confident students, and the tutor let me sit down for the second pose this time. Both sessions had begun with the ritual 'warm-up' poses of five to ten minutes each, drawing, but after that they were into paints of various sorts - watercolour, acrylic, or oils depending on taste or budget.
This morning was back to the college and a darkened room. All the lights were off and I was posed on a plastic chair set up on a table next to the window, looking out of it. The aim was to produce soft, smudgy, back-lit pictures. I stared at the overgrown bank and the busy road below. I noted hazel, elder and ivy, two squirrels, an orangey-brown wren and three other birds which looked like chaffinch, bluetit and dunnock, but they were moving quite fast. One ambulance passed by with sirens wailing, and a silver sports car parked in the only remaining space on the side of the road. A youngish woman got out. I ignored the rest of the traffic, but my old traveller's eye identified the standing dead wood and the angle of snap required to extricate it from the rest of the undergrowth.
The room was full of students and although I couldn't observe any of them directly, I was aware of their interactions behind me. The tutor made the rather flimsy floor shake each time he walked past the table. After the coffee break, during which I turned the heater on to 'high', I did a mirror image of the same pose, so as to get a matching crick on the other side of my neck. This time I observed a fluffy robin with blazing breast, who sat on a twig and watched me curiously for a while, and the return of one squirrel. The silver sports car drove off again.
I was particularly keen to get home early today, and was hoping there would be no work again this afternoon. I did ask about whether I'd be needed after the Easter break, and was told they'd look into it, but probably, almost definitely in fact. Finally I got my answer - next week there is a student who would like to use me for the afternoon session, for a particular project, but this week - I was free to go. Yay! Barcelona, here I come...
Saturday, 17 March 2007
I changed, the students dribbled in, and I took up the agreed pose - head towards them, lying on my back, one knee up and the other crossed behind it.
'It's more like a landscape than a body,' they were told. 'Look at all the hills and ridges behind each other.'
The first hour was quite manageable. I had a little stretch. The next half hour left me cold and in some discomfort, but then it was break time. The students left, the tutor went off after offering me a coffee, and I learned how to turn the heating up.
Students trickled back, complaining about how hot the room was now, agreeing to meet up in the pub at lunchtime, and joking about whose 'dentist appointment' was going to result in shorter hair. The second pose was the opposite way round, feet towards them, so I curled up on my front with a half twist and closed my eyes for the next forty minutes. Part way through a girl left for her dentist appointment.
The pictures were good, I have to say. Several different styles and approaches, but definitely some good results for their portfolios. The tutor has been asking them all about their plans, applications and interviews for a while now. They seem to be going on to all sorts of courses from Archaeology and Animation to - well, probably not Zoology.
Lunchtime. I was assured that the trainee tutor was taking a group this afternoon, and that there would indeed be work for me this week. I sat in the staff hut eating my multi-grain bagel and salted nuts, reading this week's novel, and let the gossip wash over me. At one o'clock I went back to the life model hut, which was empty, and sat there reading for another half hour until the morning's tutor showed up again.
'I don't know what's happened to him,' he said. 'He was supposed to have an assessment today as well.' He treated me to a long moan about the present and future of Further and Higher Education, then told me that I might as well go home. Again.
At least my daughter is happy to see me, unexpectedly, every Friday as she struggles out of school with her games kit and guitar. And her immediate demands for money, food or friends round to play.
Friday, 16 March 2007
When I arrived at the large and cold village hall, the artists were in the kitchen revving up with coffee and looking at pictures by and articles about Modigliani. They admired my outfit, chosen especially - oh, very French, love the beret, we'll use that. I even took a silky lilac dressing gown printed with sprigs of cherry blossom, which they allowed me to keep on for the first two five-minute poses until the room warmed up a little.
So, Modigliani - long necks and faces, stylised eyes, demure poses. Orangey skin hues.
'They all look miserable,' observed one artist.
'Bored,' said another.
'I think they're serene.'
OK, OK, I'll do my best.
I settled onto a chair in a demure pose with drapes behind me and my hair piled into a loose bun on top of my head, and looked at a distant telegraph pole for nearly an hour with what I hoped was a suitably miserable, bored and serene expression, chin lifted to give the longest neck I could comfortable manage for that length of time. I watched the sun alternate with shadow. I watched rooks and starlings settle and fly off, distinguishable only by the size of the black blobs and how they flew. Thrillingly, I watched a swan fly past, wings flashing grey and white and the longest neck you could imagine. Finally it was time for the break, coffee and little flapjacks. I had a peek at their work. Some astonishing interpretations and use of colour. The tutor told me that they'd been very resistant initially to copying the style of well-known artists, but that their art was progressing in leaps and bounds and now they enjoyed the process.
I was pleased that I hadn't modelled for the Egon Schiele week. Next time it's Botticelli. I'd better eat cream cakes and chocolate all week then.
The second half of the session I looked the other way so I could get a matching crick in my neck, and I wore the black beret against a white background. Nothing else. I didn't think those ones worked so well. And to finish off, a couple more short poses, standing. The music was nice, sounded like Handel, Baroque certainly. Good for musing to.
The evening session was with the same tutor but a different group, location and for Adult Learning and Leisure (ie lots of forms to fill in). The hut was closed up and dark when I arrived and the students sat in a line of cars outside, waiting. Finally the tutor drew up full of apologies and tales of a slow bus on country lanes that she'd been stuck behind. When we opened up the room there was a distinct and most unpleasant smell of fish, which I traced to an empty mackerel tin in the waste bin. I removed all the rubbish to a wheelie bin outside and we wafted the door as long as possible. Good job the weather's mild.
The music this evening was a CD of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to my delight, except that it was a live version and there was distracting applause at the end of each track. Apart from that, it was a repeat of the morning's session, but with only five students, who had rather less of an idea of what Modigliani painted. I took a different hat, and the tutor brought one too, so the two long poses had dark or light backdrops and light or dark hats. There was a wide variety and standard of painting produced, but I could certainly see the improvement from when they first started.
Drove home through light drizzle and managed a shower before falling into bed. Another full day at the college tomorrow.
Monday, 12 March 2007
Another reason was evidenced by the 'Millennium Quilt' which took up the whole of one wall inside the hall. Forty two patches individually worked by 'ladies of the village', of an astonishing variety of styles and themes, but all depicting aspects of contemporary life in the village.
People often run late on Monday mornings, unlike myself, and the artists were still arriving partway into the first pose. We did a series of five minute warm-up poses showing 'dynamism', ie twists and gestures, followed by a fifteen minute seated pose on a stool, and a half hour until the break, also seated. The artists do a lot of moving around in this class, looking for better angles, which often involves moving easels, tables, chairs, other people's equipment etc. Reminds me of the choir I sing with, where we move between parts for each song.
There were a few faces I recognised from other groups - one said we're doing Modigliani on Thursday, that'll be fun; another booked me conditionally for some portrait classes she hopes to run, while taking names and contacts of anyone else who might want to come to it. This was the last teaching session for the tutor/organiser and she was presented with several bottles of fine wine and some orchids in a pot by the grateful regulars. I was introduced to the person who would be taking over, who will no doubt be contacting me with bookings in the next few weeks.
In the break (coffee and two chocolate digestives, not the healthiest breakfast) I discovered that there was another model there, who models for the same group and gets two classes of tuition free, instead of payment. We discussed the annoyances of working for colleges with endless forms to fill in, and agreed that we both like these informal groups best.
The second half was a long repeat of the earlier pose, while people moved around me and complained that they were not on form today, and a twenty minute one in a different pose but still on the stool. No serious aches and pains this session.
I prefer to be posing for groups where the average age is 'retired' - I suspect I was the youngest person in the room - they consider me to be young and fit, as opposed to the students who have that 'yuck, she's the same age as my mum' reaction in the back of their minds. The other model (who was also considerably older than me) said that her grand-daughter is studying Art and complains about the life modelling sessions: 'they're always wrinkly old men'.
Well, I'm not wrinkly yet, except when I smile. And they love my skin tone too. Somewhere between skimmed milk and cream, depending on the light.
I brought home one of the five-minute sketches for my personal portfolio. When I AM old and wrinkly, I'll be able to show my own grandchildren what I looked like, way back before they were born.
Sunday, 11 March 2007
I sat on the plastic chair on the low table reading my book about travelling in Ladakh with a Tibetan healer, while occasionally glancing around the room. There were originally only two students, joined by a third before the break. 'Plenty of room!' said the tutor. 'Go where you want, choose the best easels.'
He told me the others were probably finishing assignments, then we were joined by the tutor from next door introducing three or four of her students who were studying fashion and would like the chance to draw a clothed model. Except that one of them left soon after, grumbling that what she'd really wanted was a naked torso.... can't win 'em all.
So a happy morning was spent by yours truly, being paid to do what I love the most, except that I wasn't allowed to change my position. The back of the chair was digging into me after a while, but it was manageable.
I did try to check at the start of the lunch-break whether I was required afterwards, but no-one seemed to know. I was told that this was entirely normal. I'm glad I don't work as a teacher, especially after encountering another one in a state of great stress after losing her keys. I ate my lunch in the staff hut, went to the LRC to read the Guardian, and strolled back to the life model hut around one o'clock. Two other tutors were there discussing tables for the textiles group. No sign of my allotted tutor or his class. I wandered back and forth for a while between there and the staff room, no-one could locate him and eventually I was told to go home.
'Don't worry, you'll be paid for it.'
After two weeks at the college fully clothed it'll come as a bit of a shock on Monday morning when I'm back to an obscure village hall for two and a half hours. But hey - never a dull moment. I thrive on variety.
Thursday, 8 March 2007
I answered, 'to work'.
As I arrived the tutor was leading the C&G group from 'their' hut to the life model hut. He was delighted when he saw what I was wearing. 'Perfect!' he said. 'Do you have any objections to wearing a Venetian mask?'
Well, let me see.... do I have any objections to wearing a Venetian mask? Bit of a rhetorical question, really.
They were working on pattern today, line drawings with pencil. I sat on a chair on a low table, fully clothed and wearing a mask - and surrounded by seven large and tasteless lampshades.
I love this job.
The mask was painted gold, with gold trim all around it and tiny orange spotted feathers forming a delicate outer trim. Then the whole lot overlaid with large red and black feathers curving outwards. Wow. It did squash my nose a little and I was afraid I was going to sneeze, but apart from that the morning was a doddle.
I even enjoyed the supermarket shopping afterwards. Maybe that's the key - dress up to do mundane tasks. I might give it a try.
Friday, 2 March 2007
I duly climb onto the table and wait for a bus for an hour and a half. It never comes. I go home.
Friday morning I arrive to see - oh look, the same props, but for a different group. Seven of the Art Foundation students are waiting to draw me - the first pose standing up, same as before, and the second will be sitting down, he says. I look in the other direction today, just in case I was standing on the wrong side of the road yesterday. Still no bus.
In the break I go over to the tutors' hut - being fully clothed for once - and make my own coffee. I hand in my claims sheet for last month and engage in a lengthy chat with the administrator about her flu. I go back to the room, and the tutor tells me they haven't finished their drawings yet, although they're coming along nicely, so do I mind standing again, please.
Does it matter if I mind?
Oh well, I suppose most people would be glad if they were paid for buses that never arrived. That was nearly three hours waiting today.
At lunchtime he tells me I'll be with the other tutor this afternoon, but when I come back at one o'clock the other tutor says his class is doing something different, already arranged. So it's back to the staff hut to hang around in the hope, or threat, that someone else may be wanting my services. They don't. I come home early.
I think the county council could do something about improving the bus service though.
Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Lots of little black or grey lambs in the pastures, more ploughed fields. White blackthorn and pink flowering cherry. Primroses in my back garden. Spring keeps coming earlier.
So this morning was the Adult Foundation Course at the college, and they were doing portraits. It was an easy session for me. The first twenty minutes or so they were copying muscle structure from anatomy hand-outs so I had nothing to do except chat with the tutor and sit on the radiator, until it got too hot. Then I sat on a big cushion on a table staring at a black mark on the opposite wall, for half an hour, trying to smile with my cheek muscles not my mouth (it's very difficult to keep a smile with your mouth for long, the muscles get so tired and droop. I learnt to raise the cheek muscles and 'smile with the eyes' while singing, it's a very useful technique for Eastern European and Georgian songs, in particular. Alters the resonance).
I didn't manage to get any writing done during half term, as I'd planned. My daughter was in a show all week, and in-between taking her there and helping out front-of-house I just relaxed. So yesterday I started actually writing my novel, and promptly slid into a mini-depression. It will be a triumph of self-help psychology if I ever get it finished.
After the break, our students had a demonstration on how to work with gouache. There are 'hot' colours and 'cold' colours, and the hot ones need to be daubed on first before layering colder ones over the top. I loved the names - cadmium, prussian blue, cerulean. They remind me of a set of Lakeland coloured pencils I had as a child with magical names - burnt umber, burnt sienna, crimson. Back to the original pose for me as they started painting over their pencil line drawings, with constant help and advice from the tutor. At the end they all had to turn their pictures round, unfinished in most cases, for appraisal.
I do like working with this group. They are mainly mature women, of varying standards and experience, and they give me hope and inspiration.
On the way home I called in on a friend who was printing out a story for me - my printer is currently non-functional - and I posted it off to a competition. The deadline is tomorrow...
This evening I had the Adult Learning and Leisure group again. The previous one had been cancelled, and only eight people turned up for this session, one of them half way through after bad traffic on a motorway somewhere. Their brief was to work on sight-size drawings this week - strict measurement with rulers, drawing me exactly the same size as I appeared from their various viewpoints. The tutor set them an experiment to start with, to do two drawing, one in charcoal and one in pencil, whatever size they wanted to. The aim was to see whether they drew larger in charcoal than pencil (some did, but not all), and how much larger than sight-size they usually worked. When they'd done those they had to measure and do a calculation as to the difference - most of the sight-size drawings would be half or a third of their normal ones. The evening ended with some titchy little fairy drawings of me sprawled on a mat for forty minutes.
Not sure if my aching shoulder muscles are due to the modelling, yesterday's gym session, or so much driving. Probably a combination of all three. I must book another massage.
Sunday, 18 February 2007
It was sunny for the second day running. Felt like Spring. The City and Guilds class were starting to feel like individuals at last, after being an amorphous mass of blue jeans for weeks. This session they had to work in charcoal and chalk, as they needed two charcoal drawings for their portfolios. They started by covering the whole paper with charcoal, then worked with a rubber to reveal the paper underneath, trying to make the drawing look 3D with tone and adding chalk for the highlights.
The first pose was head only, nice and easy for half an hour, could even keep my dressing gown and slippers on. The second pose was down to my waist for nearly an hour, which could have been very boring except that the students kept me amused with their horseplay. Charcoal is very messy stuff, and they took full advantage of the fact. I could see who was smudging whose face and attacking each other with long black lines, even if the tutor's back was turned. Several of them were sent off to the toilets to wash at various times.
They all finished before the end of the session, and even though they were supposed to come back with their sketch books and use the last ten minutes or so usefully, they seemed to take rather a long time in cleaning up, and eventually the tutor gave up and told me I could finish. He also confided that he hated charcoal as a medium.
Well, that's the last modelling work for over a week as it's half term round here, so I suppose I'd better get on with my writing. I made a good start on Friday with three hours researching at the local paper, and I have to admit to writing a few new poems recently... but that's another story.
Will be back when I have more to report.
Sunday, 11 February 2007
This week they were working on tone. The room was quite cold, and I was given a plastic chair to sit on. I padded it with any available fabric, and was allowed to keep my slippers on and the bottom half of my dressing gown draped over my legs. Light from above, looking to my right, for one hour. Followed by light from below and looking to my left for half an hour. Very boring session. Apart from noting the tutor's remarks about how the nose is like a ski slope and the chin is a tangerine stuck on below the lower lip.
On Thursday evening I had a full body massage at home from a friend of mine, aaaah, much-needed and totally blissful. Unfortunately my shoulders were then gently aching all night from the tension she'd released and I found it hard to sleep.
Friday morning was more heavy rain. I noted three soggy newborns in the lambing field on the way to work. As expected, the Foundation Course students were still recovering from their North Africa trip, and not one made it into college that day. I was handed over to the other tutor I've been talking with, but his students seemed reluctant to turn up on a Friday morning too. We started the session late, with only three of them up to the break, and as their previous model couldn't or wouldn't do standing poses, he asked me to do those please, leaning on the wall or a table. A very gentle taskmaster this one, kept asking me if I was OK for another ten minutes, didn't work me hard at all. My shoulders felt better after leaning on a wall for half an hour, at least, and I was able to think about my forthcoming visit to the archives of the local paper for research - next Friday, as the college have a training day.
This tutor is much less talkative than the other, but does seem to have a good relationship with his students. He was showing them sketches and pictures by Pierre Bonnard (I wrote the name down this time so I wouldn't forget), and plenty more of them turned up after the break - thirteen in total. A very mixed and interesting group to observe. They had a variety of hair styles (long, scruffy pony tail, dyed, bleached, streaked, shaved), jeans in black and even white as well as blue, sometimes frayed and holed. There were more colours too, and even a tartan short skirt and Goth eye-liner - definitely my sort of teenagers. And they had their very own Eccentric Painter too, with a box full of paints and a habit of muttering and producing odd and interesting pictures. Must be an archetype then.
The second part was a repeat of the half hour standing pose, leaning on the wall, followed by half an hour sitting down. All quite easy and relaxed for me, although my sitting pose may have been difficult for them to draw.
At half past eleven this lot went off to some other artistic endeavour, and another class was filed in. They'd been noisy and disruptive next door for most of the morning, and I think the tutors reckoned that exposing them to their first ever life model might shock them into silence. They were right. Such a young bunch, some of them seemed only half formed to me. I stared out of the window to avoid embarrassing them further by catching their eye, and observed the first dangling catkins of the year.
Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Tuesday's session at the college was one of those that makes me remember why I love this job - despite my on-line whinges. It was the Adult's Art Foundation course, 10 of them in a lovely warm room despite the frost outside. The tutor was aiming to get them to take risks this week, to focus on process rather than outcome, and they'd all been instructed to turn up with a few twigs. Yes, just twigs from the nearest hedgerow. They used broken twigs, thick brushes, and thinned paint (later with ink too) to 'agitate the surface' of their paper with a rough wash, adding line with the ends or sides of the twigs, with flicks of paint too. A messy business, but it looked like great fun, and they produced some astonishing results.
They were told to exaggerate features, use caricature really, and although none of the results were strict drawings of me, they captured an energy, an essence, which would otherwise have been lacking. One of my favourites had me resembling a woodland sprite, with huge eyes, pointy chin and a mass of wild hair. In another I seemed to be a serene Madonna figure.
I choose my own pose in this class - the tutor tells me how long it's for and whether what I adopt is suitable - and it usually is. So for fifteen minutes at a time I could think about my novel in peace, working in my head on the first section, what life would be like for the main character and who else I would need to contact for background information. The students had to write in their own journals before the break, which gave me chance to jot down my ideas before I lost them. They were asked how they'd found the process, what did it make them feel (some loved it and some hated it). One even commented on how quickly she became attached to the stick she'd been using.
Apparently this method is leading towards oil painting, which they will be trying out in a future session. Something to do with layers, and wanting to put back the white and paler tones. I couldn't quite follow the reasoning myself, but she seems to be an inspirational tutor and I'm sure she knows what she's doing.
I was left alone in the room while they all went off for their break, so I enjoyed looking at their efforts while nibbling on some almonds and figs - my version of fast food. The tutor had offered me coffee from the staff room, but in fact it was another tutor who brought it, the one I'd talked to about travellers in the 80's. He wanted to know if I was free that afternoon as his model had just phoned in sick. No, sorry. But we had a good chat again.
After the break they were given orange ink to add to the mix. The black painty bits were to indicate the tone, and the orange ink the highlights, where the light fell on me. Wow, wild. But don't get any on your clothes... I did actually break my own rule and moved to indicate to an Artist that her pot of ink had just been knocked over and was in danger of staining the (already very messy) carpet...
The session ended with a sort of pep talk from the tutor, about how their Foundation course is supposed to be an adventure (one I'd like to take one day, perhaps), and how she was introducing them to an Expressionist mode of working, rather than Realist, which gave them more choices as an artist. Also that it was a very exciting time to be in art, they were on the cusp of a change, back towards more emphasis on life modelling from the Post-Modernist era - that Conceptualism may be a dying concept.
I don't know about her students, but I find her pretty inspiring. It's great to be a part of all this, albeit in a minor sort of Muse-like way.
Saturday, 3 February 2007
Thursday was a delight - I didn't even have to take my clothes off. They were studying hands and feet, so I just rolled my sleeves up and set to work, holding a variety of props. A mug, a bottle of juice and a rolled-up paper tube later they were definitely improving. The poses were supposed to be five minutes each, but all stretched to at least ten, and fifteen if he was doing a demonstration first. It was the talkative tutor again. I have to say he really knows his stuff, though.
I had plenty of time to observe the students as they were observing me, and came to the conclusion that they were remarkably conventional for Art students. Out of eight lads and four girls, ten of them were wearing blue jeans, ten of them were wearing trainers, of which six were a grubby white. All eight boys had short hair, six with ears fully exposed, and even the shaggier two were definitely styled. Gel was much in evidence. All four girls had shoulder-length or longer hair. They even threw rubbers (erasers) across the room to each other, and kept asking the tutor to have their pencils sharpened.
The last fifteen minutes of the class were for feet, and I had to stand on the table again, trousers rolled up, but mercifully with socks left on. My feet are not the prettiest part of me.
At the end of the session we went through my diary and he booked me for several more weeks, running right up until Easter. At least my pay arrived on Friday, but for less than I'd expected. I'll have to claim the tax back sometime.
On Friday I arrived a little late due to an accident on the main road, two ambulances there as I crawled past in the queue. Makes a change from counting dead badgers though.
The eccentric painter had been banished from the hut to prime his board - the metallic gold paint he was using featured a skull and crossbones on the tin, and was apparently poisoning the entire class with fumes. Most of the others were working with chalk on black paper today.
The first pose was to stand (on the table again) with one leg behind the other, and leaning forward onto a stool with straight arms, looking up so they could catch a profile too. He wanted them to look for shapes, the rectangle formed by my arms, how my head was set between my shoulders, for example. I reckoned it was a ten minute pose, and told him so - he gave me a break after ten minutes (more like 15 as usual) then I carried on. It was 35 altogether.
The second pose was longer and he wanted another unbalanced one, weight on one leg and leaning on the stool. 'Look for the centre line,' he'd say. 'Look at that hip, pushed right out.' Hmm. I carefully arranged myself so the weight was on three points and I could subtly shift between them to keep the blood flowing and ease my muscles. What I hadn't accounted for was the unexpected strain on the hand (and arm and shoulder) that was on my hip.
The students were so keen to keep working that they refused a break at ten o'clock, going straight into the second pose. We did persuade them to leave the room around half ten though, and I was brought my most reviving coffee. I didn't have any sort of coffee habit before I started working here. While the tutor was absent I did overhear one of the students complaining that he talked all the time and she preferred to work in silence. Ah, I thought, maybe that's why I haven't been 'working' on the novel too, no silence in which to space out?
I am a bit concerned that I'm not working more, or faster, on this. So far I've contacted the local paper to do some research on 'traveller' stories - I need to make an appointment, but unfortunately only for Thursdays or Fridays... which is when I'm working. I'm also managing to miss catching the county's gypsy liaison officer, who is out of his office every time I phone, and doesn't seem to like email. I need to contact midwives and teachers too. And fill in a time-line for the events in the plot. Maybe next week...
The afternoon's session was quiet, as usual. My 'regulars' returned -the painter, the one who talks to me, and another - plus a new girl. The tutor seemed to have run out of steam a bit, he was noticeably quieter this afternoon, apart from a discourse on the techniques and interesting private lives of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and the eccentricities of a rich and famous American painter of the 20th Century (I hadn't heard of him before, and have forgotten his name already. Sorry).
All the Art Foundation students are off on a 'field trip' to North Africa for a few days before next week's session. They were abuzz with anxieties and excitement all day - exchange rates, spiders and snakes etc. I just wish they had the funds to take their own life model too.
Never mind. I've booked a weekend break in Barcelona with an artist friend who needs to get away from her young children. Yes! Travel at last. Scary stuff. Just what I need.
Tuesday, 30 January 2007
I didn't add all the pics I'd taken, it only seems to allow 5 for any one post. Next time I'll use my digital camera (and hope the son hasn't lost its connection cable again), and think about where it'll appear on the page, maybe write the text to take that into account.
I was thinking too about the generational difference in playing with techno-toys. When I was young, anything vaguely technologically complicated or advanced was strictly 'hands off, don't touch'. I did quite enjoy finding out how to use different phone and laptop functions, and I still learn fast, but I seem to need someone to show me, and a reason to learn. I never just play with things. An early conditioning, I suspect. Whereas now, my 10 year old knows how to do more things than I do simply because she plays with them all the time. She's allowed to.
I was a little worried that this blog is taking up lots of my writing time and that 'therefore' I'm not working on the novel, but a writer and editor friend of mine said blogging is really good, it exercises the 'writing muscle'. That's OK, I'll carry on then.
Some good news on the writing front - I've been asked to produce a regular contribution to a friend's on-line magazine (quarterly, and unpaid, she's very sorry); and I'm due to organise a poetry event in our town during May as part of our (very new) Arts Festival. I'm going to a meeting about it tomorrow. Also more poetry things early next week but I'll tell you about them as they happen.
My only modelling work this week is Thursday morning and all day Friday. A nice quiet week then.
Saturday, 27 January 2007
Half an hour later I asked for a break, and a 2 minute stretch. It got harder after that. The next break, half an hour later again, was more of a serious 'ow' stretch. And there was still another half an hour to go. Oh dear.
I was walking with a slight limp for the rest of the day.
Friday was the all day session. He wanted me to do another long standing pose. I told him I wasn't doing 'weight on one leg' again - no, no, that was OK, just 'standing at a bus-stop' would be fine. So I stood at a bus-stop on top of a table, lit from below, for a very long time again.
The idea was to work from a hand-out he'd produced about a Degas sketch, looking at the shading and tone, and as if lit by footlights on a Parisian stage at the fin de siecle - look at Toulouse-Lautrec posters, they were told. He pointed out all the brightest areas on me, where they wouldn't normally be, and the darkest shadows.
After an hour of this we all had a break. There was no young tutor to buy me coffee this week, due apparently to the presence of an Inspector-type woman who was sitting in on the class. She was inspecting the whole Art and Design section, I was told. I watched her taking notes and wandering around the class to see what they were producing. She looked like a creature from another world - smart suit, full face make-up, shoes that weren't made for walking in. She seemed pleased with what she saw, at least.
There were 11 students to start with. After the break it had dwindled to 7, and by the end of the morning there were only 3 left. Maybe they were as bored waiting for the bus as I was. Yes, another hour and a bit of it. I know rural services are pretty dire, but this was ridiculous. I'm gradually learning that I only get a break if I manage to catch the tutor's eye or ear, which is not always very easy. It seems I must learn to be a bit pushier about my own comfort.
I was feeling quite faint by lunchtime, perhaps because of the fumes from the oil painter standing near me. I really needed a hot lunch this week. And then I insisted on a sitting pose for the afternoon.
Had some interaction with a couple of the students again. The oil painter really stands out from the rest - not least because he always wears a paint-stained blue coverall, carries his pots of paint around and sets them all out carefully before he begins, and throws his arms about and mutters to himself while producing particularly original creations. We were chatting at the start of the afternoon session, when no-one else had turned up, about what he wanted to do next, study-wise. He wasn't sure whether to go for painting or sculpture, but thought probably a sculpture course 'because you can paint anywhere, but you need all the facilities for sculpture'.
I expect him to be famous in 20 years.
I did notice that the lad who'd been told to 'look at women' all week hadn't come back. Presumably he'd found some better specimens than me then. Or his girlfriend had put her foot down.
Another one, the one who started chatting to me last week, was waiting for me after I'd got changed at the end of the session. Had I said I was a writer, he wanted to know? Yes. What was I writing?
Ah, OK. I did mention the blog, but quickly moved on to my projected novel (which was a cheat really, because I'm not actively writing it yet). Oh, New Age Travellers, I should speak to X, one of his tutors, they'd had some good talks about that and he'd watched the film about the Battle of the Beanfield too. A few minutes later that tutor just happened to walk into the room looking for something else. So we got talking, found friends in common from 1986, you know how it goes...
And there was me getting worried that I wasn't 'working on my novel' enough.
Wednesday, 24 January 2007
Last night was difficult - I was working 6-8pm, which meant I had to leave the house at 5.15 and wouldn't be back until 8.45, and he was going to a computer nerd meeting, being picked up sometime around 7pm. I tried to get a neighbour's teenager to come over and sit with the youngest until I was home, but she was out herself until 9pm...
I don't like leaving her alone. She doesn't like it either. Even though I know we have lots of neighbours she could go to if she needed to. At least that's the last Tuesday evening I'm doing for a couple of weeks. Must organise 'sitters' with more notice next time. And she WAS fine, in bed watching TV when I got back. But still. It's not easy, being a single mum and trying to work - as any of them will attest.
This was the 'dancing' tutor, and I wondered what she had up her sleeve for this week's session... oh dear, 4 tables pushed together in the middle of the room and the 'donkeys' set up all round them. Yes, it's '3-point perspective' week, they have to draw me from a low viewpoint as if I were a tower block, which meant I was standing on the tables being looked up at for 45 minutes - not the most flattering of views, and imperative that one doesn't fart....
They were working in pencil, and a lot of rubbing out was in evidence. At the break I just couldn't resist the line which had been running through my head for almost half an hour - 'does my bum look big in this?'
Anyway, apart from Art, most of the conversation was about the weather - what's new? - it being suddenly very cold. One chap had encountered ice on his way over. The tutor had kindly brought an extra heater for the room, although it was hardly needed as the radiators seemed set to blast out heat from 7pm onwards - the time the rest of the evening classes start. It was particularly cold going from the staff toilet, where I change, through 2 sets of doors and along an outside covered walkway to the art room. Never mind. That's another £16 or so earned. Provided I get all the paperwork in on time, I'll see it by the end of February.
Oh yes, nearly forgot my good news. I was 'feeling in character' this morning - putting myself in the head of one of the characters from my novel (which I haven't been working on) and feeling what she would feel. I thought that was a very positive sign.
Monday, 22 January 2007
I mentioned the tutor who spoke about curves so enthusiastically, and she told me that she'd walked out of a class at the Slade (was it?) because she considered the tutor had insulted her, referring to her body as 'not the classical female form' and going on to make various derogatory comments which I won't repeat here.
Anyway, she told me to put her in my blog, so I have done.
I have come to the conclusion that 5 hours modelling is equivalent to a hard day's work. So last week I did 2 1/2 day's hard work, another day in the shop, 2 gym sessions, a choir rehearsal (for singing in the cathedral this week), wrote a 1000 word short story, and ran a writer's group. And I'm in recovery from Chronic Fatigue/Clinical Depression... no wonder I was so knackered.
Today I've done bugger all, to be honest. A low-energy gym session. Cleaned the house to the minumum standard (think - 'writer'). Checked the emails and replied to one. Finished the draft of the previous post and wrote this one. Erm - that's about it. No work on the novel today, to my embarrassment and dismay.
Maybe I'll find some form this evening.
The party on Saturday was very good though. I just wish the birthday girls had told a few more people that it was fancy dress...
And I did try very hard yesterday to transfer my photos from the phone. But it won't allow me to access the email function, and my laptop doesn't do Bluetooth, and my daughter whose phone does both (so could transfer them for me) lives in Bristol and won't be visiting for a while. So you'll just have to wait a bit longer for images. Sorry.
Saturday, 20 January 2007
Oh dear, really stiff and aching today. It was a hard week, but hopefully next week will be easier - only 3 modelling jobs instead of 4 which I've done now for 2 weeks. And at least it's Saturday and I could sleep in - before taking the cat to the vet's for her booster immunisations. Going to a neighbour's party tonight and the youngest is having a sleepover at a friend's - for a change. Usually they come here.
Thursday was one of the 'obscure village halls' jobs. This particular one is very large - and therefore generally very cold. The tutor brings a fan heater for me, but it's often not enough. At least it's not been frosty this winter - I remember going there last January and even the students were getting concerned about me - one of them popped home in the break to bring an extra heater because she couldn't bear watching me turn blue. But again, it's another of my favourite tutors - and this one is cash in hand, which is always handy.
The weather was wild rather than cold - blustery rain sweeping across the Levels, and high winds. I later read that 10 people had been killed by the storms, but the worst we got was a creaking wooden roof and noisy rain at the windows. The windows in that hall are fairly high up, but I could see the tops of the trees shaking around and the next rain squall heading our way.
About 9 artists made it through the weather, some arriving late, most of them I knew as regulars because I've sat for that group many times now. The session followed its normal course - several quick poses to 'warm them up', then some longer ones before the coffee break. They bring their own equipment and materials to this class - it's fun to watch them struggling with or showing off various different types of easels. There's one chap who leans his sketchbook on a chair perched on top of a table - it slid off this week, knocking his coffee everywhere. I took a photo of easels in the break, and some to show the size of the hall. You might even get to see them soon. Depends on what state I'm in tomorrow after the party...
And Friday was all day at the college again. That's where the aching muscles come from. The tutors here prepare work sheets for their students, with examples of other artists' work - then they ask me to take the same poses as the ones on the sheet. Well, the 'standing up with arms over head' ones were 5 minutes each, that was OK. It was also the first time these students had to work quickly, and after 3 of these it was obvious that they were finding it quite challenging. So it was back to 45-minute poses for me. Crunched up in a ball on a table. I did ask for a break half-way through to stretch, but still... one or two of those might be acceptable, but I had to come back after lunch and repeat the morning's class for a new set of students...
Fortunately for me, only 2 new students turned up, and 2 who had already done the morning's session (why do students not feel like turning up for classes on a Friday afternoon, I wonder?). Incidentally, the morning's class was the direct inversion of the gender spread of Tuesday's - if you follow me - consisting of 9 lads and 2 girls.
For the final poses of the day the (trainee) tutor took pity on me and let me sit in a more-or-less normal fashion on the end of the table. He even draped me with fabric over one arm, to give them even more of a challenge - I'm sure it wasn't just to keep me warm anyway. They were working with oil pastels this week, choosing 2 colours for contrasting tone, and the ones who returned for the afternoon session were even allowed to add more colours to their 'palette'.
I'm getting to know them a little now, recognising faces and even managing to remember a name or two (part of my brain doesn't function very well, the bit that connects names and faces, usually I'll manage one or the other but not both together). Can't remember the name of the one who was bold enough to engage me in conversation during the morning break though... but he came back in the afternoon. The other lad who came back was admonished by the talkative tutor for making me too thin - 'women have curves,' he said. 'That's why artists like to draw women. Look at all those lovely curves! Exaggerate them, even. Your homework for this week is to look at women, and if you get into trouble, tell them you're an artist!' I don't know what the lad's girlfriend, who's in the same class, made of this though. But maybe I should stop worrying so much about the extra pounds I've put on this winter - artists appreciate them, even if I don't.