Tuesday, 30 January 2007

the wonders of technology

Hey, it's Tuesday morning and I've spent an enjoyable hour or so learning how to move photos around on Bluetooth and how to add them to my blog. They didn't come up quite as I was expecting - I thought they'd be in the space on the left hand side next to the text, and I also thought they'd have their little labels with them so you'd know what you were looking at. But anyway,we're getting somewhere. A big Thank You to P, one of my most consistent readers I think, for technical help. (Poor chap thought he might get lots of pics of me with nothing on - ahem, sorry, no).
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

Small world

Two more sessions at the college. On Thursday morning I had a group of 13 sixteen year olds with the talkative tutor. They needed a lot more actual teaching and supervision than the older group, and it was one long pose for the whole session. I didn't realise this when I started. Yes, of course I can do 'weight on one leg, opposite hand on hip'. Even while perched up on a table with lights on me from below. No thanks, I don't need a long cardboard tube to lean on.
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

Does my bum look big from down there?

Wednesday evening, after another day at the shop - stock-taking all day. The youngest has been an absolute pain since we got home, deliberately trying to wind up self and her brother with stupid comments and arguments, but at last she's gone to watch TV quietly in her room. The son is still not well, coughing like a good 'un, but determined to catch the train to Kent again this weekend to see his girlfriend.
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


It's Monday, and I've just about recovered from last week's work. Today I met a couple of friends for lunch, and one of them used to model too 'for very prestigious art establishments, darling', only giving it up 4 years ago because she was getting too stiff to sit for longer than half an hour. She's one of those older women who I take as role models, hoping I'll have at least half their energy and verve by the time I'm their age.
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

a hard week

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.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

not always keeping still

Sooo tired... two jobs yesterday - 5 hours work and nearly 3 hours travelling, with a gym workout inbetween. So today I'm aching, plus I've been having trouble getting to sleep. Today I was working at my other job for 8 hours too - then, being a single mum, I have to fit the shopping into my lunchbreak, and do the washing up and cook dinner and sort the laundry when I get home.
But I didn't start writing this to complain. It was quite an interesting day yesterday, actually. I saw a newborn lamb on my way to the first job, tiny and still wobbly on its feet. That was a good start. When I arrived - this was at the college again - I parked out on the road a little way up (there's never any room in the college car parks), behind an elderly gentleman. I had to move my car forward so he could get into his boot to retrieve a couple of bags. We then set off walking in the same direction.
I went to the hut and met the new tutor, realised this was a course for Adults, not teenagers, and that one of the students was someone I used to write with a few years ago. As I was early I went over to the office to pick up some claim forms, and met the elderly gentleman again. Ah, I thought, maybe he's an Art student. But no - it turned out he was another life model and there was some confusion in the bookings. I almost never meet other models - it's not in the nature of the job, really - and this was an awkward situation in which to meet, but eventually he seemed to agree with the flustered tutor that he was working for her that evening, and off he went. I wonder if I'll still be doing this job at his age - wow, a scary but interesting thought.
There was a table set up in the centre of the room and the easels all round, and my first 'assignment' was to walk around it and lean on it facing in various directions, for 10 minute poses. The students were studying the anatomy of the upper body, how the rib cage and shoulders move independently of each other. I thought all them were pretty good, and it was a surprise to learn that this was only their second life session. Equally, the tutor seemed very pleased with my work - she commented 'good poses' by my 3rd - and the students agreed that I was remarkably still, 'still on the inside too, like you're meditating'. I generally am...
Of course not working with other models, I have no-one to compare myself with (or should that be 'to'?)(Usually I'm pretty good at grammar, courtesy of my schoolteacher mother who insisted on correct speech at all times).
Ah, that's better, just had a long hot bath after getting the youngest into bed. Yes, the students were appreciative, except for the one I used to know who told the tutor she had great difficulty looking at me because she knows me. It wasn't a problem for me at all, but then I'm used to it.
In the break I decided to take some pictures with my phone, just in case I ever learnt how to add them to this blog. I spent about ten minutes not managing to find the camera option, to my embarrassment - that shows my age, eh? - and had to ask the young lad when he came back in from having a quick fag. There were 8 students in this class, ranging in age from early twenties to sixties at a guess - and he was the only male. So having been shown that the button on the side (the one with a camera icon, surprisingly) was the short cut to the camera, I took a few photos. You'll have to wait for them though. First I have to find out how to email them to my computer...
The second 'half' was a couple of longer poses, and I finished ten minutes early so the tutor could give a quick teaching session on shading and tone. They were working in charcoal on buff sugar-paper, mainly.
Drove home in the rain, but by the time I'd had some brunch (I try to eat very little when I'm posing, purely for reasons of vanity) the sun was out at last. I was yawning, and had to choose between catching an hour's nap before the school run, or going to the gym for my 2nd workout of the week. It was my only chance, I'm busy every other day. I knew that if I slept I'd only feel worse, and the sun gave me a burst of energy - it was quite a serious work-out, motivated by the reading on the scales the day before...
OK, got the kids home, fed them, made myself a sandwich to take for after and a handful of dates for the journey, and I was off again. This was an adult learning evening class, the furthest I go. The traffic was slow and I only just arrived in time - a 45 minute drive, nearly all at 40mph in long queues, which is unusual for these roads - but at least I'd remembered to bring the jingly scarves. They were imitating an artist who drew Malaysian dancers, in wash and line (Degas? oops, not sure, names don't stick in my mind very well). The tutor had brought a jar of cold tea in for anyone who'd forgotten watercolours. She had apparently done Arab-Egyptian dance herself for a couple of years, and had floaty scarves and veils of her own to use as props. And boy, did she work her students hard - not to mention me.
Lots of short poses to start with, in dance positions (as best as I could attempt them, anyway), first with the line followed by wash, then the wash followed by line - and after the break she wanted me to move continually, actually dancing in slow motion, so they could fill a page with as many little figures as they could catch.
I don't like dancing naked in front of a room full of people all watching me intently. Sitting, standing or lying still is fine. I'm good at that. But actually dancing - well, it's not my strong point. I have no dance training - and I know people who have, and I know the difference. Not to mention that it was even more tiring than usual and at the end of a long day. Oh well, it's a good job she's one of my favourite tutors. I forgive her.

Friday, 12 January 2007


An odd thing to do for a living, perhaps. People react in different ways when I tell them. Most say, 'Oh, I couldn't do that!' Then they proceed to tell me that they can't sit still for long. Some people say, 'Oh, I used to do that - when I was a student. But I wouldn't do it now. Not got the body for it any more.'
So what makes a 46 year old woman with 3 children drive around the countryside in search of random groups of strangers in obscure village halls - and stand naked in front of them for 2 hours?
Well, it's interesting. I learn a lot about art. And to be honest, I always was good at sitting still doing nothing - as my mother would attest, were she still alive. I've finally found a way to be paid for it. And apparently I'm a very good model. I keep getting more work - to the point where I could almost call it my day job, if it didn't involve so many evenings....
It also gives me chance to muse, to meditate, to follow my own creative thoughts. You see, I'm a writer too. I'm working on my 1st novel. OK, to be honest, my 2nd attempt at a 1st novel. I've used my life-modelling experiences so far in one (published) short story, 2 (published) articles, and 2 (published or performed) poems. I currently use my long poses to work on inventing characters for this projected novel, working out their back-story and pondering how they will interact. While using yoga techniques and counting breaths to get through the sometimes extreme discomfort.
So - today I did a day's work at a local college, for the Art Foundation course. That means Young Adults, all in their teens I reckon - makes a change from posing for pensioners anyway. Fortunately I'm not looking to be flattered in their various renditions of my face and body. I'm perfectly at home in it and reckon I'm in pretty good shape for my age. Yes, I do work-out at a gym. The Life Model classes take place in a run-down prefab hut. The first time I was there it was raining and there was a constant slow drip onto the carpet in the middle of the floor. The window-frames are rotten and I get changed in a tiny cubicle at the back of the room constructed from 2 pieces of hardboard. There are 2 tutors- one who talks a lot, and one who is still in training. Today I had the one in training. He's sweet - buys me a coffee at break-time because I can hardly trot across the campus in a woolly dressing gown and leopard-print mule slippers to get one myself...
The first pose today involved leaning forward on a plastic chair set on top of a desk, with both arms on my knees and head slightly raised. Try it. See how long you can hold it without moving. I did 45 minutes. It hurt. It'll still hurt tomorrow. Fortunately after that he allowed me to take an easier sitting-upright position for the rest of the day. Because they are all learning and this is their first experience drawing a model from life, and they are working for a portfolio, the poses tend to be long. In most other groups and classes I sit for they are shorter - say, a series of ten-minute poses to warm up, then maybe half an hour at a time before a break. Some tutors like to challenge their learners with one- and two-minute poses, 'get the essence, which are the most necessary lines, do a drawing in 15 brush-strokes'. Then I can get really creative - poses on one leg, for example, or ones with my arms flung out in dramatic gestures.
I like the company of teens, but I can't work for the nearest college because my son goes there. Most of my work is about 20 miles away, although some of the occasional 'private' classes (ie not Adult Learning and Leisure) are closer- in obscure village halls, as I said. I like the driving really, but it does take time off my day. And means that my basic rate of pay works out pretty low. My dream job is to work privately for an artist (or two) who's working towards an exhibition, has a warm airy studio with pleasant music playing, pays me at least £15/hour, and is willing to collaborate with me on a joint exhibition/poetry performance...
The reality can be £45 for a day's work, which is hardly better than my other job- minimum wage in retail. I only accept that particular one because I get a lift there and back and a free lunch, it's cash in hand and the artists themselves are so appreciative. When I work for assorted educational establishments I get paid by bank transfer at the end of the next month, and have to fill in lots of forms to get it. It's still under £10/hour, which is what I aim for generally. I'm hoping my work from December will pay for my next year's car tax, at least.
Underpaid but thoroughly appreciated, that's me. Good thing I value creative activity over retail therapy then.