Mood Boards, New Muse and New Inspiration

sketches from yesterday's life drawing sitting
sketches from yesterday’s life drawing sitting

I had my first sitting with a new model yesterday. The whole process, from finding a suitable model amongst the multitude of faces on various model networking sites; to making first contact, and explaining my work and current projects; to when the model finally arrives in the studio.., well, it can be difficult.
I am quite particular about selecting models to work with. Apart from looking for an interesting face and features, I also expect a professional approach to work, and preferably some experience in life modelling. Probably the most important requirement is a pleasant personality. My life drawing sessions will last between three and four hours, and may be repeated any number of times, as I try to develop poses for my compositions.  They will be physically demanding of the model, and will require great concentration on both our parts. Working in a small studio with someone under such conditions would be quite tedious if the model wasn’t good natured and easy to talk to.
Yesterday went very well. The model arrived on time, was extremely professional and excellent at their job, maintaining poses well. This particular model has a fascinating, expressive face, which is what compelled me to contact her in the first place.

moodboard. sketches from life drawing session
moodboard. sketches from life drawing session

I’ve been in the doldrums with my work recently. I’m finishing off paintings that are based on sittings from months ago, but I’ve been bereft of ideas for new compositions. For quite some time I’ve been searching for a new model, with a distinctive, compelling look, that would add something to my compositions. I didn’t know what “look” I was after, and just thought that I’d know when I saw it. This new model had just such a look, and I was absolutely delighted when she agreed to work with me.
The first sitting with a new model is a process of learning how they look under different lighting and in different poses. Each body is different. I prepare beforehand by making small sketches of the poses I want to work through, but until the model is actually lying or standing there in the studio, I don’t know how they will look in each different pose.
During yesterday’s sitting I worked through eight short poses, which are now forming a mood board on my studio wall. They are just the beginning of the process. The next stage will be to develop some of the poses further, doing more detailed drawings. Making changes where the poses aren’t quite working: creating more interesting, dynamic shapes; avoiding boring straight lines. All the time I will leave the “moodboard” there, to offer inspiration for my next compositions. It’s working already, and I’m looking forward to my next sitting. Artistically, I’m in a very different place today than I was yesterday, before I met my new muse.

Working with models

Since April 2013 I’ve been hiring models on a regular basis. Prior to this I’d been using friends, relatives and reluctant partners as models. Having been seriously let down by a friend, after months of planning for a painting, I decided that I would start working with professional models from now on.
Of course I’ve worked with professional life models in various life drawing groups over the years, but had never hired a model for a one to one sitting. Joining life drawing groups was fine as an exercise, as drawing practice, but was useless for developing poses for my compositions; I would never enjoy much control over the lighting and the model’s pose.
My first attempts to find a model were via Gumtree. Although my first advert for a life model was successful, and I found an excellent model with whom I worked regularly for several months, subsequent attempts to find portrait models via Gumtree were a waste of time. Communications with prospective models were painfully drawn out, and the models who I found (with one exception) were so uncomfortable and self-conscious posing, that it made the sitting a nightmare.

artist's model in life room
Photo courtesy of Beth Chambers Photography

I then discovered that I could have an Artist portfolio account on the popular model networking sites and which has made it so much easier to find models to work with. The forums on these sites are filled with photographers moaning about being let down by models, but in my experience, every model I have worked with has been completely reliable and professional. When there are so many uncertainties and anxieties involved in creating a painting, it has been such a relief to find that arranging a sitting with a model can be completed in just a couple of emails, and sometimes within a few minutes.
The life models I have worked with via these sites have proved to be completely comfortable with and experienced at posing nude, which makes my life so much easier. One thing that always surprised me about the numerous models I have encountered in various life classes and groups over the years, including my college life drawing lessons years ago, was just how few seemed completely comfortable with what they were doing. Many of them acted like they were doing it for a dare!
I am very selective about who I work with. For any particular painting I may be looking for a specific body type, but I will always look for a face that intrigues me. I consider my nude paintings to be portraits. I am fascinated in the whole process, starting with the model posing – what is their motivation? It’s seldom just about the money. What is the artist’s fascination with depicting the nude figure? It’s not about titillation. And what does the viewer see in the product of this relationship.

Sick and Evil

relationships series - beth and nina. oil on linen, 80cmx80cm, study of two female nudes
Just completed in time for Cultivate Evolved

Well, that’s how one of my paintings has been described. Sean Worrall, gallerist and artist at Cultivate Evolved, had to endure an early morning tirade by an angry visitor as he opened up shop on Thursday. This is what Sean posted on his Facebook page:

Well it would appear that Peter’s fine painting up there is “sick” and “evil” painting I (for it was me, Sean, who had to listen to the rather forceful abuse when I opened the gallery this morning) am an “evil sick satanic bringer of bad things” and I should be ashamed to bringing such unchristian lesbian sickness to the eyes of good people etc etc…. Do like a reaction, but he’s not really been paying attention if that one offends him so much….

As an artist who specialises in painting the human figure, I have occasionally encountered some conservatism towards the subject of the nude, and it has limited my opportunities to show my work at some venues. I have also encountered the odd wry smile or grin when I’ve observed people viewing my work, but I have never encountered an angry reaction to my work. In an age when the mass media is filled with sexualised imagery, I find it genuinely surprising that this painting could provoke such a response. Just glad I wasn’t there.

Exhibition Opportunities

cultivate evolved first thursday
cultivate evolved first thursday

I’ve had a nice run lately where I’ve had paintings hanging on a wall somewhere or other, all through the year. Although it’s nice – in fact, it is the main reason I paint – every exhibition opportunity costs money, even if it’s just transporting the paintings to and from the gallery. With maxed out credit cards, I’ve started to think more about which opportunities offer value for money. I don’t see much point in going to a lot of trouble and expense to get your work shown, unless it’s actually going to be seen by people interested in Art.


artgemini prize
ArtGemini Prize, the cocktail bar!

Competitions and Open exhibitions. I’d grown a bit tired of these, with their inconsistent judging, over-crowded opening nights and awful cheap wine. I used to go to the openings in the vain hope that I’d have a chance to meet collectors and curators, but the only people I would find were either other artists, or friends of artists, or friends of friends of artists. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the ArtGemini Prize early this year. Apart from having a nice selection of work, it was in a very nice gallery (Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Conway St., London), and the opening was a bit classier than the usual affair. Great selection of cocktails, no cheap wine, and some interesting introductory speeches before the prize giving. I’ll probably enter this one again, if I have any paintings available.

Art Society open exhibitions. I’m decidedly wary of these. If you’ve ever submitted work to one of the many such exhibitions hosted by the Mall Galleries, and queued up outside with all the other hopeful artists, you will realise just how many entries these exhibitions attract. What they don’t make so clear, before they take your entry fee, is that most of the selected work will in fact be by society members, not leaving many spaces available for all those fee paying hopefuls. Just seems like a way for them to fund their little exhibitions.
Having said all that, I was quite impressed by what I saw of the Chelsea Art Society Open. I submitted a painting to their show earlier this year, and had it turned down. If I’d done my research, I would have realised it just wasn’t suitable for that show. I’d originally wanted to enter the show as I remember working in the venue, the Old Town Hall, in my previous life as a painter/decorator. It’s a lovely building, nicely situated along the Kings Road. The entry fee is reasonable, and I like the way judging is completed the same day as the paintings are delivered, and so you don’t have to wait an age before you can collect unselected work. When I collected my unwanted piece, it was the Society President, Luke Martineau, who took me to my painting. He offered some really good advice, and was very helpful. I’ll definitely try to enter this one again. They seem genuinely interested in inviting other artists to exhibit with them, rather than just make a profit out of them, which sadly is the norm.

Group exhibitions. I’ve been involved in a number of these. There was the After Adam show a few years back, which was a nicely curated selection of paintings by three artists whose main focus was the human form. Unfortunately it was in a wholly inappropriate venue, and it’s only real value was as another line on my cv, which is a shame. I’ve been involved in a couple of more lively events this year. Stomach#2, Hoxton Arches, which was a one night show, and Open Wall at Façade, London Wall. Both were great opportunities to meet other artists – not that I’m any good at the networking thing. Sometimes it’s just nice to meet other artists, and learn they’re having the same problems you are!facade
More recently I’ve had the opportunity to show my work at Cultivate Evolved, an artist run space on Vyner Street, London. It was quite a revelation going up there on a First Thursday, and seeing a steady procession of people walking through the small gallery all evening. Having worked hard to get my work shown in a number of venues this year, only for my handiwork to hang on the wall of an empty gallery for two or more weeks, unnoticed by anyone, it was a real joy to see so many people casting their eyes over my efforts. No matter that most of them walk straight past. What does matter, and is what makes it all worthwhile – the struggling without money, as it’s all spent on paints, canvases and models fees – the sleeping on a sofa for months, as I’ve had to rent my bedroom out to a lodger in order to pay the bills – the constant struggle with my Art – what makes it all worth while is when someone takes the trouble to stand in front of one of my paintings, and really takes the time to look at it.

August First Thursday at Cultivate Evolved
August First Thursday at Cultivate Evolved. This is what makes it worthwhile.