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A-side B-side Gallery, Hackney, 3 March 2014

11 March 2014

A flurry of Monday afternoon emails saw me debut that evening for a life drawing class at Hackney Downs Studios, Hackney, London. A late cancellation, a word-of-mouth recommendation, some hasty rearranging – it’s not unusual for new bookings to arise this way.

I arrived 20 minutes early, buzzed the door and was greeted with a friendly welcome. Up the stairs, at the centre of the A-side B-side Gallery, rich coloured sheets were crumpled and strewn on the floor, encircled by upright easels. Here I was introduced to the tutor for the class, Catherine Hall.

Catherine was expecting 10 artists to join us but as the clock ticked round it became apparent there was likely to be just four drawing me. Still, it gave them the freedom to move about and pick a preferred vantage point for each pose, should they wish.

The pose sequence would be physically quite demanding, requiring both creativity and control: ‘gesture drawing’ was to be the focus of the evening.

Gesture drawing calls upon the life model to be in perpetual movement, slow motion, either continuous or move-stop-move-stop. The challenge for artists is to capture the dynamic form by imagining themselves experiencing the physical strains. Their work might take the form of multiple rapid sketches, or – my preference – an overlaying of lines in the same place on the paper.

I began with tiny fleeting movements punctuated by five-second poses, as Catherine counted down the seconds. Next we increased the pose lengths to 10-seconds, with me counting silently and Catherine offering advice to the artists.

Through many small movements over a period of minutes I turned 360° several times. More than once I was standing and turning on one leg.

Next came a traditional 10-minute pose. This should have been a respite but I made it much harder than it should have been as I’d misheard the time to be just two minutes. I would not have chosen a kneeling pose, bending backwards with both arms reaching up in the air had I heard correctly!

A round of slow continuous-movement gesture drawing followed. No stops, just flow. Finally, to take us to the break, a nice simple static 10-minute seated pose. I think this came as a relief to the artists as much as it did to me.

After 15 minutes for mugs of tea and friendly banter we resumed our roles. No more gesture drawing, however. A brace of two-minute standing poses was followed by a pair of five-minute poses, kneeling and standing. A long 30-minute pose to end with saw me perched on a low stool, twisting to look over my left shoulder.

It’s nice to work somewhere new. The outer-facing wall of the A-side B-side Gallery is almost entirely glass so it would be a particularly pleasant place to pose in the lighter summer months.

asidebside

Catherine herself is young but has an immense experience of life drawing, which she shares with lucidity and enthusiasm. I believe this was only her second class held at the venue. Let’s hope the classes continue and become a popular success.

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