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Candid Arts, London, 25 October 2014

29 October 2014

“That’s a pose and a half,” murmured Edward… In fact I was merely standing straight, right leg slightly forward, chin raised for one minute. What enhanced it was the exotic oriental turban I was wearing, with two long rafraf trails of cloth that I’d draped over my outstretched hands, palms forward.

The turban was property of Edward Wills: artist, actor, longbowman, maker of exotic objects, to name but a smattering of his talents. It was a grand evening’s work with Tottenham Art Classes that first brought my poses to Edward’s attention, and which ultimately brought me the opportunity to don his stupendous headgear last Saturday.

The occasion was a ‘one-day life painting course’ hosted by the Candid Arts Trust in Islington. Edward was the tutor, and it was my privilege to be his model. We would be working from 10am to 5pm with five able artists joining us to hone their skills.

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Central to the course was Edward sharing his knowledge and experience of materials. The artists would put their learning into practice painting two long poses. To warm up, however, we started with drawing and a sequence of dynamic poses for three minutes, two minutes, one minute or 30 seconds.

These first poses saw me alone without props, standing upon a purpose-built wooden podium with ceiling-mounted heaters on either side. I draped my white sheet over the podium and spent the rest of the day patterning it with footprints of black charcoal.

After our warm-up Edward led us through the proper use of an artist’s palette, and his selection of colours. The supporting detail was complicated but the artists’ grounding in his subject was clearly superior to my own. His words were understood.

We saw the preparation of traditional oil paints; we learned the rationale behind a full palette of 11 colours – no greens or purples here – and choices for a reduced palette of six; there were colour pairs, some transparent colours, some opaque colours, while traditional distinctions between warm and cool colours were brushed aside.

The joy in listening to Edward’s idiosyncratic delivery is that it’s based upon years of practice and understanding. His is no slavish regurgitation of theory. Indeed, his view is that more nonsense – was that the word? – has been written on colour theory than any other subject.

Having seen the palette established, I stepped from my gown and posed with hands behind my back while Edward demonstrated use of the reduced palette. It was then time for the artists to charge their own palettes and ready themselves at their easels. They would paint me on paper to begin with.

The pose was to be 90 minutes standing. One leg was a half-pace forward, my right hand was on my left shoulder and my left arm was extended with its elbow anchored to my waist. I took one break for a stretch halfway through but was otherwise static.

Considering this was just the preliminary practice I though the results were strong. A couple of artists had warmed to the task and would have been happy to build on their work for the rest of the day. Lunchtime beckoned, however, so we brought to an end our promising morning.

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During the break I stretched my legs wandering around the Islington Contemporary Arts and Design Fair next door. Glasswork was to the fore this weekend. I gave my compliments to the artist who had fashioned a beautiful fragile coral-like structure out of four crushed Bombay Sapphire gin bottles.

We resumed work with another sequence of short dynamic drawings. For these I wore the aforementioned turban and struck magnificently dramatic stances. Alas, I can offer no visual evidence of this glory so I shall simply claim it as such until proven wrong.

Afterwards, I adopted a simple stance for another of Edward’s demonstrations, before preparing the podium for the day’s main work: a near three-hour seated pose. As this was the showpiece I wanted to make it interesting and sustainable. That meant every extremity being active yet supported.

I perched on the edge of a cushioned stool that I’d covered with my sheet. Both legs would be bent but not stressed. To help recreate the pose after rest breaks, I put my left big toe on the corner of the podium, with my left knee pointing at a paint fleck on the floor; my right big toe was hooked on the podium’s middle edge.

Arms: both would be crooked but at different angles. My left elbow would be planted on my left knee; my left hand supported my chin, with thumb and little finger aligned on my jawline. My right hand would be on my right knee, such that its fingertips just peeked into my peripheral vision. My gaze fixed randomly on a fire extinguisher.

And that was me set for the thick end of three hours, with breaks at 3pm and 4pm. The main weak link in my pose was my right elbow, which was beyond my lines of sight. It’s easy to lose sense of an unsupported limb ‘settling’ and being in need of visual adjustment. Broadly I think the pose held pretty well within the limits of what can reasonably be endured.

During the first hour I was concerned I may have made the pose too complex as two or three artists were finding the preparatory drawing phase quite challenging. As the main practice of the day was painting I started to regret I may have caused them to lose valuable time. Edward, however, reassured them it was time well spent.

Everyone was well into their stride after the first break. By the end of the day a few artists felt they’d taken the work as far as they could, while one would have happily carried on indefinitely. Their works were both fascinating and impressive to behold. They all shared common characteristics, yet each had its own distinct character.

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Throughout the session Edward gave advice on a one-to-one basis but this was done sparingly and shrewdly rather than strafing the artists with endless tips. Primarily he gave them renewed encouragement and helped them break through barriers. The aim was to provide technique and craft without stifling individuality.

We packed away. Artists washed their brushes while I washed my feet. Four of the five canvasses were put away to dry, while one was taken home on a London bus. It would have amused me to hold the same pose (clothed) while sitting adjacent to my portrait in transit. But I had my own journey. It had been a long day; a good day.

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