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The Triangle Centre, London, 8 November 2014

7 December 2014

Hi Steve, do you want to be our model for our first painting course in Tottenham? … 10pm-5pm on Saturday 8th November. Let me know.
Thanks, Taz.

Needless to say I accepted within minutes. The opportunity to model for Tottenham Art Classes‘ inaugural life painting course was both flattering and humbling. The new course had only been made possible by a community crowdfunding campaign to pay for the necessary equipment. They deserved no less than my very best.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the text from Taz came exactly a fortnight ahead of time, during the lunch break of another 10am to 5pm life painting course at Candid Arts in Islington. Master of the art, loquacious tutor and font of inspiration for both courses was Edward Wills. We were to be reunited with Taz on the weekend between these two Saturdays too, for Day of the Dead capers.

The Tottenham life painting course would be at the Triangle Centre in a community space for basketball and other indoor activities. In contrast with most art studios, the wooden floor was polished and spotless. Even more immaculate were the 15 sets of equipment for the artists. Easels, palettes, brushes, paints; all brand new and yet to see action.

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The course was a sell-out. One person couldn’t join us on the day, while another was running about a half-hour late, so with 13 artists poised behind their easels we began. Taz welcomed everyone then handed over to Ed, who set the scene for the day.

To get everybody warmed up he started them drawing me in a fast-paced sequence of dynamic poses. These ranged from three minutes down to mere seconds. In each one I wore the same exotic turban with trailing rafraf that I’d first donned at Candid Arts.

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Ed paced energetically behind the artists, spurring them on:

Let the Devil possess your pencil, ride with the wind!

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Afterwards everyone gathered around Ed. He explained the preparation of natural paint colours, his full palette of 11 colours: Titanium white; Cadmium pale yellow; Cadmium yellow; Raw sienna, “the axis of the palette”; Raw umber; Burnt sienna; Cadmium red; Alizarin crimson; Cobalt blue; Ultramarine; Ivory black, a reduced palette of 6 colours, and how to prepare the canvas.

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I adopted a simple standing pose while Ed described “sight seen” painting. Our group of artists was then cut loose to charge palettes with the reduced colour set and begin applying a base of raw sienna and raw umber to the first set canvases.

They would be painting me in two poses. The first would last an hour and a half, taking us to a 1pm lunch break. The second would be from around 2:15pm to close of play at 5pm. The latter included a 20 minute break, during which Ed showed how to build and prime a canvas, and a further break of 10 minutes for more tea.

I gave a lot of thought to my choice of poses. The first would be standing: I placed one foot slightly forward with an even weight distribution; I kept one arm straight, with hand on thigh; the other arm was across my body. Most of the artists had never handled oil paints in their lives so I kept this pose purposely simple – I didn’t want to add an extra level of challenge and needlessly distract from their familiarisation with the materials.

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Ed provided advice and guidance to each artist yet his core message to everyone was reassuringly uncomplicated:

The answers are all there before you; stand back, keep searching.

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After lunch I posed for another of Ed’s demos, and then prepared our main work of the day. For this I would be sitting on a cloth-draped bench. I planted one foot on the floor and had the other leg crooked sideways, its foot pressed into the opposite thigh. One hand was on the knee of the sideways leg, and the other on its shin.

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My three main considerations in choosing this pose were that: (i) no part of me would go numb or become pained; (ii) the limbs were a bit more interesting with a vertical, a horizontal and diagonals; (iii) my genitals were obscured so novice artists could show their prized work to friends and family without fear of undue embarrassment.

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This work was with the full palette. After a first 45 minutes we took a break for tea and Ed’s demo of canvas construction. For me this was arguably the most fascinating part of the day – I’d never seen it done before.

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I sat in pose for 45 minutes more, then took a 10 minute tea break. A final 45 minutes took us to our 5pm finish. Everybody seemed satisfied with their development through the day; it seemed to me they had every right to be.

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It had been a long but very productive day. Ed had kept it entertaining and informative throughout while the most credit must go to Taz, who went from nothing to being able to make possible such a professional course. Art and the passion to create continues to bring dreams alive.

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