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The Prince Regent, Herne Hill, 11 November 2015

1 December 2015

A curious revolution of fortunes precipitated my involvement at this life art session. Back in June, I’d put it in my diary as merely a “provisional” booking – the group’s organiser, Lisa, felt artist numbers were dwindling and that she may need only one model in one room rather than the usual two working in adjoining rooms. With less than a fortnight to go, the status changed from “provisional” to “cancelled” – there would indeed be only one model, and it was not to be me…

A few days later I was nosing through the bookings diary of my partner, Esther, and saw she was due to model in Herne Hill on the evening of Wednesday 11 November. It seemed a staggering coincidence but, yes, Esther was the lone model who would be working on the date I had lost. We’d been itching to do more duo poses, however, so Esther contacted Lisa to ask if she would consider taking us both after all, and using us as a couple.

The response we got was much more than we’d bargained for. Following an accident involving a ladder, it seemed Lisa wasn’t feeling sufficiently mobile to run the session and had been intending to cancel it entirely. If, however, together we could not only model, but also set-up and facilitate the whole proceeding for SketchPad Drawing, she said we were welcome to work as a duo. We readily accepted the challenge.

Come the evening, upstairs at The Prince Regent pub we opened the door of Lisa’s storage cupboard and stood briefly in amazement. She’d warned us it was crammed tightly with art equipment, and sure enough we found an astonishing tangle of easels, lamps, boards, papers, boxes and bags that even a ferret might have struggled to get amongst. Nonetheless we’d been provided with a clear list of instructions so together we began the delicate procedure of unpacking.

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We had been told to expect between 10 and 14 artists, so we fully prepared one of the two adjoined rooms and set-up a handful easels in the other, just as a precaution. The first artists began to arrive… and then came a few more, then even more, and… with dismay we realised there were so many that we would not be able to model together after all. We had no fewer than 23 artists in total – never before has success felt like such wretched luck, but Lisa would have been delighted.

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With heavy hearts, Esther and I commenced our posing, out of sight from each other in separate rooms. Esther set the timer on her phone and called to me whenever its alarm sounded our signal to change pose. Regular artists had given us a steer as to the pose lengths they would prefer. We began with four 5-minute poses; then moved to two of 10-minutes; and followed with one of 20-minutes, taking us to the end of the first half.

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During the interval we indulged in a brief hug. One or two artists enquired whether this was to be the long pose for the second half – ohhh, if only there weren’t so many of you! But alas, no. Instead we swapped rooms and saw out the evening each with a single pose of 40-minutes. Come the end, our efforts were appreciated by the artists, and in kind we appreciated their efforts at capturing our forms.

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From the start I had been daunted by the prospect of somehow returning Lisa’s mass of equipment to the storage cupboard, in its original complex configuration. Before we had time to worry in earnest, however, the regulars had sprung into action and got the work done for us. I’m not wholly certain they’d replaced it exactly how we found it, but we were immensely thankful to them for their generosity.

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Downstairs we relaxed quietly with glasses of wine before heading off into the night. It had been both tantalising and frustrating to be modelling so near and yet apart. Even so, we could be grateful to have been given the opportunity in the first place. We had already posed together for Art Macabre in Oxford, and at Esther’s Spirited Sound event on London’s south bank, so we had good reason to believe other opportunities would yet come. Our anticipation remained.

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