St Albans life drawing: A beginner’s take on sketching a naked model

Illustrator Bob Wright, who runs the Trestle Arts Base Life Drawing St Albans class. Picture: Archan

Illustrator Bob Wright, who runs the Trestle Arts Base Life Drawing St Albans class. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Exactly 81 hours and 204 minutes until payday* and my monthly routine has begun: Idly Googling get-rich-quick schemes and then furiously calculating how much work they’d require.

Moonlight as a fitness instructor? Set up a cattery? Become a maths tutor? Train as a masseuse? No, no, no, no.

And then it hits me. Take off my clothes as a professional life model and watch the money roll in. Genius. What could go wrong?

"Would you actually be comfortable with that though?", my colleague Anne Suslak asks sceptically. "Why don't we do a class together first, see what it is all about? We could do a feature together!"

That, everybody, is how I came to be offered a free life drawing class St Albans class led by illustrator Bob Wright at Trestle Arts Base on Russet Drive.

Our model is a 50-year-old woman who goes by Ria, and it is all business when she derobes.

Anne looks relaxed - she took life drawing classes at university and is arty in her spare time. I, on the other hand, am a complete beginner.

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I start sweating and fidgeting as Anne and the rest of the class start sketching. What have I got myself into?

Ria warms up with some quick-fire poses of a few minutes each, while we outline her "flowing lines", 38-year-old Bob says. Then, Ria moves onto some positions to hold for a longer time.

Bob, who grew up in St Albans and attended Beaumont School before graduating from Middlesex University with an illustration degree in 2010, runs these sessions twice a month for a mixture of abilities.

He is friendly, kind, and I welcome his genuinely helpful advice - even though I must be the worst student in the class. He guides me through the correct way to draw broad strokes, the basic principles of shading, and how to use an art tool to measure her proportions, and all while I try not to compare myself too closely to Anne.

"Life drawing is hard," Bob said. "It is a challenge and it is also the best way to improve your drawing. You're given a fixed amount of time to get down the hardest thing to draw - which is a human figure.

"The more you come you build up a visual grammar and vocabulary."

Other students in the class are only proving that practice can pay off, creating exhibition-worthy pictures in no time at all - or so it seems to me.

One of them, 18-year-old Henry Ingram, said: "I come to improve my figurative skills, it is something to do rather than being at home.

"I taught myself the fundamentals at home but this is helpful. Bob is good at coaching people and gives us good feedback."

Another attendee, Anne Day, explained why she comes to the session: "I love drawing and this gives me the opportunity to practice. I very much enjoy it.

"Drawing is something I have got to do, I can't live without it."

According to Bob, I'm not the only one who wants to set up as a professional model. He said: "I get a lot of people who want to do it. Some people want to do it when they retire.

"A lot more people than you'd think are trying to make a living from modelling day to day.

"Mostly we use life models in the area, but some come from London.

"There's a registry of artists' models. You can just hire models. The internet, like with all things, has opened up communication."

For Ria, life modelling has been generating income for more than ten years. She said: "I enjoy it - some people come to life drawing for something to do with themselves, to relax, and some people enjoy it as a hobby, but whatever it is, I feel like I am helping.

"A lot of people say 'how do you keep so still?' and it doesn't come naturally to some people. It is something I am able to do. It is a skill. I get into the zone. The thing is, I am a naturist as well so that is another aspect. There are lots of people in that field who are life models."

Ria, who kindly does not point out how appalling my drawing is, has made me think twice about my grand plan Could I hold a pose for 40 minutes without moving a muscle? Would I be okay with complete strangers scrutinising my naked body?

I'll join the class again, but only as a student, I think.

Find out more about Life Drawing St Albans at*Not that I'm counting.