I write from the cottage in my bed. Just 5 more nights in this cosy abode, and 4 more days of modelling, only 2 of which will be the same pose I have been doing since I arrived more than 3 weeks ago. For the final 2 days, we will try something different. “Perhaps a back view,” said Gundula the tutor, “with one knee raised on a stool? Something comfortable,” she tries to sound convincing.
I haven’t had it too bad for the past 16 days, sitting upright on a chair with a cushion. Back unsupported, but one arm resting on chair back. Right shoulder blade (of raised arm) aches if I haven’t had enough sleep. Sleep also very important for keeping eyes open. Some of the students concentrate on my face. I hear hands clapping loudly or my name called if I start drifting off. Enough sleep means I have the wherewithal to alter the pose minimally and unnoticeably (I think) should I start to feel a muscle ache.
Pastel completed by Ted Jacobs who founded the school, in the first 2 weeks
Focussing on the same pose for such a length of time, the students do notice a lot of detail on me. They are training to pick up every nuance of shadow, the different types of shadow – the dark shadows and the light shadows, and every distinction of illumination on me whether from a direct light source – the North facing window, or a reflection from a bright white object nearby (one of my vanguard of heaters). But the light changes every day and sometimes during the day. We have very sunny days and heavily overcast ones, and this causes the most discrepancy. The students are told to work on different sections of their painting when the weather changes, still trying to achieve continuity. Perhaps the background on a grey day.
Trouble is, as November winds on, we get more and more grey mornings. The afternoons often brighten up, but that’s when they do still life, and I am free to roam the countryside.
In the beginning I am utterly taken with this group of people drawing me. They all seem so shiny and healthy, creating a very nourishing environment. Of the 6 students, all from different countries, most follow intricate and healthy diets, veganism featuring quite heavily. The other 2 are French and German; with no unusual dietary habits, just pride in the food they were brought up with. In our village there are no shops, just a bar/restaurant for bikers oddly enough, though you can buy baguettes there if you arrive early. There is a supermarket several kilometres away, and the students fill the organic (bio) aisle when one of them gives us a ride there. I feel a very positive vibe from the group who take their painting pretty seriously. No alcohol during the week, none of them smoke, and it takes me till week 3 to discover the one who is in fact more of a dope fiend than I am. A well kept secret! (And not in France).
My first weekend in the village I am alone – my housemate has gone away, and I get a little depressed. I haven’t yet felt like becoming sociable, I guess partly because I want to maintain my own space so I may achieve the rest here I need (from London chaos), and hopefully get some work done, maybe some writing. There’s something else though, I am still acclimatising and I have not yet settled. I am not used to sharing my home, so being alone is more familiar. I have been enjoying walks around the area, but today feels weird. On the Saturday night I am unable to sleep, and start rereading my book on female shamanism given to me by my sister. It’s the chapter on reclaiming menstruation and it resonates strongly. About how culturally we are conditioned to repress the power and magic of monthly bleeding. I understand this, I actually tend to enjoy my periods as I am more in tune with myself then. I am fortunate not to have a 9 to 5 in an office; I can organise my schedule to some extent as suits me. I can often use my modelling like yoga to create physical positions which open my body, my chakras in a healing way releasing endorphins and harnessing the power of the monthly changes. I know the business of modelling well enough now that I can manage the people I work with to this end if I need, I mean they trust me to do a good job however suits me a great deal of the time. I often get booked for movement poses allowing even more fluidity of posture.
Final day pose I chose myself
Beyond the physical, I feel more aware of what I need to do at that time of the month. It is an optimum time for making decisions, and dealing with problems. I have more clout then and will be firmer if necessary. As I read, my depressive state lifts. I fall asleep very late, and on waking I discover I am bleeding. It is unexpected – 11 days early and I am normally very regular. Evidently the countryside affected me, well it had just been a full moon. Perhaps I was falling in with the women around me, and being closer to the Earth, to nature and farm animals, without massive buildings to block my connection to the sky, I had adjusted. My sadness now made sense, as it is quite normal just before coming on; and Sunday was much lighter, uplifted.
During my second week I felt in harmony with the students, I found the pose more comfortable, and I began to socialise. I am unused to doing such a long pose, but it does allow for a more regular meditation practice, as well as getting to know the people drawing you.
By week three I was missing the potency of my period and something felt out of whack again. I’d been socialising a bit more than is ideal for me, and became aware of not relating to the majority of the students in a certain way. Their extremely privileged upbringings were showing more, and I suspected that half of them had never had a job, certainly never had to struggle at all in order to be able to follow their dreams. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but it can make for naïveté and ignorance. Discussions on global problems revealed their lack of awareness on some issues that are very prevalent in the news these days, such as rampant paedophilia particularly among the ruling classes. We were now at one of their friend’s houses and there were 3 other English people in the room; only one of them was on the same page as me RE Jimmy Saville. Surely being cocooned in an art studio in France for several years was the reason so that’s understandable. What I really missed were ordinary people, friends who I could just be myself with. Friends with normal everyday problems who weren’t rich but down to Earth; no airs, graces or pretences. I was nevertheless extremely grateful for the experience, their generosity and kindness. They always treated me well, it’s simply a matter of a different social world, and one with different values to mine. I had no sense with some of them that they desired change in the world in any considerable way; it seemed to be fine as it was for them. In my world, well getting to live out my dreams may take a lifetime if that, but it is all about the journey. And I do want a huge amount of change!
To clarify, as of course everything is relative and by many people’s standards, even my own at times I am living the dream, I mean be able to spend most of my time making my own art. In a beautiful environment with few distractions is like icing. I am sure I may get there when the time is right.
Week 4, and I have the cottage to myself as my housemate has returned to the States for a wedding. I just want to lock myself away and write. It’s hunting season and every time I go out for a walk I can’t seem to resist going on private property – all the best looking stretches of grass, paths and woods are roped off or signed ‘chasse garde’. I don’t drive but I do have a sense of adventure. Trouble is when you have gone too far in, pushed through an excessive amount of brambles and waded plenty of marsh to go back, but you find yourself locked in by some very spiky fence, deep ditch, stream or impenetrable hedge. Then you hear the gunshots, the sun is nearly down and your phone is on the blink. If you can make it into an open field will you be confronted by an onslaught of stampeding cows? This is the countryside, and it can be scary.
To break my routine a little, at the weekend I decided to take a trip. Inside my mind as well as to a nearby natural beauty spot. I had one tab in my wallet, and took it in halves so as not to come on too strong. It’s not the most visual stuff but it’s definitely mental, I mean you can feel it lighting up your mind. The sounds and colours around me and inside me pulse more brightly. As it rains I cross a rope into a wood and find a natural seat on some bark, sheltered by a tree above. I look a long time at the mesh of mosses, lichens and climbers. It’s a young wood I discern by the girth of trunks, and I regard the trees growing entwined in pairs, singly or in groups attached at the base.
On the way back as the sun is setting behind me it starts to rain again, a massive rainbow crosses my path in front like a giant magical gate I want to walk through but can never quite reach.
The boundaries shift, the rain eases and it becomes a beginning and an end with no middle. I get distracted from the path and make a break into a field. This is the part where I see the village church steeple ahead and think cross country will be a short cut but get waylaid by all the aforementioned trickiness. I find myself running, trying to get somewhere safe before nightfall, stripping off layers in my heated sweat. Adrenaline pumping I wonder where my acid zen went. A farm vehicle passes me the other side of a hedge and I am unsure whether to hide or shout, but after it’s gone, I realise it must be moving towards the road. There’s not much light but I can make out the electricity cables; I am on the right track. Back on the road I swagger in exhilaration, the neon pub light glints on the horizon. I couldn’t understand before why such a bright sign; that’s before I got lost in the dark on acid.
By the end of my visit I come to the conclusion that some of the tensions I had been experiencing with the students were in fact due to the way the group was managed by the tutor. It is up to her to set the standard, and I did not sense that she was fully aware of what opportunity she missed. By regarding the model with a particular reverence, the artists always gain. It is always a privilege to have the presence of a model, and learning to cooperate with them is a huge bonus for all involved. I’m going to leave it at that as sometimes I think it is better to keep things simple.
I really enjoyed that this trip was long enough to be a whole episode. There was a beginning, middle and end. I went off the path a bit in the middle, but I came back and love the whole story. I tend to look for drama where another would find more harmony perhaps, but nevertheless I found a great deal of love and depth in this time from those around me. I was very blessed to meet every single one of them, they all shared so much beauty and friendly times especially by the fireside.
Chateau des Landes
in Cerqueux sous Passavant
Chateau de Beaurepaire
The amazing first post on the Blog of this site! It is about writing and creating the show, plus some art work from a life modelling session.
The show contains life drawing opportunities.
Live musical accompaniment from The Next Room on percussion and strings.