Have you ever wondered what goes through a Life Model's head as they pose for your drawings?
Dominic Blake is a professional Life and Portrait Model, working with art colleges, Life Drawing groups, museums, galleries and independent artists in London and beyond. Here we get a glimpse into his perspective...
My path to Life and Portrait Modelling was an unexpected one
I hadn't considered the possibility of life modelling until a friend asked me to pose nude for a painting about three years ago. After initially rejecting the idea, when I finally decided to pose, it turned out to be one of the most profoundly moving moments of my life.
I had long harboured a desire to immerse myself in a more intimate and active way within the artistic community, and to find a way to express myself creatively that made sense to me. Through posing for my friend, I found a way of being that possessed great emotional meaning, through which results were tangible and immediate (in the form of drawings, paintings or sculptures).
After that initial sitting, I began posing for evening Life Drawing classes in art colleges while working in a full time admin job. But I quickly realised I wanted to pursue Life and Portrait Modelling as a profession, and leaving my desk job was an easy decision to make.
There is something magical about the atmosphere in an art studio
They are charged with an infinitely positive creative energy, limited only by the imaginations of those people who inhabit them. I love working with artists as part of a creative exchange, challenging myself to create poses that will be the catalyst for new and interesting journeys through drawing. The immediacy of the relationship between the artist and their sitter is uniquely electric to me; every day I watch works of art unfold and evolve, knowing that I helped to inspire their creation. It is a really humbling experience.
Becoming the pose
When you inhabit a pose, it can sometimes feel as if the universe beyond the studio has melted away, and you exist in a blissfully meditative state. In such moments, I feel like I have 'become the pose'; every part of my mind and body, every sensation and emotion I experience, is in sync and connected to the artists in the studio. I am focused in an instinctive way, on maintaining my pose. I make minor adjustments every so often to alleviate any pain or discomfort. I develop a heightened awareness of external sensory inputs, it feels as if I can hone in on each mark being made on a canvas.
Time becomes distorted when you become the pose, and sometimes evaporates; 30 minutes can elapse in what feels like three. Of course, the reverse can be true, if you unwittingly engineer a pose that is very difficult to maintain!
Although to the outside observer I must appear very still, I think my poses convey drama through their stillness. There is a theatrical dimension to my work; I feel connected within a symbiotic relationship to all those people who have assembled to draw me, whether in a life or portrait class. It's endlessly interesting to witness how artists capture and interpret the energy of my poses.
Influences for poses
My influences are drawn from a wide variety of sources; painting, sculpture, architecture, nature (I often find inspiration for poses in trees and clouds), music and literature all feed into my work. There are also some truly incredible Life Models working in London who I'm inspired by every day. I'm also influenced directly by the energy of the studio itself, by the atmosphere created by the artists in attendance.
Prior to embarking on my journey as a Life and Portrait Model, I worked for several years in the museum sector at the V&A and British Museum. I used to arrive really early at the V&A, before the museum had opened, to spend time admiring the Rodin's and my favourite sculpture, Giambologna's 'Sampson Slaying a Philistine'. I have developed several poses based on those sculptures.
I most enjoy improvising short, dynamic gestural poses. Moving organically from one pose to the next, with each pose influencing the one that follows it, and never knowing quite where you will end up can be really exciting.
Becoming part of the London art community
I grew up in London and spent my childhood visiting museums and galleries. The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Academy became second homes to me. I now work regularly in the Royal Academy's historic Life Room, looking onto the benches that Stubbs, Reynolds and Constable sat at. I've also worked at the National Gallery, recently posing in front of Caravaggio's and Piero's. It's not easy putting into words how incredible it feels to be so intimately connected with works of art, and with artists, who have for meant so much to me for so long.
Being a part of the artistic community in London has changed my life forever. I've had the privilege of working with some of my favourite artists, including Robin Lee Hall, Sarah Jane Moon, Kinga Markus, David Caldwell, Dan Whiteson and many others. I'm dedicated to honing my craft, which will be a life-long pursuit.
Discovering Richmond Art School
I first worked with Richmond Art School earlier this year, after being asked to model for a series of portrait classes delivered by artist and tutor Olivia Downey. Working at the college as a Life and Portrait Model is very rewarding; the art department is housed within a new purpose-built school with spacious drawing studios ideally suited for figurative art.
The studios possess a myriad of lighting possibilities that allow tutors and artists alike to produce very specific conditions for drawing and painting. The art school has a positive and relaxed atmosphere fostering an easy creative environment, and I have enjoyed working with all the of artists in the life and portrait classes I have sat for very much. And I'm looking forward to returning to Richmond Art School this year - so see you in the studio!