How many of you have stepped foot in a life drawing class? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a life model? After years of interviewing artists for the Jackson’s Art Blog, I thought it was high time I interview one of London’s best life models. Dominic Blake has posed in most of the UK’s art colleges as well as in many of London’s major art galleries and museums. These include the Royal Academy, The National Gallery, The Courtauld Institute of Arts, The Wallace Collection and the Art Academy. Here’s our interview with Dominic Blake – an insight into life as an artist’s model.
Lisa: How did you first get into life modelling?
Dominic Blake: I was always interested in figurative art. I fell in love with portraiture and sculpture when I was very young. Trips to London’s galleries and museums and my Great Uncle’s work as a portrait painter made a re impression on me.
I later built a career as an Administrator and Press Office Assistant at the V&A, British Museum and Royal Museums Greenwich. These roles placed me in close proximity to some of my favourite works of art, including Rodin’s, Giambologna’s and the Parthenon sculptures.
Although I didn’t have any plans to become a Life Model, I longed to find work that was meaningful. I wanted to find work where I could express myself creatively and also offer inspiration for other people to produce works of art.
About three years ago a friend asked me to pose nude for a painting she hoped to make. I initially rejected the idea, telling her that she was crazy. When I finally decided to work with her my life profoundly changed; I discovered a way of being that possessed great emotional meaning, through which results were tangible and immediate (in the form of drawings, paintings or sculptures).
I learnt quickly that I was quite flexible and could create complex and dynamic gestural poses that were interesting to draw and fun to improvise. And I realised I could sustain them for extended periods of time.
At a point pretty early on in my journey as a Life Model, I realised I loved my work with all my heart. I decided to dedicate my life to it. I now work with almost all art colleges and many galleries, museums and Life Drawing groups in London and beyond.
Lisa: Do you study a lot of paintings to get inspiration for your poses? If so are there any painters out there who are the greatest source of inspiration?
Dominic Blake: My inspiration for poses is filtered through myriad sources including, but not restricted to, painting. I take inspiration from all forms of figurative and abstract art. There’s inspiration to be found in the urban and natural world too: the buildings I walk past on my way to studios, music, literature, the branches in the trees. Pretty much anything can inspire a pose!
If I am booked to undertake classical poses within an atelier, I will usually think about the work of Michelangelo, Da Vinci or of Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. However, where my poses are influenced by painting it tends to be the colours and geometric forms that excite me. Kandinsky’s work makes me think of complex and dynamic, often strange and beautiful poses that are interesting to draw.
Beyond painting, I am influenced directly by the energy of the studio itself. Studios are charged with an infinitely positive creative energy, limited only by the imaginations of those people who inhabit them.
Finally, I am constantly inspired by some of the other truly incredible Life Models working in London and beyond.
Lisa: What makes a good pose?
In essence, a good pose is one that is interesting to draw. It needs to make sense within the context of the class, session or artist’s studio you are working within. However, that probably means as many things to as many different people out there drawing from life! So there are certain rules that I think about when creating a pose:
Ideally, a pose will take into consideration negative spaces, light and shade, and twists that accentuate the body’s musculature structure. More often than not artists in classes will be arranged in a either a 180 or 360 degree circle around the life model. So it’s very important to consider how a pose would look in the round, from every viewing position.
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.
Lisa: Are you ever surprised by the work that is made in response to your modelling? If so what’s been the biggest surprise?
Dominic: I’m often pleasantly surprised by the work made in response to my modelling. There are as many different approaches to drawing from Life as there people out there! Since no two drawings, paintings or sculptures will ever look the same, I find the way people interpret me endlessly fascinating. Wandering around an art class viewing students’ work is one of the greatest pleasures I know as a Life Model.
Knowing that I am inspiring artists to create works of art is an amazing feeling. I feel that my work is symbiotic in nature; I engage in a creative and collaborative exchange with the artists who draw, sculpt and paint me every day.
Lisa: Where has been the most enjoyable place to pose as a life model?
Dominic: I am fortunate enough to have Life Modelled in some incredible places. I’ve modelled in front of a Caravaggio at The National Gallery as well as next to some of Henry Moore’s sculptures at The Courtauld Institute.
My favourite place to pose, however, will always remain the Life Room at the Royal Academy.
The RA’s historic Life Room dates back over 250 years. Constable, Reynolds, Stubbs and Turner all sat at the benches there. The seats are arranged on three levels in concentric semi-circular arcs, surrounded by original study objects on shelves including busts, statues and even a flayed horse.
The Life Drawing workshops and courses are delivered at the Royal Academy via the Academic Programmes department. I’ve worked within courses focusing on Anatomy, Historical Approaches to Life Drawing and Digital Drawing, among others. Mary Ealden, the RA’s Academic Programmes Manager, curates all the RA’s Life Drawing events. She has an enviable reputation within the London art community for delivering visionary and exciting journeys through drawing.
There is something magical about the RA’s Life Room; every time I work within it I feel that I’m contributing in some small way to the space’s cultural memory and history.
I also love working within the studios at The Art Academy, Hampstead School of Art (HSOA) and Putney School of Art and Design (PSAD). The Art Academy is an inspiring place to Life Model. I have worked there within courses led by artists including Tai Shan Shierenberg, Robin Lee Hall (RP), David Caldwell (RP), Andrew James (RP), Susanne Du Toit and many other artists.
There are countless amazing Life Drawing groups in London; I really enjoy working within figurative artist Dan Whiteson’s epic ‘Freeform Life Drawing’ classes. Also the events staged by Art Macabre, ‘Drawing the Star’, run by Catherine Hall and the Hesketh Hubbard Society at the Mall Galleries’.
Lisa: Why do you think drawing and painting from life models continues to be so important to artists?
Dominic: I can’t think of another subject as endlessly complex, fascinating and interesting to draw than the human form. I think artists will always seek to draw from life in order to hone their observational drawing skills.
Drawing from life is a uniquely human experience. Beyond the form itself, which is of course of central importance, it’s also interesting to appreciate that Life Models are emotional beings. At their best a Life Class can explore the human condition as much as the human form. There is no other more intimate and beautiful artistic context than the Life Class.
Lisa: You must have listened to so many life drawing lessons! What’s the best advice you’ve heard given in an art class?
Dominic: The best advice I have heard in an art class is ‘… Let go of your preconceived notions of what a hand, foot, arm, look like. Draw shape, not subject’. It’s often too easy to draw what we ‘think’ we are looking at, rather than the thing itself. You think you know what a hand looks like. But you don’t really, unless you really, really look!
Lisa: For anyone considering trying out life modelling, what advice would you give?
Dominic: Life Modelling is the most rewarding career imaginable.. You will work with interesting people and be able to challenge yourself creatively every day. However, I think there are some important points to consider before you start Life Modelling.
You should actively want to learn your craft, which could become a lifelong process. In that way think its really useful to attend a life drawing classes as an artist, to experience things from the other side of the easel. By doing that, you can quickly find out what kinds of poses artists enjoy sketching, and also you might spot ways that you can improve as a model.
Life Modelling is also physically very demanding, so I would also recommend models take up yoga, or learn some good stretching exercises. These are useful before, during and after sessions, to minimise chances of injury.
Finally, don’t give up, and enjoy your journey!
Lisa: What plans do you have coming up?
Dominic: I will continue Life Modelling in many of London’s art colleges, galleries and museums throughout the year. Fortunately 2018 has been great so far – in April I worked in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Paris. In June I was really lucky to have the opportunity to work with Maggi Hambling at Morley College.
Lisa: If people want to find out more about your work or how to book you, how should they contact you?
Dominic: If you want to learn more about my work, or contact me, you can check out my website www.dominicblakelifemodel.co.
You can also find me in the recently published ‘From Life’ book, accompanying the Royal Academy’s exhibition of the same name, as well as in the ‘A Little History of The Royal Academy‘ book.