how to model in the nude

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The only sound to be heard is that of charcoal on paper. The atmosphere is intense, almost mystical - like being in a church. Except that in church one normally gets to keep one's clothes on.

Across a crowded studio, through a small window, a bird perches precariously on a swaying washing line. Some pigs snort contentedly in the distance. All is peace and quiet.

Before long, I have drifted out of the external world and achieved a state of inner tranquillity.

"I don't think your knee and leg should be sticking out in quite that way," insists a grey-haired old lady, rudelyawakening me out of my transcendental torpor.

My body might have been at one with nature, and in harmony with the universe, but it appears to have unaccountably strayed from its original position.

In the manner of a young girl over-enthusiastically dissecting her first Barbie doll, she grabs hold of the protruding knee and rearranges the offending leg. And we have not even been properly introduced.

Unfortunately I am unable to respond to her cold hands. The mind is willing, but the flesh is fast asleep. "Ooooh," I cry out. "I think I've got cramp." Elaine, who runs weekly life-drawing classes on a farm just outside Colchester, decides this is as good a time as any to take five. "Male models usually fidget more than women," she points out as I slip into a dressing gown and grab a cup of coffee.

Angela, a veteran life-drawer, thinks I did well for a first timer, but confesses a preference for the female form. Curves are a lot easier to draw; breasts give the artist something to hold on to, so to speak.

One man, she giggles, had normal-sized legs but a huge tummy. "His body was enormous."

What does she think of me so far? "A little bit stiff at first but you gradually relaxed and got into it." David, who retired five years ago, thinks my eyes look tense. "Your rigidness was certainly noticeable there." My shoulders, however, were a joy to behold. "Wonderfully angular," he enthuses.

There is just time to wander around the wooden easels and take a peek at some works-in-progress. The standard is amazingly high - the possibilities of the lead pencil are, it seems, endless. Some of these sketches would not look out of place alongside Sickert's Woman In Front of a Mirror or even Matisse's Woman in an Armchair.

I sit down next to Sue, a model of 15 years standing, who tells me it's a one-hour pose. "Don't worry," she says when I gasp, "just let your muscles relax."

Easier said than done. How to avoid another bout of cramp? "Sometimes your arm goes to sleep in an awkward position. So don't lean on it for very long, otherwise it will go dead."

Will this not incur the wrath of the artists? I presumed Thou Shalt Not Move was one of the Ten Commandments. "Occupational hazard," chips in Elaine, who is busy sculpting my artistic anatomy; a tilt of the pelvis here, a twist of the elbow there.

The trick, says Sue, is to look as if you are relaxed. "After a while you get to know how to sit comfortably. It's a lot to do with balance - a bit like yoga, balancing body and mind. It's all about stilling the mind."

For the first 15 minutes, however, meditation proves impossible as my mind grasshops from football trivia to great advertising slogans of our time: "Go to Work on an Egg", "Beanz Meanz Heinz", "Refreshes the Parts other Beers cannot Reach".

Eventually my gaze fixes on the bird on the washing-line. I contemplate the void, blot out the ego and enter the internal world of consciousness. Instant karma.

A loud sigh breaks the spell. Although my mind is stilled, my knee is shaking uncontrollably.

"Please try not to move," pleads a shrill, familiar voice.

ANTHONY CLAVANE

For more information about nude modelling contact: Cuckoo Farm Studios, Boxted Road, Colchester (01206 843530)

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