Tomlifemodel working with sculpture students at the Art Academy in London

Students at the Art Academy in London produce life sculptures in clay, working with me as the model one day a week over ten weeks, with the help of artist and tutor Arabella Brooke.

The Art Academy, near London Bridge, runs many courses, short and long, in drawing, sculpture and painting taught by working artists:


The pose is arranged in consultation with Arabella and the students with the proviso that it is not a standing pose as another model is providing that in another class at the Art Academy. The model gets a say, too, because the pose needs to be sustainable over almost 60 hours of work. The decision is for a half sitting, half lying pose with a classical feel which I will need to hold for about 20-30 minutes at a time with short breaks in between.

The main difficulty with this kind of pose, apart from staying still when holding it, is making sure that you can get back into it properly after a break. Arabella marks my position with tape and I am guided back in with her help and the students’ observations. As a model, it’s important, particularly with such a long pose, to avoid strain and to aim for comfort. There’s no point in striking a dramatic pose that you can’t hold – the students won’t thank you when you move. Inevitably, because as a model you are human, there will be some movement, but that’s part of the challenge for artists when working from life.




Although the pose is reclining I start the session standing so that Arabella can take some body measurements as a guide for students about my basic dimensions. They use these to make an armature, a kind of metal stick man attached to the sculpture base, on which they can form the clay sculpture.

Just as the human skeleton supports organs and soft tissue, the armature and base of the sculpture need to be strong enough to support the clay of this half-size work.

Many sculptors also make drawings at this point to help them get a sense of the form of the pose for their figurative works.

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The challenge for the model is to get back into the right position. For the student the challenge is harder – to get back into the right frame of mind after a week away. As well as mastering the technical aspects of sculpture, making sure the clay is workable and applied well, the students need to make sure their observations are accurate. In week two that involves constant measurement and observation of the model.

This is part of the essential intimacy of artist and model. The student needs to have the confidence to approach a naked model with measuring calipers or tape or just to have a closer look; the model needs to be respected as a human being and not just an object. It’s up close and personal and requires trust from both.

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The sculptures are fleshing out and Arabella’s advice to the students is to take the time to stand back and observe, especially at the start of the session after a week’s break. The students are now taking a really close look at the weight and structure they are trying to represent and there’s plenty of measuring and some rethinking about placement of limbs.

For a model this is the time when you also start to have some regrets about where you placed an arm or a leg but unlike the artist you are stuck with it. The Heath Robinson construction of table, wooden box, cushions, pillows and cloth I’m balanced on also needs some work to hold it together so I can maintain the pose accurately. Time to bring out the gaffer tape.

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One Response to “Tomlifemodel working with sculpture students at the Art Academy in London”

  1. arabella Says:

    Hi Tom
    I very much enjoyed your account of our work together. I have got a photograph of my portrait of you that you might like to have (it’s on my website,
    Let me know if you’d like me to email it to you. Hope you have had an enriching and exciting summer,

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