on a french stage with no regrets
I’m away from home and my boyfriend for six weeks while I go off to work as a figure drawing model in France. I am modeling for Studio Escalier, located in the small town of Argenton nearly 3 hours from Paris. While the work is intensive, it is a beautiful place to be in and I have no regrets.
Quick Facts about Studio Escalier...
Web link: Studio Escalier
Type of teaching: Intensive figurative studies with emphasis on classical realism.
Where classes are held: France (Argenton-Chateau) and Paris.
Length of course: I’m there for 6 weeks; longer courses are also provided.
Friday 16 July 2010
I arrived at Studio Escalier about a fortnight ago and have settled into my role as a life model, and the quiet country life here.
Argenton-Chateau is a very small country town surrounded by masses of green countryside. I am staying in an apartment called Les Sylvains which is owned by Studio Escalier and has everything provided for a comfortable living (hot water, fully equipped kitchen, large bedroom and internet access). It is 30 seconds down the road from the artist’s studio I work in each day.
Each day of work is intense. I wake up around 7am and get ready for a 9.30am start. Then I sit in a pose for 3 hours (with breaks every 25 mins). I have a two hour lunch break, and then work again from 2.30pm – 5.30pm. My work week is from Sunday to Thursday.
The students are wonderful to work with. They are mostly young and very enthusiastic and respectful of the teaching process. They do not need reminders to be there on time. In this group there are 13 students, who are here from Holland, USA, New Zealand and London. One of the reasons why they like this course is the emphasis on classical realism, as opposed to abstract forms of art. In other words, they want to know “how to get it right”. I’ve seen their drawings and paintings and I think they are very talented.
The teachers are great to work with. Tim and Michelle are extremely upbeat and energetic. Tim in particular will fill his demos with humorous anecdotes about life, art and society in general (sometimes when I’m posing I can’t help but laugh!)
The group has a great feeling of camaraderie, and occasionally we have get togethers (like on Bastille Day, where everyone had to make a dish). Surprisingly, in this town of Argenton, Bastille Day is not celebrated, so we had a home made fireworks display instead. The spirit of the occasion was lovely, if a little chilly for a Summer evening!
Friday 23 July 2010
Before I was hired here I was warned that there is not much to do in Argenton. Some people who are not used to long periods of isolation might go a little crazy. When you consider how farmlike and humbly serviced Argenton is, you can see how one might get a little lonely during these long intensive weeks of study.
Fortunately, Argenton is not short of quality produce. The local Shoppi has a variety of basic groceries, while on Thursday morning there is a market in the centre of town, and a major Farmer’s market in the next town of Thouars every Friday. There is a bus from Argenton that takes us to Thouars. Today some students and I went there and it was such a delight to see the abundance of fresh produce like vegetables, herbs, flowers, bread, cheeses, meat, poultry and fish. Thouars also has plenty of bakeries, shoe shops and clothing stores to keep the regular shopper happy.
Today after coming back from Thouars the students decided to form a lunch club and make sushi rolls. We watched a demo of how to make one and then proceeded in turn to come up with our own sushi creation. I made an egg sushi with baby corn, avocado, cucumber and red fish eggs. The trick with making good sushi is not to overfill your seawood sheet with rice, and to press firmly all the way when rolling.
I also tried strawberries with creme fraiche today for the very first time, and it’s insanely good!
As for the modeling work, I am halfway through my session with Studio Escalier. The students are working on two different long poses. The morning session is a sitting pose on a stool offering a back view with a slight twist, and the afternoon session is a semi reclining pose in the manner of Manet’s Olympia. (I’m not looking at anyone directly though!) Interestingly, I saw the original painting at the Orsay Museum in Paris just before arriving in Argenton. It is larger-than life with striking bold colours.
Saturday 31 July 2010
This week I’ve been discovering a lot of nature walks in Argenton. One path takes me past apple trees and fields of corn and another leads me to a castle ruin. But my favourite walk is along the lake, which starts at Restaurant du Lac and leads me back to the centre of town. There are a small group of swans who hang around together and I see them every time I visit the lake. Last time I saw them taking care of a family of ducks, circling them and chaperoning them. Today I saw a triad of swans going about for their daily stroll, and taking their time with their preening ritual. They know to come by and wait below the lake restaurant when it gets busy, because the owners come out and drop leftover bread for them. The swans love it!
There are so many lovely views along the lake, and the trees offer a cool respite from the hot Summer sun. And if anyone knows the name of the red flower below (which I spotted in someone’s garden on the way back to town) I’d be really interested to find out.
As for the modeling work, I simply cannot believe that I only have a fortnight left to go. The long figure studies are going well, and the most difficult challenge so far is finding the rhythm of the pose, so that it looks identical each time I sit back into it (even the slightest changes can look very different from the students’ point of view). In class there is a protocol where the students can ask the studio monitor for a pose check, and the studio monitor will let me know what changes to make after they’ve compared several of the student’s artwork; that way I’m not overwhelmed with 13 students asking me to change the pose!
Saturday 7 August 2010
This has been a good week for parties. Actually, this student group likes to socialise a lot. In the last five weeks we’ve celebrated birthdays, French national holidays and long distance lovers coming over to visit. This week we had Champagne Thursday and Marché des Producteurs.
Champagne Thursday, as the name implies, involved opening several bottles of champagne and other types of wine on a Thursday evening. One of the students learned a trick only the day before about how to pop open a corked wine bottle using the blade of a knife! It looked very impressive and very easy so will have to give this a try at home and post an update on how I go.
There were also plenty of good-looking food treats (after watching Masterchef and spending time with the group here I’m convinced that good artists make good cooks). Some impressive dishes on the night were devilled quail eggs and earthquake cake made with absinthe and cognac. My offering to the group? A bowl of strawberries fresh from the Thursday morning market which everyone deemed “the best strawberries ever”. Indeed : )
But if I thought Champagne Thursday was a big food event, the Marché des Producteurs on Friday was huge. This a new annual town event where vendors from all over Argenton and beyond come together to hold a giant food festival. There were stalls for cheese, wine, baked goods, honey, roast chicken, some wild game and all kinds of meat products, like fois gras, paté and sausages. Visitors can go from stall to stall ordering a plate of food and then sit down to enjoy it at the specially set up picnic tables. Our group sampled a bit of everything; I tried ostrich, rabbit, chicken, pigeon pate, oysters and escargots (snails) drenched in garlic and butter. It was all very French and very, very good.
It was amazing to see Argenton transformed from a virtually deserted town to an overflowing gathering of people. And best of all, the night ended with a spectacular fireworks display. From French town to party town, the locals sure know how to paint the town red.
Sunday 5 September 2010
Well it’s been a few weeks since I got back from Argenton. The whole experience of modeling in a foreign country was wonderful and surreal. On our last night in Argenton we had a lovely dinner and they made a toast to thank me for the work I did and for “coming a long way from Australia”. I learned a lot about working overseas and have lots of ideas for poses which I’ve been incorporating into the life drawing sessions I’ve been doing since I got back.
I also scanned the web to find the students’ work of me and came across this portrait that Michelle was working on. It shows her strength in classical realism, and if you like it, you can buy it (it’s currently for sale at the Silver Fortress website). Proceeds from the sale go towards scholarships for other students who want to study at Studio Escalier.