Artistic Practice under Lockdown

Life-drawings by Paul Watson

Life-drawings by the author

As the third national lockdown in England doesn’t look like it will be a short one, I’ve been making some plans on how to continue my artistic practice under the restrictions.

The vast majority of my artwork comes from working with life-models, either through drawing or photography. I wrote late last year about how, on examination of the rules covering the “Tier” system in England, working with a model in the room I use as a studio was still legal under any of the tiers of restrictions. This continues to be the case under the new lockdown rules - the vast majority of the government’s restrictions suddenly disappear whenever there’s a financial transaction involved, such as paying a life-model, as if the virus was suddenly neutralised by me opening my wallet.

But what is legal is not always what is right or sensible. I made the decision that in-person life-drawing or photography with a model in an enclosed space, while legal, is not conscionable either on grounds of ethics or health at a time when NHS hospital admissions and death rates are as high as they currently are.

So I need to work out how to carry on my artistic practice without in-person life-drawing or photography.

Regular group life-drawing classes via Zoom

I have been supporting the DrawBrighton Patreon since it was set up at the beginning of the first lockdown. It provides reference photos for life-drawing, Zoom life-drawing sessions, and various other resources, which proceeds going to the life-models who otherwise would have lost this vital source of income. I’ve used a few of the reference photos over the past 12 months, but not much else. So the first thing I am going to do is to start attending some of their life-drawing sessions over Zoom, just to get back into the practice of life-drawing.

Working individually with life-models via Zoom

Regular life-drawing classes via Zoom, with typical 5, 10, and 20 minutes poses, will be good for me to “keep going”, but in order to create artwork for my Acid Renaissance series I need something slightly different: specific poses, usually held for longer periods of time, around 30-40 minutes (or longer, with a break for the model halfway through).

So I’m going to start seeing if I can book individual life-models for Zoom sessions where I can explain the pose required and agree the duration with the life-model. For these I see no reason why I shouldn’t pay the usual £20 per hour rate that I pay life-models (typically for a 3-hour session, so £60 in total). Life-drawing via Zoom is not quite as good for the artist as in-person, but the model is doing the same work so obviously deserves to be paid the same rate.

Working with reference photos from life-models

But not all life-models can do zoom life-drawing - if they’re living in a shared house or shared flat, then turning the central heating up enough to pose nude for the 3 hour session is not just an individual decision, but one that affects the entire shared house/flat, both in terms of increasing the room temperature for all the tenants in the property, and adding to the cost of the shared heating bill.

So I’m also looking at working with life-models who can supply sets of reference photos of specified poses for me to draw from - these would drastically reduce the time the model has to spend holding the poses from 30-40 minutes to a few seconds (so cranking up the heating for 3 hours shouldn’t be necessary), and also allow the model to produce a photograph of a more dynamic pose that they wouldn’t be able to physically hold for 30-40 minutes.

My working plan is that I’d specify (using very rough sketches) 6 different poses, and ask the life-model to supply about 5 minor variations of each one (variations could include the angle that the photograph is taken from, the lighting, minor changes to the position of hands, arms, stance, etc). I’m estimating that this would take about an hour to do, and I would pay £30 £50 for each set of ~30 reference photos.

Technical set-up

For both Zoom life-drawing and working from photographs I need to improve my technical set-up. In the first lockdown I clipped an old Android table to the side of my easel and drew from that. But it wasn’t great - the small tablet screen made drawing from it difficult.

I needed a new PC monitor anyway (my current one is showing signs of age), so I’ve ordered a larger monitor with a stand that allows it to be rotated vertically if required. I’m going to attach this to my laptop and set it up next to my easel. This will allow me to draw from a much larger screen (whether via Zoom or from photographs), and also allow me to rotate the screen into a vertical position if I’m drawing from a photograph in portrait-orientation.


I’m hoping all these changes and experiments will allow me to carry on some sort of artistic practice for the duration of the lockdown, until we reach a point where things are under control enough to resume normal life-drawing.

February 2021 update: following some conversations and this post by DrawBrighton I have decided to increase the amount I pay for a set of reference photos from £30 to £50.