pamela lloyd-jones

Why I decided to pose for a nude portrait

portrait artist
Studio: London, W3 8HE Tel: 020 8993 5697  Mob: 07941 938 466

A very happy Erin with artist Pamela Lloyd-Jones after their drawing session

Divorce has many consequences – loneliness, liberty, single-parenting, new

relationships, exhaustion, DIY lessons and financial awareness to name but a

few in my case – but none has been as unexpected, and frankly hilarious, as

my sudden decision to have a nude portrait done of myself.

It would seem I’m not alone in this impulse; a Cambridge don recently had a

life-size nude painting done, which was then shown at the Mall Galleries in

London last year. Good on her, and frankly everyone who displayed it; the

more images of real women, with realistic bodies, that are in the public

domain, the better for changing teenage girls’ warped views of acceptable

figures, and challenging body dysmorphic disorder.

I wasn’t feeling quite that brazen (I was thinking more a small graphite

drawing of my back), but I still have no idea what came over me: one moment

I was thumbing my local magazine for mums, gazing absent-mindedly at an

advert by an artist offering nude portraits of ”yummy mummies”, the next I

had emailed her asking how much to have one done (from £350 for a drawing

it turned out, which seemed temptingly do-able) .

This, by the way, from a

woman who scampered

about under a towel in

gym changing rooms,

would never get

undressed in front of a

partner with the lights

on and burned every

holiday photo of herself

in a bikini, cellulite on

full display. Still, I

reasoned, I recently

took up running as a

result of divorce, which

was new territory for me, so why not riff on the theme with a nude drawing.

Who knows what crazy, liberating adventures might follow…?

Besides, to quote Dylan Thomas, time passes. Time passes and the world

moves on. After giving birth to two boys, my body in my late thirties is most

definitely not what it was in my mid twenties, but I’m more relaxed about it,

and prouder of it, than ever. There are marks from breast-feeding, scars from

operations, old tan lines that have never quite faded, the odd vein and mole,

bruises from children’s scooters aimed firmly at shin height and burns from

cooking the Sunday roast. It’s me, it’s a marker of what I’ve been through

and, aged 36, a moment in time to be captured for my later years, when I look

and smile and wish I’d been happier with a body like that. Most of all, it

captures the liberation I feel as a woman, not in a feminist way (I don’t count

myself as one), but in a softer, female way, no longer embarrassed about who

I am as a mother, colleague or girlfriend. I guess, without meaning to be too

corny, it’s all about accepting yourself, at last. Therapy of sorts, perhaps.

So off I toddled one Saturday morning to my first appointment in Acton, west

London, with the wonderful Pamela Lloyd-Jones, an artist originally from

Australia, with grandchildren (which I found comforting, I think because of

the maternal instinct it suggested and the fact that if she had family she

clearly wasn’t a nutter). Pamela is full of comforting tales for the uninitiated,

about her famous and many clients. She has some wonderful stories of

women who’ve come to her before they’ve had mastectomies, to capture

their body before the operation; women who are embarking on IVF and wish

to capture the moment before they start, then return with their babies for a

family portrait; heavily pregnant women; a woman celebrating her 40th

wedding anniversary, with scars on her breast from cancer operations; even

the odd gay bloke getting a portrait done for his partner (she’s never been

asked to draw a straight man).

She had told me to set aside three hours for the sitting; the first part for

talking about my motivation for doing it, the second for taking photos to

decide on a pose that we both felt worked, and the last hour for posing.

How very, very odd it is to undress so clinically, for non-clinical reasons. I

looked at her beseechingly when I got down to my underwear but she just

smiled and waited, so off it all came. Obviously the first 10 minutes was a

series of poses in which I tried unsuccessfully to cover every part of myself,

with hands, arms and legs, until I had bunched myself into the picture of

awkwardness, as far from the free-flowing femininity I was seeking as it was

possible to get.

But in the end you have no option but to relax and just go with it, Pamela

being the very model of professionalism, asking me to turn and twist gently

to bring out the light and shade, and the contours of my back (I was never

going to pose full-frontal; I didn’t lose it that badly).

We chose a pose that showed my back, bum, legs and the sole of one foot

rested on a chair, and while Pamela scratched away with her pencil at the

easel , I gazed happily out of the window for an hour in restful silence. She

let me stop to stretch a couple of times, and was happy to show me the work

in progress, and it was a peculiarly calming experience.

The result was weird, life-affirming and funny. I was glad the drawing was a

truthful depiction of me and didn’t hide any faults, but neither did I look

hideously fat…just pleasantly fleshy and very much me.

I had half thought that, despite the cost of having it done, I might not keep

any of the drawings, because I couldn’t imagine anything other than

embarrassment at seeing my naked body on A3 paper. Now I’ve decided,

despite the cost, to have two of the four drawings framed, one for the

bathroom (foil backed to protect from the moisture) and one for the bedroom

(nothing as bold as downstairs spaces…). I‘m keeping them not because I

think I look amazing (far from it), but because they make me giggle at my own

audacity and remind me that I’m ok just as I am. And that’s reason enough to

strip off in front of a complete stranger.

So go on, have a portrait of a real woman done.