Pencils at the ready, and no giggling at the back. Life drawing classes, particularly those with a quirky twist, are a huge deal in London right now. From Wild Life Drawing, where you get the chance to draw adorable and awesome creatures like tortoises and owls, to Naked Brunch, which combines our favourite boozy hybrid meal with a spot of sketching, the capital is packed with opportunities for budding artists to capture the human (or indeed the animal) form.
Neon life drawing is one of the most popular (and the most out-there) variations on the theme, with classes springing up across the city. I’ve come to a sold-out Neon Naked class at eclectic Kings Cross venue Drink, Shop & Do, to see what all the fluorescent fuss is about.
There’s a “middle class Full Moon Party meets Art Attack” vibe to the room when I walk in, which, frankly, I’m not opposed to. The attendees are divided into two darkly lit adjoining rooms, where we sit in a circle around two female models. The girls have adorned themselves in neon paint, arranged in patterns and markings, and have an array of kaleidoscopic props ranging from fans to luminous umbrellas. Everything glows, like an incredible deep sea scene, under UV lights. I don’t think I’ve been exposed to so much neon since the heady days of mid-noughties Nu-Rave, and I start to wonder where those coloured wayfarers got to.
There’s a minor bunfight to pick up neon art materials, ranging from highlighters to glow-in-the-dark pastels, before we begin, and the bar stays open throughout. While I’m very happy attending things on my own, and it wouldn’t be an issue in a normal art class, I do feel as if I stand out a little bit here. Most people seem to have come with at least one mate (or date), and there are quite a few larger groups of friends.
But no matter, it’s soon time to get down to not-all-that-serious artistic business. It soon becomes apparent that this is like no life drawing class I’ve ever attended (and I’ve sketched a fair few disrobed individuals in my time.)
Our instructor Jylle Navarro, the original creator of the Neon Naked Life Drawing experience, leads us through a series of quick, short exercises designed to loosen us up and get the highlighter-bright creative juices flowing. We try using Pointillism, a style in which you make an image using lots of tiny dots, as well as attempting a line-drawing without lifting our pens off the page and a ‘Vogueing’ study in which the models change pose every 30 seconds.
It’s fair to say that some of the challenges are a LOT harder than others. Attempting to draw the image in front of me upside down is, frankly, too much for my tiny brain to compute, and my ‘symmetrical’ drawing, made using both my hands at once, would be rejected as total rubbish even by my three-year-old niece.
However, the session also gives me the chance to try various techniques I’ve never encountered before, but really enjoy, such as making a drawing with straight lines only.
Throughout the evening, our teacher encourages us to get messy, wild and free. It’s a great exercise for someone like me, who likes art but tends to get hung up on producing neat and perfect drawings, to be forced to shake things up and draw quickly and expressively. “Fill the page, go big!” Jylle prods me, repeatedly. But even for someone with zero prior interest in learning to draw, the night would be a really fun chance to cut loose and try something completely different.
Perhaps it’s because the room is so dark, the models are so professional, Jylle is so encouraging – or because the bar is so easy to get to – but there is zero awkwardness, and everybody becomes properly absorbed in what they’re doing.
At the end, we all put our favourite drawings in a cluster on the floor, and admire how cool they look under the UV lights. When I get my bits of paper out at home, however, to show my new masterpieces off to my boyfriend, it just looks like I’ve had a bit of an accident with a highlighter pen. I guess you had to be there.