Gayle joins an online life-drawing class with Lucian Freud’s muse.
Looking for someone to draw or paint a flattering, lifelike representation of yourself?
Avoid me at all costs.
Poor Murray Chalmers fell victim to my distinct lack of artistic skills when I attempted to portray him in an online class.
I was one of around 40 students taking part in the session run by Sue Tilley, best known for modelling nude for the revered artist Lucian Freud in the 1990s.
Freud’s life-sized paintings, which depict Sue in all her curvaceous glory dozing on a couch, set records at auction houses.
Fife-based food writer and PR guru Murray has known Sue since the ’80s – they went clubbing together in London and share the same circle of friends.
It’s Murray’s post on Facebook about his plans to pose for Sue’s online life drawing class that catches my attention.
Will he be naked? Lying on a couch? All sorts of thoughts whizz through my mind.
Intrigued, I register my interest and when the session goes live, I’ve got pencils and paper at the ready.
It’s very laid-back – there’s no sense of elitism or arty snobbery here.
In essence, Murray chats with Sue while folk attempt to draw or paint him.
I spend the first 10 minutes of the hour-long session simply observing Murray… and realising that capturing his “essence” is going to be tough. And no, he’s not naked.
I briefly toy with the idea of “going Picasso” but I’m not set up with paint and all that palaver.
There are two things that flummox me about painting Murray – his glasses and his tattoos, and Murray has heaps of tattoos.
I breathe a sign of relief when he removes his specs – I can see his eyes! – but then someone types a message encouraging him to put them back on. Bah!
I struggle with everything – nose, lips, forehead, ears – and how on Earth do you draw teeth?
Ultimately, my portrayal of Murray is mortifying and I can only apologise to the poor man.
Murray – rest assured you look absolutely nothing like this!
As the session comes to a close, Sue encourages us to share our artworks via Facebook Messenger.
I’m reluctant, but in the spirit of all things creative and open-minded, I do so.
These are displayed for all to see, and then posted on the Isolation Station Hastings Facebook page the following day.
A few are excellent – clearly some talented artists have joined in, many hailing from across the globe – but Sue reckons “anything produced is worthwhile” and says she loves “all of it”.
“I love it when people use different materials, whether a lipstick or a pizza box to draw on,” she says.
“Someone even recreated one of my models in snow in a cocktail glass.”
Sue plans to show the work at “a proper physical exhibition”, when Covid allows. Eek!
In terms of models, Sue usually asks people she knows, but also those who do “great things” in the community, such as black activist Claudine Eccleston and former refugee Rosanna Leal.
Then there are the celebrity sitters.
“I’ve had Mark Moore, from S’Express, Corinne Drewery, from Swing Out Sister, Michele Clapton who designs costumes for Game Of Thrones, and Fat Tony, a top DJ and addiction adviser,” she tells me.
“Last week’s guest was Panti Bliss, a drag queen and gay activist.”
And on Monday March 8, Sue will be the model herself! Very exciting stuff!
Sue started classes in 2019 at a pub in Hastings but stopped when Covid kicked in.
Luckily, online TV station Isolation Station Hastings wanted her to run a class, and while she started off being the model, she found it dull and asked friends to take on the role.
Sessions (which are free, although donations are welcome) now run on Mondays at 7.30pm and they’ve been hugely popular throughout lockdown.
“It’s not at all elitist – I like everyone to join in,” says Sue.
“I’ve had students of all abilities. I love it when someone who hasn’t drawn for years suddenly finds they can and it gives them such a buzz.
“Some people have been with me since the beginning and it’s lovely seeing them improve.”
“It’s not at all elitist – I like everyone to join in.”
Aware Sue has been grilled to death about her Freud experience, I still can’t resist asking my own questions.
“It was interesting because he was such an eccentric man,” she reveals.
“I wish I’d paid more attention and kept a diary but I had no idea the pictures of me would be worth so much. Sometimes he’d (unintentionally) make me laugh so much I’d practically fall off the sofa.”
Sue was working as a benefits supervisor in London when she became the focus of Freud’s attentions.
At the time she weighed around 127kg and the great artist nicknamed her “Big Sue”.
When Roman Abramovich paid £17.2m for the oil-on-canvas Benefits Supervisor Sleeping in 2008, it became the most expensive painting by a living artist.
Sue admits she likes two of Freud’s four portraits but is “not so keen” on the other two.
“It was a great honour to be painted by him and it has really changed my life,” she adds.
Now in her 60s, East Sussex-based Sue is an artist in her own right.
Fendi used her sketches of tea cups, banana skins and other mundane objects in its spring/summer 2018 collection, where they became leather charms swinging from bags, and cheeky prints on silk shirts.