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Event Review - Body Love Sketch Club

Ahead of the latest Body Love Sketch Club online session taking place next week, Britain Uncovered looks back at some of the previous events held earlier in the year – both physical and virtual – and provides an in-depth look at what attendees can expect.

The Book Club in Shoreditch serves as the perfect venue

Right back at the start of 2020, with a clean slate and a sense optimism in the air, I’d resolved to try out as many new experiences as possible – and right at the top of my list was a visit to Rosy & Ruby’s Body Love Sketch Club event in London, a monthly occurrence that I’d been meaning to try out for quite some time.

Described as a “body positivity and creative empowerment project”, the interactive life drawing sessions offer the chance for people to draw and be drawn – and it’s a winning concept that continues to make a strong impression, attracting new supporters each and every month.

Despite being officially sold out in the lead-up to the event, I was somehow able to blag myself a ticket a few days ahead of time, and I made my way up to the The Book Club up in Shoreditch with an open mind – although in truth, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

Held in the basement of the aforementioned venue – which serves as a trendy (but admittedly rather pricey) wine bar at street level – the event is hosted by Rosy & Ruby, two body positivity campaigners who host this series of joyful workshops described as “creative empowerment, body positivity, and learning to celebrate our bodies in their (optionally naked) glory.”

The Body Love Sketch Club logo set against a yellow background

Strangely, it wasn’t the “optionally naked” element that I had reservations about – it was actually the drawing side of things which had me more on edge. I’d never been particularly dab-handed in art class back in the day, and I think this may have been the reason I’d put off attending for such a long time. I’d assumed that these types of sketch clubs were for hardened and experienced artists, each critiquing the others’ work, and feared that my nonsense doodles would be laughed out of the room.

My fears were allayed early into the evening, when I struck up conversation with the girl next to me, Laura, who had also decided to come along as a new year’s resolution, of sorts. It was somewhat comforting to hear that she was also a first-timer and that she didn’t consider herself a seasoned artist by any stretch, yet we both remained slightly apprehensive about what was to come!

The room started to fill up as the 7pm start time drew closer, and by the time Rosy & Ruby formally welcomed us, I’d estimate that there were a good 50 people or so in attendance. The hosts stated that it was possibly their most well-attended class to date, and a quick show of hands indicated that although there were definitely a number of regulars in the house, a good chunk of attendees – myself included – were there for the very first time.

The evening gets underway

Ruby Rare and Rosy Pendlebaby, hosts of the Body Love Sketch Club events
Event hosts, Ruby (left) and Rosy (right)

Rosy and Ruby cut through the circle of participants into the middle of the room and ran through the evening’s agenda, along with a few housekeeping notes, before passing around a microphone so that everyone could introduce themselves.

Shortly thereafter, our lively hosts announced that they would start the evening off by posing for us themselves, and proceeded to participate in a ‘Who can strip the fastest’ contest; a recurring ritual at each of their workshops in which the loser of said race has to pose first. On this particular night, Ruby was deemed the winner, so we had the pleasure of Rosy posing for our first drawing of the evening.

For this initial warm-up sketch, we were instructed to use our non-native hand; which for me, meant a left-handed attempt. Using charcoal on a large white page meant I could be fairly loose with it all, and I didn’t really have to get anything spot on; it was intentionally abstract and imperfect. I was fully concentrating and it went a little better than I feared it might, but the hosts made it clear in the early goings that the event was not a competition to see who could draw the best, and that it was the participatory element that was the most crucial part of the evening.

The next drawing, with Ruby posing, also came with a stipulation, as this one had to be completed without us looking down at our pads. This was surprisingly difficult, as you instinctively look down from time to time without even realising, but in many ways, it takes the pressure off of having to come up with a masterpiece – and I think this is the whole idea.

I was pleasantly surprised by how mine had turned out, and – after some brief and ill-conceived internal discussions about potentially becoming a professional artist – we then had to take turns complimenting our neighbours’ work. I was slightly taken aback when the person to my right declared, “This brings me joy!” when seeing my efforts, but it was welcome feedback nonetheless!

We then held our sketches up in front of us so that everyone else could see each other’s work. I never got the sense there was even the slightest element of judgement in the air, and the first half of the evening, which lasted for an hour or so, was wildly enjoyable.

The second act

An alternative Body Love Sketch Club logo set against a blue background

Rosy & Ruby then explained that in the second half of the evening, we would be split up into smaller groups of four or five, and we would each take turns drawing each other in seven-minute intervals. Those who were happy to pose sans clothing were to move to one half of the room, with those wanting to remain clothed heading in the opposite direction.

I was somewhat on the fence about this part of proceedings, and hadn’t yet made up my mind which way to go – so waited to see if there was a general consensus before committing either way. As it turned out, only half a dozen or so people ended up opting for the textile side of the room, so I ultimately talked myself into joining the majority to get the full experience of the evening.

After a 15-minute interval, we each made our way back to our groups of five, and Rosy and Ruby eased us in to the individual drawings and suggested that the person in our group wearing the most items of clothing that were coloured green should go first. For our group, this led to Lily kicking things off for us, and she offered a strong and confident pose as the rest of us got started with our first drawings of the session.

With some ambient music in the background providing a calming atmosphere, Rosy and Ruby took turns providing advice and an air of reassurance and encouragement throughout the process – advising what people should be contemplating when drawing, and asking those posing to check in with themselves to see how the process is affecting them both mentally and physically as the seven minutes progresses.

There were a wide variety of different poses – some opting to cover up, some letting it all hang out – but it was a delicate, supportive and non-judgemental atmosphere, and there’s a genuine appreciation and affection for those in your group who are generously posing for the sake of art and creativity. When it came to my own pose, I did decide to err on the side of caution and avoid anything too revealing, but despite this, I found it to be a liberating and empowering experience nonetheless. Purely the act of participating has led me to feel more confident about myself, and I’ll definitely be up for going it another go once the events are able to make a comeback. The seven minutes, which sounds like quite a long time in the cold light of day, absolutely flew by!

Once this part of the evening was over, and everyone in each of the groups had taken turns to pose, we were encouraged to lay our drawings out on the floor so that others could walk around and see each other’s work. There was a really wide variety of artwork on show, and it was interesting seeing how people had focused in on different aspects and approached their drawings so differently. Some conjured up quick, loose sketches of the models from head to toe, whilst others opted to spend the time creating detailed illustrations of solely the person’s face or upper body.

We were then asked to take our seats back in the main area of the room and reform the original circle we’d made at the start of the evening. The microphone was handed out around the room once more, and we were encouraged to say how we felt in one word, and to set a body positivity goal for the year ahead. It seemed as though most people were feeling a mixture of contentedness, relaxation and empowerment, and everyone had come up with their own, specific goals of improving their mind, body and soul for the year ahead.

The entire evening was a breath of fresh air and a true joy to be a part of – and finding such a warm and supportive community made me regret not giving it a chance a lot sooner!

The transition to online workshops

All of the above feels like a relic from a bygone era and a simpler time, because just weeks later, COVID-19 was dominating the headlines, and the planned Body Love Sketch Club on March 16 was thrown into jeopardy and ultimately postponed.

A graphic used by Body Love Sketch Club to promote their Sexy Life Drawing event in September 2020

With Zoom suddenly becoming the networking platform of choice, it wasn’t long before Rosy & Ruby decided to venture down this road themselves – and it’s no exaggeration to say that their first online session, which took place on May 12, was one of the highlights of lockdown. It was such a relief to be able to participate in such fun and creative events again, and the online version was as authentic and as enjoyable as the physical, in-person sessions.

The same format is followed, by and large – enhanced by one of Rosy’s specially curated Spotify playlists designed to provide inspiration – and the attendees are guided through a series of different poses from the hosts, again with various stipulations to keep you on your toes (drawing with both hands at the same time, for instance).

Rosy and Ruby start off by posing for some warm-up drawings, as per the festivities up in London, and you then have the opportunity to pose for four or five minutes in the comfort of your own home! Attendees are also encouraged to upload their drawings to a Google Drive folder at the end of the night so that everyone who has posed can see all the unique depictions of them.

Overall, Body Love Sketch Club – whether live in person or online via Zoom – is a really excellent concept that’s going from strength to strength, and I can’t recommend the events highly enough. The next online session takes place at 6.30pm on September 30, and you can purchase tickets for a very reasonable £10 over at Eventbrite.

To find out more, check out the official Body Love Sketch Club page on Instagram. You can also follow the hosts via their individual Instagram accounts, @rubyrare and @revoltingrosy.

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