Jamie ready to modelEsther Arthurson with permission for Varsity

As a child, my parents beamed and ooohed over my nursery artwork, indulgently tacking it to the fridge without the faintest clue whether it was supposed to be a goldfish or a self-portrait. Over the years, my skill never increased and my enthusiasm decreased, a combination that allowed me to put my artistic pursuits to rest before they sliced off an ear and drove me to the South of France. This slumber lasted thirteen years, until a rude and unanticipated awakening last Friday night.

The queue for Arc Soc life drawing is an endless snake of disorder and fashion statements, trailing beyond the Engineering Department and wreaking pavement havoc for all who pass. Were you to join it, I guarantee you would spot at least one surprising acquaintance in line ahead of you, pencil eagerly poised to sketch a penis — perhaps the quiet girl on campus, your Amish best friend, or a stray lecturer, probably looking deeply uncomfortable and a little skittish as they try to blend in with the swathe of art history students swarming the vicinity. This queue is a blackhole for the mismatched and unexpected, lending the evening the surreal dimension of a Titanic reunion scene before it even begins.

This queue is a blackhole for the mismatched and unexpected

Most weeks, the event is so oversubscribed (should we be impressed by the sheer scale of artistic talent in Cambridge or concerned by the number of perverts? Food for thought) that they have to turn people away. You know that well-worn proverb: too many artists spoil the naked person. This week, the queue was severed right in front of us — we weren’t getting in. I have to confess, this news flooded me with competing emotions, relief being a key contender, guilt a close second, and confusion at how the massive Architecture Department had such a pathetic capacity another: the anti-Tardis. However, they didn’t have long to fight it out — my friend chased after the queue-cutter and quietly explained what I’d been hoping to avoid confessing all night: “Her boyfriend’s the model…”

Esther and Jamie post-life drawingEsther Arthurson

Taking off your clothes for money is generally frowned upon by society (excluding the occasional hen party granny, but we’ll sweep her under the rug with all other slightly shameful British idiosyncrasies.) It is even more frowned upon when their strippage involves a live DJ and eagle-eyed onlookers sipping wine from the bottle with one hand and sketching carelessly with the other. There could probably be an argument made for why life drawing is one of the distinct phenomena that make us human, up there with self-consciousness, memory and the complexity of our relationships. But I’m not going to make it.

I started with a different model, an older man, which I couldn’t help but think went in Jamie’s favour. However, my heart stopped when I heard laughter from the room next door; I prayed that the source of the laughter wasn’t the size of his penis. (He assures me it wasn’t, for those of you wondering.) Once they’d switched, I understood the hilarity; he was using my cushion of Jim from Friday Night Dinner to shield his crotch in one of his poses. Poor Jim was violated.

I’d be lying if I said I did much drawing

Esther's friend Ash's drawingEsther Arthurson

I’d be lying if I said I did much drawing. I was busy trying to cope with what might be one of the most surreal experiences of my little life thus far, and found myself transfixed, staring at his face (yes), desperately trying to steal some eye contact with him to either make him laugh or have to think desperately of his grandmother. When he first told me he was doing this, I was not the keenest bean on the block. But seeing him there, a physics student lightyears from his comfort zone, I was begrudgingly proud of him — and in much more than a physical way. I just think he was really brave. Hence, I spent most of the hour smiling at him. It wasn’t creepy at the time — it felt pretty wholesome. Albeit more so if he’d had clothes on.

Esther's artistic impressions of JamieEsther Arthurson

Glancing at the interpretations of my boyfriend’s body scrawled on other people’s paper brought about pride in a more physical sense, and was another unique opportunity, seeing this person I know so well through the kaleidoscope lens of thirty odd strangers’ eyes. The girl behind me showed me her sketch at the end, and she had drawn me into it as well, looking at him. It’s weird and oddly comforting, if slightly 1984, to think that there’s always someone behind you, tracing you into their picture of the world, whether you know it or not. An affirmation that you exist, that you are seen, that someone will take the time to paint your portrait whether or not you believe you’re worth the time and ink.

During the final 20-minute sketch, I realised I had to get something down on the paper. So I used the only medium I feel somewhat equipped to use: words. Inside his outline, I started to write down all the reasons why I love him. And I’m still not finished.

To end, I’d like to clarify that this is not an advert for Architecture Society, nor is it an endorsement of public nudity. That being said, I’ll be modelling next week. Hope to see you all there ;)