Most of us know what we like when it comes to choosing a piece of art. But having a framed original work that is uniquely personal to you hanging in your home or office takes it one step further, especially when you have posed for it yourself.
This was the position I found myself in when I bid for two eye-catching charcoal and pastel sketches donated by talented Australian-born artist Chris Savage at the Mimosa Cocktail charity event in Cannes last spring.
Chris specialises in abstract naked art and her latest collection of charcoal and pastels on black paper has been a critical success, featuring on the renowned Saatchi Art website. As a huge fan of her work, we chatted and came up with the idea of adding a third piece to my collection, this time with me and my husband Iain as the models.
The process starts with an initial meeting at Chris’s home in Valbonne to talk about styles, colour schemes, even the type and colour of paper she will use.
An instinctive, intuitive artist with a love of the human figure, Chris prefers to work organically, experimenting with different coloured backgrounds, charcoals and crayons to see what comes out of the session.
“I’m very messy, I tend to be abstract and don’t do much detail on the face unless it’s a long sitting,” she says. “I usually work quite fast, with some sketches being completed in as little as a minute or two while others might take 10 or 20 minutes or even an hour.”
The follow-up session – which can take place in the comfort of your own home if you prefer - typically takes two hours and will produce a number of different works from which you can take your pick. Chris will also present the other sketches to you as a record of the process, which you can have framed at a later date.
I must admit, having never posed as an artist’s model before – and a naked one at that – I was a little nervous as the sitting day approached. Ditto my husband, who went on a soup and juice detox the day before, conscious that the bits we usually only see in the mirror would be on display.
“People are becoming braver,” adds Chris, “and, while for me it makes no difference whatsoever if people are naked, for some it’s a very brave thing to do.
“I love what I do and I try to make the whole process comfortable and not too scary.”
Sketching a couple was also a first for Chris; her clients are usually women who want to present their husbands with a personal piece of art for a milestone birthday or special anniversary.
Chris arrived and set up her easel while I put the soothing tones of Ludovico Einaudi on the sound system. The robes came off, along with any inhibitions, and we got started.
“I like to warm up a bit first, with a few rough, quick sketches to establish your build and proportions,” she explains as her hand deftly whisks strokes of dark charcoal across the paper. After half an hour of quick fire sketches, we strike some different, slightly longer standing and sitting poses.
As a life model novice, I was amazed at just how liberating I found the experience. For Chris, it’s just another day at the office; nonetheless, I was surprised not to feel a little self conscious or awkward at first.
It’s a completely collaborative process. Chris, who studied at The Institute of Brisbane, The Florence Trust and London’s Central St Martin’s, actively encourages you to have an input into the style of pose and the colour scheme of the finished piece.
Simple dark charcoal sketches suddenly came to life before our eyes as she coloured in contours and outlines in shades of vibrant pink, purple, orange, yellow, red and blue, making them jump off the paper to create a powerful visual impact.
At the end of the morning session, we had nine original, beautiful, abstract pieces of artwork (in addition to the early warm-up sketches) in various poses to choose from. It was too difficult to pick just one, so we ended up choosing three to be framed as a set to hang together.
“I’m really pleased with the results,” said Chris. “You never know what is going to come out of a session. Sometimes there will be lots of sketches the client and I love, and other times, just two or three that we are really pleased with. This particular session has exceeded my expectations.”
Ditto. And the best thing of all is that while we can easily recognise that it’s our bodies in the frame, nobody else will.
All of the above images are artworks by Chris Savage of various people over the last few years to-date.