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Real life stories: Life drawing

Creativity comes in many shapes and forms, much like the human body. Often we think of being creative as an individual pursuit, but it can be a social activity too. A couple of months ago, my friend Lizzie held a life drawing class in her home and invited a group of us along.

Life drawing involves drawing or painting a nude model posing in front of you, the artist. They typically strike a few different poses so the artist can capture different angles of the body. At Lizzie’s, the model did a few 10 minute poses, two 20 minute poses and one pose for half an hour, so we could draw her in differing amounts of detail.

Amongst my group of friends were a mixture of creative types and those who felt they ‘couldn’t draw’ or were ‘no good at drawing’ but everyone turned up. It was the first time we had all been together since Lizzie’s wedding so I was intrigued to find out everyone’s motivations for going and how they felt during and after the class. I also got the low down from Lizzie on why she held a life drawing class.

As we’ve covered in a previous blog post, some people find engaging in creative activities stressful, particularly the pressure to complete an artistic task to a set standard. If you feel this way, hopefully Sophie and Hannah’s answers below will give you some reassurance and confidence to give creative activities a go.

What motivated you to hold a life drawing class?

…you concentrate so much on doing one thing that your mind isn’t cluttered with anything else, so it’s very mindful.

Lizzie

Lizzie: I’ve found it really calming when I’ve done it previously and good for managing stress and wellbeing, basically because you concentrate so much on doing one thing that your mind isn’t cluttered with anything else, so it’s very mindful. And I was really keen to share those benefits in the hope others get the same experience, as well as take an opportunity to see my friends of course in the comfort of home.

What motivated you to go to the life drawing class?

Sophie: I wanted to try something new, experience something I’d never done before and test myself by doing something that wouldn’t typically be ‘my thing’.

Hannah: To be honest, my main motivation for attending the class was that it was a chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I was intrigued by life drawing but given my lack of artistic ability I expected that this would almost be the side event of my evening.  

Lizzie: Perhaps less a question for me since it was at my house (!) but normally I go in order to combine switching off in a peaceful environment as well as catching up with good friends. I used to study art but once I stopped it academically I hardly did it anymore, when actually it’s so enjoyable when you do!

How did you feel beforehand?

I noticed feeling some anxiety about my own ability, or lack thereof.

Hannah

Sophie: I actually felt a little anxious before we got started. I think the prospect of doing something so different combined with the feeling of not being good enough really played on my mind.

Hannah: I had quite a busy day prior to the class and so hadn’t thought much about it. When I arrived the host began telling me about some of the other people attending who were ‘serious artists’ and I did begin to wonder what I had let myself in for. I noticed feeling some anxiety about my own ability, or lack thereof. However, Lizzie was a great host, as always, and having time to mingle, eat and drink beforehand helped to set a relaxed vibe.

Lizzie: A tad frantic getting everything ready and leaving work with a mass still there to do!

How did you feel during the life drawing?

Being able to sit, and simply be in the moment, with no other thoughts cluttering up my mind gave me a feeling of real freedom.

Sophie

Sophie: I felt incredibly relaxed during the life drawing which was not what I expected! Being able to sit, and simply be in the moment, with no other thoughts cluttering up my mind gave me a feeling of real freedom. I felt detached from my usual worries.

Hannah: Initially I noticed myself being quite self-critical which got in the way of me being able to enjoy the experience. Having a life model means that if you get it ‘wrong’ you could end up offending someone to their face. I found it really helpful having the artist there to give some hints and tips to improve my drawing. After this I really began to enjoy the experience and found that I was able to really focus on the activity, forgetting the things that had been on my mind that day. I was surprised at how quickly the time went and how much I ended up enjoying it.

Lizzie: In flow! Calm and concentrating.

How did you feel after the life drawing?

After having a busy day, this was a great activity to help me feel relaxed.

Hannah

Sophie: Afterwards I felt a sense of achievement. Not only had I tackled something I’d never done before but I realised I found it both easier and much more fulfilling than I had expected!

Hannah: After having a busy day, this was a great activity to help me feel relaxed. So much so that I nearly fell asleep on my train home. It has made me interested in doing more drawing as a way of relaxing.

Lizzie: I felt like I’d had some rest and recuperation for my brain, and fed my soul a bit of creativity. I was also super happy that everyone seemed to enjoy it.

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Real-life stories: Richard

Back in March I wrote a blog post about choosing the right exercise for you. Whilst writing the post, I thought of a former colleague of mine, Richard, who had taken up running and really fell in love with it. Before he started running, he had overhauled his diet and lost a lot of weight. Once he started running, I noticed that Richard was not only healthier, but happier too.

I invited Richard to share his story with me for 15 minute wellbeing, because I think his journey is really inspirational. Richard has a real passion for running and has run distances that I couldn’t even imagine running, but like all of us, he had to start somewhere by putting one foot in front of the other. Read on to find out about his running journey and the great mantras he uses – these can benefit us in all aspects of our lives, not just exercise. I hope it inspires you to start or persevere with the exercise that is right for you.

Can you tell me about what your life was like before you started running?

“I’d gone through my weight loss and eating healthily and the next step for my wellbeing was some exercise. I started walking. I walked to Hounslow station which was 40 minutes away.

What really got me started with running was the running group at work. Jason said he’d come with me, just running one lamppost to the next. But I didn’t want to inconvenience him.

It took me 3 months of building it up until I could run 5km without stopping. I’ve kept the date when I went for my first run and refer back to it so I know how far I’ve come. It’s easy to forget what it was like before.”

Richard then went through the key dates in his running journey. I put these into a graph to show how Richard built up his endurance over time and the milestones he has achieved so far.

“My first run was on 7thMarch 2015 and first 5km on 31st May 2015, the bank holiday weekend which continues to be significant through my running journey. My first kilometre of running took just over 7 minutes.”

As you can see from the graph, Richard completed his first marathon on this bank holiday weekend in 2017 and his first ultra-marathon running from London to Brighton on the very same weekend last year.

This was soon after completing my first 100 km ultra-marathon

“This year on the May bank holiday weekend I want to run the 78 mile capital ring – 3 marathons in 3 days! Just get up in the morning and get on public transport to the starting point. I’m hoping to get some of my friends to join me.”

I found it incredible that it took Richard 3 months to run 5km without stopping and that he never gave up. Many people would, but he persevered. So what was his first run like?

“I remember the straight tarmac path was 150 metres and I ran that and my legs were like ‘what the hell are you doing?’ After 700 metres my legs were hurting and I had to stop and did lots of stretches. I eventually managed 3km on that first run.

I didn’t feel too bad, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back. So each run thereafter I tried to get round the same distance a little bit faster. I didn’t make it too painful and unpleasant. I remember when I would really push it, my eyes would lose focus. Probably fight or flight kicking in. At the time I thought this couldn’t be normal.”

What motivated you to keep running?

“My approach has always been to keep improving, whether it’s running further or faster. There’s no point comparing myself to others – I want to be the best I can whilst fitting it into the rest of my life.

I very rarely run more than 4 or 5 times a week. My body gets to the point where it says ‘give me a rest’. It’s important to listen to any niggles and rest so they don’t get worse. That’s where not comparing yourself to others really comes into play.”

Richard then went on to tell me about the social aspects of running and how the variety of running events on offer keeps him motivated:

“I have completed three marathons and am training for my fourth in Boston, Lincolnshire. It’s an opportunity to go and stay with my sister. Every time I’ve done a marathon, I’ve done the parkrun the day before. You then get to meet other people you’re running in the marathon with. Then, when you’re running it, you spot someone from the parkrun!

“Last weekend I ran just short of 50km in total. What keeps it interesting is the variety. I’m doing a bit more trail running: meet at a tube station, someone plans a route and run on trails, it makes a nice change to pounding the streets of London. It usually finishes at a nice pub!


This photo is with some friends made through running. This was taken after running the circle line before heading to the pub for lunch.

I’ve signed up to tower running for more variety. Broadgate Tower is 35 floors. There’s a group that run up and down it 12 times – a vertical mile! I’ve been training and I’ve managed it four times, I’ve got a bit of work to do to get to 12 times. You walk it but take two steps at a time but use your arms to pull yourself up. I’m doing the tower run in July.

There is always an event going, such as the green belt relay where you run 200 miles around London in a team of 10. There’s also so many inspirational people you come across – there’s an 85 year old man at parkrun every week. I’d love to still be running at 85.”

For some, running just doesn’t appeal at all. So why running over another form of exercise?

“The gym has never really appealed to me. I used to swim 5 evenings a week and was a good swimmer, but lost interest in my teens. I re-started [swimming] in my 20s but lost interest. When I was younger, running didn’t really appeal to me, I only did it at school.

All you need is a pair of trainers and a shirt and off you go. The social aspect of running at work, could have a chat. I don’t really go to my running club as people are focused on their time. The social aspect has kept me going, making friends…

I did do some swimming as part of my getting fit. I signed up for a 5km swim and then had a few goes training. Once I did it, I stopped. I still want to challenge myself with a swim. Triathlons interest me but they’re expensive buying all the equipment.”

15 minute wellbeing is all about mental health and improving our overall wellbeing through different activities. What impact (if any) has running had on your mental health?

“I’ve become much more relaxed, I don’t worry about things as much. I used to be a bit of a perfectionist and running a marathon has taught me that I can’t run the whole thing perfectly. I’ve applied it to the rest of my life – you can’t perform at your best every day, some days when you go into work you just have to do the best you can.

Running has probably made me a more positive person, building relationships with others, giving each other positive feedback on their runs and times which makes me more positive overall. In my last marathon I didn’t get the time I wanted, but when I look back I can get delayed gratification from knowing I did a good performance.”

Richard then told me that he felt running involved many of the 15 minute wellbeing themes. In addition to the benefits to his physical health and aforementioned connecting with others and giving feedback, Richard told me how running links with the other themes:

  • Mindfulness – “Running is my form of mindfulness. Sometimes I’ve been running for 3 hours and I haven’t thought about much apart from running and how my body is responding.”
  • Learning – “Running is a really good learning tool, you only improve if you put the hard work in. There’s no quick wins with running.”
  • “Reflection is an important part of my running – reflecting on what went well, was the training right, did I rest well?

What advice would you give to anyone is a similar position as you were?

“Never outrun the joy of running.”

“Start off being realistic. Start off slowly and build up. Enjoy it. Never outrun the joy of running, that’s my current mantra. My previous mantras were ‘Get comfortable with discomfort’ and ‘If I believe I can achieve’.

“If I believe I can achieve.”

Find people to run with. If you’re in London there’s so many social running groups. Running shops often have running groups. Midnight runners in central London with music playing.


This photo shows the great running community at my local sports shop. The community is very supportive and provides a couch to 5 km group on a Monday evening.

Parkrun is great as you get to know regular runners with the same time as you. Parkrun is ideal for people starting out. They [the parkrun organisers] want the average time of a 5 km run to get slower as they want to attract more people who want to walk 5 km. Parkrun operates all over the country.

Find out what works for you. Some people are content going for a leisurely run and talking with the same group of friends. Others need a target to work towards.”

Huge thanks to Richard for sharing his story – he really is inspirational and his passion for running is contagious. Since meeting with Richard I have started running again, taking it slowly and building my way up to 5 km non-stop. Richard has reminded me that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to do it, as long as I’m enjoying it.

I hope you have taken something from Richard and he has inspired you. If you would like to share your wellbeing-related story on 15 minute wellbeing, please do get in touch.