I’m drawing a wrinkle; I’m drawing a river

Posted on April 2, 2018

I went to Jo for help. My years at art school had left me a capable “map-maker”, able to plot out a model on the page, but my drawings were joyless, and I didn’t draw for pleasure anymore.

Jo was the antidote: she’s pure heart. Jo teaches her students to see simply. To work with a fast, loose, continuous line. To capture the energy of matter. To use colour with abandon. 

In her classroom, it occurred to me how healthy it is for a person, especially a woman, to be part of this kind of life drawing group, to see other women’s bodies as they are, not digitally manipulated or otherwise idealised, but bare and true.

“There’s a misunderstanding about nudity,” Jo says. “People are nervous about it, all too image conscious. We’re indoctrinated to believe that it’s smutty. Life drawing erodes these barriers.”

Jo is almost as renowned for her life modelling as she is for her drawing. In both forms, she’s striking and emotive. She encourages her students to model (with or without clothes) and, when the arranged model doesn’t turn up one evening, whips off her top and poses herself.

I knew that Jo shared close bonds with her models, but I didn’t realise just how deep the respect ran, until I saw her latest exhibition, Not just a nude – Life models of the Manning, at the Manning Regional Art Gallery, which was dedicated to the people who modelled for it, and includes their stories alongside the works.

“It’s like a cross between dancing, meditating and performing,” writes one, Sonja Louise Harrison.

“Relaxing and enlivening at the same time,” says Angela.

“The artists are more embarrassed about showing their drawings that I could ever be about showing my body,” says a third, Helen Golden.

At the opening, Jo spoke with the same quiet power she brings to her teaching.

“Their bodies aren’t perfectly formed. There might be a few rolls, some cellulite, some wrinkles. But artists don’t see things the same way other people see them. When I’m drawing a wrinkle, I’m drawing a river.”

For some models, Jo went on to explain, the experience is especially challenging. Some have experienced great shame around their bodies. For those, life modelling is part of a healing process.

“Life modelling started the process of self-healing,” writes Sarah Britton, “a path to find myself, find my strengths.”

Jo’s work is bold and honestShe can pen the human form in a few skilful strokes. She captures moments of introspection and extroversion, moments between sleeping and waking, rising and falling. Ultimately, her drawings capture the essence of what it is to be human and living within a body. Spending time with her nudes is very peaceful, like spending time at the centre of yourself.


Jo Ernst is shown regularly by the Lost Bear Gallery in The Blue Mountains. You can view available works, and read more about her 25-year career in the arts (which includes a sojourn in France) at http://www.lostbeargallery.com.au/artists/painters/jo-ernst

Jo Ernst (centre) with Kim Armstrong (left) and Trudi Gatehouse. Photo by Julie Slavin. Story by Tessa Kerbel.