Bella Franks is the creator of Bella’s Bits & Bobs, a pop-up art class that brings life models & drawing materials to living rooms around London to run fun, relaxing and sociable life drawing classes. 27 year-old Bella Franks grew up in Notting Hill, London, as an incredibly creative individual. She’s left-handed, and would play with her imagination by writing backwards as a child. A virgo, and perfectionist, she decided to pursue a degree in art to realise her potential.
Bella started a foundation year at City & Guilds of London Art School in Kennington, however, while she was there she quickly realised the conceptual environment wasn’t quite for her. The continued pressure of being at art school meant she also developed a level of anxiety that affected her studies, and ultimately led her to change pathway and study Sociology and History of Art at Durham University. During her time at Durham, she discovered life drawing classes which were run out of the back of a pub, drawing boys from the university rugby team! This helped her indulge in a creative activity and became a way to cut off from the academic pressures that can often adversely affect students. Continuing on this trend, she also began a part-time foundation degree in Photography at Newcastle University.
When she eventually moved back to London to pursue photography her creative adventures began through pioneering the first ever pop-up life drawing classes in London. A dedicated philanthropist, Bella has also been running the Contact Collective Young Philanthropy Network in support of the charity Contact a Family, for families with disabled children in the UK since 2014. In January 2017, she was featured in an interview with City Philanthropy. On April 6th 2017, she hosted a wonderful event with the Contact Collective to raise money for families with disabled children at The Honourable Society of Inner Temple, where 100% of the ticket sales went towards the charity, raising an incredible £24,000!
We had the chance to sit down with Bella and ask her about her new initiative Bella’s Bits & Bobs and her life in London.
Tell us a bit about Bella’s Bits & Bobs?
Bella’s Bits & Bobs started in 2012 with a launch party in September 2015, I got so excited about it I’d planned a whole evening with friends and family, created unique business cards, and practiced my speech incessantly. The whole idea came from wanting to share an activity that helped me get away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, and reconnect people through art and drawing to create a unique experience which I captured in the launch video. The classes involve drawing a male or female model with a group of people. This can either be a private session in someone’s living room, a hen party or stag do, a team-building exercise with your colleagues, or a fun alternative to a night in. Creativity is a great cure for anxiety, and helps me destress after a long day.
So far Bella’s Bits & Bobs has been growing organically, through using quite informal social media, and word of mouth. I use my Instagram page and website mainly to share information about upcoming events and to share some examples of people’s work.
How did you come up with the idea for Bella’s Bits & Bobs?
I love the idea of people coming together in a convivial and social environment, surrounded by tea, wine, music, nibbles or whatever the host wants to throw on the table. Everybody brings some bits and bobs, hence the name, and it’s a great opportunity to meet new and interesting people. I used life-drawing initially to reduce my own stress levels, and then wanted to share something that had helped me to help other people. What is great about life drawing is that you can develop a skill while feeling good surrounded by friends and interesting people, and having a bit of therapy along the way. You become so focused on drawing that you forget about any worries for the time being. I can bring my stressful thoughts to class and work through them in a soft way – I don’t worry when I’m drawing. Drawing is a life-long process so there is no end goal, and little by little you can expand your skills through different mediums (charcoal, pen, pencils, crayons, paint, even on an iPad).
The human form is so beautiful, and many people are caught up in their insecurities around body image that this is a good platform to learn how to deal with their own image. I believe that everybody is so beautiful that in every class I want people to feel more comfortable in their own skin. During one class that I was delivering, the model didn’t turn up, so I had to take her place, and people were very appreciative that they were still able to continue with the class, and I was delighted to be able to give something back.
What would be your advice for first-time life Drawers or models?
For life drawers: why not try something different, you might decide it is not your cup of tea but you can put yourself outside your comfort zone, even if it is just one evening. It is also a fantastic activity to share a relaxed evening after a long day at work, or an alternative Sunday night in. You’ll also be able to meet new people, share a new experience and learn a new skill. It is important to take time for oneself, even if it is a group setting you feel like it’s just you and the model. Everyone has been in a room with someone naked, but this is a totally artistic scenario, removing the sexuality of the naked body and focusing the attention on carefully curating a beautiful drawing from scratch. In my art classes, we look at light and dark, the shapes, the tones and see how to convert that onto paper. We look and we observe – people spend so much time looking at the virtual world through their phones that looking at what’s really in front of them isn’t as easy as it seems. Give it a go!
For models: this will most certainly put people out of their comfort zone. Your body shape doesn’t matter, and all your insecurities to an artist are in fact beautiful. Regardless if you’re a dancer or an athlete, you can sit in a pose that makes you comfortable to express yourself and that will be well received by all the artists. However insecure you might be feeling, the other people in the room might feel even more concerned that their drawing might not do their model justice. You are inspiring people – try it!
As the Creator of Bella’s Bits & Bobs, what does your typical day look like?
What I love most about doing my own thing is that I am able to share my passion, and it has now reached the point where more people are demanding art classes. The fact that it is a pop-up means I make it easy for people to host their own event, no matter the space – I bring all the utensils, the paper, boards, charcoal, hairspray and book the model – so all you have to do is have a space that can host anything from 4-40 people. I swim every single day to find balance, and also because I have a lot of creative thoughts when I swim. I am a qualified yoga teacher and practitioner, so I plan my lessons and go about my yoga teaching when I’m not swimming or drawing.
I work for the charity Contact a Family, for families with disabled children living in the UK as their events coordinator. I launched a young philanthropy network called ‘The Contact Collective’, in December 2015 to raise support for this charity. I am in the office 2 days a week, which gives me a nice structure around my creative pursuits. This is challenging work, but very rewarding. I hosted my first fundraising party for The Contact Collective network in April this year and raised over £24,000 through this, which was a wonderful achievement for me. Additionally, I run a life drawing class mainly in the evenings with friends and sometimes private clients 3-4 times a week which keeps me very busy.
I absolutely love live music, and feel more people in London should embrace the exciting music scene available to them. I go to a lot of the Sofar Sounds (songs from a room) gigs because I am one of their MCs and enjoy seeing lots of live music which also inspires some of the tunes for the next art class playlist.
Aside from people’s living rooms, there are some incredible venues where I host my art classes: pubs, bakeries, cafes, bars, a community centre for over 60s, Soho House, Shoreditch House, Electric House, private banks, house boats, gardens, festivals, furniture companies, branding agencies, architecture companies…and more!
I am also privileged to host drawing classes with amazing snack brands such as the Coconut Collaborative, Yogi Tea, Pip & Nut, Raw Bonbon, Mighty Bee, Conscious Chocolate and Derwent. This is primarily to share a delicious product in a convivial event and add to the bits and bobs.
What does life drawing mean for the art world and modern artists?
There is a lot less nudity, and a lot less drawing these days, these classes aim to keep this traditional practice alive. In art school they are doing less drawing and teaching of drawing, and this is always the best way to learn because you have to look hard and focus on what you’re drawing. We all know what a person looks like, but the common mistake is to start drawing by memory or what you know, rather than what you see. Drawing is also great for your hand-eye coordination that can be good training for surgeons, musicians, and architects. If you are working in the city with a desk job, it trains the side of your mind that you’re not used to using. Models and artists are more networked nowadays; sharing both sides of the canvas is quite nice.
One thing I hear often is ‘I can only draw a stick man’ – you definitely won’t draw it, particularly if you’re drawing a woman! In my view you can learn to draw in the same way you can learn maths. Anyone can be an artist, it doesn’t matter if you’re a banker, a lawyer, a designer or if you’ve ever been told you’ll never be an artist – everyone is an artist once they pick up a pencil. Just come and have fun!
Who would you say are the women who inspire you?
It has certainly been interesting exploring my thoughts about female artists, given I am an artist myself, and I was surprised to discover I’m far more inspired by male artists. I’m sure this is because there are many more in the public eye than female artists, but they were also the focus when I studied art. There are many people beyond the art world that inspire me.
My grandmother – She was the founder of The Lady Hoare Trust. In 1962 the tragedy of thalidomide struck some 600 families in the UK. Lady Mary Hoare, wife of the then Lord Mayor of London, established a trust to raise money and help the children who were born with missing limbs whether due to the thalidomide drug or not. I never met her but feel incredibly inspired when I hear about her life. She was a strong, determined woman who didn’t care what others thought of her which I love. I definitely take after here on that!
All the models who pose for my classes – because they are there in their free, open vulnerable state to provide inspiration. If I didn’t have life models I wouldn’t be able to hold my classes. I have met so many amazing people through Bella’s Bits & Bobs, making many firm friends. They all have their stories, reasons for modelling & experiences from life as a life model & I am constantly inspired by this.
Annie Lennox – I admire her political and social activism and the way she fights for what she believes in. She is a complete force for change and I find her very inspiring. I heard her speak at a conference about philanthropy and was hugely inspired by her philanthropy network ‘The Circle’. This brings people together to become advocates and change agents & began informally and grew in an organic way. The Contact Collective Philanthropy Network I run looks to a similar model and I find Annie’s work with The Circle incredibly inspiring for my own.
Bella’s Bits & Bobs has gone from strength to strength since its start up in 2012, how do you see it taking shape over the next few years?
It’s been a really exciting adventure in sharing what I love. In 2016, I ran 120 classes and events! I want to continue organising these evenings, and bring joy to artists all over London. I also held my first ever yoga and life drawing retreat in 2016, which was a huge success. I would like to make this a regular event and host several of them each year. I never look too far into the future and I plan each day as it comes, one drawing after the other. I have built credibility in my classes organically, but now I am so lucky to have a network of followers and passionate artists.
You can explore more about Bella’s Bits & Bobs through the following links:
View Bella’s Bits & Bobs experience video here
Class instagram: @bellas_bitsandbobs