Jenny Eclair on Channel 4 life drawing show Drawers Off

As new Channel 4 art show Drawers Off prepares to air, we speak with presenter Jenny Eclair to uncover more about the creative series.

Lockdown has led to swathes of the population trying their hand at a range of creative hobbies for the very first time.

Arts and crafts being no exception.

It is precisely the premise upon which Channel 4’s new show Drawers Off is based, with contestants swapping clothes for brushes as they battle it out to win the £1,000 prize.

Complete with a suitably tongue-in-cheek title, the 20-episode series is presented by comedian and Grumpy Old Women star Jenny Eclair and might just make you view the term paint stripper in an entirely different light.

“It’s a life drawing show in which five contestants compete against each other for a cash prize,” says Eclair, 60.

“The twist to the tail of the show is that each of the artists take it in turn to be the life model.

“They all come along knowing that at some point during the week, they will be stripping off and sitting on a podium.

“There’s a lot of draping; there’s nobody that is standing or sitting exposing anything.

“It’s an afternoon show on Channel 4, you know, there are rules and regulations.”

A simple yet entertaining premise, a new episode of Drawers Off will be broadcast each weekday, with five amateur artists taking on the challenge of life-portraiture – from both sides of the easel.

“If they’re wise, they’ll be sitting; if they’re daft, they’ll be standing, because it’s an hour long pose,” says Eclair of the challenge.

“Some of them start, you know, ‘oh, I can do this, this doesn’t hurt’ and then after an hour they’re twitching and the next day they can barely walk.

“So, I always think, well, if it was me, I’d be lying down – get me a chaise long and I’m on that.”

Each episode sees the life model pick their favourite portrait, with the prevailing creation going through to the winners gallery.

And with a secret vote among the contestants taking place at the end of each week to decide the best overall portrait, one competitor will find themselves walking away with the jackpot.

Guided along the way by artist Diane Ali, the improvements in the contestants’ final pieces is visible from one episode to the next, with the amateur artists showcasing creativity untrammelled by formal teaching.

“I’m ably assisted by my beautiful assistant Diane Ali, who brings some class and respectability and some knowledge to the show because she’s a bona fide artist and curator and mentor,” says Eclair.

“She’s the one that will occasionally lean over a shoulder and go, ‘remember the feet, remember feet’ or ‘hands are bigger than that’ or ‘check your measurements, make sure that there’s still some room left on the paper for the head’.”

Technique aside, the big reveal is the moment that most viewers will be longing to see.

“I call it the spinning of the easels,” notes Eclair.

“That is when we get all the reveals lined up in a row. There are four of them and it’s that for me that is also the most telling moment, watching the life model react to how other people have depicted them.

“Because, obviously, the life model faces the back of everyone’s easels; they have no idea what is going on, especially on day one, when everybody’s styles are very new and nobody knows what the level of ability is or anything.

However, it’s also a show that proves to be something of an emotional rollercoaster, as Eclair goes on to point out.

“There was one very touching moment when one of our male models burst into tears,

“Somebody had captured on paper something that he’d never seen of himself put on paper before that he kind of recognised.

“It was very emotional.”

As it turns out, Drawers Off is not the first time the comedian, and avid painter, has stripped off in the name of art.

“I’ve sort of sat on both sides of the easel,” says Eclair.

“I’ve been a life model when I was a drama student aged 19 or 20 in Manchester and then when I came to Camberwell in ’82 and it sort of coincided with my very, very early stand-up days, when I was actually a punk poet.

“I was performing poetry at night, in rooms above pubs, and in the afternoons and daytimes I’d sometimes do a little bit of life modelling.”

“I had to admit, at the time I had anorexia, so I was quite an interesting model because I was very thin.”

Eclair’s fondness for nudity aside, she is quick to emphasise the range of celebrity painters already exhibiting their work, sharing a notable list of potential future contestants.

“There are a lot of performers who are painters on the side,” she says.

“The person that I would buy stuff off is Noel Fielding.

“I love Noel Fielding’s work.

“He works in oil pastel crayon, which is a favourite of mine.

“And I think he uses oil sticks as well.

“Anneka Rice is a lovely artist.

“She does very fluid pen and ink sketches and she does a lot of life modelling, so I’d have her like a short she’s a beauty as well.

“She’d be great to paint.

“Joe Lycett is a great painter as well, though.

“He did the Chris Whitty thing which looked like Chris, which is really so naive in style but so Chris Whitty,” notes Eclair of the comedian’s recent appearance on hit Channel 4 show Grayson Perry’s Art Club.

“I think that’s something as well that we want to do with this programme, sort of break down the conventions.

“If you want to paint with house paint, that’d be fine.

“You want to bring your own style, but also allow yourself to develop in other ways.”

The new series, Drawers Off, will air on Channel 4 from March 1.

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