Creator Spotlight: Neon Naked  – Eventbrite UK

Vibrant living sculptures and UV lights illuminate Jylle Navarro’s unconventional life drawing classes. We attend a Neon Naked workshop to find out why this format is best enjoyed in real life

“Has anyone done life drawing before?” More than 40 people are gathered around two raised platforms – each clutching a pot of highlighter pens and oil pastels – but only a couple of hands go up. Jylle Navarro is not surprised. “Most life drawing classes have regulars who come every week, but my class isn’t the same. Lots of new people come to each event and many haven’t drawn since they were at school – these evenings present an opportunity to have fun, explore colour and come away with a huge selection of work.” 

Shining a light on creativity 

Tonight’s event is taking place at The Ministry – a smart private members’ club and workspace for the creative industries situated behind an unassuming door close to Elephant & Castle. And, as attendees enter a room illuminated by the otherworldly glow of blue light, it’s impossible  to miss Jylle. Wearing brightly patterned leggings, a sequined bum bag and glow-in-the-dark earrings, the founder of Neon Naked tells me how she started experimenting with bold colour and UV light as a fashion student specialising in alternative knitwear:

“I was inspired by black-and-white Italian and Spanish horror films, which have these really eye-catching neon posters. And while working on a show at Berlin Alternative Fashion Week, I created these black-and-white garments that had neon seams – they took ages to make! And when we turned on the UV lights the models were glowing. They were going crazy and dancing down the runway, making all these crazy shapes and silhouettes.”

It’s the transformative nature of neon that really intrigues Jylle, who has since used it in performance art projects at festivals, cultural institutions and event spaces across the UK. Jylle reels off a few notable highlights – from creating a Tron-inspired area for the Design/Play/Disrupt video game exhibition at the V&A to hosting pop-up workshops at Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Colour Palace installation, which entranced visitors at the south-east London venue a few summers ago. 

“What I like about neon is the reaction to the light, the way it changes the environment and makes everything pop. But it’s not just about creating a visual spectacle – it’s about how people feel under short wavelength light. They are less anxious, more happy and just generally chilled out.” 

Neon Naked
Photo credit: Neon Naked

In fact, alongside her artistic pursuits, Jylle has spent hours researching the effects of blue light and its ability to boost alertness, help memory and cognitive function and elevate someone’s mood.

A colourful twist on tradition

It’s this feel-good factor that fuels Neon Naked, the immersive UV life drawing experience she started hosting five years ago in a “friend’s cafe in Dalston with really bad lights”, which has since evolved into the multi-venue extravaganza it is today. And, with more than 270 previous events listed on its Eventbrite page, I’ve come along to a session to see what all the fuss is about.

Arriving early, I find Jylle unpacking props and the evening’s two models busily decorating their bodies with neon face paint – “Hannah does flowers, while Bea favours bold stripes”. The platforms are draped with fabric and snaking neon lights, while piles of paper are waiting by each of the chairs. 

I decide to get my excuses out of the way and tell Jylle I’m really not very good at drawing, but she’s quick to dismiss my nerves. “I’m not concerned with the perfectionist traditional teaching of life drawing. I just want everyone to have a go at trying out different image-making techniques. And just as most people are newcomers, I often use models who haven’t done classes that look for traditional poses – I prefer it to be more random, to have people do their own thing.” 

It’s a sentiment she repeats as she welcomes attendees and runs through the plan for the evening, which sees the models assume a variety of poses for eight minutes each during which time we are assigned a different challenge.

Neon Naked
Photo credit: Neon Naked

I must admit, I’m a little alarmed when Jylle references pointillism (taking inspiration from artists like Georges Seurat to draw with dots) and Leonardo di Vinvi’s anatomical drawings as the models move around the stage, but really the evening is all about having fun as opposed to high art. “I’m not looking for perfect drawing, and it doesn’t have to be true to life. I’m encouraging personal style instead. That’s why I set a variety of challenges – lots of little fun things that mean attendees come out with a real variety of work that they can share and discuss at the end.” 

Around the room, highlighters move across the paper, while some are unable to resist the temptation to add neon squiggles and swirls to each other’s face, and over the course of the evening we sketch outlines without looking at the paper or use one continuous line to capture the scene in front of us. Jylle encourages colour and experimentation, and tells us not to be afraid of going abstract, but overall her teaching style is very hands-off. 

“I often think that I’m not in control of the class, and that it has its own entity. I am just the person who does the admin – who sorts the emails, organises the venue and puts out the paint. Really, it just happens on its own.”

Facilitating art experiments

During the pandemic, however, it became clear how much Neon Naked events rely on the immediacy of real-life. In 2020, while event organisers pivoted to digital, Jylle struggled with the fact that UV light doesn’t work on live computer cameras. “It just isn’t effective, but we did hold some online classes after the first six months, when people were allowed in each other’s houses again. I spent an afternoon with a couple of models and filmed them doing a range of poses that I could send out as a video for attendees to watch while I taught the class via Zoom. It did work, but to be honest, I really missed the in-person experience – the communication, the feedback, the banter – it just wasn’t the same.”

Neon Naked
Photo credit: Neon Naked

Happily, Jylle is back hosting regular classes in real life and looking for ways to adapt and change them to suit the venue and the audience – an average week could see her host a hen party one night and a corporate workshop the next. “Post-pandemic, I want to get some consistency going and return to previous levels in terms of number of classes and venues. I’m introducing some special events too – like one where everything is golden, with gold body paint, gold pens and gold leaf.” 

It’s all part of Jylle’s commitment to inspiring creativity, which, as the night comes to a close, it’s clear she has achieved. From nothing, we suddenly find ourselves comparing pictures of vibrant living sculptures and snapping our work to post on social channels – all those worries about being able to draw, happily switched off. 

Interested in attending one of Neon Naked’s next events? Follow them on Eventbrite to be alerted when new events are added.

Feeling inspired by Jylle’s story? Start planning your next event here.

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