Local writer and chef Josephine Price sits down with artist and fellow Forest Gater Layla Mohamed to chat about their immersive art and supper club concept Dinner & Drawing.

Hey Layla, tell me a little about you, your background and your art?

I am a fine artist and a full-time mother of Egyptian-British heritage. I run art classes, take on commissions, hold exhibitions, work at events as a live artist, and run market stalls. Alongside my practice, I aim to generate cultural events and provide education.

I studied Fine Art at university, but it was after that, in 2013, that I immersed myself in the London figurative drawing scene, obsessively drawing people with the goal of capturing and conveying the essence of my subject. In the last five years I’ve transformed my artistic offering, setting myself up as a brand that can offers artworks to buy, entertainment and artistic experiences.

What inspires you? What makes you the artist you are today?

I have two approaches to making art: precision and chaos. My main loves are ink and watercolour drawings, flavoured by happy accidents. I love the loss of control, the combination of stark black ink lines with colourful explosions. The moments when everything bleeds together and you can’t stop it, you just have to work with what is left and make decisions. I’m inspired by willingness, shiny and shapely garments, expressive hands and body awareness. Aside from figurative drawing, I also create elaborate monochrome line drawings that depict abstract forms and tell stories.

The root of this inspiration is in Islamic calligraphy and graffiti which taps into my Egyptian heritage.

I have created very personal compositions using this style, and have also screen-printed such designs onto clothing and as a limited-edition print run. Drawing and painting is difficult, you need to do it over and over again to get anywhere. But it’s a struggle that feels really good to me.

What do you like about drawing people?

When I have someone in front of me and they are really into being drawn, I feel really inspired by that energy. I like making people feel seen. I love the differences that exist in every body. But I also love the immediacy and the transience when capturing someone. It’s now or never.

You’ve been running events for quite a while now. Could you tell us a little about the series you do and the stories behind them?

I’ve been running a series called Drawn to Rope at Anatomie Studio (an educational venue for shibari and kinbaku) in Peckham since 2016. I adore this event. Every month we have a different model and rigger from the rope (shibari) community. The poses are very quick, usually around five mins on average and there is a lot to capture in that time - the tension of the ropes, the dynamic between the couple, the shapes, the rope. No time to think, just draw.

Over the years a special community has built up around this event and there is a lot of love in the room.

Unspeakable Drawing is another series that was founded in 2019. Myself and my friend Codeture had been drawing both models and friends at my house since 2016. The series is centred around a theme which we both find irresistible: fashion and fetish. Think lots of latex. We love to indulge the model and draw them in whatever way they want to be seen. We launched the event and hosted four sessions before lockdown hit, and then it went online which gave us access to international models and audiences. We are slowly resurfacing and have done a few events in various venues around London.

What is the story behind the Dinner and Drawing concept?

In 2018 I put out an open call on Instagram for strangers to get in touch to come and have dinner with me and then be drawn. My aim was to get to know the person I was drawing and see how it informed the work. It also felt a bit risky, which I liked. There was usually a nervous energy at the beginning from both of us, but we relaxed over dinner and I found it was a great way to prime us for the drawing part. It gave us the time to discuss why we were doing it, and connect with each other. I ended up having over 50 people come and be drawn, many of them became friends and came back multiple times. I planned to exhibit the collection of drawings in 2020, but this was postponed twice due to lockdowns and I finally exhibited everything online in September 2020.

Why did you want to create a bigger version?

Originally it was thought up as an event to accompany and compliment my exhibition and bring the concept to life for others to experience.

As I started to tell people about the idea I realised that there was excitement and curiosity around the event and it absolutely made sense to share it.

Throughout my experience of my own Dinner and Drawing, it transpired that the strongest theme that emerged from the project was that it gave a platform to people who wanted to to explore their relationship with the body and nudity. I wonder what other things will emerge from doing this in a bigger group of people.

What can people expect on the night?

​​You’ll get a delicious cocktail on arrival and I’ll be greeting everyone and making you feel comfortable. Once everyone has arrived and is settled I’ll pair the artists and models who will share a candlelit dinner and will get to know each other. Once dinner is over, it’ll be time to get drawing. The pairs will decide the kind of things they want to explore in the drawings and a series of work will be produced. At the end of the evening we will lay all the work out and see the fruits of the night. It is at the discretion of the artist what happens with the drawings after the session.

What’s the food going to be like?

Delicious, healthy and colourful. Local writer and chef Josephine Price has designed a delicious seasonal vegan feast. We decided to go vegan as it covers most bases and is ethical and enticing. There will be sharing plates to start. Think beetroot and cannellini beans with tahini, hot sauce and dill… But stay tuned for more information on that soon. We’re excited to be working together!

And what can people expect from the drawing part of the evening?

Modelling for an artist is an interesting exercise. It’s a chance to be still and silent with yourself, an excuse to do nothing. To be observed and interpreted. Think about what draws you to this experience, and talk to your artist about it over dinner. It could be a full figure drawing, portraits, a focus on a part of your body, maybe wearing your favourite outfit. How would you want to be seen? The environment will be warm and welcoming, a safe space where we are all supporting each other. All the artists have years of experience drawing people and will make you feel comfortable.

And the question many might have… should they get naked?

There is absolutely no pressure to strip off, but it is also an opportunity to explore this if desired.

Before you go, as a fellow FG local, where do you find inspiration and creativity in our neighbourhood?

I’ve lived here since 2015 but only really got to know the area during lockdown. There was a wonderful initiative by local artist Michael Nash to display artwork in house windows when we were all housebound.

This helped me get to know many artists just around the corner and highlighted that there are so many creative people in Forest Gate.

It’s a beautiful supportive community. We are lucky to have so many great venues offering inspiring regular events; I adore the Forest Tavern for the monthly jazz nights. I spend a lot of time outside with my daughter roaming on the Wanstead Flats - a great space for getting clarity. I went to West Ham Park every day over lockdown, doing laps of the place with my baby. It provided a great deal of sanctuary and I enjoyed watching the seasons weave in and out of each other as I was detached from that in my former office life. I like to check out Woodgrange Market and No8 Emporium showcasing the local talent. And I’m working on getting a regular life drawing class going in the neighbourhood.  

And finally, how can people find out more about you and join your events?

Follow me on instagram @inkylayla, look at my new website and check in on my Eventbrite page for events.

For further info on Dinner & Drawing check out the Inkylayla event page here.