My Summer Odd Job: Art Model

by Erina Davidson


At art school, nude dudes and ladies are a part of the curriculum. I’ve been drawing from unclothed figures for six years, and after seeing the rainbow of people that have modeled for my classes, I realized that anyone could be an art model. The only requirement was that one must be willing to show off all the goods on a pedestal under the scrutiny of ten or more artistically-trained students.

This summer, I finally did it. Pants down, art on.

As I approached the appointment, I grew a little hesitant. I tend to go into things with full confidence, which usually whittles into a “wait a minute…” moment. This situation had the potential to turn out like that time I auditioned for the school choir, when I walked in with my chin up and sang like a crying mouse attached to a vibrator.

While I was pretty anxious when I arrived at the art center, the nerves wore down after the first few shaky – and I mean shaky – poses. Once I had a few poses in my head, I began to really enjoy myself. It became my own personal challenge to stay as absolutely still as possible, for as long as possible. After years of drawing figures, I finally experienced what it’s like to be on the other side of the easel.

There’s a sense of vulnerability when you’re modeling, but I actually felt pretty confident with myself, despite the fact that I’d frequently been taking part in the 99 cent Crunchwrap Supreme® deal. On the model stand, the body becomes lines, movement, curves, and shadow, instead of lumps, bulges, and cellulite. Taking it all off for an art class actually made me feel better about my body. Given the chance, I would absolutely do it again. As an art student, being on the other side was an enriching experience and it deepened my appreciation for the models.

Art schools, during the year and during the Pre-College summer programs, always need live models for different courses. If you’re uncomfortable modeling nude, schools also need clothed models. Models are usually paid between $20 to $30 an hour, for a session of three hours or more. If you’re thinking about giving art modeling a try, find out if any schools near you are looking to hire models; local art centers are also good places to look.

Here are some things that went through my head while I was baring it all on the model stand:

1.) Go easy with the first set of quick poses. You’ll be tempted to do dynamic poses for the short, gestural session – usually a minute to 3 minutes per pose. A minute, when you’re attempting to stay absolutely still, is longer than you think. For some insane reason, I thought I’d be able to hold a low squat for three minutes. My thighs were weeping in agony. When in doubt, go easy – you can do interesting poses without hurting yourself.

2.) Keep in mind that most art students have drawn from unclothed figures before. They know what to expect when the model approaches the stand. But if you seem unsure of yourself, the students may pick up on your nervousness. One time, my drawing class had a young model and it was pretty apparent that he was new; he hesitated, seemed super nervous, and looked around the room a lot. First day nerves are inevitable. (My leg was shaking for a whole minute during my first pose.) As the session moves on, you’ll feel more comfortable.

3.) As a general rule, take off your glasses, keep your hair up and away, and wear little to no make up. Though I don’t recommend wearing necklaces or flashy jewelry, don’t worry about taking out piercings; I’ve seen a lot of models who keep them in, and I kept mine in as well. (Sometimes they’re quite interesting to draw.)

4.) Drink coffee or have a little snack before your gig. I got pretty sleepy staring at the doorknob for thirty minutes while doing a sitting pose. A snack is also a good idea since most gigs are three hours or longer. My stomach started growling towards the end, which was kind of embarrassing, though probably less embarrassing than if I were farting.

5.) Anticipate Aunt Flo’s arrival. Luckily, I didn’t have any incidents, but regular models have to deal with less-than-ideal schedules. If you wear a tampon, tuck the string inside so it doesn’t show. Remember – if you’re too uncomfortable, you can always cancel your gig ahead of time.

6.) Yoga and meditation skills will work to your advantage.
If you’re a yoga enthusiast, it’s likely you’d make a great art model. Besides being able to hold poses, knowing some meditation tricks for longer sessions will keep you from getting restless or falling asleep.

7.) Have fun! Be creative with your poses, play with emotions, think back to classical portrait and statues, etc. I tried to think about what I like to draw when I draw from life. Creative models often get asked back for more gigs. 

Happy posing!

This post was originally published June 21, 2011.

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