Art class modeling?
October 12, 2010 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone here tried modeling for art classes?

I need a job. The best paying offer I have by far is to model (usually nude) for an art class. I'd like to do it but I'm definitely nervous. I was wondering if anybody here had tried it or knew what it would be like. I don't know anybody who has, so I don't know if it would be awkward/embarrassing or what.

posted by vickyes to Work & Money (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't done it, but have attended many life drawing classes. It is very hard work holding poses. Many of the best models are dancers and yogis and athletes with good muscular control. The atmosphere in a reputable art class is professional and respectful, so I wouldn't worry about that part unless you are really prone to embarrassment. I'd worry more about the physical aspects of it (but that's me; there's no way my body could do it).
posted by Wordwoman at 10:56 AM on October 12, 2010

Yes, I did this for several years in college because the pay was fantastic (for a poor college student) and the work (can you even call it work?) was easy. Plus, it gave me 3 or 4 hours to just zone out and think. Honestly, I don't ever remember being so relaxed as I was on those nights.

I wasn't embarrassed, and I have a very average body - not spectacular, though nothing to be ashamed about. Of course, none of that matters to the class - I suppose it just matters in our own minds. It's not awkward - you're not there to entertain the class and you don't need to speak to anyone if you don't want to. I would occasionally walk around & look at the paintings or drawings on breaks, but you certainly don't have to. Everyone in my experience was mature and professional.

Some things to keep in mind:
- Yeah, it's easy, but not as easy at it looks. You will be sore. Parts of your body may fall asleep. I used to hold a pose for about an hour at a time - many people can go longer. Modeling sessions were typically 3-4 hours in length.
- It can get pretty freakin' cold at times.
- Definitely bring a robe to change into. The most awkward part of being naked, in my opinion, is the act of undressing. Change into your robe in the bathroom, then just disrobe before taking the pose.

Memail me if you have any other questions!
posted by pecanpies at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did it a lot when I moved to NYC. Everyone in the class is used to seeing models, and since they get models of all body types you'd have to have tentacles or something to get even a raised eyebrow.

Bring a robe to change into/out of. Within a few moments of having taken it off, you will probably feel surprisingly normal. It's usually very quiet, perhaps with music playing, and most people will be mostly looking at their work, just glancing your way occasionally for reference -- not staring or ogling.

It was good for my self-esteem, I'd encourage anyone to try it.
posted by hermitosis at 10:57 AM on October 12, 2010

I've done it! Long poses are probably the hardest part. Be sure to FULLY relax in a pose before you nod that you're ready --- cause that little tension in your left arm or whatever is going to be BRUTAL after 20-30 minutes. You might want to practice at home.

Definitely bring a robe, change in the bathroom. People will generally be very respectful.
posted by stray at 11:00 AM on October 12, 2010

My friends and I did this all through college. You have nothing to worry about, the atmosphere is likely to be very quiet and studious, the only things to think about will be it's much harder to hold a pose for ten minutes then you think, and how shatteringly bored you're going to be for the longer poses. As someone who has posed and drawn, honestly any kind of awkwardness vanishes after two minutes. Just make sure you have a warm n comfortable robe to slip into during breaks.

Honesltly after two minutes it just feels like being in a doctors office. If anything people are almost too polite.
posted by The Whelk at 11:00 AM on October 12, 2010

A half dozen of my friends have done it full-time and can remember being nervous the first time out.

Ask to attend one of the classes to see what the atmosphere is like. You'll probably notice that people are very absorbed in their artwork and tend to keep a polite distance from the model, even during breaks.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:02 AM on October 12, 2010

It can seem easy in theory, but doing it regularly (for your primary job) is fairly risky, physically. I have done it on and off for 5 years, often as my only job, and have one permanent injury from each period in which I was doing it. My shoulder is damaged from a long pose when I was laying on it in a seemingly innocuous position for just 3 hours a week, for a month. My right hamstring has never really recovered from another challenging pose. I am very experienced, and generally have a sense of what is and isn't safe. Doing it very occasionally is fun, and can be very good for healing mild body-image issues. But I would really caution you against taking this on as a full-time job. The pay is good, but therefore the expectation is that you take it seriously and don't just dial-it-in. But taking it appropriately seriously can have long-term or permanent consequences. Just my perspective, of course.
posted by wondershrew with a helping of potato salad at 11:04 AM on October 12, 2010

I know a few art models; they all say it's fine and have been doing it for years. One model I know has very distinctive hair (purple mohawk kind of distinctive). A student's painting of her was chosen as the cover of the brochure for the art college where she models. Because of the hair, the painting was extremely recognizable; so essentially, her topless image ended up being distributed all over the city. It was a good painting, she looked beautiful, and she was cool with the notoriety, but I guess it is something to consider; you might want to talk to the school about this happening.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:05 AM on October 12, 2010

I haven't, but I have taken art classes with nude models and a friend of mine has modeled in this way.

My only input is that, from my perspective, there was nothing particularly erotic or arousing about the whole thing. Even when the model was attractive (which, to be honest, wasn't all that often), I was more focused on how I was going to do the drawing.

Do remember that you are performing a very valuable service and should speak up if something makes you uncomfortable. My class had a rule about no cell phone usage during the class (because they all have cameras these days) and the windows were all blocked off (which sucks for natural lighting, but that's life). I would hope this would be standard, but you are absolutely within your rights to insist on it and to complain if you feel you aren't being treated with respect.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:06 AM on October 12, 2010

I should add that I do not plan on modeling again in the future. I finally realized that it is not worth the risk, just to give you some background on my comment!
posted by wondershrew with a helping of potato salad at 11:08 AM on October 12, 2010

While I have not been a nude model, I did go to a relatively fancy pants art school with a good deal of nude model centered classes.

From the student's perspective, its not embarrassing. Day in and day out we drew: plants, bones, buildings, models. After a while you stop thinking about what you're drawing and you just draw. There wasn't any judgment regarding our model -- we just tried to portray them as accurately as we could.

As for how the model was treated, the classroom had a heater for them so they wouldn't get too cold. They took breaks every half hour or so, where they would put on a robe, walk around (sometimes looking at our work) and just relax while the students would go downstairs and smoke cigarettes and refresh their eyes for a bit.

We had one model that would bring in a cart of props. One of my favorite drawings from my freshman model drawing class is this guy who is totally nude except for a football helmet and a beer he's resting on his knee. The best models had a good repertoire of poses to work through, and knew how to vary their poses so students in all parts of the room would get different kinds of perspective, different sides of the body, stuff like that. We needed things to draw quickly, every 15 seconds or so, some poses that were around 2 minutes and longer poses up to a half hour.

So basically, the art students were polite and respectful to the model. We tried the best we could to make sure they were comfortable and give them privacy when privacy was appropriate. (They would usually strip down in the corner of a room; we would avert our eyes as best we could until they disrobed on the central platform that they stood on while we drew.) It was a pretty professional relationship. Kind, friendly, but not really intimate or anything. Drawing was our job, modeling was theirs. It worked out well like that.
posted by danielle the bee at 11:11 AM on October 12, 2010

Oh, and yes if you do decide to do it, models with some props where always appreciated.
posted by The Whelk at 11:14 AM on October 12, 2010

I read somewhere (maybe a previous AskMe, though I can't find it) that the best way to prep for your first time is to walk around your house/apartment in the nude. It gives you time to just hang out in the nude and get used to all your bits being visible and exposed to the air. Then when you get to class and drop the robe, it's no big deal.
posted by CathyG at 12:13 PM on October 12, 2010

I did this (in my underwear). It is surprisingly hard to come up with multiple poses - they sometimes asked me to do minute-long poses, and after five or six I would run out of ideas. It's also very hard to hold poses for a long time. I definitely learned not to try "interesting" if I was being asked to hold them for five or ten minutes.

Also, be comfortable with seeing yourself drawn by people who distort your body. I can't tell you how many times I'd walk around the room and see that half of the artists had given me enormous Pamela Anderson breasts. Every once in a while, someone would draw me with huge rolls of fat.

But if you're OK with the nudity and OK with holding poses (try it!), there's no real reason not to try it.
posted by prefpara at 12:17 PM on October 12, 2010

I did this for a semester in college. The professor was incredibly professional and walked a respectable perimeter around me between where I stood and where the students were. The students were all fine and respectful, too. I was nervous the first day, but after that, I was incredibly comfortable and fine.

I found it rather meditative in an odd way, and it became a personal challenge as to how long I could hold each pose. I also enjoyed during the break walking around and seeing each student's rendition of me (for this, I wore my bathrobe). It was really cool to see how different they could be from person to person and based on the particular angle that a particular student was viewing me.

I was disappointed when later on someone complained about nude models in the art classes and the department could only have professional head models going forward. I lost a really well paying job for a college student in a rural environment. *grumble*grumble*
posted by zizzle at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2010

One tip:

Come up with more poses that involve lying down or sitting. Those are generally easier to hold than standing ones, though standing poses are unavoidable.
posted by zizzle at 12:23 PM on October 12, 2010

I did it on and off for a few years when i was in my teens and twenties. Make sure your leg doesn't go to sleep like mine did once: I got down off of the platform and went sprawling on the floor.

What I remember is a series of one minute, two minute, five minute poses, then a longer one. For sculpture classes I had to remember a pose and go back to it class after class. Everyone was always very nice and the money was great.

Lately I've been wondering if there are still sketches, paintings, or busts of that much younger me somewhere out there...
posted by mareli at 12:43 PM on October 12, 2010

I did this when I was younger, both clothed and nude, and for what it's worth there was not much difference between posing with clothes and without. Nobody is tittering at the flesh -- you are just something to paint. Be prepared for strange representations of yourself, and yes, bring a robe. It was pleasant work, and I enthusiastically recommend it. The worst thing that will happen is that somebody will knock out a really nice painting of you and of course you don't get to keep it (though occasionally, you will).
posted by kmennie at 12:53 PM on October 12, 2010

Just this Friday I was in drawing class with two nude models, who were really ugly and their bodies were very far from what one would think as ideal. Nonetheless, they're still alive and well, even after we, a bunch of freshmen, stared at them for 4 hours straight.
posted by uauage at 1:14 PM on October 12, 2010

i've done it too, and if it's possible i would suggest attending a lifedrawing class at least once before being a life model yourself. or, if you've got a friend you could ask to sit for you, get them to come over and have your own session at home. i suggest this because having been on both sides of the easel, i feel like the best life models are the ones that understand what it is art students want from them (and because it would give you an idea of what goes on in a class).
you may need to bring a timer (mobile phone with an alarm clock/stop watch works pretty well) as the instructor may want a series of say, 5 minute poses, although some places i've drawn, the instructor handles the timing. make sure you do lots of stretching before you start, particularly if the space is a little chilly - cold muscles make you more prone to injury. i used to bring a hair clasp as i've got long hair, and sometimes students prefer it tied up so they can see more of the neck and shoulders. i used to forgo cigarettes and coffee before a session so that i'd be at my least fidgety. i'd always make sure i ate beforehand as well, after one session when my stomach rumbled very loudly in the almost silent classroom. not the most embarrassing thing ever, but i found it ruined my focus. another thing that helped me (although a considerate instructor should think of this) is having a broom/pole to hold or rest your arms on - it means you can keep a really expressive pose for longer (arms stretched out for 5 minutes for example). expect to get a little grotty - even though most places i worked put out a sheet for me, there's likely to be charcoal dust everywhere!
some places i've worked have had students who wanted to photograph me as well, whether or not you allow them is entirely up to you, you are not in any way obligated by virtue of being a life model.
and on the topic of being naked in front of strangers, like everyone else says, you get over the weirdness very quickly. you may not even experience any weirdness, especially if you've attended a life drawing class already. drawing a living human being is very different to drawing a bunch of objects, as their presence is far more palpable than that of some fruit or a group of bottles. that said though, people are there to draw, not ogle. one of the first life models i ever drew was a woman in her 50s who had had a mastectomy and was life modelling to recover from the loss of her breast. i thought this was very courageous when she told us at the start of the session, but minutes into drawing i wasn't thinking "wow, no breast" and i doubt anyone else was - we were there to work, and in order to draw well, you need to approach the body in its completeness, there's no room for being judgemental or pervy.
posted by sleep_walker at 2:58 PM on October 12, 2010

I did it in college. The pay was good. For the class I modeled for, the teacher would tell me which poses to do and how long to hold them. Some were tough, but none were very long so I didn't run into the problems that other people did. No one cares that you're naked. You come in, change into a robe or something. Hang out while class gets started. Teacher says "let's get started" and you take off your robe and then they either they tell you what to do or you do something.

Bring something loose that you can put on and take off easily. The only problem that I really had was that the Art Barn [where I worked] was cold and so they had a space heater on me. This meant that part of me was warm/hot and the other part was chilly. This made me woozy sometimes.

The only other thing I didn't see someone mention is that people's drawings of you will become part of their portfolios. In one case I saw a naked drawing of me [not that recognizeable as me, I am sort of average build/look] hanging in the school art gallery. Hadn't been expecting that.
posted by jessamyn at 4:12 PM on October 12, 2010

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