Life model stories - exclusively from Life Drawing Happenings, Hertfordshire UK.
I guess I am not the usual shape for life modeling as I have dwarfism and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be confident about my body image.
How do you think you’d feel if you woke up on the first day in a new job, knowing that one of the first things you’d have to do when you got there would be to take off all your clothes? Well, I can tell you that I didn’t feel very well at all. I couldn’t believe that I’d committed myself to something so unimaginably appalling. But there was no escape now – I had to go through with it.
Looking back at that day some ten years down the line, my reasons for applying to the local art college for work as a life model don’t look very convincing, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. Having been at home caring for children but otherwise master of my own time for many years I couldn’t face returning to office life – all the gossiping and office politics and having to wear tidy little suits and smart shoes - but a job of some kind was becoming a financial necessity. The idea of being an artist’s muse, spending time with a wild but profoundly fascinating being who would share his deepest thoughts with me as I posed, draped in silken cloths and lying on a velvet chaise longue, had an undeniable appeal. It certainly beat the hell out of the prospect of being on a till in Tesco.
What never entered my mind was that the average model spends his/her time mainly in front of classes of up to 30 strangers. And what I didn’t know was that the local art college, far from occupying the gracious old building I’d envisaged, had been rehoused in a semi-derelict office block, with icy draughts from broken window panes and the dust of ages still lying on the floor.
I was lucky. Taking pity on the pale and trembling middle-aged woman before him, the tutor in charge assigned me to a class of adults doing a part-time degree course, so at least I was spared the added horror of facing hordes of 18 year olds. The students couldn’t have been kinder, introducing themselves and having a friendly chat to help me relax, but the fateful moment couldn’t be put off indefinitely. I was shown the corner of the room, roughly screened with a tatty old piece of cloth, in which I was to undress. By this stage a sense of complete unreality had set in, but it wasn’t enough to calm my thundering heart. As I emerged clothed in my huge dressing gown, I still nursed the crazy hope that perhaps it was a mistake – that they didn’t really need all my clothes off. But they did. And I was shown to a rickety old wooden chair, and asked to sit down.
Nothing at all had prepared me for what came next, which was the total, unnerving silence of intense concentration as fifteen pairs of eyes zoomed in on me, and my cellulite. It was so quiet I was sure they could hear my heart thudding. As the morning wore on, and some kind soul brought me a cup of coffee, I slowly started to calm down a bit, though relaxation was short-lived once drawing after drawing began to be stuck up on the surrounding walls! Wherever I looked, there I was.
By mid-afternoon I was actually relaxed enough to start to feel a bit dozy at times. The sounds which were to become so familiar, the soft scratchings of charcoal on paper mingling with the background hum of traffic and the gentle drizzle outside, calmed my frazzled nerves and a sense of achievement began to creep in.
By the following morning though one of the drawbacks of posing had become apparent – I ached all over! Learning which positions are possible to hold, and which aren’t, is something that really only comes with experience, and the experience can be painful. A good tutor will sometimes warn you if you’re undertaking something which you might regret, but on the other hand they’re looking for models who will inspire their students, and the most inspirational poses are generally the hardest to hold.
Many years down the line, I’ve posed in a huge variety of locations, ranging from luxurious studios in private schools to a platform suspended 30 feet above a warehouse floor! Generally the privacy of the model is well protected, but occasionally something goes wrong. I had a colleague who was asked to stand, facing outwards, on the windowsill of a studio in central London, just in time to wave to the top floor passengers of a double-decker bus as it crawled slowly by!
Feel like trying it for yourself? Bear in mind that the myths about the pay really are myths – you’d be far better off financially working almost anywhere else. But there’s no doubt that it can give you a tremendous sense of empowerment, so much so that nervous trainee actors and opera singers are sometimes advised to do a stint as a life model, on the basis that nothing else that they might be asked to do would ever be quite so scary! Also, being part of the creative process, particularly with the young, provides a buzz and a sense of fulfillment hard to find elsewhere. And finally, it will give you a tiny stake in posterity. In quite a few homes, my image will be gazing down from the wall for years to come. Cellulite included.
A few hints for new models:
The best way to start is to make enquiries at your local art college. The pay might be modest but you’ll be in secure surroundings, invaluable when you’re starting out. Some of them ask models to come along for interview, and a few ask for an audition. This can be a bit unnerving but you have to remember that the staff are also looking out for the safety of their students, particularly in colleges of further education where the students are under 18, and they need to get an idea of what sort of person wants to work with them. If you want to work in colleges like this, you’ll be asked to complete an application form for a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check, so the authorities can be sure that you pose no risk to the students.
Unless you’re male and very confident, or you know the artist extremely well, don’t even consider going to someone’s house or studio to pose on your own. No reputable artist will object to your taking a friend/partner along with you for security.
I recommend that you think about joining RAM – the Register of Artists’ Models. They act as a forum for modelling work, and help keep standards high. The website is www.modelreg.com, and contains some helpful advice for “wannabe” models.
It was about six or seven years ago when my daughter, who had modelled a couple of times, asked me, would I stand in for her as she was unable to get to a life drawing session. My first response --- oh no, I don't think I could! But on second thoughts - I'll give it a go. My first group was with a lovely lady who had double booked the models! So it was me and an older guy I'd never met before. I did pretty straightforward poses, and everyone was very encouraging.As I had drawn before at life drawing groups occasionally, I did know some people from a few local classes, so one thing seemed to lead to another..it was a bit of a surprise when I was modelling instead of drawing, for some people . But I think having drawn the figure gave me an advantage.
I love the art world, and always find it fascinating to see how many different interpretations of the model there can be in one group. Over the last six years, I've modelled for sculptors, drawers, painters and photographers. I've sat outside all day with another model in the rambling garden of a country house, sat for a group of portrait painters, spent a day with a photographer who took pictures of me standing in front of battered old silvered mirrors, posed as models from different paintings such as Gaugins tropical women and Fusilis 'Nightmare'. I have never been bored or restless- on the contrary, I love the challenge of keeping still in a challenging pose. It's like a meditation- and it has made me very comfortable in my own skin. When I was walking in the sand dunes recently on holiday and came across a scattered group of naturists sunning themselves it felt absolutely normal to chat with them though of course in this instance they were nude and I was clothed! Sometimes, as I get to work and get undressed, it crosses my mind that this isn't exactly a 'normal' job...then I'm modelling in Milton Keynes, lying on a bench covered in silky cloth, five guys are drawing me, Kirsty MacColl is playing on the CD, and the atmosphere is one of concentration.... and I think how very lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful history, the history of the art of the human form.
Life modeling has been a career choice for many over the years but is never promoted upon leaving school. You cannot study for it for even gain a qualification.