The article on my introduction to life modelling got quite a good reception and was widely read. One or two people have suggested that being a life model is simply a matter of taking your clothes off and sitting still for a while… which is essentially true, but there are a few things about it which may be worth considering before your own foray into the world of the art model.
Recently, Tracey and I modelled for the second of three, three hour sessions, meaning we will have spent a total of nine hours sitting in exactly the same position over the course of three weeks. In the afternoon of the same day, I modelled alone for another group of artists; again for three hours.
Doing any single thing for nine hours is unusual, and sitting very still for six hours in a day requires control and stamina. We liken it to a strange form of yoga, where you hold a single asana for a very long time. Indeed, when I have finished a modelling session it does feel as though I have done a strenuous hatha workout!
The first thing you find out when you research life modelling is that the artists are not there for a striptease. This means that you will be offered a changing room in which to undress and you should take a robe or wrap which can be quickly discarded without any fuss. Most times the changing room will be a toilet or a broom cupboard, you’re not going to get A-list star treatment here! On the subject of clothes, if you normally wear tight underwear then you may wish to rethink your attire for the journey to the session; elasticated strap-lines take a while to disappear and the artists probably prefer smooth skin. Loose clothing is way more comfortable anyway.
The tutor may well have a firm idea of the poses he or she wants you to do, or they could leave it entirely up to you. Sometimes you might be asked to hold a pose which looks fine initially, but once you get into it, you just know it’s going to be uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to say so; it’s your body and damaging your joints is in nobody’s interest. The seats, mattresses and other furniture you may be asked to use will often be rather shabby and marked. There isn’t a great deal of money in amateur art and it really shows here. You may wish to take a large white or cream bath towel or a throw to go over whatever you are asked to use. If decisions on the poses are left up to you, try to vary the directions you face and the shapes you make. Very elongated poses can leave the artist with a difficult view to accommodate on a standard portrait or landscape canvas. Whilst you are in one pose, take time to plan your next.
When it comes to your first moment to strip off, I’m afraid I cannot advise what to do if you get nervous. For me it was simply a matter of dropping the sarong I was wearing and getting into the first position. There was no agonising over it, no worry about anything going wrong, I just got straight in there. I may be lucky because I can do things without hesitation – I have always believed that worrying about taking a first step, is a sure fire way to make it even more difficult to take. As has been said by others, feel the fear and do it anyway.
Anything from ten seconds to ten minutes after assuming a pose, you may well discover that you have an itch. Most likely on your face or your back, but definitely somewhere you cannot scratch easily. You are supposed to sit still and movement of any kind is not good for the artists who have paid you to pose, so you have to try and find a way to let the itch pass, to hide it from your expression and ideally, not to let your muscles tense as you try to ignore it. If you do have to move, be conscious of the placement of your arm, scratch, then be mindful of returning it to the same place.
No matter how carefully you move as you settle into position, if it’s a long pose then it is highly likely that you’ll start to ache somewhere. Once again, you’ll do well to try and ignore it, to recognise it for what it is and let it fade into the background. The class shouldn’t mind too much if you stretch out an awfully aching limb every 10-15 minutes but I find meditation helps massively with this – give your mind something to concentrate on so it’s simply too busy to worry about a muscle or joint that’s complaining.
As well as odd aches and itches, I sometimes experience sharp, stabbing pains which feel like an artist has stuck the pointy end of their brush into me! They never have, but sharp stabbing pains can arise when you sit in a single position for a very long time. Again, the trick is to hide it from your expression if you can and ignore it if possible. It will fade.
Oh the tremors… unless every muscle is completely relaxed, after a while one or more may start an unbidden wobble. I frequently get this in my thigh muscles and I am sure it is visible to the artists. I try to very subtly shift my weight distribution to put more on the wobbling leg, whilst moving as little as possible.
Not the nudge-nudge sort, more the forty-winks type. If I am happy and relaxed in a pose and gently meditating the moments away, it has been known for me to drift a little too far into the arms of Morpheus. I have yet to find a solution to this, although all of the above issues are great at preventing it.
I’ve heard suggestion by people of both genders that it might be difficult for men to pose naked because they may get… ahem… excited. All I can say is if you regularly get an unbidden erection whilst shopping in the supermarket, then life modelling might be a problem for you. If not, it’s more unlikely that this rather strenuous work will result in priapic problems. Even when posing with my nearest and dearest, it would take a gargantuan effort to switch my mind from singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” to Barry White’s “Love Unlimited”. It’s work and whilst it can be a great way to spend time, it is far from an erotic experience, at least for me anyway.
Life modelling is really not very different from any other type of work; if you can do it and – more importantly – you get enjoyment from it, then go for it! If you think it’s likely to cause you either physical or mental distress, it’s not for you. Personally, I love using the time to quietly think, which can be a rare treat in our busy lives. With so many magazines for men dictating their distorted view of a perfect body, it’s no surprise to learn many men suffer from a lack of body confidence – this is not a women-only issue. Whilst I do accept you should have a comfortable level of body confidence to begin life modelling, once you get started, your self-image is likely to benefit from a great boost in no time, especially if your personality and positivity shines right through to the artists.
Om mani padme hum