Artist model FAQs

This page answers frequently asked questions about life modeling, which is a very misunderstood avocation for those not familiar with it.

See also:

Following these entries are interviews and online videos about figure modeling.

Untitled by Jan Autengruber, 1914. Public Domain.

Untitled by Jan Autengruber, 1914. Public Domain.

What is the purpose of nude figure drawing?

It has been said that “drawing the human figure for an artist is like a musician practicing scales.” Figure drawing is a long-established and widely followed tradition practiced around the world.

Drawing the human figure is arguably one of the greatest challenges for an artist, particularly in effectively representing the muscles, tendons, and ligature of a human model. Even small errors in capturing the human form can result in large overall distortions in the overall result.

How long is a modeling session?

Although sessions can vary, a typical modeling session lasts from two and a half to three hours.

What types of modeling sessions are there?

There are three general types of modeling sessions:

  1. Instructional – Classes designed to teach figure drawing to students enrolled in a class. These are usually classes taught at university art programs or at community art centers.
  2. Unstructured – Sessions where several artists get together to draw a model provided by the session coordinator. Typically these are open sessions available to anyone who to arrives that day and pays a modest fee.
  3. Private – Sessions where an single artist hires a model to pose for the artist individually.

This website primarily focuses on life modeling for instructional and unstructured venues.

Do I have the right body type to be a life model?

Anyone can find regular work as a figure model. Most serious figurative artists and instructors want to practice drawing a wide range of body types. Often figure drawing groups strive to go out of their way to provide models of all shapes and sizes over time.

Some artists only like to work with certain body types (such as females only), but this is the minority. Anyone who wants to be a figure model should be able to find steady work over time.

Psamathe (1880) by Frederic Leighton. Public domain.

Psamathe (1880) by Frederic Leighton. Public domain.

 

How do I get started as a life model?

See the detailed advice provided on the web page How to find work as an artist model.

Is nude modeling erotic?

Only to those who know nothing about what a life drawing session is really like. Anyone who has participated in a modeling session, either as a model or an artist, has a very different — and more workmanlike — view of modeling sessions.

Artists find these sessions periods of extreme focus, as they strive to accurately capture the details of the human form. When the session begins, the model is constantly thinking ahead to the the next in a series of quick gesture poses. For the rest of the session, the model remains motionless and silent, sometimes in uncomfortable positions, for twenty to thirty minutes at a time.

Art classes have developed standard conventions, designed to ensure that sessions are conducted professionally, such as having artists always wear robes during model breaks, keeping an appropriate distance between the model and the artists, and never touching the model. See Code of conduct for modeling sessions for more details.

Should I model using my real name?

Using an assumed name will provide you with more anonymity, but it will severely limit your modeling opportunities. Many established art centers and almost all universities will require you to fill out employment forms and/or tax documents requiring you to disclose your name. Using an assumed name also indicates that you feel that you have something to hide being an artist model.

Many models find they can work regularly using their real names, without having this known by their non-artist friends, as long as they maintain a relatively low profile when modeling, such as only referring to themselves by their first name during modeling sessions. In the figurative arts community, everyone you run across will share the belief that nude modeling is honorable work.

Whether you want to disclose your real name is a personal decision. If you feel your family, work, or social situation prevents you from openly modeling, you can still find modeling opportunities at open drawing sessions that pay models in cash the day you model.

Reclining Nude by Luis Ricardo Falero. Public domain.

Reclining Nude by Luis Ricardo Falero. Public domain.

What are the most important skills for a life model?

Not what non-artists might think. By far the most important quality is reliability. Models need to show up for all scheduled appointments early and must be ready to begin posing the moment the session is scheduled to begin.

Failure to reliably meet all your scheduled model commitments will derail your career as a model. Reliably meeting your commitments will guarantee you steady work.

Close in importance is the ability to hold a pose without moving or talking except during model breaks. Remaining still and quiet is highly valued among artists.

Another important quality can best be described as “presence”. Artists can tell whether you enjoy modeling and serving as a muse to inspire their art, or whether your heart isn’t into it and you are there just there to get paid. Your attitude will affect the artist’s inspiration and resulting art. For more on presence see How to serve as an artist model.

The ability to provide a variety of dynamic and creative poses over time is also important. Gesture poses should be dramatic and inspiring. Long poses should be relaxed and easy to maintain, while still including some body twists to maintain the artists’ interest. Artists prefer having models choose comfortable, rather than challenging, long poses. Adopting a dynamic pose that you cannot effectively maintain does the artist no good: proportions and value (shading) change dramatically and undermines the purpose of the exercise. Providing a comfortable pose that you can retain is far more valuable to the artist.

How do I find work as an artists’ model?

This is explained in detail in the page How to find work as an artist’s model.

How do I interview for a modeling session?

Many times those hiring models for instructional sessions or open draw classes will not require an interview. They will just sign you up for an upcoming session. Other clients may ask to meet you briefly in a casual setting just to get acquainted and get a general sense that you are “normal” and someone they deem reliable.

They may also want to get a general sense of what your body type is, which they can use to determine for scheduling. Instructional groups in particular may require a certain age, gender, or body type for a particular class topic.

Do I have to appear nude during the interview process?

As a practical matter, no! Legitimate art instructors and open draw facilitators almost never require this.

If an artist hiring for an art class or open draw group ever requests to see you naked other than during an actual modeling session where you will be paid, you should look on this with extreme suspicion. This is unnecessary for their hiring decision and would not be considered professional behavior.

Similarly, if a model were to offer to appear nude during an initial interview, the hiring artist would probably look on the person’s judgment and motivation to serve as a model with suspicion.

How is a modeling session typically conducted?

The session usually begins with a series of dynamic gesture poses, typically lasting anywhere from thirty seconds to five minutes each. The rest of the session is usually composed of one or more long poses of twenty minutes or more each. The models will receive short breaks every twenty to thirty minutes, in order to avoid discomfort from muscle strain.

For detailed information on this topic, see How to serve as an artist model.

Who selects the model poses?

The model should be prepared to provide ideas for all the poses for the model session. Typically the instructor (for art classes) or the coordinator (for open draw sessions) will inform the model how long the poses will be, and may provide general direction on the general type of the longer poses desired (such as contrapposto, seated, standing, or recumbent).

 

To help you come up with ideas for model poses, see Pose ideas for life models and Reference books for artists and models.

What makes for a good short pose?

Good short gesture poses include muscle tension and a sense of “frozen movement.” Gesture poses are often those that cannot be sustained for more than a minute or two.

How can I come up with good poses? 

For ideas for model poses,  see Pose ideas for life models.

Will I be photographed nude?

You have the absolute right to refuse to be photographed nude for the session.

Typically, figure drawing sessions have rules prohibiting artists from taking pictures of models during sessions without the model’s permission. In fact, most artists models do not allow themselves to the photographed nude for drawing or painting sessions.

Unless the person hiring you specifically informs you in advance that reference photos are required, you should safely assume that nude photography will be prohibited. However, if you don’t want to be photographed nude, you can always ask to confirm that they have a policy prohibiting photography during the session before booking the session.

Another factor to consider is that nude photography models get paid a lot more than life drawing models. Why agree to being photographed during your session if you aren’t being paid nude photography rates?

For clothed or costumed sessions, artists may ask to to take a reference photo of you. The choice is yours whether you allow it.

Male Nude Known as Hector by Jacques-Louis David. Public domain.

Male Nude Known as Hector by Jacques-Louis David. Public domain.

 

What if I have tattoos?

Tattoos are quite common for figure models.

Most artists will ignore tattoos when drawing the figure, although sometimes talented artists will incorporate tattoos into their art work.

What do models do about body hair?

However you choose to maintain your body hair is a personal choice. Many, if not most, models do not shave or do anything special about body hair.

For men: What if I get an erection?

As noted above, a life modeling session is not the erotic experience that non-models often assume it is. Proper mental control should usually be sufficient to avoid an erection from occurring. If an erection does occur, artists typically will not comment on it, but every effort should be made to mentally end it as soon as possible.

Exhibiting a prolonged erection in a standard studio session is considered unprofessional behavior.

For women: What if I am menstruating?

Many female models address this by wearing a tampon and inserting the string inside. If your period causes sufficient pain to prevent you from modeling, try to arrange your schedule to avoid modeling on those days.

If you need to cancel your session, let your instructor know as soon as possible, and work with him or her to arrange for a replacement model. There is no need for you to explain the specific reason why you will not be available.

If a situation arises during the session that you need to address, simply ask to be excused briefly. Instructors should accommodate an occasional request for an unplanned model break for a legitimate model need.

What if my someone in my family discovers I am a nude model?

For many people, this can be the single most challenging part of being a nude model.

How to deal with this ultimately depends on your family members’ personalities and your relationship with them.

What if someone I know shows up at a session I am modeling for?

A nude model should always be prepared for this situation. If this occurs, the best approach is to warmly greet the person and make them feel welcome before the session begins. Failing to do so could lead to awkward feelings by both parties, both during and after the session.

Recognize that any artist attending a nude modeling session is also part of the figurative art community, which accepts nude modeling as a legitimate activity.

What specifically do I do throughout a life modeling session?

See the detailed instructions provided on the page How to serve as an artist model.

How can I hold a pose without moving for up to a half hour at a time?

This is also discussed on the page How to serve as an artist model.

Should I take it personally if artists leave the session early?

It is common for some artists to leave a session before the it is scheduled to end. Some artists do not feel the need to draw for an entire two and a half or three hour session.

It is particularly common for artists to pack up and leave during the last fifteen minutes before the session ends.

Very occasionally you may run across an artist that chooses to leave before the session begins. For example, a figurative artist may only draw females, and may leave if they find the model is male. This is rare, but not completely uncommon.

Can I obtain pictures of the artist’s sketches of me?

If you ask politely, many (but not all) artists will allow you to take pictures of their session sketches. However, the sketches are their work product, not yours, and you cannot post or share them without the artist’s permission.

When approaching artists with this request, consider informing them that you simply want a personal record of the session results and would never share their work under any circumstances without getting their permission.

Often artists are very self-conscious about the quality of their work. Artists may also feel uncomfortable about having their work captured by a camera shot that does not do justice to their art. If they do not feel comfortable showing you — or allowing you to photograph — their work, respect their wishes.

 

Interviews about figure modeling

The life model, stripped bare – infomative Belfast Telegraph interivew with Belfast, Northern Ireland life model Clare Broome (February 11, 2013).

Video essay on what it is like to be an artists’ model. Iconologica by MANKO (contains nudity).

YouTube video: Figure Model

Description: Modeling for artists – what is it like? Interview with a model for the Livessence Society for figurative artists.

YouTube video: Artist studio, gesture drawing, modeling – Julia Trops

Description: 30 seconds to draw the female nude, 10 sets of 30 second drawings – what’s it like? Today we hear the fundamentals and on the 13th we see it first hand.

 

Nude Life Modelling by workwithnature

 

Masterclass: Life Drawing (five instructors) [contains nudity]

 

Acknowledgements

Most of the information on this page is common knowledge among experienced life models. This author first obtained much of this information from the following sources:

  1. The Art Model’s Handbook: The Naked Truth about Posing for Art Classes and Fine Artists by Andrew Cahner. This is the single best reference book for new figure models.
  2. Information received from nude model training offered monthly by the Figure Models Guild. (See this website’s page listing of figure model guilds for more information about this training.)
  3. Advice received from initial discussions with Jenni Bachman, the coordinator of the Richmond Models Guild. The advice she provided will always be appreciated.

 

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