How to serve as an artist model

This page provides everything you need to know to serve as a nude model during a figure drawing session.

See also:

The information this page provides is typical for life drawing sessions conducted in the United States. These conventions will vary somewhat in other parts of the world.

Life class at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts(1826) by Wilhelm Bendz. Public domain.

Life class at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts(1826) by Wilhelm Bendz. Public domain.

Advance preparation for the modeling session

As an artist model, you should be prepared to come up with all the poses required for the modeling session. This includes a series of short gesture poses to begin the session and longer poses for the remainder of the session. Sometimes the facilitator or other artists may provide some general suggestions for longer poses, but often the artists will look to you to provide all the session poses.

Often open draw sessions may not even have a facilitator. For these sessions, you need to be prepared to time yourself, as well as come up with all the poses for the session.

You need to be prepared with at least 10 to 15 interesting gesture poses. You also need to have a repertoire of several standing, seated, and recumbent poses that you can maintain for at least 20-30 minutes. Experienced models have developed an inventory of poses that they can start from.

Knowing a series of short, gesture poses ahead of time is particularly important. During the session you will be expected to gracefully transition from one to the next in rapid succession.

See our list of thousands of pictures of life model poses and pose ideas for life models to give you ideas for quality nude poses that work for you.

You may also want to find out the experience level of the artists. For example, beginning students may not be able to handle more complex poses, such as extreme foreshortening.

It’s always a good idea to drink plenty of water the day before (but not right before!) modeling session to prevent cramping during long poses.

For obvious reasons, good hygiene is essential for modeling sessions.

Vimeo documentary about serving as a nude art model (contains nudity):

Mirror Doesn’t Love You Like This from Jessie Parsons on Vimeo.

 

Special preparations for new models

It’s always a good idea for inexperienced models to practice longer poses ahead of time. There is nothing worse than committing yourself to a long pose, then finding out it is very uncomfortable to hold after just a few minutes.

You also want to be sure how long you can comfortably maintain dynamic gesture poses. New models often make the mistake of committing to a dramatic pose for a period longer than they can comfortably hold without beginning to twitch or shake. Such poses are physically uncomfortable for the model and mentally unnerving for the artists.

Captive andromeda (1876) by Arthur Hill. Public domain.

Captive andromeda (1876) by Arthur Hill. Public domain.

What to bring to the session

Just because you are modeling nude doesn’t mean you don’t have to bring anything with you to modeling sessions!

A bathrobe – You should always wear a bathrobe just before the session begins and during any modeling breaks. Consider a lightweight robe, rather than a bulky terrycloth one, particularly if you travel by public transportation.

A timer – All poses longer than two minutes should be timed. If the session facilitator doesn’t time you, you should be prepared to time yourself. If possible, use a timer that announces when time is up with a gentle tone, rather than a jarring alarm.

Sandals – To protect your feet when not modeling. Art classrooms and studios are notorious for having charcoal dust, push pins, and other debris.

A towel or sheet – For hygiene. Otherwise you may find yourself sitting or lying on materials previously used by other models which haven’t been cleaned afterwards. The towel or sheet should be a neutral color (white, grey, or black) that does not draw attention from the model.

Appointment book – To keep track of modeling appointments, including any new appointments you may book during this session with the model coordinator or any participating artist.

A model bag – To carry your things. Consider a sufficiently large, light-weight bag with a shoulder handle, particularly if you use public transportation.

Props – You can use props to add variety to your poses and to help create dramatic poses with muscle tension. Common examples are a pole or a length of rope.

Feel free to be creative with props in order to encourage variety in your poses, using items such as a hula hoop, a bow and arrow, or an exercise ball. Just remember, select your props to enhance your poses, not distract from them.

I Sangkammaren by Anders Zorn (1895). Public domain.

I Sangkammaren by Anders Zorn (1895). Public doma

Inform the instructor if an emergency comes up

If, for any reason, you find you will be unable to make the session, be sure to let the instructor know as soon as possible. This will allow them to find another model or adjust their class.

If an emergency occurs that prevents you from modeling, do not arrange for another model to take your place yourself, particularly if it is for an art class. Instead, let the instructor know that you will be unavailable and let the instructor decide the best way to respond (assisting in any way you can). Often art instructors have a very specific modeling need for that class that you may not be aware of that may, for example, require a model of a certain sex, age, or body type.

Figure drawing sessions often deliberately vary models from session to session to practice drawing different body types, which is one reason you may have been booked for that day. (For example, many open draw sessions alternate sessions between male and female models.)

 

Link:

Vimeo Essay on what it is like to be a life model by a 20-year veteran. Contains nudity.

Arrive on time

The single most important quality for an artist model is reliability.  As an art model, you need to develop a reputation as one who can be counted on to begin all scheduled appointments on time. Failure to do so will prevent you from obtaining regular model work.

Artists really look forward to modeling sessions. If the model arrives late or doesn’t show, they will be very disappointed and inconvenienced.

Artists are also often cost conscious and want to make use of the entire session to create a quality result. A model that arrives late or takes long breaks can also lead to artists being disappointed and upset.

Being punctual means arriving early, getting any special instructions for the session, and changing into your robe before the session is scheduled to begin. You should be ready to disrobe and strike your first pose the minute the session starts.

Models by Georges Pierre Seurat (1888) . Public domain.

Models by Georges Pierre Seurat (1888) . Public domain.

Introduce yourself

Artists are sometimes reluctant to begin a conversation with a model they do not already know. Casually introducing yourself to artists before the session and engaging in small talk during breaks is a good way make the sessions more pleasant for yourself and the artists.

(The only exception to this rule is if the class or modeling session has a rule prohibiting models from speaking with the artists, although this is relatively rare.)

Models who are relaxed and personable will make the sessions more enjoyable for the artists and will result in employers being more likely to want to book you for future sessions.

If you ever encounter someone you know who was not aware that you were a nude model, be sure to warmly greet this person before the session.  Failing to do so could lead to both of you feeling uncomfortable during the session and afterward. “Breaking the ice” by greeting this person will dramatically mitigate any awkwardness about the session and let them know they can draw you without guilt or discomfort.

Nudo accademico by  Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823). Public domain.

Nudo accademico by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823). Public domain.

Rules about nudity during sessions

Always change into your bathrobe before the session in a designated changing area. “Stripping” out of your clothes in front of the artists sets the wrong tone for the session, and many consider it unprofessional.

Always wear your robe during breaks, especially when walking around the room and among the artists. Many artists in group settings find it uncomfortable and unprofessional for models to not wear a robe during breaks. Also, wearing a role makes it clear to the artists when you are on a break.

It is acceptable to stretch after a long pose before putting on your robe, as long as you remain in the area where you were posing.

Sleeping Endymion (1756) by Nicolas-Guy Brenet. Public domain.

Sleeping Endymion (1756) by Nicolas-Guy Brenet. Public domain.

Safekeeping your possessions

Modeling sessions often do not provide a location where you can safeguard your possessions (such as car keys, smart phones, and wallets). Often the best approach is to unobtrusively keep these belongings near where you are modeling, so you can keep track of them.

Instructions for Posing

When the instructor prompts you to begin, take off your robe, get on the dais, and begin your first pose.

Be prepared for the session facilitator to position standing lights near you, in order to create desirable shading for the pose.

If the session begins with short, gesture poses of two minutes or fewer, mentally keep track of the time for each pose in your head, then gracefully move to the next pose. Also, be sure to keep track of what pose number you are on too (such as “gesture pose 9 of 10”).

Your short poses should incorporate a sense of motion to make for more interesting drawings. Select poses that are asymmetrical and where you are slightly off balance. Selectively include muscle tension. Be dramatic and get into acting out your poses. And have fun! Artists will sense your frame of mind when posing. Your positive attitude will absolutely contribute to more inspiring art.

Avoid looking around the room during a pose. Your head movements can really distract from the pose. Select a general reference point to look at. However, use a general focus; it’s not a good for your eyes to stare intently at one spot for long periods.

When posing, never stare directly at an artist. This can be very unnerving.

Keep in mind that your facial expression should match your pose. For example, a smile may not work well with certain dramatic poses.

Do not engage in conversation while posing, even if the artists are talking among themselves. Your job is remain motionless and not distract the artists from their work. Also, some artists may be drawing only your face during the session. Save your conversation to breaks between poses.

If you are looking for ideas for poses, see our collection of thousands of pictures of life model poses to give you ideas for quality nude poses that work for you.

Study of a Female Nude by William Etty (1824). Public domain.

Study of a Female Nude by William Etty (1824). Public domain.

 

Model “presence”

Another important consideration when posing is a qualitative attribute that, for lack of a better term, can be called model presence. Although you are motionless, artists can intuitively tell whether your are “in the moment”, with the desire to provide a quality pose, or whether you are simply marking time and just there to get paid.

You manifest whether you have presence in many subtle but noticeable ways, including:

  • Whether the poses you select are designed to inspire the artists or are just lethargic.
  • Whether you make an effort to remain in position or shift your pose over time.
  • Whether you appear eager for each pose to end.
  • Whether you are in a bad mood.
  • Whether you take unnecessarily long breaks between poses.

Artists will quickly pick up whether you are there to be their muse or simply to collect your money and leave. Your attitude, whether good or bad, will have a profound effect on whether you inspire them to breathe life into their art work.

Artists appreciate models who care and have presence. Those with presence are the ones who will be hired over and over again.

Link:

Avoid Getting Drowsy

When you strike a long, comfortable seated or recumbent pose, you run the risk of nodding off or falling asleep — and shifting — during the pose. Do everything you can to avoid this.

Techniques models use to avoid this include:

  • Press yourself with a fingernail or doing something else mildly uncomfortable during the pose.
  • Focus your eyes on something distinct (like a window edge) rather than something washed out (like a blank wall).
  • Getting a good night’s sleep.
  •  Caffeine.

Some artists will say that it’s OK to fall asleep as long as you don’t move, but the fact is you probably will shift when nodding off. If you do, you risk not being hired for future sessions.

Special Considerations for Longer Poses

For poses of ten minutes or more, be sure to select a relaxing pose. Selecting a difficult pose can result in muscle strain and involuntary muscle movement, which is counter productive to the pose and distracting for the artist. Artists would much rather have you remain in one position in a natural pose then to have you attempt a contorted pose that you cannot maintain.

If you need to, make mini adjustments to your long pose during the first minute or so, in order to allow you to maintain the pose comfortably for the duration of the pose.

If you need to move a body part while posing, do so quickly, then immediately return it to exactly the same pose position. Artists can work around these adjustments if you only make them occasionally.

Take stock of you body position at the start of the pose, to ensure that you do not shift position or “droop” during the course of the pose. Shifting position will affect both lighting and relative position and make it much more difficult for the artists to represent you.

Whenever you strike a pose with a twist or muscle tension, there will be a tendency over time to relax or “untwist” from this position. Counteract this tendency by keeping track of your body appendages to avoid untwisting. For example, if you are maintaining a standing torso twist, keep track of both hands to make sure you do not “unwind.”

For long poses, use cushions and body supports as needed, and be sure not to put all your weight on one joint.

Do not lock your knees for standing poses, to avoid the danger of fainting.

One of the biggest challenges for models is remaining motionless for a half hour at a time. Meditation techniques are essential here and can make the modeling session much more pleasant for you.

When taking a break or finishing a long pose, be sure to initially move slowly. Being motionless can lead to poor blood circulation and parts of your body may have “fallen asleep.” Also flex your muscles to help you transition out of the pose.

Finally, here are some links with good advice for long poses:

 

Standing Nude by Dante Bertini. Public domain.

Standing Nude by Dante Bertini. Public domain.

 

Limiting Yourself to Appropriate Poses

Both you and the artists should be comfortable with the poses selected. As a model, you have the right to rule out any poses that will be too uncomfortable to maintain.

As a nude model, you must be prepared to assume positions that “show all”. However, you still have the right to politely rule out any poses that you feel are inappropriately “erotic” for a professional art setting.

You also have the right to politely object to an artist who may — even unintentionally — position themselves at a location that makes you uncomfortable (such as an artist positioned relatively close to your groin).

If you limit yourself to university art departments and established figure drawing sessions, you should not find yourself in sessions where an artist behaves unprofessionally.

However, if you ever find yourself in a session where you are not being treated professionally, you always have the option to leave. You can make it clear you still expect payment, although that is probably less of a concern than extracating yourself from the situation.

Loftsangen by Anders Zorn. Public domain.

Loftsangen by Anders Zorn. Public domain.

 

Model Comfort

Be sure to let the session facilitator know if you have any special considerations relating to comfort when posing, so the facilitator can address them.

When the weather is cold, models are often provided with a space heater to keep warm. Sometimes fans are provided when the weather is hot.

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Public domain.

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Public domain.

 

Medical considerations

Prolonged strain from an uncomfortable pose can lead to long-term body discomfort or injury. If you find yourself in a pose that will be too difficult to maintain, announce you will need to break the pose and adjust to a more comfortable position. However, only do so if medically necessary, because the artist will have already invested his or her time into the drawing. Ultimately, your long-term health is more important than the possible loss of a future booking.

Those who regularly engage in modeling should consider regularly visiting a certified massage therapist or chiropractor trained in orthopedic/postural assessments. Definitely consult one if you ever find yourself experiencing chronic modeling-related pain. Almost any musculoskeletal issue can be corrected if addressed early.

Proper posture, stretching, breaks, hydration, nutrition, and body mechanics, combined with common sense, should prevent any persistent body pains or aches.

Nudo accademico by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon (1758-1823). Public domain.

Nudo accademico by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823). Public domain.

 

Link:

YouTube video of life drawing session in Brisbase, Australia [contains nudity]

 

Varying Poses From Session to Session

Always work to expand your repetoire of poses over time. Artists will be reluctant to keep hiring you if you keep repeating the same poses.

One option for models working at different locations is to come up with a list of standard poses, then keep track of how far down the list you have gone for each location.

Link:

 

Model Breaks

Determine the frequency and duration of breaks with the session facilitator ahead of time.

For long poses, a 5-minute break for every 20 minutes or so of posing is standard. For periods with just gesture poses, breaks can be less frequent.

Timing for breaks can be adjusted to account for how challenging the pose is and for factors such as the age and medical condition of the model.

Some sessions will expect models to pose for periods longer than 20 to 30 minutes. If you are not sure you can pose for the requested longer period, let them know of your concerns and do the best you can. At worst if you cannot maintain the pose for the entire time requested, you can take a short break, then return to the same pose.

Reclining Nude by S. Astiez. Public domain.

Reclining Nude by S. Astiez. Public domain.

 

Returning to Position for Long Poses

For longer poses that require one or more model breaks, the model should keep track of foot, arm, and head positions before taking a break.

Typically, the session facilitator will place masking tape around the model to mark where the model is, to help the model return to the same position after the break (being sure to never touch the model when placing the tape).

Each time after the model returns to position, it is a good practice for the model to confirm with the artists that the position is the same. Artists can be very particular about even small details — such as the position of specific fingers — as they work to capture minute details about body and shading.

Odalisque Reclining On A Divan by Eugène Delacroix (1828). Public domain.

Odalisque Reclining On A Divan by Eugène Delacroix (1828). Public domain.

 

Viewing the Artist’s Work

During the breaks and after the session, be sensitive to the artists’ work. You should never provide negative comments about their work or how they chose to represent you. Even experienced artists are often very critical of the quality of their own work.

Some artists may not want you to see their work. If so, respect their wishes.

Although your poses serve as the template for the artists’ work, the artists are free to choose to take what they see and transform it into their art in any way they choose, despite how unflattering you may feel it is to you.

Finally, recognize that the artists’ work belongs to them, not you. You are being paid to pose and have no say in their resulting art and how and where they choose to present it at any time in the future, including public art galleries and online. If you are not comfortable with this, you should not be an artist model.

 

Liggend Naakt by Frans Koppelaar. Public domain.

Liggend Naakt by Frans Koppelaar. Public domain.

Life model training video (contains nudity):

Additonal sources of information:

 

Much of the information on this page was distilled from materials from the free model training offered monthly by the Washington D.C. Figure Models Guild. See the list of figure model guilds and associations for more information about this training.

Special thanks also go to Jenni Bachman, the coordinator of the Richmond Models Guild and a certified Massage Therapist, who provided valuable information about medical considerations of life model poses.

 

 

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6 Responses to How to serve as an artist model

  1. This is a great article. As an artist who has used life drawing I have seen my share of the good and the bad. The most important thing I’ve noticed among the good models is that they remain “present” during the long poses. For example it is hard to capture someone who is reading or watching TV. The great models really stay focused on their essence and don’t drift off into a dreamland. This seems to be critical for me in grabbing the essence of the person quickly. Otherwise, I struggle and i find my drawings to become somewhat dead.

    • admin says:

      Good point. It’s always hard to get good feedback from artists other than a general comment like “good job” or “I liked your poses”. I make it a point to ask to see the gesture drawings that result from my poses, so I can gauge how well they worked. And for evening sessions, I need to make sure I stay alert even during recumbent poses. In a recent session, I started to doze off halfway during a 30 minute pose. I found out after it was over that I inadvertently shifted position, which I felt bad about. Models have to realize they can’t just sit or lie around and expect to generate a quality session.

  2. David says:

    This is a great article. I run one of London’s biggest life drawing sessions, Holborn Life Drawing (www.meetup.com/holborn-life-drawing), and the emphasis placed here on punctuality and reliability is exactly right. My strong advice to anyone looking for modelling work is honour the commitment you make to fulfil a booking, confirm it a day or so in advance with the organiser, and turn up on time. No excuses!

    The other critical thing for models to think about is bring some energy to the room. The model’s level of engagement largely determines the vibe in the room and artists and organizers hate it when models look bored and complacent. It’s not just about getting your clothes off and keeping still, you’ve got to feel part of the artistic process and keep your energy there in the room. Very few models manage this, if you can do this, you’ll get all the bookings you want.

    Happy modelling!
    David

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback. As I continue to gain experience modeling, I have developed a greater appreciation for your second point too. I know clients who very much appreciate models who model because they love it and not just for a paycheck. I also have heard artists talk poetically about how inspired they can be by good models who, for instance, treat their series of open gesture poses as a choreographed dance.

      10/5/2013 Update —
      Based on your feedback, I a have added a section on “presence,” as a follow up to your important comments.

  3. Charles Sipe says:

    Something I would like to add to the list.
    If you are working Plien air two things sunscreen and insect repellant.

    Thankfully I had sunscreen but forgot the repellant. Being a landing site for insects while in a long pose was interesting to say the least. 🙂

  4. John Giesecke says:

    Having managed a drawing group in Atlanta over a year, I developed a stable of reliable models who enjoy a challenge in their work. Often we request gesture poses that reflect emotion–happiness, fear, passion, hate, pride– all interpreted by the model through body language. This “warm-up” for the model and the artists involves them in the process and has resulted in added energy in the room for everyone.
    Oft-times one of these gestures is adapted for a long pose.
    Modeling is a performance when done best. We are grateful for the models efforts.

    Note: I usually request this approach privately before a session. Body language awareness is critical in a return booking, but one has to make allowances for creativity.

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