Letter to a prospective life model
I hire people to stand still in the nude
Like a lot of artists and art classes, I hire life models. They're not all thin, they're not all young, and they're not all women. They have to be fit enough to do the job, but it's not a bodybuilding contest.
You are right to be careful about finding a legitimate situation, but most of the time your biggest worries will be the cold, boredom, and losing all feeling in a limb! In Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, in 2006, the hourly rate runs from 15 to 20 dollars. For purposes of comparison, that's about what it would cost to see a first run movie (with popcorn and a drink), or buy two paperback books.
A typical booking is two to three hours. Even if you're terrific, you probably won't be asked back often to the same class. Most instructors like to use a variety of models and show their students a range of body types.
Unless you work in a big city with a lots of art schools, classes, and artists, you probably can't make a full-time job of it.
What do life models do?
The very best way to find out what life modelling is about would be to take a couple of life drawing classes.
- Models show up early (because the instructor or facilitator will worry until they do).
- They bring a robe. After they undress, they wear the robe until it's time to pose, and they put it on during breaks.
- They bring slippers--studio floors are never clean.
- They bring a clean towel or sheet they can drape over any surface they're asked to pose on. You don't want to sit directly on the floor, or be the tenth person to put your bare butt on that stool!
- Models bring a tote or a gym bag so you can put your clothes, wallet, keys and whatnot in one spot. If you're not comfortable about leaving things wherever you were invited to change, you can bring the gym bag into the studio and keep an eye on it.
Prepare to strike a lot of poses
The instructor usually wants to see a variety of poses: front/back/side, standing/sitting/reclining, extended/contracted.
- You'll often start with "gesture drawings" which may call for you to strike dozens of different poses, one right after another, for just 30 to 120 seconds apiece.
- Then there will be longer poses, from five minutes to twenty and more.
- A painting or sculpture class may, sometimes, need you to come back to the same pose over more than one visit!
- You will be given breaks, a chance to step out of a pose and stretch for a few minutes. If you aren't given a break, ask for one. Nobody wants a model to pass out.
- When you return to a pose, consult with the artists. Their drawings are the best document, from several viewpoints, of your original position.
- In a long pose, a model might stay in position, but warn the artists that she needs to flex one limb for a few minutes, holding the rest of the pose steady.
- Standing poses are the hardest, and you'll have trouble holding one for more than ten minutes. It helps to have a staff to hold, or a wall to lean on.
Safety, respect, and bad drawings
When you're starting out, don't model privately (that is, alone in a studio with a stranger), and don't model for photographs. Use your ordinary street smarts: tell someone where you're going to be and when to expect you home.
Nobody should touch you, belittle you, or make sexual comments about you.
I think it's important to call a model by name (so that we relate to the model as a human being, not an object) but not by last name (so the model controls who may or may not look her up later). This varies with different classes. If you have strong preferences, make them known to the instructor or facilitator when you arrive.
People will have to talk about you, sometimes in remarkably explicit anatomical terms. They won't all be good at life drawing. You're going to see some unflattering drawings, some drawings that bear no resemblance to you, and some drawings that are just plain bad. Life drawing is hard to do, and people in classes are, by definition, students of the art.
You're usually allowed to look at the drawings, but many students will be bashful. (And they've got all their clothes on!) As in life, compliments are always welcome and criticism is usually discouraged.
How to get started
Contact every local art department and gallery that offers classes. Most universities are accustomed to breaking in rookies--they go through a steady stream of undergrads (especially drama and dance students) looking for well-paid part-time work. Contact the art department and ask who books the models and how you can get onto their call list. Life models don't work through agencies anywhere that I know.
The life model is a vital part of many artists' training and practice. Good luck, and thank you for your help.