Figure modeling for fun and profit
When I was a child, my mother thought I’d join a nudist colony; I was always taking off my little toddler dresses and running around in the backyard with nothing on. As an adult, I’ve managed to parlay comfort with my body into an easily portable financial application: nude figure modeling.
There are two genres of nude modeling (it’s always “nude”, by the way; if you say “naked”, it’s not art): photography and life drawing. The major difference is that one has longer poses, and the other could provide years of entertainment for people on hotmodels.com. Life drawing classes are usually full of earnestly artsy young people, frowning and sketching and talking about shadow and depth. They hold up their paintbrushes and squint at you; you feel like nothing so much as a bowl of fruit with longer legs. Photography modeling is usually only for one or two people, and you have to contort yourself into painful poses, usually holding some sort of unusual prop. When I first studied photography, I used to use my friends as models. “Here,” I’d say, “take off all your clothes and go stand on your head next to that garden gnome, holding this pumpkin.”
I do the bulk of my posing through art schools, local universities with art programs (including the somewhat illustrious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA), for members of the photography collectives that pop up around large-ish towns, for Dr. Sketchy’s drawing nights, for open figure drawing sessions sponsored by local community members who just want some practice drawing, for museums, for illustrators…you name it. Good models are worth their weight in gold — although you usually get paid from between $15 and $30 an hour for art classes, and from $25-$50 an hour for photography.
Usually, when I’m posing, I’m not even aware of being naked; the artists are friendly and shy and painfully aware of the present situation. I liken it to what happens when an amputee walks in; suddenly, everybody notices that someone in the room is missing something vital. Rather than draw attention to the lack, you ignore it and draw maturity around you like a veil, playing the part of someone who really doesn’t care about nudity at all. A certain amount of comfort with being nude in front of groups of people would be required for the job, though — that’s one of the reasons why art schools are always so desperate for models.
You don’t have to be typically good-looking to do figure modeling. All you have to do is be willing to sit very still for several hours at a time (you do get breaks). Modeling well is about more than being comfortable in front of other people with your clothes off: it’s about being able to see through their eyes what might be interesting to draw or sketch, and to hold as still as possible while they get their vision down on paper. It’s about collaborating as a silent partner, and being the focus of attention without it actually being about you at all.