Saturday, 17 July 2010

Being an artist's model

Some time ago model Brooke Lynne posted on her blog about being a life model as well as a photographic model. I followed it up with a post of my own on What We Saw Today, whose text I am pasting below - it was one of the posts that had to be taken down because of the mix up with photographs.

Alex by John Skelcher

Today a comment on Brooke's blog  made it more relevant than ever, particularly since I have just returned from a short spell of modelling for artist John Skelcher at his Le Marche retreat, in central Italy. There for three and a half days I posed morning and afternoon for a group of accomplished artists, some of whom quite well known in their respective countries, whom John taught a refresher course in life drawing and which led to them getting started on a painting, using either oil or acrylic.

Below is the text I first posted on WWST:

Alex  modelling for artist  Martin Robinson in Rojales

"It is an uncanny coincidence that art nude model Brooke Lynne should have posted about her experience of being a life model in her blog. I was about to write about my own experiences as a life model just before I read it - UL sent me the link. I did not know Brooke also did life modeling, it seems to be something that several art models do. In England, art model Erin does both photographic and life.

I began life modeling when I was in my early twenties. At the time I was an impoverished student and with my dance background, life modeling seemed an easy option. Not that the cash was ever sufficient, it just helped a little, that's all.

My first class was at an Adult Education Institute and I had to hold a pose, which seemed to be quite simple, for the whole 2 hour class, with breaks. Ouch, it was a standing pose, with me leaning on a chair which sustained  part of my weight. I was psychologically unprepared for the discomfort, which was considerable. My limbs went numb and time seemed to have come to a standstill. I felt a little uncomfortable about my nudity at first but soon enough I forgot about it. My main problem was to resist the urge to move. Then, like Brooke says, I discovered the tiny imperceptible shifts one can make while holding the pose, the adjustments to the spine and ribcage while breathing and concentrated on that. You do move while posing, only your movements are barely noticeable.

Alex at Body Worlds Life Drawing class,  May 2009, photographer: John Meade

I found my first session went well, so I began posing more regularly. I found it challenging and it complemented my dance. I worked for artists doing one to one sessions, I did portrait sittings and various group classes. I then stopped, life modeling was not my chosen career, even though by the time I stopped I had become quite experienced. I was a good enough life model but my heart was not in it.

Then after a very long break, I went back to life modeling some five years ago. And it was a completely different experience. I fell back into it easily and really enjoyed doing it. Soon after I began doing photographic modeling. I always feel that my life modeling has given me the stamina for photographic modeling. Again, as Brooke says, yoga has helped. But life modeling by itself gives you such an incredible awareness of your body, it does not have to be sustained by any yoga practice.

At Body Worlds Life Drawing Class, May 2009, Alex with model Firdous, photographer: Steve Osborn

You learn about poses, about how long you can hold them, about stretching yourself and also about your own limitations. When I do life I often adapt poses I use for photographic modeling by making them more sustainable over a longer period of time and vice versa. My body has become so attuned that I can easily tell when 10 minutes are over or 20 or 40. I have learnt to listen to my body.

But the most enjoyable thing is the time you have to really focus on something, to think, and I have created stories, analysed situations, planned projects while sitting for a life drawing class. Life modeling gives you a license to day dream. Conversely, you can use that time to really feel and experience yourself in the present, to learn about breathing.

When I work for some artists they often don't talk but put music on or sometimes they work in silence and all I hear is the pencil or charcoal on the paper. Some other artists love talking and engage you in conversation. I find this a little more tiring as it does not allow me to go deep inside myself.

Alex  by  artist Alex Rennie

If I am posing for a class, I often listen to the comments of the tutor. I have learnt so much about the visual arts just through sitting for a life drawing class, about different techniques or even about artists, as tutors will sometimes discuss the work of the greats, be they Renaissance masters or more contemporary artists such as Bacon and  Freud.

I do believe that any art nude photographic model should try at some point to sit for an artist. It is definitely enriching to do so. You also learn a very important art: that of patience"

Alex by artist Hadassah Berry
This was my earlier post. All I can add to it is that the more art modelling I do, the better photographic model I become and the more I enjoy it.

(Life modelling by Alex B.)


  1. It is so nice to see you publish posts like this one again! They are back in bloggie world!

  2. Thank you for preserving them! I never kept copies. It was a shame that the original photos were lost, but I can add to the earlier text and add new photos. On a different note i have finally received the Spring issue of Nude and it is gorgeous! Love your pictures

  3. Hi Alex,

    I can say I fully understand all of your points on being an art model. I was one for the better part of 10 years. I don't know if you get the male perspective much, but I can say it has its own unique challenges. I remember the first time I did it, as a response to my ex-wife's dare. I had just gotten out of the army at 30 and had lamented that I wished I had gotten into pro modeling when I had a chance at 18. When she saw a newspaper ad for live nude models at the local University, she bet me I wouldn't do it. The rest is history.

    I also got to model as a pro for 3 years, but it was my art modeling that was most fulfilling. I was an undergrad when I got started and it really helped me balance out my brain. I crunched and analyzed numbers all day as a business student but then in the evenings, I got to balance myself with some creativity in the art department. If I wasn't modeling, I'd draw. I think I'd have gotten an ulcer otherwise.

    My first experience was not totally bad, but I confess to being mortified. It was my first time being nude in front of a group of people. And without sufficient practice, I assumed a pose that I could not maintain for even 5 minutes. That's when I dedicated myself to being a pro. I steeled my resolve and formulated my own "tricks" to helping me accomplish the mission. I quickly got comfortable and my services were in demand. The school had only ever had a few male models and none had a muscular build, nor African-American. My darker skin tone added highlights when my skin was oily and students often commented on the color hues they had never realized were present in the skin tones of black people. It was truly an enriching experience... Not to say my modeling days are done, of course.

  4. Wonderful comment and thanks for adding so much to my post. It is rare to find a photographer who has modelling experience and life modelling at that! I am curious: did artists ever give you work? Some have done with me and I truly treasure their drawings. And Hadassa has given me her canvas, which you can see above. She could not take it with her and thought I might like it.I certainly do!

  5. Yes. In fact, I just came across some of the art work, not 2 weeks ago, that had been given to me by students and participants. I modeled for a university in Tennessee and then for an Art Guild in Kentucky while I was doing graduate studies. I won't say it was every week, but often enough somebody gave me signed drawings they had done. I can't say all of it was good work, though, but I always took it appreciatively. My kids were maybe ages 9 and 11 at the time when I started. They always got a kick out of seeing the drawings and thought it was cool to say Dad was a nude model to friends.

    If you ever get a chance to Read Modeling Life by Sarah Phillips, check it out. I didn't like all of it. She spent more than a decade putting that book together and still missed key points. Sociology professors are usually keen on stats, but she only used a pool of 30 models, all from the same area. I wrote her about my sentiments. I think I should like to do a better work than she did at some point.

  6. Oh thank you for the title, I don't know that book. Somehow receiving a drawing or a canvas feels very different from receiving photos in exchange for one's time. Of course I would love to model for Lucian Freud and maybe get a sketch from him...though I am told that modelling for him is a very tough job

  7. Two years ago I was privileged to sing in the chorus for a rock opera here in Denver. There were three men and three women in the chorus, and I was the bass. We had to stand still on one side of the stage for most of the opera. When we were singing it wasn't so demanding, but just standing still with a straight posture became a real challenge! But I got a high compliment from the stage director at the cast party: she said I had a sweet presence.

    I so get what you're saying about tiny minimal movements and focusing on breathing! These things saved me from permanent damage, I'm sure. Of course, as a singer and woodwind player I know lots about breathing, and music is a very physical activity too; singing teachers describe singers as "vocal athletes." But this was the first time I had been involved in a pro-level dramatic production, and I learned a lot about my body that even I hadn't known in the five months I was rehearsing and the three-week run. I treasure that experience.

  8. Alex, I stumbled upon your blog by accident, but I'm glad I found it. I'm kind of envious of your Body World experience. I would have loved to model at such an event. I don't think they even offered it when it was in Dallas.

    I've been modeling since 1984, and I started blogging about my experiences over a year ago. I love modeling and hope to be doing it for at least another 29 years...