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A Guide to Non-Photographic Art Modeling

Non-photographic art modeling (or life modeling, figure modeling, or simply art modeling) is one of the oldest forms of modeling. The human figure can teach a lot about composition and ratios, and help artists to “think outside the box” when they get stuck on a design or project. Because of this, no matter what art form an artist chooses to focus on, they are generally encouraged to take a figure drawing 101 class in art school and the demand for life models is always there. Here are some general questions I usually get asked by newer models or those interested in art modeling.

Graphite & Ink on Paper

Model: a raw muse; Artist: Leah Yerpe

Who can be a life model?

Short answer? Anyone. Long answer? It depends on the market you are in.

Art modeling is not like fashion or commercial modeling, where models are expected to fit a certain standard size. In fact, the more of an “extreme” you are (extremely tall, short, round, old, fair, dark, etc.) the better. Beginning artists especially are encouraged to draw from a variety of figures, so schools and drawing groups are always looking for a variety of figures.

What will I be expected to do?

In general, you will be holding poses anywhere from 1 minute to 20 minutes. Shorter poses, or gesture poses, are expected to be twisty, bendy, and active. Longer poses should be more relaxed. Posing for a drawing group is much different than posing for an academic class, or an individual artist. Sculptors require different things than oil painters. You are generally expected to bring your own robe and slippers for a nude sitting to cover up on breaks. Some groups and artists appreciate if a model brings in props and bits of wardrobe. Borrow whatever skills you have and integrate them into modeling. Do you have dance experience? In a bad mood that you can channel into a wonderfully angsty pose? Be creative!


Model: Henry Oelkers

What makes a good life model?

A lot of it comes down to personality, and whether you are inspiring to the artists working from you. A few common traits I find among the best art models I have met, posed with, and/or drawn across the country are as follows.

  • Punctuality. If a session starts at 6:30, aim to be there at 6:00.
  • Presence. There is that “it” factor and energy a model brings to even the simplest pose.
  • Body awareness. Even subtle changes in hands or posture can change the mood of the pose.
  • Genuinely enjoying the job. If you would rather be doing something else, it will show and bring down the room.
  • Confidence. Some poses will not be the most flattering, but they can sometimes be the most interesting to work from. If you commit to the pose it will work; if you are uncomfortable, it won’t.
  • A basic art history/ art theory knowledge. Artists may sometimes ask for a very specific type of pose, or throw out a style of painting to give an idea of what they are looking for; if you don’t know, or want clarification, just ask.
  • Ability to sit still for long periods of time. Practice sitting still for 20 minutes, which is usually the longest amount of time that you will have to sit still in one go (sometimes 25 minutes for reclining poses).
  • Organization. Keep track of your schedule. I have a paper planner that I use for basic short notes, emergency phone numbers, and general time frames. I also keep email folders divided by city to keep a paper trail for any jobs discussed by email. No matter how great you are, you have to show up to the job!

How do I decide if this is something for me?

I got into art modeling by accident. (I was looking for dance teaching jobs on Craigslist and a casting came up calling for dancers as art models.) A lot of people I know have sort of just eased into it by accident, or because their art school friends thought they would be interesting to draw from. I highly recommend going to an open drawing group (even if you don’t really draw), and seeing what different models do. Ask questions of anyone who seems willing to answer if it is a more informal setting. This is also a really good way to make connections with people who run drawing groups that may want to hire you in the future.

Continuous Pose

Model: a raw muse; Artist:Brian Elig

How do I find work?

There are some artists who actively use MM, but I find that a lot of artists I work with know how to use Craigslist, and some people operate only by phone. I have found that a good strategy for finding more artists to sit for privately is to network in person at drawing groups. If you want to work at colleges and universities, contact the art department. In NYC there are usually fall auditions in August, and in Boston I found that I was booked on the spot; it all depends on supply and demand. Once you have a few contacts, keep expanding. I have a few art models locally that I trade contacts with, fill in for with each other, etc. Throw a wide net, be kind to those you meet, and have fun!

A Raw Muse

A Raw Muse

A Raw Muse is an accidental street-dancer-turned-art-model from the Northeast. She mainly works as a live art model in NYC and the Greater Boston Area, and frequently travels to the West Coast. Her website is arawmuse.weebly.com.

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3 Responses to “A Guide to Non-Photographic Art Modeling”

  1. April 30, 2017 at 11:58 am, Gary D said:

    I first thought about the concept of nude modeling when I was 8 or 9 years old while seeing a replica of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ at an art museum. I was struck by the beauty of the statue, but beyond that, being a very shy and modest boy who locked the bathroom door to brush his teeth, tried to comprehend how anyone could have the courage to stand naked in front of someone else to pose… and then tried to contemplate the idea of his likeness being seen by perhaps millions of people over centuries. I decided that David had a lot more courage than I ever would.

    But after visiting a nudist beach at age 20, and chatting with an artist friend afterward, I was convinced that I should try modeling. After all, I had been seen naked by dozens of people at the beach and was quite comfortable with it. When I got my first gig and was on the model stand ready to drop my robe, it dawned on my that unlike the beach where most people were naked, I would be the only one naked in a room full of clothed people…and all of their eyes would be focused on me. I felt a surge of panic and suddenly wanted to run out of the room. I didn’t of course, and with my heart pounding, on cue from the instructor, I took a deep breath and dropped my robe. I have to say I never felt so naked in my life. But seeing the students suddenly burst into a fervor of activity drawing away, repeatedly glancing from me to their work and back again, intently focused on their task, made me relax a bit and I soon felt quite comfortable. I learned that they were occupied with with highlight and shadow, lines and curves, shape, form, and anatomy.

    I continued modeling for over 20 years, at times full time. But stopped when I started a business and just couldn’t find the time. But there was something about posing nude for artists that always seemed special to me. I knew I was among a small group of people willing to be naked in front of others for the sake of art, and that most artists appreciated those of us who did that. Plus, I found posing nude to be extremely liberating and a form of artistic expression in itself that says, “Even though my body is not perfect, here I am. Accept me as I am”. I think most artists do accept us as we are and in fact appreciate the differences in models.

    I hope that is true because now at age 66 and retired, I decided to start posing nude again. I contacted several schools and drawing groups and within a week had scheduled 6 gigs over several weeks, with promises of more in the future when colleges get back in session. So far I have posed for 3 of those gigs and was told at each session that I was an excellent model and would be asked to pose again, which of course was quite gratifying.

    I do work hard when I pose. I feel I am an integral part of the creative process. I practice poses at home. Get ideas by watching videos and stills of other models, and try my best to create interesting poses. I move my body with twists and turns and rotate with each new pose to give all the artists present a different perspective than the previous pose, and hold still during the length of the pose. I am also punctual and professional at all times.

    One thing that is different now than when I modeled when I was younger is that a few of the groups and schools I contacted wanted nude photos of me as part of the application process. I felt very uncomfortable with it at first, but relented and created a series of tasteful nude poses that I have sent to a few colleges and groups who seemed legitimate, including 2 of the 6 venues that scheduled me. So I guess I passed whatever test they were looking for. Just be prepared for that if you decide to model and decide for yourself if you would prefer not to apply to those venues.

    Anyway if you are thinking of posing nude, no matter what your sex, body type or age, go for it. Just do a bit of research first. It is a fun, liberating experience and is an excellent part time and possible full time job that gives you flexibility. I truly love doing it.

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  2. April 27, 2017 at 3:41 pm, Ron Yrabedra said:

    what an excellent list of objectives for models….I often advertise for models…it takes preparation to get easel, papers, drawing boards, drawing materials, AND CASH MONEY ready to draw from the model….it is disappointing when models don’t show up…..because of the effort and expectations….Drawing from the model is the hardest thing to do…..Don’t bring another person who will divert your attention….if you like to talk to the artist during the session that is fine most of the time….Many models love to see the individual views of themselves, some want tho have their bodies documented when they feel they’re at their peak, others like a feeling of appreciation of their bodies that the artist offers through the finished work. I will say that I look up the model on arrest sites and Facebook….I’ve had many meth users who want to pose for their habit….but most of all…I LOVE TO DRAW THE HUMAN FIGURE….and 300 years from now, viewers will still be looking at how the human figure was rendered in the 21st Century.

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  3. November 13, 2014 at 6:05 am, Jake said:

    For those considering giving life modeling a try, but not sure if they can get past the idea of being nude in front of a group of strangers, just know that the issue will pass quickly. The stress of dropping one’s robe for the first time peaks about 5 minutes before you do it and then drops off very sharply from the moment you do it onward. Leading up to my first life modeling session I was completely preoccupied with the thought of being nude in a roomful of people, and the day of my gig I could hardly think of anything else.
    But just before I walked out into the studio I set my resolve that I could and would go through with it, and out I walked and stepped onto the stand. By the time my robe slipped off my shoulders and I put it down I felt as if in a daydream, but it was good and peaceful as the artists immediately set to work doing their sketches. Within a minute or so I felt so relieved that it was surprising to me. Here I was standing naked in the middle of a room, and there were no shocked stares or gaping jaws, no smirks or stifled laughter. There were only these faces studying my body and attempting to capture it’s shapes with serious gazes of appreciation.
    Within five minutes I believe I was hooked for good on this experience and I suspect that the majority of people who go through with an initial life modeling gig will find themselves eagerly anticipating when they can do it again. It is an incredibly freeing experience that has made me much more comfortable with my body in front of others. For those with body image issues it can provide a dramatic release from those constraining self perceptions, since the artists will look at you with much more appreciation than you could ever imagine.

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