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How to Become An Artist's Model

by Kelly Borsheim

On this page:

  • How Important is Physique?
  • What It Takes to be an Artist's Model
  • What to Expect During a Modeling Session
  • How to Get Jobs Modeling for Artists
  • A Word About Posing in the Nude
  • This May be a Non-issue for You, But . . . (Visitors, Robes)
  • On the Personal Issues
  • How to Lose Modeling Jobs
  • Questions and Answers

"Every time I await a model, even when I am most pressed to time, I am overjoyed when the time comes and I tremble when I hear the key turn in the door." (Eugene Delacroix)

"The model is not to be copied, but to be realized." (Robert Henri)

"The body as well as the skin will hold the history of its experience." (Hanneline Rogeberg)

"I think only of objects: of a leg or an arm, of the wonderful sense of foreshortening, breaking through the plane, of the division of space, of the combination of straight lines in relation to curved ones." (Max Beckmann)

"At first, one sees the person who is modelling; but little by little, all of the possible sculptures that could be made come between artist and model." (Alberto Giacometti)

"They must bear the mould of their ancestry. There is a duality: they can be themselves and something else at the same time. They are formal metaphors." (Graham Sutherland)

"When I have a model who is quiet and steady and with whom I am acquainted, then I draw repeatedly ‘til there is one drawing that is different from the rest, which does not look like an ordinary study, but more typical and with more feeling." (Vincent van Gogh)


Because I sculpt and paint the figure, I am often asked if I hire models and also how does one start a modeling career? First of all, let me say that I do hire models on occasion. I generally work with those I know and trust. The second question is what I want to address here. It is possible to be an artist's model without being nude -- sometimes it is acceptable to wear bathing suits or such. There are also times when a model may pose in various costumes. However, this page is specifically about the nude model.

How Important is Physique?

Let me preface by pointing out that physique is not the main issue for an artist's model. Artists study the figure - all kinds of figures and in all age groups. (However, nude models are usually age 18 and above.) Some artists who have developed their own style and look (or have a specific IDEA they wish to convey in their work), however, may be interested in some shapes/ages/faces and not others. Do not take that personally. What IS important is that the model can hold a pose for a significant period of time. For painting and drawing that may be as long as 30 minutes at one time. (I usually allow models for sculpture to pose for 5-10 minutes at a time. However, I sometimes want more animated poses, so it is a trade off.)

What It Takes to be an Artist's Model

If you want to be a model, then practice holding still. That's not as much of an issue for photographers, but it is imperative for artists who draw and paint. And look for and try interesting poses. Some of the best models I know or have heard about study yoga. Models generally create the poses and sometimes are given suggestions by the artists. Good imaginative, energetic poses will get you hired more often that not. A typical drawing session usually starts out with about 10 one-minute poses. One-minute poses are considered warm-ups or short poses - often referred to as "gestures". This is the time to do the more difficult and interesting poses (reaching, twisting, contortions). Other pose lengths are 2 minutes, 5 minutes, and longer poses - up to 30 minutes. A good model spends time coming up with interesting, dynamic poses and takes pride in being creative in this area, which affects how often he is hired. A timer is used for longer poses, but the model usually counts in his head for the gestures and moves into the next pose automatically as the artists keep sketching and changing paper as needed.

I realize that I keep using the word "interesting." It is the most appropriate word because it can mean practically anything. From my point of view, interesting means not symmetrical. Symmetry is beautiful and has its place, but in general, I prefer the arms and legs doing different things. The difference can be subtle. Symmetry is best "broken up" by a surprise. Also, I like triangles -- so diagonals are prefered to horizontal and vertical poses. However, I see triangles in everything, so don't stress about this. I also prefer action poses to the usual sitting or reclining poses, especially for gestures.

One of my favorite models does wonderful things with her hands - bending wrists and also, each of her fingers moves in a different way (think Bob Fosse, for example). Another of my favorite models spent about two hours going through my dance books and sketching or taking notes on the poses he thought he would like to do during his future sessions. Also, when he works with another model, he actually works out the poses with her in advance. They know what they can do and what they are comfortable doing with each other. What a time saver and a joy. This is a model who loves his work and realizes the services he is providing to art and artists!

Many models contact me to say they are having a difficult time determining what is interesting to an artist. Let me just say, we all like life. Watch people as they move. Freeze a moment of this action. It does not have to be dramatic. Walking is interesting. Leaning against a wall can be interesting. Looking back over one's shoulder can be a great pose to draw. Look around you. And look at art. See what artists in the past have used in paintings. Pose like one person in a group portrait of animated figures. Bring your personality to the session - that is what an artist truly wants. Have a little fun while you are working seriously.

What to Expect During a Modeling Session

In Austin, Texas (USA), we have what we call "Open Studios." This is where an artist hires a model (or two) and invites other artists to come to draw, paint, or sculpt. Artists are charged a small fee to help pay the model's fees, model stand and props, and possibly rental on the work space. Because most artists cannot afford to hire models themselves, Open Studios are a way for artists to share this expense and keep learning and working. While there is no formal instruction, these are times when lots of art talk is happening, so we all tend to learn something from one another just the same. The spaces that are used often contain a modeling stand (platform), a light, and various props (pillows, chairs, etc). However, some models like to use their own props and that is always encouraged. For instance, another great model in my area brings rope, straps, or long streams of fabric. He secures one end to the edge of the pedestal or something on the ceiling or wall and then pulls against it as he leans -- it supports him in a dynamic pose, which also gives a genuine strain to his musculature. Great action!

(Also, it is a good idea to bring a pretty or at least solid color sheet to cover up the props that all other nude models have been sitting or standing on. These things are not washed as often as they should be.)

Modeling sessions usually last for about three hours (including breaks). For some sessions, you will do the same pose for the entire session (with breaks). During your pose, try to pick a point on a wall across the room to look at. This will help you hold your position and it will help you get back into position after a break. (During the pose, please do not stare directly at an artist unless requested. I personally find this very distracting.) Also, for the longer poses, the artist may approach the model (with your permission) and "mark you" before the first break of a repeated pose, which means marking your position, usually with masking tape on the modeling pedestal, pillows, or floor. The tape is placed in key points, such as where the toes, elbows, or hip hits the stand or other props. This helps the model get back into the pose after the break. Artists will also let you know if the position needs adjusting by saying things such as, "Move your right foot closer to your left knee."

During the breaks, the model usually puts on a robe or britches and may often walk around the room to look at the work being created. However, if in doubt, always ask permission before looking at someone's work in-progress. Most of the models I know use this time to stretch out muscles and get fresh air.

Models are usually paid in cash or check at the end of the session on an hourly basis. Schools or multiple back-to-back sessions may pay at the end of the series.

How to Get Jobs Modeling for Artists

Probably the easiest way (that I know of) to become a professional artists' model is to contact your local arts organizations and art schools (including colleges). If the phone book does not help, try the Internet search using your location's name in the art search. Many organizations have Web sites now. Art groups often host life-drawing sessions for teaching or working purposes. This will get you started as well as introduce you to plenty of artists who work from life. Your name will be added to the list of models and you should get hired soon.

Another way to find modeling work is to look at art. If you are modeling because you love art, this won't be a chore. Find out what artists are using models (nude or otherwise) and contact them. Tell them you are a model and that you are looking for artists to work with (specifically, the artist you are contacting). If that artist is not ready to hire you, ask for a referral or see if that artist will forward your contact information as appropriate.

Visit galleries; look online; attend art events. Now, if you are in a gallery and you ask for the contact information of an artist whose work hangs in that gallery, do not be surprised if you are refused. Many galleries are not appreciative of collectors who use galleries to "discover" artists and then try to buy directly from the artist, cutting out the dealer in the process. (Although any smart and professional artist will not bite the hand that feeds him.) So, instead, identify yourself as a model and ask the dealer if s/he would pass along YOUR contact information to the artist. You may have better luck that way.


If you write me asking me how you can get jobs modeling,
I will not respond.
This page tells you how to do that. I created it to give you information
and to save me time. I need to sculpt more, OK?


A Word About Posing in the Nude

Naturally, posing nude is not for everyone. Models tend to be dancers, athletes, or actors - people who are generally comfortable with their bodies. However, I have been commissioned to paint shy people who have asked for my advice on posing nude for the first time. So I asked some models I knew how they dealt with their first time posing, and received the following tips:
  1. Once you get to the session, go to the restroom to change into something easy to get in and out of, usually a robe or loose pants. It is much easier to undress if it is not a major production.
  2. Pretend that you are someone else - an actor whose role happens to be in the nude.
  3. Become a fan of all kinds of nude art. One pregnant model told me that when she first started modeling (prior to her pregnancy), she tried to "suck in her gut" and always look her absolute best - until she started to look at what the artists were drawing. She then came to understand that everyone had a different interpretation of the shapes before him and that she could just be who she was and the artists would still draw what they wanted to the WAY they wanted to.

When I was just starting out, I met an artist who shared with me an experience he had in art school. And I love the truth in this story! He had been sketching a nude model during a life drawing session for a good 20-30 minutes. During the break, the artists went into another room for coffee. The model had put on a short robe and joined the young artists in the break room. My friend said he was so busy trying to get a glimpse of her under her robe that it took him a minute to realize that he'd ALREADY seen her naked! You see, during the session, he was a visual artist. He saw shapes, lines, light, and tones. He thought about composition and texture. Outside of the context of the session, he was back to being a "normal" man.

This May be a Non-issue for You, But . . .

I am a shy person, so here is another take on this issue of posing au naturel: Context is everything. Be aware that most artists understand that the model is sharing something personal with the artist(s). Allowing an artist to study one's body is a gift - like donating one's body to science, except that the model is alive and aware. However, I had an argument with one artist some time ago about allowing non-artists (or even artists who are not participating in that session or workshop) to wander through the room (and take a peek) during a modeling session. I thought it was wrong. It distracts the artists at work, but mostly, it was abusive to the model. A professional model will hold still for the duration of the pose. She or he is "captive." She chose to be nude for working artists, but not for just anyone.

Context is everything. I was shocked that this other artist believed that all models who pose are totally comfortable with their bodies and they do not care who sees them nude. While this may be true for some, I do not think it is the artist who should decide such a thing. Context is everything. Even a performing artist who gets nude during the act does so only for the crowd that has come to see the performance. That is different from simply stripping in the streets. That is also why we close doors and put shades in front of the windows while a session is going on. And why the model puts something on during the breaks. While a person may feel totally comfortable removing her clothes for a doctor's exam or even a massage, she does not usually sit nude in the waiting room! Like all (professional) relationships, all parties should be treated with respect and courtesy.

And on the flip side, I prefer it when models put something on during the break. I know several models who enjoy walking around nude when they are not working. As one of my students put it, "use some good manners." Although I usually work through the break, I find a nude person walking around and talking distracting. Not everyone does. (The flip side to this is related to the actual artwork the artist is creating. Rodin, for example, is reported to have paid models to walk nude around the studio so that he could study the body in motion. So, there is no hard and fast rule.)

Oh -- something else I thought to share. Some female models have told me that they have had some bad experiences meeting new people and telling them what they do for a living. Many people apparently assume that being an artists' model is equivalent to being a porn star. Some of these models have chosen to keep their occupation to themselves, while one told me that she just tells people she is an artist's assistant. It is true, but you can imagine that this title gives a different impression about the work she does. I hope that helps.

On the Personal Issues

I only publish this because I am often asked this.
  1. Menstruation: to model or not to model? That is the question. And that is up to each individual model. Some models have told me they just use a tampon and insert the string so no one is the wiser. Another model told me that a certain date (to work) was out of the question because her period was expected and for her, that meant three solid days of excruciating pain at home. From the artist's point of view, the worst thing you can do if you want to keep working is to not show up. If you choose not to work during this time of the month, then please do not schedule a session then. Just say you are not available. We do not need to know the reason.
  2. Erections: They happen. I do not have a penis myself, so I am not the best one to give advice on how to get rid of an erection (or to keep it, as the session context may be). I can only offer this: the brain is the most powerful organ we have. And, if it is any consolation, I have never been in a session in which that happened that ANYONE commented aloud on it.

How to Lose Modeling Jobs

  1. Don't Show
  2. Don't Show and Don't Contact the Artist who hired you
  3. Don't Show and Have a Lame Excuse (such as "I forgot")
  4. Have no imagination in your poses

Here's the deal: when you are hired as an artist's model, you are the solo star of the show. To not show up is practically an unforgivable sin. Rarely will the artist(s) be able to find a replacement for that session. It is lost time. No one likes to be stood up.

As a model, you are a self-employed business person and the artists are your customers. Although some do not believe this, artists are people, too. And like most people, the majority do not want confrontation. That means that if an artist is unhappy, he won't tell you. He will simply never call you for work again. However, he will tell all of his friends about his negative experience with you. The word gets around the life-drawing art community quickly which models are no-shows. And, unless it was a car accident, or you have an incredible relationship with the artist who hired you, you won't be asked to work again.

Some Tips on How to Solve Your No-Show

It is your responsibility to contact the artist who hired you after your no-show -- the sooner, the better. If you wait for the artist to contact you, you are not in a great position.

If you have ever worked in customer service, you know that you should be grateful to the customer who complains to your company. Most people do not like confrontation and if they have an unpleasant experience with your business, they don't usually say so. Instead, they leave, never buy your services again, and share their bad experience with anyone who will listen.

So when a customer complains, you must:
  1. listen
  2. acknowledge the complaint as valid and agree that the person has a right to feel the emotions she feels
  3. solve the problem
  4. tell the customer what you will change so future problems will be avoided
  5. follow-up (do what you said you would do)

    Even if the reason you missed the session was "not your fault," it was LESS the artists' fault.

    Also, the better models offer to stay late if they arrive late and if they actually miss a session, they offer a makeup. But let me point out something. From the customer/artists' point of view, if space is rented and people make the time to drive from out of town (or even closeby) and wait and wait for someone who never shows, time and money have been lost. Asking that customer to repeat the situation, only this time you WILL show is asking a lot. You have broken the trust; How does a makeup session compensate him for his lost time and expenses? It does not. It only puts him at risk of being stood up again, at worst; at best, it gives him what he should have received the first time. Only he had to do double the effort to get it. First time, shame on you. Second time, shame on me (and you).

    So I suggest that you follow the five steps above and in solving the problem, you might suggest that you will not only offer a makeup session, but you will do it for free or one hour for free -- something. Because a deduction in your pay is all you really have to offer. If you are lucky, the hiring artist will appreciate your offer, but not take you up on it (while still rehiring you). But don't count on that. Make your offer something you can live with, as well as something that helps your long-term goal of working again.

    Summary

    Not wanting to end on a negative note, let me emphasize: Artists love good models. They are an integral part of what we do. When there is good chemistry between artist and model, great art happens. Great friendships, too.

    Please send any questions or comments to me by clicking here.

    Another interesting Web page about modeling: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nude_model.


    Modeling Questions and Kelly's Answers

    The question and answer page made this page too long, so please click on the link above to answer any other questions you might have. And a reminder - I do not have time to answer every question that models write to me about. If I feel that I have not already addressed a question, or if the topic is of one I suspect would be of aid to another, I may post your question on >this page. I will not post your personal information.

    Back to Artists' Resource Page.



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Most recent update: 31 July 2009