on being a life drawing model

It’s quite odd being both the centre of attention and invisible, at the same time.

You sit there, on a stool for 20 minutes, not moving at all, while 8 pairs of eyes look at you, all the time. Taking in every part of you, their brain processing what they see, and transmitting it to their hands. Reproducing every inch of your body onto the blank page before them.

You are, literally, in the centre of their space.

And yet you’re only an object, albeit one that can move. It’s all about them – the 7 people holding the charcoal in their hands, and how well they do their drawing. About getting the technique, the angles and the shading right. About seeing the negative spaces, about using the other hand – or even both hands – to draw with.

It was a fun evening – a little chilly, but fun.

I was asked about a month ago if I would pose for this art class, and would I prepare a couple of poses – a few short ones and 2 or 3 longer ones (20 minutes or so). Some of the yoga poses would work quite nicely, the teacher said. It would be 2 hour session with a short break in the middle. I should bring a gown if I have one – I might want to wear it during the break.

So I googled yoga poses and life drawing class pictures, and printed out a few to give me some ideas. I even practiced a short routine in my hotel room the night before, just so I would look professional.

The day dawned, and I wasn’t really nervous – not at all like the first time at the hen party a few months ago. I think the big difference is that I didn’t know anyone here at the art class. I did wonder a little about what type of person would be taking the class, and what I would do if I did know someone. But I figured I would just carry on as normal, it’s not like it should be weird or anything.

So I arrived at the class before any other students; the teacher and I chatted through some ideas (my routine flew out the window) and I got a good idea of how the 2 hours would progress.

As I sat waiting for the students to arrive, I glanced at the studio – a room with several easels on the edges in a large circle around a central area with paper on the floor (for shadows) and a stool. That would be my domain.

I dashed out for a quick wee (don’t want to interrupt later…) and came back to see the first students there – a middle-aged woman and a Muslim man. Interesting… for some reason I did not expect the latter…

They were joined by another middle aged woman, 3 young women and a second young Muslim guy. Very interesting how one’s pre-conceived ideas are shattered.

I noticed pretty quickly, that while everyone said “hi” while glancing at me, there were no introductions or chats with me. Almost like an unspoken rule that they don’t engage with the model, and it probably did help to keep a distance and make it all less uncomfortable.

I had a bit of wine while they all set up, and then the teacher asked to start. I whipped of my t-shirt, dropped my trousers – left them lying in a corner – and walked into the middle of the room thinking about how this felt. Realizing how it wasn’t scary or weird or anything. I felt relaxed, comfortable. Actually enjoying it in a way.

I was concerned more about making sure that I give them interesting poses and not delaying the class than about the fact that I was completely and utterly exposed to these 5 women and 2 men.

As I stood there during the first of the short poses, not moving at all, I listened to the class – the usual banter between students. The usual questions to the teacher, her having to repeat or explain the odd instruction. And the words “the model” or “him” or “his leg” being the only references to me.

I tried to sneak a glance at a couple of the pages, but with the angle of the easels, and my not wanting to move my head it was difficult. I did, though, get to see a few later on.

The first few poses went by quite quickly, mostly standing ones. Then she wanted the class to do a motion drawing – so she had me walk in a circle around the middle area – very, very slowly. The class would draw me as often as they could – and ostensibly end up with a series of me from different angles. I was asked to walk a little slower at one point, but most of them seem to have enjoyed that one.

Then I went into my first longer pose – and I chose to do something similar to Rodin’s thinker, but with my head in my hand. The class seemed to like that pose – lots of angles and negative and positive space. I of course only realized too late that I now had a direct view onto my little friend who I was hoping would not embarrass me in this cold weather. But despite various mental techniques, I eventually realized that weather I was huge, or tiny, it would make little difference to the class – and an erection would be the only truly embarrassing occurrence. But that was not about to happen.

Just as my thigh was getting uncomfortable, we took a break. I went over to put on some clothes for the few minutes – realizing as I did, that it was more for them and the cold than for me. I would have quite comfortable to sit there in the nick – it was fascinating how that absolutely didn’t faze me at all.

After a little more wine, and no conversations on my part, we went into 2 more long poses – one of me lying on my side perched on a bended arm (which ended up more uncomfortable than I expected) and the second one where I lay with my back flat on the ground, my feet flat and my knees up. It was a challenging pose for the class ‘cos I was so flat, but they went with it, and some did quite well.

It was a long 2 hours – especially as I’m not really used to sitting so still for so long. I kept wondering what I’m thinking about.
It was mostly about mot moving, about listening and learning about drawing a bit. A little about how I’m feeling at that moment, and quite a bit about what I could see on the walls.
I didn’t think at all about work (wow!) but I did try and practice my words for Lady Windermere’s Fan – pity I couldn’t have my script in front of me. But that did work nicely too.

Afterwards they all packed up while I got dressed. I had a short chat with the teacher (she also seemed to like the poses I gave the class – something interesting) and I got paid.

I hope I’ll get the chance to do it again – was really fun!

3 thoughts on “on being a life drawing model

  1. Thank you, I enjoyed your post.

    In my two years of doing life modelling, I’ve found it a wonderful and liberating experience, definitely worth doing. But I’d say it is more for what it offers to oneself than the money it earns, unless one is doing solid bookings.

    The best thing, at least for a male model, is to be dispassionate about it. The idea of nudity seems to be generally more unacceptable these days, so going about it in a totally professional manner is the answer. Showy nudism is not the go, if you are seeking repeat bookings. This demands natural poses and dispelling one’s nudity – not thinking of it as a personal sexual thrill.

    Extremely opposite things continually go through my mind in the days leading up to a session. I often experience severe mixed feelings, saying to myself: “This will definitely be the last time”. Nude modelling seems a backward step in one’s life, not forward – it seems little more than stepping out of the shower. A thought the same time, one feels that one is striking out on an extremely original and interesting path. It’s an adventure not to be so easily dismissed.

    My main worry is getting ‘found out’, that either someone in the class will know me or will come to know about me later. Even if not, I fear that the students (and instructor) will instantly ‘see through’ me and realise that I’m there to satisfy personal, sexual urges. Their conclusion, one imagines, is invariably that one is a sexually deviant, a thrill-seeker. I so absolutely don’t want to be seen as that. Being a life model, which I’m proud about, satisfies an urge that is very internal in me, something aching for expression.

    When the day looms, I am flooded with thoughts such as these. They give way to heart flutters as I enter the building, see people standing or walking around, and when I realise that any minute now I’m going to naked amongst them. There’s a growing sense of desire to get on with it, and imminent relief as the minutes approach.

    The idea of actually being a life model was an enormous sexual thrill before I ever got started. I let my mind drift into fantasies of how the most intimate parts of my body would be in full view of people. I felt like I would be giving them a gift – which is probably right. It feels an even sweeter when the real experience is about to happen.

    But there is fear – fear of what will be going through people’s minds in the room. “Why are you there doing this? Is it to satisfy a sexual desire? Have you been asked, or did you volunteer?” How tragic if you are here if it’s because of your fantasies, they must think. There’s lots of time to think about all these questions as their pencils and brushes glide around. The amazing thing however, is that they’re probably not thinking any such thing at all. They’re probably admiring how professional you are. Realising this makes life modelling exhilarating.

    It is an enormous but strangely anticlimactic feeling when it comes time to take off one’s clothes and pose. Nothing actually happens. The room is quiet as they all busily get on with it, preparing their position, easel, materials and so forth. For the model, it is quite serene to just be there without clothes on as the business sets in. One feels boldly helpful and generous, even though one may have come thinking it would be an entirely selfish, self-centred experience. I find that also makes it liberating.

    The poses are not difficult in my experience. I just do what the instructors want, and they’re usually quite specific – which pleases me. Toward the end, one becomes acutely conscious of the minutes passing by. I find myself saying: “I’ve had enough, I’m really ready to get this over with”. Simultaneously I savour these final minutes. It is really amazing to be totally naked in front of a room of people. It is tantalising in the extreme. Since I’ve managed all the time without getting an erection, I give myself permission to think of erotic thoughts, and it’s very pleasant.

    The relationship between one’s body image and the actuality of how one looks gets violently sorted out. I have a thin physique and realise that artists probably much prefer a curvaceous or muscly model. So I each time I worry they’re going to gawk at me, get dispirited about having to draw me, and just wonder why I chose to be doing this. No such thing ever happens. There’s not the slightest murmur. The students just accept it and get on with it. That makes it personally very liberating.

    I like modelling in formal classes (at college or art school) rather than art groups as it all feels more distant. I enjoy the thrill of being naked in front of younger students in their art degrees. It’s interesting. They themselves are sexual creatures with the volume turned up, yet it’s not why they are present. I feel I can safely enjoy being amongst them while being removed from them at the same time. Plus they genuinely appreciate it. The students – or at least the more vocal ones – always say thank you as the session ends.

    I’ve found that instructors are all very different. They don’t follow any set routine. Two male instructors I’ve had obviously enjoyed having me standing around naked between poses: they encouraged me to do this rather than put on a robe. Others, more professional, are distant and not wanting to know about it.

    I come away feeling good every time, but always with some mixed feelings. I’d recommend it to anyone who is curious but genuine about wanting to do it.

  2. I have posed at life drawing classes about 12 times now. The very first time I did it, I thought why am I going to do this and I almost bolted out of the door before I even started. Once the robe came off and I got into the first few poses I began to relax and enjoy it. That first class was large, it was mid winter and the room was quite cold. There were about 20 artists, 20% male and 80% female, it was a weekday and most of the artists were retired. It lasted 3.5 hours, I was well paid for it, I drove home and thought what a wonderful and surreal experience it was. I thought I’d like to do it again.

    The 2nd class was quite small, about 5 artists, all were in their 20’s/30’s, it was mid summer and very hot indeed. There were spotlights on me and I sweated profusely. The class lasted 2.5 hours and was in a village hall. It paid quite well and I went home felling content.

    The other classes have been similar to these, only one class I didn’t enjoy. The woman taking the class expected me to set things up after each pose, do this do that and there was no changing area. The pay was rather poor, she emailed me the next day telling me that I was good but that I needed to get into shape!

    It is a really off the wall thing to do but it also quite wonderful being the centre of attention.

    Give it a go, you only live once.

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