09-NOV-2011 I’ve been modeling for a couple of years and like any job, after learning the ropes, there are things which have grown to irk me. Art students and sometimes even art professionals don’t realize when or how they may come off as disrespectful. I hope what I discuss here is useful to anyone in the position of working with a live model.


First of all, as with any appointment, set your phones to vibrate or just turn them off! This is the first common courtesy to go out the door with artists. Texting, picking your playlist from your mobile device, or checking your voicemail is insulting to your teacher, your model and your peers.

Dialog of any kind is not possible if you have yourself shut off from your model.

Mobile devices come with their own set of issues. Not all classrooms permit this but I’ve never seen anything so out of control as an art class where every student has ear buds plugged in. Instructors may be talking to the person next to you but that doesn’t mean he/she is not providing extremely valuable information to which all of the students should be listening. Have some soft music in the background but this ear bud phenomenon is more disruptive and discourteous than you would think. Blocking the model from one of your senses creates distance between you, the artist and the model as subject. Yes, it is often quiet without any conversation but you should be open to conversation.

You should be willing to engage in the slightest dialog from asking if the model is comfortable to suggesting corrections to the pose.

Tardiness and Attendance

The next issue is Time. Whether you don’t know how to manage your time or you’re a student that doesn’t care about your class, showing up when you are expected seems like an important issue. This is handled differently by each instructor. I don’t understand why artists are “allowed” to be flaky about being in a class or studio environment. Art is still a profession. It requires you to learn about time management, meeting deadlines, and being dependable. I don’t see this as any different than learning about software programming, engineering, or accounting. Whatever your chosen field, for god’s sake, show up!

Art students seem to have the freedom to come and go as they please in certain schools. If you were in a math or science class you wouldn’t be permitted to wander in and out, disappearing for a quarter of the class. Yet the liberal art mentality is that you’ll still be an artist when you graduate regardless of whether you were there to learn anything.

Not all schools take attendance but it seems most do. I remember when anything after high school was simply considered “your time” and as long as you turned in your work and passed the exams, it didn’t matter if you were actually in the classroom. This isn’t the case most of the time now. Trade schools and colleges usually take attendance.

The perceived rudeness: your model is there for the same fundamental reasons as your teacher is there – to give you a resource. Drawing or painting from life is very different than copying from a photograph. It is a unique experience unto itself and each session can provide you with a different experience to add to your history which will make you the artist you become. My time as a model has value. Your tuition or fees are paying for that. When you stroll into a studio thirty, forty, or fifty minutes late you are being rude. You’re telling me that you don’t care that I showed up for your benefit. Whether that’s your intention or not, your lateness has a message.

I’m not talking about the tardiness that no one can control like traffic, train delays or storms. I’m talking about people who simply can’t get to a place on time because they needed to stop for coffee. One school where I work has a locked door policy. Due to the fact that it is a very large college where the hallways are filled with people studying every subject, opening a door and seeing a nude model is not something the model wants or the general public may want. At that school, once a session begins, the door is locked and you have to wait for a break so that the door can be opened when the model is robed.

Students don’t understand the opportunity they have in getting to work with a live model and they take it for granted.

Budgeting the Model’s Time

No matter how comfortable a pose looks, it won’t be after ten minutes. Limbs fall asleep. Muscles can spasm. The body simply needs to shift and move. This is true even for reclining poses. Think about it – when you sleep, you are not completely still. You will move your fingers, shift your legs and turn your head from side to side.

The best standard of operation seems to be “20/5” which is twenty minutes of posing then five minutes of break. After three twenty-minute sessions, take a fifteen- to twenty- minute break. If you are doing a fully rendered piece and working in a marathon of six to twelve hours, break every three hours for an hour. Like any job, this will help not only physical performance but mental fatigue as well.

If it’s your first time working with a model, be specific with expectations:

  • * Do you have a changing area in a bathroom?
  • * Do you have a timer or should the model provide it?
  • * Do you provide any refreshments or meals?
  • * What is the parking situation?
  • * Are you following a “locked door” policy to keep people from walking in?

These may seem like ridiculous notions to spell out but they are things I have had to learn on my own. The large school I spoke about has a closet for changing but it’s not a bathroom. I have to walk through crowded hallways in my robe to get to a bathroom. It may be the same walking distance as another school but an art school of just a few students is not the same as a large community college filled with thousands of people from non-art persuasions.

If you run out of time, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your model if you can take a few photographs of the pose so you can finish later.

No matter how comfortable a pose looks, it won’t be after ten minutes.

Sometimes Models Have Special Needs

This subject falls into the category of “isn’t that obvious?” yet it’s not something easily discussed. Female models may have to deal with intimate bathroom hygiene. Yes, I’m speaking about having my period during a gig. It was my very first nude modeling assignment for an art club. While I was well aware that all attending were adult professionals, I was a nervous wreck. I had spoken to the organizer and explained to this older white-haired gentleman that I wanted to swap nights if possible. He couldn’t see how I would be uncomfortable worrying about bleeding mishaps, tampon strings and all around physical discomfort/pain. I’m the type that is in bed for 2-3 days each month because of how intense the pain is. Modeling is a physical job.

How did I get through it? I added a ton of Kahlua to my coffee, that’s how.

Be respectful and easy to talk to. That way if you have a female model (or any model with a medical concern) you can have open dialog that doesn’t panic anyone and is comforting. Consider a schedule change or choose easier poses. Ask her to be honest with you!

So many people simply refuse to explain what they want. Begin open dialog that is non-judgmental.

This is true in everyday life. If I’m getting up to get a drink and ask you if you want something, I’m asking – that means you can say, “Yes, I’d like a coffee with milk and sugar, thank you.” Yet in everyday conversation people are hesitant to express their needs/desires unless they’re on the internet in which case, people are more than happy to say what they “would have wanted” rather than telling the person sharing the situation in real life.

With all these things to consider, I hope that if you’ve read through it you will consider your interaction with your future models. Open dialog and common courtesy go a long way. You’ll be a better artist and better professional in a business setting when it counts.

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2 Comments on Commentary about figure modeling

  1. I am in the bushwick/williamsburg area and I am looking for nude modeling work. I am 30, I have previous experience at a bunch of different teacher/student and more casual affairs. This is serious, and for artistic purposes only. We can discuss rates, and I will send photos of myself to boot. Just got laid off, trying to keep my place and income rolling in. Set design and project assistant available. Apologies if this is an inappropriate place for this query….



    • I’m definitely not the proper person to be posting this to. You want to build a portfolio on a place like Model Mayhem or something. I can’t help you out. I’m a model. I’m not booking models or an agent of any type.


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