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June 28, 2011

Life Modelling: Up Front and Personal

by Val Reynolds
Dawn, sculpture, David Evans FRSBS, in Parkway, Welwyn Garden City

Dawn, sculpture, David Evans FRSBS, in Parkway, Welwyn Garden City

A lighthearted feature that manages to get under the skin of life modelling and provides a rare glimpse into the courage and humour of an experienced model

How do you think you’d feel if you woke up on the first day in a new job, knowing that one of the first things you’d have to do when you got there would be to take off all your clothes?

Well, I can tell you that I didn’t feel very well at all.

I couldn’t believe that I’d committed myself to something so unimaginably appalling. But there was no escape now; I had to go through with it.

Looking back at that day some ten years down the line, my reasons for applying to the local art college for work as a life model don’t look very convincing, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. Having been at home caring for children but otherwise master of my own time for many years I couldn’t face returning to office life; all the gossiping and office politics and having to wear tidy little suits and smart shoes – but a job of some kind was becoming a financial necessity. The idea of being an artist’s muse, spending time with a wild but profoundly fascinating being who would share his deepest thoughts with me as I posed, draped in silken cloths and lying on a velvet chaise longue, had an undeniable appeal. It certainly beat the hell out of the prospect of being on a till in Tesco.

What never entered my mind was that the average model spends his/her time mainly in front of classes of up to thirty strangers. And what I didn’t know was that the local art college, far from occupying the gracious old building I’d envisaged, had been rehoused in a semi-derelict office block, with icy draughts from broken window panes and the dust of ages still lying on the floor.

Sculpture in Vienna

Sculpture in Vienna

I was lucky. Taking pity I imagine on the pale and trembling middle-aged woman before him, the tutor in charge assigned me to a class of adults doing a part-time degree course, so at least I was spared the added horror of facing hordes of 18 year olds. The students couldn’t have been kinder, introducing themselves and having a friendly chat to help me relax, but the fateful moment couldn’t be put off indefinitely. I was shown the corner of the room, roughly screened with a tatty old piece of cloth, in which I was to undress. By this stage a sense of complete unreality had set in, but it wasn’t enough to calm my thundering heart. As I emerged clothed in my huge dressing gown, I still nursed the crazy hope that perhaps it was a mistake; that they didn’t really need all my clothes off. But they did. And I was shown to a rickety old wooden chair, and asked to sit down.

Nothing at all had prepared me for what came next, which was the total, unnerving silence of intense concentration as fifteen pairs of eyes zoomed in on me, and my cellulite. It was so quiet I was sure they could hear my heart thudding. As the morning wore on, and some kind soul brought me a cup of coffee, I slowly started to calm down a bit, though relaxation was short-lived once drawing after drawing began to be stuck up on the surrounding walls! Wherever I looked, there I was.

By mid-afternoon I was actually relaxed enough to start to feel a bit dozy at times. The sounds which were to become so familiar, the soft scratchings of charcoal on paper mingling with the background hum of traffic and the gentle drizzle outside, calmed my frazzled nerves and a sense of achievement began to creep in.

Feel like trying it for yourself?

Painting a model at Chelsea Flower Show

Painting a model at Chelsea Flower Show

Bear in mind that the myths about the pay really are myths, you’d be far better off financially working almost anywhere else. But there’s no doubt that it can give you a tremendous sense of empowerment, as well as a tiny stake in posterity. In just a few homes, my image will be gazing down from the wall for years to come. Cellulite included.

Keeping in Shape

Like most models I want to keep in shape, after all I need my body to earn money, so I joined a Zumba class as I find the gym boring and am too lazy to push myself very hard when I’m there. Zumba definitely helps with the modelling to be reasonably fit. However, for some classes a very slim and muscular model would be ideal so students can see clearly the skeleton and muscles. In others the more Rubenesque models are popular. I also practise yoga, which is popular with a lot of models as it helps keep the body flexible.

The Register of Artists’ Models is a useful starting point for anyone interested in this kind of work and gives a clear indication of rates of pay.

The author’s name has been withheld for personal reasons

Do you have a story you’d like to tell in all honesty but would prefer to remain anonymous? We can guarantee that anonymity … so do get in touch

All photography © Pintail Media

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