Two of the characters in my WIP ‘Chiaroscuro’ work as life models – one models for Eugene Delacroix as he paints his controversial work ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’, while the other, a 21st Century student, supplements her income posing at the local university.
It’s one of those jobs that many people find fascinating. What must it be like to take your clothes off in front of all those people? What sort of person does that for a living?
Well, a surprisingly varied type of person! As part of my research, I read many articles and blogs written by and about life models. They come from all walks of life and come in all shapes and sizes – life modelling is definitely a modelling job where difference is celebrated, where you don’t need to be a size six, and any ‘unusual’ physical features are welcomed, not disparaged.
Life models are vital for the development of artists. Drawing a real person, with all the imperfections, nuances and attributes that come with the human body, is essential practice. The students are appreciative of their models and respect and realise their importance. So what does it take to be a life model? And what is it actually like?
It’s not as simple as it might appear – it’s not just a case of taking your clothes off and standing there. The Register of Artists’ Models offers some very sound advice. You will need to be comfortable with your body – and happy to be naked in a room full of strangers. You’ll need to be unconcerned by a tutor mentioning your defects over and over again. You’ll need patience and stamina – standing or sitting in the same position for up to forty-five minutes at a time can be uncomfortable, to say the least. And can you come up with interesting poses? Often a teacher will ask you to improvise so you’ll need to be able to think up new positions.
You’ll also need to be reliable – often life models are booked for a run of sessions, posing in the same position so that students can work on a painting or sculpture. You need to be able to guarantee that you’ll be there.
The blogs and articles I’ve read are mostly filled with positive and sometimes extremely funny experiences. Many say that they were worried at first at the reaction their imperfect bodies would fetch from the students, but found that no one was bothered by a middle-aged paunch or too much body hair or dimples, freckles and birthmarks.
So far from being a nudge-nudge wink-wink type of job, life-modelling seems to me to be rather life-affirming and rather good for a positive body image too. A way of celebrating our imperfections (and we all have them) rather than hiding them. And a refreshing antidote to the photo-shopped and honestly rather weird nude selfies pumped out on a regular basis by certain attention-seeking celebrities.
And as the sketches here show, life models are a vital resource for artists – the men, women and even animals that modelled for Delacroix helped to add the vitality and richness that the figures in his paintings possess.