The Naked Truth About Figure Modeling by eRik Wollf


figure model:

figure \`fig-yer, Brit & often US `fig-er\ n[ME, fr. OF, fr. L figura, fr. fingere] | the graphic representation of a form esp. of a person or a geometric entity.

model \`mäd- l\ n [MF modelle, fr. OIt modello, fr. (assumed) VL modellus, fr. L modulus small measure, fr. modus] (1575) | a person or thing that serves as a pattern for an artist; esp: one who poses for an artist.


For as long as we humans have aspired to be artists, there has been a need for models. Within drawings found dating back thousands of years are figures of animals and people. Toward more modern times, with the structure of art better defined, a natural movement away from animals and toward people occurred. People were understanding of instructions and able to assume the positions requested of them by the artist.


Urge to Create and the Demand for Subjects

The female nude became the archetypical figure study form because of its soft curvaceous lines and distinct shadowings. The sensual essence of femininity added to the overt physical traits. Naturally, modeling nude for the predominantly male art world carried with it certain negative connotations. Still, the demand was present, the pay was obviously good, and the models appeared.

Drawing, as an art, is learned; some students develop their skills better and more quickly than others. In structured art classes they spend many hours drawing and painting a variety of human figures in as many poses.

Simply put, figure modeling involves displaying the human body in a pose that creates an acceptable form to draw, taking into account the lighting, the body region being studied, and teacher and student preferences.


Clothed vs. Nude Modeling

Some figure modeling involves nudity; for other sessions the model is clothed. Nude figure modeling is also called life modeling, whereas clothed figure modeling is sometimes referred to as costume modeling. Although no obvious costume of a theatrical sense is used, strategic draping is sometimes accomplished to enhance the image.

At this point, emphasis must be made on the various art media — drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography. No photography is involved in nude figure modeling unless the model specifically consents to it. Usually, it will then be a Polaroid® shot to allow for the pose to be successfully resumed at another time.


Growing Demand for Models

There have been no shortages of demand for figure models, clothed and nude. The mystique about the profession is being partially erased by recent mainstream movies' discussions of the subject, for example, seen in the 1993 film Sirens.

Sadly though, the glamorization of the field has presented false assumptions. No, figure models need not look like Elle MacPherson. In fact, the students and teachers really have no care whether the model is skinny, fat, tall, short, black, white, or of any other particular physical characteristic.

Just having a human form to study and draw, paint, or sculpt is joyous in itself.
Figure drawing and painting is very important to an artist's work, representing the most difficult art form: replicating the human form objectively. To render a work that best captures the model's mood and characteristics, the artist must erase from memory all preconceived notions of what the body "should look like." It is an enviable and arduous task.

Even more strenuous are renderings of the face and head — portrait studies. These epitomize true unintended intimidation of the artist by the model. Indeed, the discomfort with modeling often rests not so much in a model's nudity or an artist's possibly difficult (at first) acceptance of it, but in the artist's grappling with the difficult task at hand — rendering a free and acceptable likeness of the object being drawn, in this case a human figure.


Posing the Model

The figure model is called upon to demonstrate a wide variety of poses, some for as little as 60 seconds (gestures) and others for two to three hours or more. Some poses may need to be replicated between sessions, especially when sculpture is involved.

The classic contrapposto pose has been in demand for centuries and is still often requested by students and teachers. A standing pose, it simply involves placing the model's body weight on one leg and relaxing the other so that the long axis of the body runs from the head down along the inner aspect of the supporting leg. The arms are crossed behind the head or rested at the sides.

Other poses call for reclining, kneeling, sitting, or lying face-up or face-down. In every case, it is important that the pose feel natural and comfortable at the onset, especially for ones that will be assumed for several hours.

Of course, strategic breaks (usually every sixty minutes or more often) make any long pose more bearable. Of note is the art student's annoyance with movement by the model. Often, when the student is concentrating on the fingers or toes or other complex area, a minor movement cannot be corrected in the art. It must be emphasized that the figure model remain as comfortably still as possible throughout the modeling session.


Expectations of You, the Figure Model

So. . . You've decided to offer your hand (and arm, and leg, and. . .) for figure modeling. What is required or expected of the you, the model. Foremost, an attitude to contribute toward art plays an important role in one's success as a model.

Of course, a requirement is that the model be comfortable (especially if nude) before a mixed group of people, meaning young people, older people, females, males, and so on. (From this point on, our discussion about figure modeling will mostly assume that the conditions require nudity.)

In addition, when working with naturally-younger collegiate art students, their makeup will range from the sublime to the outrageous, with lime hair and piercing regalia. For sure, the art crowd toots its own horn.

Aside from feeling good about being naked before up to twenty people, the model simply must be able to hold still for extended periods of time. Emphasis on this has already been made and cannot be overstressed. And, if the model is creative in posing (especially during gesturing) in addition to being still, the chances of being called back for a repeat performance are greatly enhanced.

There are no physical mandates for models. Whether young or old (models have ranged from eighteen to eighty!) or fit or not, the willingness to participate is the only requisite.

However, there exists an inherent shortage of male figure models over females. The "Why?" is laden with suspected reasons, from their more obvious socially-repressed anatomy (how many male frontal nude scenes are seen in theaters every week?) conversely to socially more accepted female public nudity (exotic dancing, magazine centerfolds, et cetera).

On that note, the demand for male models will increase as more uninhibited females move to more lucrative jobs as dancers and lingerie models.

Seemingly, the only drawback that male models experience over females is the infrequent, unavoidable, and difficult to mask potential display of sexual "excitement." It is understood and accepted and need be no cause for alarm or embarrassment. Benign, distracting thoughts can usually make tumescence abate. Periodic attention to "leakage" (you men know what this means) may be in order. Selective disguising poses may be used.


A Bonus

Special benefit comes from the model's ability to help people feel at ease — to smile and become a part of the creative process. This helps soothe student ills, especially rampant in university art departments where course requirements, tight class schedules, and cranky professors abound, not to mention the pressures of competing for slots in the senior level art classes, open only to the brightest and best students.


Job Opportunities: Colleges

There are many figure modeling opportunities available through college art departments. However, there are other arenas where the pay and conditions are almost always better.

Before discussing those, consider a few more elements about college art classes. The most regular opportunities exist here, especially at universities. In fact, jobs are available in practically every community with a post-secondary institution.

The students may appreciate you the least of all your clients, but they will often call on you for weekend and late-night sessions as they struggle to meet quotas. The quality of the work will naturally not do you justice, but the seriousness of the students makes up for it.

The facilities leave much to be desired, especially relative to model comfort. And, the pay will be among the lowest, subject to paychecks and tax-withholding. In that regard, the opportunity to remain anonymous does not exist.

Still, for the truly adventurous and uninhibited, modeling nude for the youngest of budding artists is particularly exciting.

To locate these college jobs, simply call (or better yet, go by) the art department of your local college or university. Ask if they currently have a need for figure models. They may give you a model release/information sheet that tells them when you are available and gives them your particulars (male/female, et cetera) and releases you from rights to any of the works generated.

Then, wait for your call and when it comes, go to work! If art students ask you to "volunteer" for evening and weekend sessions (I say "volunteer" because, typically among the poorest of the college student community, they may only be able to pay you in drawings!), your love of being naked for any reason at all gives you no reason for refusing their request for your services!


Art Institutes

Excellent opportunities are found at art institutes, whether private or public. In large cities daily work can often be secured at the large institutes. Evening classes are abundant and the possibility of adding photography classes to your modeling portfolio exists.

Few people don't know of Madonna's work before the cameras of photography students in New York as she built her career. Who wouldn't trade a little humility for that degree of success and fame?

Call your local art institute and ask to speak with the person who is responsible for classes. Then ask her about figure modeling opportunities. Quite often your need will be identified in one of those early calls; you may even be working that evening!


Private Artists and Galleries

Often, local artists have the luxury of selling their works in their own private gallery. To supplement their income, many teach art classes and often need models, both nude and clothed, from which their students may render drawings or paintings.

Placing your name and number with as many of these gallery owners as you can will greatly improve your chances of working.


Local Governments

Many of your local city and county governments have finally appreciated the importance of the arts in the quality of their citizens' lives. As such, some have developed art councils that coordinate classes for the public.

Summers are especially busy as parents seek to keep out-of-school students busy. Naturally, modeling for these classes will almost always be while clothed; however, enlightened art classes for accelerated or gifted high school students using nude models are not unheard of.
Express your willingness to pose nude; you may create a class where none before existed. Call your local art council. Bleed your availability into adjacent communities as well. The pay will usually warrant what extra driving time may be required.


College & Technical Schools and CE Classes

Colleges and technical schools sometimes have continuing education (CE) classes that require models, whether for photography or drawing and painting. Of course, almost all colleges and universities have non-credit CE classes for the public as well.

Call the college's switchboard and ask for the division of community classes or non-credit (evening?) courses. Then, find out who teaches the different art classes and offer your services directly to each. The growing Elder Hostel program throughout America will also offer modeling opportunities.

These CE encounters are almost always delightful, as the student makeup is richer in all ways. Plus, the students pool their money to pay you. While rare, you may find work for the trade and technical school credit classes as well. Again, it never hurts to make your services known.


Private Drawing Circles

Many communities, especially those near large cities and retirement areas, have private drawing circles. These are small groups of independent artists and non-artist citizens who meet regularly (usually once or twice a week) to draw or paint. There is little discussion and schooling. It's mostly for the artists' experiences and social interactions.

These sessions pay the model well, especially if nude, and are extremely enjoyable to be a part of. It is natural for the artists to want to draw a variety of models, but if you are really good (still, punctual, et cetera), you will find regular work with them.


Art Supply Stores

Ask at local art supply stores and galleries for the names of artists that may be sponsoring drawing or painting circles in their homes or galleries.


On Your Own

Finally, don't be embarrassed about posting a card with your name (first name only, please!) and phone number on a legitimate bulletin board of an art department, art supply store, or gallery. Verify the caller's true identity by returning the call if you did not initiate it. This is simple security. You may want to meet in a public place to interview the prospect yourself.
Don't be too careful. No matter what the modeling job, try to visit the site before the actual session. You will be more comfortable for many reasons when the time comes for your first session naked before a large group of people that you do not know.


Don't Push It, Though

An aggressive approach to secure assignments can result in seven to ten-hour days. Even though very little physical exertion is required, it will not take you too long realize the toll it takes on you. Don't get greedy at the expense of compromising your performance.

In the course of approaching people for work, you may be asked for references. Just like anything else, if you have no previous experience, just say so when asked. However, be ready to offer the names and phone numbers of people who can vouch for your sincerity and character.


What To Expect: Thinking

Why aren't more people attracted to figure modeling? There is a mystique, both about getting into it and actually doing it, that perplex many. What is a representative session like?

The typical modeling session is so boring for the model that it is ridiculous. Ponder this: what will you think about for two or three hours as you hold still to the sounds of charcoal scratching at seemingly ninety miles an hour?

By now the intrigue of figure modeling may have engulfed your sense of wonder. Can you hold still for sixty minutes? What about the room? Will it be hot? Will it be cold? There is no way to know. Suffice it to say that, by the time all of the spot lights are trained on you, you will infrequently feel chilled.



Even before entering the studio, preparation for the session demands that you warm up first. Simple pre-exercise stretches suffice. The main thing is to limber up as much as possible to counteract the stiffness that results from the inactivity of the longer poses.


So, do you just hold still? No, there is a modeling activity called "gesturing" that is actually more like a dance than modeling. In fact, it is akin to dance as much as still modeling is to calisthenics. Ah! Now that may be the information that thwarts your final decision to model. The sweat you break will be due to the rigor of holding still more than to the heat of the lights. But what is this gesturing?

Simply, in gesturing you make a series of poses, usually about a minute in length each, from which the artists draw quick Zen-like sketches. It is an exercise in creativity for both the artist and the model; the former is forced to draw, unencumbered by preconceived thoughts, what he or she sees; the model must think up the next pose within each sixty second gesture. Certainly, little time is spent thinking about anything but modeling during gesture poses.


Longer Poses

Longer poses allow for artists' sketching and lightly "fleshing in" the particulars. These may range from five to thirty minutes; usually they average around fifteen minutes. Three or four of these may be asked of the model as the group practices composition.

Often, the artists will be doing "blind contours," where they keep their eyes on you and off their drawing paper, tracing the outline of your form as they go. Other times will find them working with the "negative spaces," that is, drawing the areas within your arms and legs, etc. For these, creative, open poses are desireable.

The longest poses of several hours (or days, even!) are the ultimate test of the model. As body parts fall asleep, the model's endurance is tried. Fortunately, sufficient breaks are allowed for things to wake up. Any ability by the figure model to entertain meditation or Zen states is a blessing. It is important to select (or concede to) a pose that you know can be comfortably held for 45 to 60 minutes, motionless.

Truly, these long poses require just as much mental durability as physical. A good hint: have the instructor "chalk" your outline onto the platform before you take a break. It makes repositioning much quicker and easier on your nerves!

A typical two-hour session may involve fifteen or twenty sixty-second gesture poses and three fifteen-minute poses, followed by a break, and then a single hour-long pose. Or, it may call for a two-hour pose broken into two sessions by a break. The teacher and the group will let you know exactly what is required of you.


"Rules" of Figure Modeling:

As in any activity, there are rules that guide figure modeling. Although not chiseled in stone, they are somewhat universally-known and tolerated. The variations encountered by busy models, especially for nude figure modeling, are astonishing.


Timeliness. Nothing is more annoying to the instructor than a model failing to show for a session. So, make it a point to always be fifteen minutes early. That way, the teacher will know of your presence and such dogged duty to show will land you more work!


Take privacy. College art classes may see students entering and leaving the studio at will during the session. Some arrive late; some leave early. A sensitive teacher will post on the door that a nude model is in session and for persons to "please knock" before entering.

Of course, there is no guarantee that wanderers will not visit. This point is made mostly to prepare the model for interruptions and to not be distracted by them. The most private sessions will be for drawing circles, where the seriousness of the artists is truly appreciated. Still, when the door does open and a visitor enters, the truly professional model will not be fazed, but will remain still and nonobservant.

As mentioned before, photography is disallowed without the model's express (and written) permission. Unless a sculpture session requires a Polaroid® photograph to accurately re-pose the model, you will not usually encounter requests for photography.

The most interesting photograph I have ever seen of a nude figure modeling session in progress showed the twenty students all naked and the model clothed!


Platforms, Pedestals and Covers

The teacher or proctor will have arranged for the pedestal on which you will model. Sometimes you will enjoy the comfort of a futon. Other times you will lie on carpet. No matter the surface, you should make it a point to bring your own cloth covering, whether it be a beach towel or (better) a freshly-laundered white cotton sheet.

You must be comfortable! How you feel during the session is largely due to the surface on which you lie (or sit, kneel, or stand); plus, the naturally great feeling that comes from lying on fresh sheets can exert positive effects on your expressiveness. Even if the pedestal or futon is covered, you will still want to drape it with your own personal cover, for sanitary sake, especially when modeling nude.


A Partner

Infrequently, you may pose alongside another model, usually of the opposite sex. This is especially true for large art classes and is necessary to allow the students to have ample opportunity to draw or paint the subjects from an acceptable distance.

This mode of modeling takes in a new degree of endurance. Like stage acting, you are no longer alone. As you depend on the other, he or she depends on you. Cooperation is adamant to a successful session modeling with another person.

Usually you will encounter posing with another model for larger groups of twenty or more students. Models are expensive luxuries for artists; naturally, it takes more artists to share in the cost of two models.


Undressing and Dressing

Dressing and undressing can be one of the most uncomfortable times for the nude figure model, especially if a separate area is not available. Nicer studios will have private rooms where you change and robes to change into. Then, the session simply begins with placing the robe at the base of the pedestal and assuming your required position.

Regarding college art classes, you may simply disrobe in a corner of the studio. This can be awkward, but often it cannot be helped when a fill-in studio is being used, for example. Just keep your personal belongings together.


Break Etiquette

During the breaks, no matter how comfortable you are with your nudity, remember that the artists are usually not nudists themselves. They are drawing or painting you as though you were a still life floral arrangement, as such. Of course, the difference is that you are a living, breathing human, the ultimate test of their artistic abilities.

While still and posing, you become inanimate. When you stand and talk and walk, you are human again. Persisting naked can be very intimidating. So, courtesy calls for donning a robe or your jeans during the break. It may be a decision that brings you invitations to return to model again and again. Feel free, then, to roam and view the artists' works!


"Costumes" to Wear

If your session calls for costume modeling, be prepared for any variety of demand. In fact, it is wise to approach every session as if it will be either nude or clothed. Often, non-credit community CE classes will vote down nude for costume modeling at the last minute; all people are not equally enlightened. In these instances, leotards are great for the female models. Some will simply wear their underwear.

The simpler costume the better, for it will be less a diversion for the artists present. Male models can wear an athletic supporter. But with thongs becoming so prevalent, they make great substitutes for both leotards and athletic supporters.

Attempt to determine ahead of time what the teacher will want. Also, simply removing one's shirt or top can be still considered costume modeling. The variations are endless. Of note: many female models command nude model fees even when only partially disrobed if the upper torso and breasts are displayed.


Extra-nice Considerations

If your session is as a nude, be kind enough to remove your watch and jewelry as well. They can be a distraction to even the most serious artist. As a side note, consider abstaining from tight-fitting underwear and outer clothing before the modeling session, as elastic pressure welts take many minutes for time to erase.



The teacher will drape you if the nude figure session calls for it. In most cases she will select the degree of coverage. Most of the poses allow for model autonomy; that is, nothing will be asked of you that is physically or emotionally uncomfortable.

Try to gauge ahead of time whether the pose can be handled for the duration expected. The teacher and group will select the ultimate longer poses. Don't be afraid to refuse any pose for whatever reason.


Be Creative Yourself

While you are assuming gesture poses, have free reign at creativity. Remember forelengthening and complex interdigitations and be sure to share them with all of the group as it surrounds you.



Finally, and certainly not of least importance, is the pay scale for figure modeling. Throughout, I eluded to degrees of pay. Of course, colleges pay the least. Currently, five to seven dollars an hour for costume modeling and seven to ten for life modeling is the norm.

Subtract for taxes and such and the pay becomes abbreviated. To top that, you may be paid with an art departmental check. So, daily and nightly financial rewards are replaced by weekly or biweekly remunerations.

Art institutes pay quite well, sometimes up to twenty dollars per hour for nude sessions. It is most often paid per session and frequently in cash. Usually you will notice the artists paying you extra, as if they were tipping you. It's probably because of their uneasiness at asking for change, et cetera. Conversely, don't be afraid to speak up if the money collected does not pay your mandated fee.

Private galleries also pay well. The quality of the gallery will dictate the pay involved. However, prestigious galleries may be just that. It may look extra-good in your portfolio or on your resume. So, the pay may be adjusted downward accordingly. Look for per-session pay of better-than-the-average eight to nine dollar hourly-wage for nude modeling.

Municipalities will probably offer minimum wage for figure modeling. This is partly because the sessions will almost always be while clothed. Look for the added hassle of pay checks and tax-withholding.

Continuing education classes of all kinds and private drawing circles are the most relaxed modeling jobs in many ways, including how you are paid. Monies are collected from the artists, prorated per person per hour.

So, at fifteen dollars an hour for two hours (thirty dollars total for your time), each of eighteen artists would owe you somewhat less than two dollars. In this example, expect to receive two full dollars each from most of the members of the group, since most will opt for you to "keep the change."
Don't be surprised if the teacher asks the artists or students to pay you directly. This keeps the sponsoring institution from getting into hot water for not having you fill out W-2's, et cetera.


Wrapping It Up

Once the figure modeling bug has bitten, you will be hard-pressed to stay out of the studio. In nude modeling, the special thrill of being naked before a group of people is like a narcotic to some people. It is especially hard for them to believe they are actually getting paid for it.

Still, the demand for figure models is very great. Make the contacts, appoint the sessions, and be still! While the world may not be watching you, your importance to those that are cannot be overstated.

----this article originally appeared in "The University Reporter"-----