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FAQs about Life and Nude Modelling for Art Classes

This hub provides an overview for anyone interested in nude or life modelling and what they can expect from it. I've taken great care to cover the subject in a sensible, sensitive and mature way. The hub does not contain nude images or content that could be described as sexual in nature.

This hub is not intended to make anyone uncomfortable and information provided is intended to be used by interested people to see if life modelling might be right for them. Please also note that I am not a life model myself but do have a good friend who helped me write this guide. I hope you find it interesting and engaging.

  1. Life Modelling - Introduction
  2. FAQs about life and nude modelling for art classes (this hub)
  3. Preconceived ideas about nude modelling
  4. The main skills needed to be a life or nude model
  5. Life and nude modelling - Expectations, examples and exercises

Frequently Asked Questions about Life Modelling

Anyone who is interested in life modelling is going to have lots of questions. We've examined some of the most popular questions and answered them here.

Why would I want to life model?

Life modelling is an opportunity to push yourself, do something unusual, improve your attitude to the way you look and feel, meet interesting, creative people and earn money while doing it. It’s a great way to have new experiences, become the ‘raw material’ for some works of art and challenge yourself and your ideas. Life modelling might not be an ‘every day’ hobby, but it’s not that hard to do either; the biggest obstacles you’ll face are those in your own head: preconceptions, concerns and beliefs about yourself and how others might perceive you.

You can change your attitude and approach to those thoughts though, and learn the skills and techniques you need to be a great life model. People life model for all sorts of different reasons, including:

  • Proving something to themselves
  • Making some extra money in an interesting way
  • Meeting interesting people
  • Be part of original art work
  • Have fun and try new experiences
  • Become more comfortable in your body
  • Help artists develop and learn new skills
  • To be the centre of attention
  • To get some peace and quiet
  • To spend time with your own thoughts

It’s genuinely exciting and liberating to strip off all the layers of identity and brand that are tied up in clothes and walk into the studio as a human and nothing more. It frees you of your preconceptions, helps you lose your shell and celebrates your physical quirks as something that the artists will find genuinely interesting to draw or paint.

Ultimately, life modelling is what you make it, and a good attitude, combined with the right skills and techniques will help you enjoy a couple of hours in the studio, with some money coming your way at the end.

What can you expect from life modelling?

Simply put, you will experience something that very few other people have - the creation of art, where you are the raw material that provides the inspiration for artistic expression. You’ll meet dozens of artists, all with a different view on their work. You can expect to become more familiar and happy with the way your body looks and behaves as you’ll see it from a perspective other than the mirror.

On a more practical level, you’ll discover muscles you never knew you had, often as they go numb or begin to cramp up, but you’ll find that this eases as your body adjusts to these new challenges. You can expect to make some money, have interesting conversations with creative people and have some interesting stories to share with your friends, if you choose to tell anyone that is.

Why do people need life models?

Why do artists need life models in the first place? Why not just work from a photograph or a dummy, wouldn’t that be easier or cheaper? Although copying from a photograph would be cheaper than paying a life model, it certainly wouldn’t be easier. Copying a picture in two dimensions is quite different to drawing a live person who is sitting for you.

The human form is one of the most common things that an artist will need to draw or paint, but it’s also one of the most difficult. Learning the skills to quickly and authentically capture the essence of a human body in their work is most easily done from observing real people.

A great deal of practice is needed to capture the human body well, so seeing someone from different angles and in a multitude of poses teaches artists the right techniques, skills and approach, however accomplished they are. There are always more things for an artist to learn, whether that’s initial skills in drawing and painting, getting light, shadow and proportion right or working in different materials.

This means that there’s always a demand for people willing to life model, and why classes are happy to pay for someone to come along and do this for them.

How much work is available for life models?

The amount of work available mainly depends on three things.

1. Classes running when you're available to model
2. Contacts you have made that know you’re able to model for them
3. Your professionalism, skills and reputation

If you can find all the class that you can get to and speak to the course leaders letting them know that you’re available, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find some work. As you start to gain a good reputation as a life model, you should get repeat work from the class, together with referrals and offers from elsewhere. As you meet more teachers and artists and get your name out there, your network will naturally grow, word will spread and you’ll find yourself in demand.

Consider getting some cards printed with your contact details on them and put them up in local libraries, adult education centres, night-schools, colleges and the like. The more self-promotion that you do, the more work you will find.

Can I make money life modelling?

Yes you can. Depending on where you model and for how long, you can make some reasonable additional spending money. A shift in the studio should provide you with enough for a meal out or a night on the town. Some hard working models can make a good supplementary career out of modeling. Even if you only model once or twice a month, it can be an interesting and fun way to supplement your bank balance. The money will be all the sweeter because you will have earned it pushing your boundaries and doing something different.

Is life modeling well paid?

One reward from life modelling is getting paid to do it. It can be a good way to supplement your income. If you find that this is something that you’d like to do frequently, then after some shameless self promotion and a bit of effort you will be able to find colleges, private classes and art-shops that can fill your schedule quite nicely. Think of it as grown up pocket money that makes life a little more interesting.

There are other rewards besides money though. These include the people you meet, the confidence you build, the satisfaction of doing your job well and the realisation that you’re the central subject of some works of art!

A word of caution is necessary here; depend on the money from life modelling at your peril. Don’t take it for granted. Art classes can be fickle and might not be renowned for their reliability, so enjoy the money when it comes and don’t take it personally when it doesn’t.

What will I need to do?

The specifics of what you’ll be asked to do in a class will change, depending on the type of class you have been asked to model for, their level and your approach. There are some general principles that will apply in almost all circumstances though:

  • Staying still - Perhaps the most obvious skill of a life model is the ability to remain motionless for extended periods of time. Although some assume this would be easy, you might be surprised at how much of a challenge it is. Depending on the pose you choose and how long you hold it, you may feel aching, odd sensations or numbness due to the way you are holding yourself, which can be very distracting. The best way to avoid this problem is to choose poses that you are comfortable doing, only moving to more advanced poses as you are able
  • A range of poses - Artists enjoy the challenge and variety of drawing or painting you in a variety of positions and from different angles. You don’t need a vast repertoire of poses to begin with, but having half a dozen that you can move into easily will provide a good starting point. No two classes are the same and the key is to provide variety and interest to the artists
  • Professionalism - As you are being taken on to provide a paid service, it’s important to present yourself in a professional manner. This means turning up on time, understanding and accommodating the needs of the group, asking what the group would like you to do and a variety of other factors that we’ll go into more detail about later on
  • Reassurance and positivity - The class probably won’t know your level of previous experience or skill and will often assume that you know exactly what you are doing. You will be the focus of the class and they will take their cues from you. It’s important to put the class at ease; if you are comfortable, they will be comfortable too. If you’re anxious, it will create anxiety in the room. Take a breath, relax and enjoy yourself

You can learn all of these skills from following these lessons, keeping a positive attitude and taking the right approach to your life modelling career.

I’m not in great shape, can I life model?

You’re not in great shape? In whose opinion? If this means that you don’t have a six-pack or perfect curves, or that parts of you are bigger, smaller, wobblier, tighter, wrinklier or hairier than the people you see on TV, then good. Wherever you look in media and advertising, you are seeing a false image of the human form. Liberal makeup is applied to cover up imperfections, lighting carefully conceals unflattering shapes and there’s an enormous amount of image manipulation used on finished photos and video.

It’s difficult to escape this grip of the ‘perfect’ body or face though, as you see it everywhere in advertising. You know though, that in real life, people come in a myriad of different shapes, sizes, postures, looks and types. It is this variety that artists are interested in. A life class draws from life; every part of your body that you might be worried about is a joy to the artist since it is another expression of the differences between people.

The only part of life modelling that might require you to be in ‘good shape’ is the flexibility and stamina required to hold some of the more ambitious poses available to you. It’s a good idea to have an idea of poses you are comfortable with and those that will be more of a challenge. If you practice before going to a class you will be a much more confident and capable model in the studio. You’ll also find that as you do more life modelling that you’ll naturally become stronger, more flexible and develop greater endurance.

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Am I good enough for life modelling?

That’s a very subjective question, with equally subjective answers. However, the simplest answer is yes.

Whether you’re talking about how you look and feel about yourself, approach, expertise, skills or something else, the key thing to remember about life modelling is that there is no ‘perfect’.

Your body is unique and interesting, which immediately makes it a worthy subject for someone to draw. You don’t need to be thin, fat, tall, short, smooth, wrinkly, young, old or anything of the sort to life model. What’s far more important is your own attitude to life modelling. Having the right perspective, approach and techniques will take you a long way and we’ll teach you the skills, requirements and other aspects that the job requires.

How do I get over the embarrassment?

Simply by getting out there and life modelling. Just like cooking, singing, skiing, drawing or any other skill, progress requires practice. Remember too, that like diving into a pool of cold water, the anticipation will always be at its highest just before you take the plunge. Once you’ve jumped into the pool and shed your robe, you’ll realise that the shock isn’t as bad as you may have feared and will wear off quickly. You’re a professional with a job to do and your focus on making the class as enjoyable as possible for the artists and yourself will quickly replace your feelings of doubt.

Something else to bear in mind is that people tend to take their lead from others. If you are embarrassed then the artists will also flush in sympathy. If you are calm and confident the artists will be as well. Due to the difficulty of the work, there is often a high level of general anxiety in the life classroom, so any element of calm the model can bring is an enormous relief and will make the session much more fun. It will also gain you a reputation for being a model that is easy to work with, which means more referrals and hopefully more bookings.

Will people point at me and laugh?

If you tell a joke they might, or if you have a tattoo of Cookie Monster across your stomach. They won’t be laughing if they are drawing or painting you though; they’re far too busy worrying about angles, how to capture the light falling across your shoulder and how your fingers weave together.

If you have a limb that points in their direction then they definitely won’t be laughing as they have all the fun of ‘foreshortening’ to deal with. Foreshortening is what happens when a limb appears to be shorter than it really is due to perspective and can be very difficult for artists to capture correctly, second only to ‘hands and feet’ in the Difficult Things to Draw Hall of Villains.

The point is that artists have far more to worry about than your body and any of the quirks it might have, It’s also likely that they will have paid good money to draw you, so laughing at their investment isn’t going to be high on their list of things to do. You’ll be a better life model the more comfortable you are, and the artists and class organiser will know that.

How do I build my confidence in life modelling?

Confidence can often be a matter of perception - thinking less about other’s perception of you, and more about how you see yourself. Life modelling is a great way to build confidence since it both empowers and frees you from the concerns of others. Artists appreciate you for the way you look and for your effort in being there for them, but at the same time they don’t really worry too much about what you are thinking because they are too busy with their own work.

Artists also want you to be comfortable because:

  • They’re generally good people
  • A comfortable model looks better and is easier to draw

Confidence as a life model is something that you will gain with practice, and you shouldn’t be too concerned about it. Everyone benefits from your confidence and you might be surprised at how quickly it improves. Although the first steps you take will be daunting, they will also be the most helpful. The contrast in feelings as you sit down and nothing goes wrong feels amazing. Relaxing into a nice pose and letting the class get on with drawing and painting is very peaceful indeed. The fact is, no-one has an idea of the anxieties or concerns you might have because they are all busy with their work. Any worries are yours to keep or lose as you wish, the choice is yours.

Who does life drawing?

The people that do life drawing depend on the class itself. Most art colleges and higher education centres that provide art qualifications include a life drawing aspect, so if you’re at a college, then you will be in front of art students. These will be fresh, probably enthusiastic and usually young people that are keen to stretch themselves.

Some models work in open art studios that welcome anyone who has an interest in sharpening their life drawing skills and teach a broad range of people. These classes have many different types of artists, including artists new to life drawing and others who haven’t drawn a live figure for some time and want to get back into it.

If you have done well in the self-publicising department you might find yourself in a private class, further away from a town or city centre. Artists who have taken the time to come out on an evening to get the charcoal out and stretch themselves will be very keen to get some great poses from you and might be more creative in their requests. The feel of the class depends on the person who is hosting it and you will do well to have a good chat with this person since it will provide a good idea as to what is expected from you.

Wherever you work the artists will be uniformly hard on themselves and declare their work to be terrible - it often isn’t. They will apologise for making your body look fat/thin/long/short or whatever. One of the best things a model can provide is encouragement in this kind of situation, which we’ll discuss later.

This is just one of our series of articles on this fascinating subject; please do take a look at our other materials.

Do you have any experience of life modelling, hints, tips or experiences to share? If so, please let us know in the comments.

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Jean on October 24, 2019:

What are your thoughts on a life drawing group having conversations and laughing while a model is posing nude and for someone who runs a life group the best way to address this?

ACE on June 21, 2014:

I think your series of articles about Art modeling is well done and interesting. A couple of things I would add.

Be prepared for a surprise, Not too long ago, I showed up for a session, about 40 miles away from my home. As I waited around for the small group of amateur artists to arrive and set up, I was looking at some of the work displayed in the studio. A vaguely familiar voice uttered, "Hello Alan, I didn't know you were an artist...", it took me a few moments to realize that the speaker was in fact my optician. And I have to admit that I was very embarrassed, explaining to him that I was the model and that in a few moments he would be looking me in a totally different way. I got thru it but it was very embarrassing to begin with. So be prepared that you might run into someone that you know. Most of the stories about this kind of experience are about running into someone after you have modeled for them.

Also, it's fair to address the male anxiety of the uncontrolled erection. And they do happen. A small amount of arousal is not such a big deal. But we are human , you can find yourself suddenly confronted by someone that you just find very attractive, or, and let's point out here that erections are natural, and a warm studio or lighting or just cause "it happens' can cause a hard on to raise it's head(pun intended). I have either chosen to just ignore it or have asked if people would like me to take a break- no on has ever said "yes".

Paul Maplesden (author) from Asheville, NC on January 23, 2013:

Thank you so much for the wonderful comment, you are very kind!

MJC from UK on January 23, 2013:

In this hub you'll find absolutely everything what you need to know about this topic "Modelling for Art Classes." This is almost the best hub I've ever seen. Congratulations to a great writer! Voted up, of course.

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