Life modeling is the term for posing in a still position for a drawing or painting. The model may be clothed or unclothed, but the model is often nude. I love opportunities to be photographed in artistic nudes, but to me, life modeling offers much more.
In a lot of ways, I think that life modeling is significantly more challenging than posing nude in photography. Life modeling has the advantage of not necessarily requiring a sexy, fit, attractive model-in fact, artists tend to prefer thicker, wider models, as they have more “surface” to paint or draw (in other words, there is more of them to depict on paper or a canvas, making them more fun to draw or paint than studs). Life models can be young, old, male, female (although females are MUCH more preferred), etc. The lack of a need to be beautiful or fit, I think, is the only, or at least the biggest, advantage that photography has on life modeling.
Not to say that nude photography modeling doesn’t take skill, sacrifice and commitment-it does, having known several nude models and myself having worked equally with photographers and artists. However, a life model’s pose can’t be shot in an instant and then reset, the model must hold that pose for several minutes (in my experience, from 60 seconds to twenty minutes), which takes more skill than one would imagine.
If you have an itch, then you have to ignore it.
If something visually catches your attention, you have to ignore it. Don’t let your head, or even your eyes, shift in the pose.
If your foot falls asleep three minutes into a twenty-minute post (as mine did in the shot below), then you’re just screwed into holding that pose. Make a better decision next time:
If you realize that a pose is uncomfortable, then you’re still expected to stay in it. The artists expect that you arrive prepared to hold poses that you know you can hold.
(The above pose is one that I often get discouraged by the artists from holding, but apparently the fact that my neck doesn’t hurt after 20 minutes is a real mystery to them.)
There’s also the fact that, as a nude model in a room full of clothed artists, some often chatting in the background while you’re the nude center of attention, you really can feel naked on the platform. (In my personal view, the difference between being nude and naked, is that nude is simply a condition where one is absent of their clothing, whereas naked is a feeling when a person isn’t wearing anything and some type of emotion is involved, often sexual arousal or vulnerability. Artists see me nude, but the few times it’s happened as an adult, my parents have seen me naked.)
Lastly, life modeling can be a brutally honest assessment of your body in the eyes of the person drawing or painting you. Unlike a photographer, their purpose isn’t to make you look or attractive, in fact, they hired you to stand nude in front of them while they observe, and record, every feature and flaw on your body. To be fair, some of the ways your attributes may appear are the result of the varying levels of artistic talent, but their purpose isn’t to flatter you, it’s to recreate you, and they are all doing that according to their perceptions of your unclothed body. This means that their product is a result of their observations of your physical attributes, whether they be bigger or smaller, rounder or flatter than you’d like them to be. It’s not personal, but I think it takes a thicker skin than nude photography work.
I wouldn’t call this drawing flattering, but I do believe that it’s excellent.
All of this is why I believe that the ability to life model, nude, represents one’s complete ownership of both their bodies, their physical vulnerabilities and perceived physical imperfections. I believe that a person who is so confident in themselves that they can donate their nudity for art, for such an extended period in front of a public audience, allowing their nudity and any associated vulnerabilities to be captured through the perspectives of various artists, has the ultimate form of courage. While not for everybody, it’s something that I’d encourage everyone to do once in their lives.
For more reading, Ms. bryn8Baker has written an outstanding piece on nude figure modeling. She really gets to the heart and soul of being a life model:
These artists have done a great job of relaying the general requirements to be a good life model: