On nude modeling
August 28, 2012 11:27 AM   Subscribe

On being a nude model for artists: males (1, 2, 3), females (1, 2, 3, 4).
posted by Brandon Blatcher (63 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
About 7 years ago I went back to school to learn graphic and web design at a little private design school in Lakewood, Ohio. The school was started by a fashion designer who is also a pretty devout and conservative Christian. The 10 Commandments are hung in the lobby and you are required to take either Art History I & II or Old Testament History I & II. Anyway, the graphic design curriculum includes two semesters of figure drawing, including drawing from live models. Because of the founder's conservative views, however, the models could not be completely nude; they had to wear bottoms. It was always a very strange dichotomy to me, and even to the class instructor, who also happened to be the Art History teacher. Nude statues = OK; live boobs = OK; live nude crotches = BAD.
posted by starvingartist at 11:39 AM on August 28, 2012

Nice post. More naked pictures, all the time.
posted by Melismata at 11:39 AM on August 28, 2012

I was a nude-ish model one college semester because I wanted to raise money for Christmas presents. I decided the art class was too non-serious to merit legit nudity, so I'd model in my underwear. I discovered really quickly that it's hard to hold still for any amount of time, so my poses would get progressively less ambitious. I got to walk around during the break and look at everyone's drawings of me, and there were always a few guys who would give me insane cartoon boobs that did not remotely exist on any human woman. When I was posing, the instructor would walk around and correct people, like "try making the shoulders equal" or "her leg is further forward than that" but he never said "hey, she doesn't have insane breasts larger than her head." I remember one guy gave me mad fat rolls which kind of irritated me because it was probably a little right.

One time I had kind of a funny accident. I would pose on this carpeted platform in front of a mirror. It was actually two platforms that they joined together. One day, they forgot to join them together. Not knowing this, I decided to try a lunge for my final (and longest) pose. After a minute, the lunge was getting super difficult to sustain, and I was definitely regretting it. My legs were so tired that it felt like the lunge was wider than when I first got into position. The more time passed, the more I felt like I was doing the splits. I wasn't supposed to move my head, so I couldn't look down, but finally I had to and saw that the platforms were like a foot apart. Ooops.
posted by prefpara at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

live boobs = OK; live nude crotches = BAD

That actually seems weirdly progressive, given the context of the school in question; it sounds like they didn't think of breasts as sexual organs which, really, is kind of forward-thinking.
posted by asnider at 11:45 AM on August 28, 2012

When I am naked the last thing anyone wants to do is record the event for posterity.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:51 AM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's amazing what a few years of life drawing classes will do to the shock-value of nudity.

Prior to going to college, the only adults I had ever seen naked (in person) were my boyfriend and my mom. Back then, even non-sexual naked photographs were kind of giggle-inducing and naughty -- I remember the glimpse of full-frontal nudity in "Life of Brian" being a big deal to me when I was in my teens.

Then I took a few semesters of life drawing as part of my school's animation program.

Now, I barely even react to naked people, in person or otherwise. Like, I have to sit and ruminate for a second to remember what it was like when nudity was inherently SUPER INTERESTING, as opposed to just a thing that seems to come up a whole lot on my Tumblr dash because my friends are all into art photography, or that happens when I'm with my friend trying on wedding dresses at a sample sale.

A major up-shot of this is that hanging out in the naked area of Spa Castle doesn't even phase me.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:54 AM on August 28, 2012

There was this post back in April about mature model Alex B.
Oh, and ^ Melismata, whats your point?
posted by adamvasco at 11:58 AM on August 28, 2012

I love to think that the only thing offensive about getting an erection would be the need to erase -- so that the worst thing in the world would be it going up and down and up and down multiple times.

This is hilarious to me, and not just because I'm imagining it all happening to the tune of "Yakety Sax." I guess what I'm saying is I'm 37 years old, have been around enough nudity that I could die happy, but yet I'm still probably far too immature for a live figure drawing class.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:00 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

From what I’ve gathered, in general people do their best to ignore a boner.

I went to art school, did probably hundreds of hours of life drawing, and never once saw a model with an erection. But the specter of that was what ultimately kept me from modeling myself. Like I said, I was an art student, and I was flat broke, selling plasma, doing medical studies and the like, and it would seem that modeling would be a good way to make money. But I was too afraid I'd get a stiffy! Not because it would be embarrassing - I mean, who cares - but because I'd have to keep it up for 45 minutes.

Just kidding. I didn't do the figure modeling because I was terrified of the cold. My school was a freaking barn, in Boston.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

The art department at the local state university holds open figure drawing sessions on Sunday evenings. All are welcome and we pitch-in about $5 each for the model. We discovered that art instructors at the two or three Christian colleges nearby quietly tell their better students about the Sunday sessions and encourage them to attend, in order to get proper nude figure experience, which they cannot do at their schools.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2012

It's amazing what a few years of life drawing classes will do to the shock-value of nudity.
Agreed. After two years of weekly life drawing sessions, I am just not impressed by naked people like I used to be.
Sometimes I hear people talk about being an artist's model like it's something to be slightly ashamed of- not as bad as jail time, perhaps, but something to avoid mentioning if you can. This is bewildering to me. There's no stigma attached to drawing nude figures, it's accepted as the best way to learn to draw people. How are we supposed to do it without models to draw? It's not in the least sexual. The model is a really interesting collection of highlights and shadows.
Also, no, never seen an erection on a model, hope that continues to be true.
posted by Adridne at 12:13 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did figure drawing casually for a coupla years. Got to be okay at it, but decided I should put more time into my music.

Agree that seeing "naked people" does get unremarkable as time goes on.

Another thing I noticed is that it's much harder to draw male models than females due to the much more subtle changes in contours over the surfaces. A lot of my male drawings at the beginning looked like they had lady-boobs.

Finally worked up the courage to model myself at Burning Man in 2011, at the Alternative Energy Zone's "Art Model Camp." It was a blast! And I didn't get an erection!

Afterwards, one of the artists approached me and said his 80-year-old mother-in-law (another artist there) wanted to get a photo of her with a nude model ... so I did it!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:21 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

No point at all, just stating that nude pictures are a great thing, that there should be more of them in this world, and it's great that models are helping with this.
posted by Melismata at 12:25 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to do this when I was in college (art college, though I never modeled at my own school because that woulda have been weird). You could always tell if it was a freshman class because of the utter silence in class and because of the way the students would duck their heads in embarrassment if you spoke to them. You could always tell when this was the 2nd or 3rd life-drawing class for people as they'd talk about you to each other the same way you'd talk about a bowl of fruit you were drawing.
posted by Windigo at 12:33 PM on August 28, 2012

from first link: “[Intentional arousal] has happened at least three times off the top of my head by female models. They pose sitting on my lap doing a classical pose called ‘The Kiss’ or some other embrace. They then start to wiggle just enough. They know what they are doing. As long as the pose lasts long enough until I can calm down, it's OK, but it really screws with a guy's mind—and they know this.”

Er – wow. That was honestly the most surprising thing here to me. 'Intentional arousal'?
posted by koeselitz at 12:35 PM on August 28, 2012

I always had the greatest appreciation and admiration for my models, even the bad ones. It takes a ton of guts to stand there for a couple of hours in front of a crowd of what is usually your fellow students.

In a way, freshman figure drawing class was a little like the initiation into a special fraternity. A way of subtly making you understand that you are now going to start taking art seriously.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2012

See "Perils in Nude Modelling" by Scott Rice
posted by temporicide at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Er – wow. That was honestly the most surprising thing here to me. 'Intentional arousal'?

Yeah, that was weird to me, too. It just sounds incredibly unprofessional. :/
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:55 PM on August 28, 2012

When I was at Ringling it only took two or three classes for most of us to see the models as simply the equivalent of a bowl of fruit, sketchingwise. I have shared elsewhere here about how shocked folks were if a model's robe slipped OUTSIDE class, but inside the class, she could be totally bucknekkid and no one batted a proverbial eyelash.

What did make me giggle was the attempt by the little neighbor boys on their way back from school who tried to peek. More than once our instructor was waiting for them to shoo them away. (the doors were specially designed so that a wall was in front-they'd have to come in and try to peer around to actually see anything.)

What back in those days was more disturbing was the classes where we were drawing from the clothed figure-and the model was a mentally ill -possibly schizophrenic or schizoaffective manic- man the instructor had found somewhere who would sit and mutter the whole time.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think there's a misconception -- amongst models as well -- that the gig is about taking off clothes and sitting there. Or, sitting there enrobed. A food figure model will put some thought into how well their pose will hold together -- nothing's worse than going back and trying to finish up some detail that's collapsed, or the model giving up on the pose -- and (b) whether its interesting beyond just a naked person just standing there.

I think there are two camps of Good Pose: poses that show off the possibilities of the human form and poses that will draw the viewer in with the possibilities of context. Largely its a naked person on a poorly dressed stage of some sort with lots of light and a bunch of overly caffeinated artists grinding out work but a good pose will paint a picture beyond that. Its kind of amazing to watch it happen without a lot of artifice. I've "seen" classic sports poses, boudoir poses and more than a few temple godesses, all without props.

As many naked people as I've drawn, I still find myself lost and tingly in nakedness in the first few minutes with some models. There's that roller-coaster anticipation of what's to be discovered under the robe and WHAM! "There's an attractive naked person! Wow! That's a nice looking naked person! Damn, a minute thirty left!" I also had a weird ZING moment where I inadvertantly caught an exposed bit of a model who was that day working the artists's side and thinking, "yeah, but I've seen her totally nude, for hours."

I had a problem with "dong rendering" as its not a portion of anatomy I really enjoy staring at with dissective detail. I was wondering how to get around doing it more than a couple swooshes until I came across some of Michaelangelo's pieces where that's what he was doing too and then felt a bit better about it. A good long pose will hopefully not include too much. No model was worse than the guy who gave us two hours of taint...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:58 PM on August 28, 2012

I just realised: now that I'm older, I really have no modesty left, and I could really use extra money. But I don't know if I'd have the stamina/physical strength to hold a pose well for the length of time needed. Maybe I could do life-drawing classes where they are practicing that 1 or 2 minute poses (I sucked at those when I was the student drawing).
posted by jb at 12:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lesson learned, though: from then on I rubbed one out beforehand.

Given the number of subsequent replies talking about having to go back and erase when the subject's anatomy changes shape, I am sure there is a really good joke to be made here about "rubbing one out" but I cannot find it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

One of the many *cough* high schools I went to had a pretty good art program that included several hours of life drawing each week. We had the same four models on an alternating basis. The two women were always completely naked, but the two men had to wear something over their genitals at all times. While one wore the first g-string I had ever seen in my life, the other wore an odd homemade little piece of gathered muslin with an elasticized border that cupped his complete package like a tiny shower cap. It had no straps at all and stayed put just by the force of the elastic.

I understand the school board not wanting to freak out parents with TOTALLY NAKED MEN DANGLING IN CLASS but really, that little shower cap, which somehow never dislodged itself from its appointed job, could not have been better designed to focus our attention on that man's wedding tackle.

I saw completely naked models in other schools and classes over the years, so by my mid twenties I thought I was fairly blasé about random naked people. And then I went to my first Pennsic. I volunteered as a herald one day, which meant that I was sent to cover several areas of the Cooper's Lake campground to remind people of major events and to warn them, for the love of Odin, not to leave candles burning in their tents.

I was almost through my round when I found myself at the classic swimming hole, where people cooled off and got clean sans T-tunics or anything else. It was a very hot day and the water was packed with people, but I was relieved to see that they were almost all submerged to the waist, or turned away from me, and talking among themselves. I was completely fine with that. So I started reading my announcements in what I thought was a reasonably audible voice, when one of the men bellowed "Hark, good gentles! Please, play heed to the words of the herald!"

At that point, over one hundred totally naked people turned en masse, put on their most welcoming countenances, and waded toward me so that they were all shin deep in the water. I managed to speak a little more loudly, and a whole lot faster, and they applauded me when I finished.

In the years to come, when I joined Toastmasters and started teaching for a living, I absolutely killed at being comfortable in front of a crowd. Once you've given a speech to several dozen thoroughly wet and naked people, no one has to bolster your confidence by telling you to imagine the entire audience in their underwear.
posted by maudlin at 1:14 PM on August 28, 2012 [24 favorites]

Any RISD alumni on here remember Charlie the model? Supposedly posed for Picasso, trained the other models, composed the negative space for you, and was the subject of at least one documentary. He was a nudist during his summers off. Quite a character.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:28 PM on August 28, 2012

The most awkward thing that happened to me in figure drawing class was the time when the model started hitting on me during break times. She was an attractive woman, but the situation just struck me as so totally strange--here I had been, experimenting with color on what by that point in my education was just a abstract object, and the next thing I know that object was being all complimentary and ego stroking and suggesting we meet up afterwards for a drink.

The fact I was young and that 90% of my classmates were women also made me very self-conscious about the whole matter.
posted by moonbiter at 1:32 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been attending a monthly burlesque life drawing session. It's good fun, but I occasionally get a surreal "this is more erotic than if they were naked" feeling.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:33 PM on August 28, 2012

I don't know if I'd have the stamina/physical strength to hold a pose well for the length of time needed.

Charlie the models skills included holding the twenty minute poses (protip: start with your shoulders completely down and relaxed, you don't want to be holding your rib cage up for twenty minutes.)

But his specialty was the two hour sessions where he would reset his pose after breaks by an elaborate system of checking parallax sightline cues for every limb and joint. It took him about five minutes to reset a pose.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:35 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I did this in college for a while. It was the best paying job at the school and the two really difficult parts about it were that it was early (10 am! on a weekend!) and that it was sometimes cold in the Art Barn. So they'd have a little space heater pointed at you and half of you would be super warm and half would be super chilly and one time I started getting all woozy and had to cut a pose a little early. One time for the long pose they just had me lie down on a bench for like an hour or so and I basically snoozed through it. I enjoyed figure modeling because I liked seeing what I looked like from different angles. It was weird though when some of the art students would have a show at the end of the year with drawings of me in it and then friends of mine would be all "Hey I saw your butt!!" That said, we had a co-ed naked sauna where I went to college so the nudity thing wasn't as big a deal as it was some places. I should see if they do figure drawing at the local crafts center in town...
posted by jessamyn at 1:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

wedding tackle

You learn something new here every day.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I have to say, also, as someone who's done some life drawing - that guy in the first link who talks about how it motivates him to stay in shape might not really understand a finer point of figure drawing. People who are "in shape," with low bodyfat and a high proportion of muscle mass, are kind of not that fun to draw, in my experience. We used to have this woman who would come in who was perfectly round, though – man, that was fun; somehow roundness is just much simpler to start with as far as drawing goes, and curves lend themselves much more to figure drawing, I think. The fit guys/girls with nothing but muscles on them? Not fun to draw at all – complicated, angular details with lots of bumps in certain places that are hard to get right.

On a completely unrelated note, I've often thought I might make a good model.
posted by koeselitz at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a completely unrelated note, I've often thought I might make a good model.
posted by koeselitz

You mean nude model, right?
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was kind of hoping I'd get to be a model airplane, but I guess I could settle.
posted by koeselitz at 2:10 PM on August 28, 2012 [16 favorites]

I understand the school board not wanting to freak out parents with TOTALLY NAKED MEN DANGLING IN CLASS but really, that little shower cap, which somehow never dislodged itself from its appointed job, could not have been better designed to focus our attention on that man's wedding tackle.

Although after thirty seconds in figure drawing you stop seeing the model as anything but an interesting collection of shapes, it was always harder for me when the model chose to wear some underwear. It made them somehow even more naked than when they were buck nekkid.
posted by winna at 2:28 PM on August 28, 2012

Way back in the dark ages when I was a teenager I got a job modeling for art classes at a local university. I sat on a stool on an elevated platform in the middle of a roomful of students. It went fine the first day when I had to hold short poses but then it built up to a 20 minute pose. When it was over and it was time for a break I discovered the hard way that one of my legs had gone completely to sleep: as I got off the platform my leg gave out under me and I went sprawling bareass naked across the floor to the great amusement of everyone but me. I kept my cool, and continued modeling there and at other schools for a few years. It was one of the best-paying jobs I ever had.
posted by mareli at 2:28 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a man without a milligram of ability to draw, I've always sort of wanted to attend a life drawing class and spend the hour very carefully rendering the model as a simple stick figure with a massive schlong / enormous boobs, just to see if the teacher would be polite enough to ignore or advise me - or whack me round the head with my easel and send me packing.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dd some art class nude modeling years ago in college. Based on my experiences, it's interesting that the articles focused on the potential embarrassment of getting an erection while modeling and not the other end of the spectrum, which can be just as embarrassing to a male model and which no amount of thinking about math problems will solve: shrinkage due to an insufficiently heated room.
posted by slkinsey at 2:45 PM on August 28, 2012

People who are "in shape," with low bodyfat and a high proportion of muscle mass, are kind of not that fun to draw, in my experience.

Mmmm, I'm not sure I agree with that. We had one guy in my (only) figure drawing class who obviously took good care of himself and the teacher made it a special lesson on learning musculature, because you could actually see everything (some people actually do have six-packs or even eight-packs).

The other end of the spectrum was also interesting. The bodies of heavier people just, um, sag in unusual ways.

Now that I think of it, there was one super skinny person and drawing her was an exercise in figuring out how to put the bones together, which is not something you normally have to do.

I think it's all about the pose (maybe totally average bodies are boring. I can't remember).

As for it being non-erotic: I realized how insane the whole thing was when one model, during the break, put on a robe and wandered around the classroom. She talked to me for a second and looked at the picture I'd done and I realized that OMG, her robe wasn't complete closed and I could almost see her boobs!

Then the break was over, she got up on the platform, took the robe off, and it was back to business.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was an art minor and had my two semesters of figure drawing. While we had a disproportionately higher number of female models, we were really lucky that all the models had different body types because it helps you realize that all bodies are actually really, really interesting to look at and draw.

And now: a funny story. I also did some tech theatre in school, and early on, I went to an opening night party where I only knew one or two people. This one cute guy chatted me up a bit and we left with hanging out over coffee on the table. Next day was figure drawing. You can guess who the model was--first and only time I've seen a guy naked before I went out with him. (To his credit, he was totally blase about the whole thing. Stood there stripping while talking about the party the previous evening.)

...Which also makes me think of the time a male model asked me out during one of the breaks while checking out my easel. I had to admire his balls, literally and figuratively.
posted by smirkette at 3:20 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

How do you get into nude modeling? I love being naked and I'm broke. Call up schools? Look for classifieds?
posted by stoneandstar at 3:31 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

At my art school all of the nude models were either stunningly beautiful and appropriately bohemian women and old fat guys who would doze and salute at half mast. The only time anyone cared was when one... discharged... something onto the sheet he was on. The only thing that will really piss off the students is if you move too much.

There was always a group of students who were afraid to spend any time drawing the genital area. They'd do it really fast, and end up with a normal drawing with a cartoonish symbol for genitals, or sometimes they'd just not deal with it at all and the drawing would simply fade out around that area. I found those kinds of drawings to be profoundly disturbing. I can't begin to imagine that level of repression.
posted by cmoj at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2012

Easy. Just send out naked pictures of yourself to all the schools in your area.
posted by monospace at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I did it a few times because it was money but not busy enough to interfere with my other work.

As for getting into it, an ex had done it and recommended it. I went to the office of the fine arts department of my school and filled out an application. No nude photos required. They asked if they could recommend me to other local schools, so I ended up posing for classes at two different universities and a community college a couple times a month, until my day job meant I couldn't accommodate sittings.

A couple classes had friends of friends, but I haven't much for personal embarrassment stories.
posted by RobotHero at 4:02 PM on August 28, 2012

Any RISD alumni on here remember Charlie the model?


Charlie would hold the most excruciating-looking almost circusy poses with a balancing stick for endless stretches of time. By ten minutes into each pose his entire body would be quivering under the strain, but I never saw him break a pose early of his own accord. (Sometimes the stress would get too be too much for the instructors and they'd intervene).

Charlie lived on a nudist farm and sometimes other people (friends, family members, the relationships were always blurry) would model as well. A few weeks in a row he brought chickens into class but they weren't as self-disciplined of models as Charlie was, so that experiment didn't fly (so to speak) for long.

Sticky Carpet, were you around when Diamond was a regular model as well? She was so committed to her craft that in addition to her eponymous tattoos she'd also had long straight lines permanently etched into her skin that served as anatomical points of reference.

In my years and years of studying art as well as teaching figure drawing or otherwise being in charge of directing life models I've never experienced being in the presence of The Full On Woody. Good modeling is very hard work and can be brutally uncomfortable, and I think most art students comprehend that and appreciate the work that models do, at least after the novelty of their first session with a nude model wears off.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:10 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I came back to finish my BFA, I had to take Painting 101 over again, which really irritated me since I took it 18 years earlier. One day I came into class a few minutes early, and went to the storage room to get my wet canvases. I opened the door, walked in, and was surprised to see our regular model was undressing. She let out a small yelp of surprise and grabbed her robe to cover herself. Then we laughed, when we recognized each other.

I spent many hours working with models, it was miserable, mostly because our models were inexperienced amateurs, and the other students didn't know how to use them. The models didn't like to hold poses for long periods of time, and could not reset to the same position after a break. This didn't bother the other students who only wanted 5 or 10 minute poses. Dammit this is not life drawing, this is painting class and I want you to hold that pose for the next 2 weeks. What, you can't hold your arm outstretched for 20 minutes at a time? That's why models hold a pole, lean on a ladder or grab a rope from the ceiling, so I can draw your upper arm while you hold on to something, then I can paint your hand separately. Hey your feet are out of position again, do I need to outline your feet in chalk on the floor? Hey you weren't wearing a chain between your nose ring and your earring last session, could you remove it? No? Well you could have warned me you before you did an obvious body mod, I could have finished your face last time.

There is a good reason why many artists practice drawing and painting from plaster casts.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:31 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Charlie the Model was probably best known in the larger art world for featuring in Francesca Woodman's series by the same name.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:34 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

charlie don't surf, speaking of plaster casts, what do you think about the value of the curriculum offered by places like The Academy of Realist Art? The classes start students copying from drawings, then plaster casts, before moving on to live models. I don't care much at all for the highly polished and restrained look of much of the finished pieces, but the curriculum appears to be a useful springboard to developing your own style of representational drawing.
posted by maudlin at 4:44 PM on August 28, 2012

Well, that's exactly how all of the old masters learned to paint, so as a technical education I'd say it would work pretty well. In fact, the course of the technical aspects of my art education went exactly like that, except we moved up to live models in a week or two instead of after twenty years.
posted by cmoj at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2012

Lesson learned, though: from then on I rubbed one out beforehand.

Could you charge for prep time?
posted by en forme de poire at 6:16 PM on August 28, 2012

I've seen that site before but I never checked out their curriculum. I never heard of the "sight-size method" before, but after checking it out, it seems like I've used that sort of trick, but not systematically. I think every artist does, even if it's just holding up a pencil vertically and sighting the model, then assessing proportions. No doubt it can be done very accurately, I can see that. But for extreme accuracy, you'd need a still life, like a plaster cast.

These sorts of methods come in and out of fashion. When I was first in art school in the 70s, it was out of fashion. When I came back, "Academic Drawing" was just coming into the curriculum. In my early days, everyone had to take tons of drawing classes, and nobody taught you a god damned thing. It was believed that if a teacher actually taught techniques, you'd just end up drawing exactly like him. This was a known problem, but it meant a lot of screwing around trying to figure out how to draw. Some people had natural talent. I didn't, I had to work hard at it. I suppose that the philosophy was that you had to break all the rules in order to learn them.

But this Academic Drawing/Painting thing is always around. I noticed that around the early '90s, our school bought a huge resin cast male torso with one side stripped to the musculature, and they used it in intro to drawing classes. Hell, I still remember my first drawing class, the teacher opened up a bunch of brown paper bags, threw them in a pile, and said, "draw that." I still draw with almost total disregard for draughtsmanship. My teacher used to constantly tell me, "if you're not erasing more than you're drawing, you're not really drawing. Here is an example of what that sort of drawing is like, a vine charcoal drawing that has more erasure than drawing. Here is another, a self-portrait I did while doing anatomy studies. Every artist always has themselves as a model. I think it's overdone and egotistical, I hate doing self-portraits, but the teacher made me do it for a whole semester.

Now compare this to a life drawing from my earliest days in art school. This is maybe a 15 minute pose, you can see I had problems with the proportions and I was frantically trying to get enough drawing done before the model changed poses. This drawing was difficult because the model picked a bad pose, with her leg over the arm of the chair, which distorted the shape of her calf and upper leg. There is almost no erasure here, except her right leg, which was probably better before I tried to fix it. This is fairly typical of what is done without academic drawing skills, you screw up constantly until you start figuring out what goes badly in your drawings. It is a fairly random process, with far more failure than success. Well, that was the aphorism above the portal in my art school, "Ars Longa, Vita Brevis Est." endure. But they forgot the rest of that motto. The apocryphal completion of the aphorism, as I heard it was, "The Arts endure, but life is short, and success distant.

Anyway, now they actually teach techniques. They even have one grad level class in classical techniques, from grinding pigments to doing frescoes. It is more of a traditional method, they copy Old Master paintings. I had one professor who was into these old techniques. She decided we were all going to prepare a canvas the old fashioned way, with boiled rabbitskin glue and Lead White primer. Nobody does this anymore, because the glue stinks to high heaven, and the lead paint is extremely toxic. I decided to take this seriously, I bought some extra nice stretchers and canvas, and we all learned to lay down a nice thick Lead White with a spatula like frosting a cake. OK so we're all done, so how soon can we start painting on this? The professor said it would take 3 or 4 months. Dammit, that isn't just next semester after this class is over, that's some time after the end of the whole school year. Thanks, Prof, I spent a lot of money on this and now you're only going to be able to grade me on how well I gessoed a canvas. I waited as long as I could, and painted on it the last week of class. It was still not dry and the gesso dissolved under my brush. I still have that canvas, 15 years later, I'm afraid to take it off the stretcher for fear of flaking Lead White everywhere, and it's too toxic to just throw away.

But the reason I remember that class so well is because of one thing the professor showed me. I was doing a still life on that damn Lead White canvas, and I was having a hard time drawing this elliptical cylinder form. The professor said to take a brush handle and hold it in front of the canvas, parallel to the axis of the cylinder in the painting, to help visualize the cylinder around it. Then she said, "Didn't anyone ever teach you this stuff? This is really basic." No. They. Do. Not. Teach. This. Stuff. Just tonight, just now, I learned that was a "sight-size" technique.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:20 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was doing experimental electronic stuff in art school years ago, and the admin told me that I had to do some conventional stuff in order to graduate, which I wasn't really interested in at that time. They forced me to take a figure drawing class, which turned out to be really interesting. The instructor was a genius in the old classic style, virtually smock and beret, and very intelligent. There was once a session when the model did a set of gestures in the traditional Italian Renaissance styles, with his low-key technical commentary, which was fascinating. I eventually did a few reasonably decent studies, mostly in fine-point marker (yes, all gone). The artist who was usually beside me in class did fairly loose abstract ink and paint spatters following the contours of the image which the models presented. It was impressive, and she won the vague class vote for fave artist. Our instructor thoughtfully said: "Stylization is seductive... just take care, not to be seduced too much..."
posted by ovvl at 6:45 PM on August 28, 2012

I'm teaching figure drawing this semester and just had my first model in yesterday. I'm working mostly with beginning students so I brought in one of my favourite models, an older woman with lots of meat on her bones. She's amazing to draw and having the extra landmarks really helps students who are just starting out. I also like to start with a model who is not conventionally attractive as it helps squash any jitters or giggles. Later on I'll bring in the beautifully muscled dancers or circus artists who like to make a bit of cash on the side. Once the students have worked with one model they're good to go for the rest of the semester. No time to giggle, they're too busy trying to work out how to deal with foreshortening. I've only ever had one model get an erection in my class. Everyone just kept on working. He apologized afterwards, but really, what are you going to do?

I used to model myself while I was in art school. It started off when I posed for a friend's work. When her prof saw it he asked if I'd be willing to pose for his class. For $15/hour (this is back in the early 90's) I was very happy to do so. It was a little weird because I was posing at the same school I was attending. At the same time though I was starting to get control of my body and my sexuality after some pretty awful teenage years and it was very empowering thing to do. Eventually, surrounded by other people's drawings and paintings of my naked self, I started making my own nude self-portraits. For a while they were very graphic, purposefully skirting or maybe trying to find the line between erotica and pornography. Later on I started playing around with multiple images of myself in domestic scenes. It was a lot of fun and I doubt I would have got there had I not had the courage to take off my clothes in front of those classes.
posted by Cuke at 6:54 PM on August 28, 2012

The Naked Civil Servant features a young John Hurt.
posted by ovvl at 7:56 PM on August 28, 2012

charlie don't surf, speaking of plaster casts, what do you think about the value of the curriculum offered by places like The Academy of Realist Art? The classes start students copying from drawings, then plaster casts, before moving on to live models. I don't care much at all for the highly polished and restrained look of much of the finished pieces, but the curriculum appears to be a useful springboard to developing your own style of representational drawing.

I'm enrolled at ARA's satellite school in Ottawa and have spent some time thinking about what the ARA is trying to do teaching and art-wise.

The finished pieces are exercises in measurement along with reading and rendering value. They're also loooong-form exercises (ten afternoons of the same pose), or dozens of hours copying a drawing or painting a still life. Lots and lots of looking at the model, and making your drawing look like what you're seeing.

A drawing with looser draftmanship and stylization with non-academic rendering or some fancy illustrative technique might have more warmth but wouldn't be as useful as exercise in learning to read and show form.

So, a student walks out the door being able to do a tight academic drawing and a tight academic painting. And, out in the real world as a practicing artist doing a long-form drawing or painting, won't ever fall into the "I'm just stuck on this one part, and this really doesn't look right", since they know how to measure and render.

After learning to draw and paint tight, experienced graduates can learn to draw and work loose, but if you tried to teach a cohort of students to draw and work loose, you'd have one or two geniuses, some half-competent students who hide behind flashy brush handling or some other illustrative technique and don't really learn how to measure or learn their anatomy, but you'd have some students who just get into a funk: "I just can't learn this and I just can't do this."

But if you teach a student to measure and read value, and to draw and paint that, you skirt the "I can't do this" trap, because a student approaches a piece in large part building on a formal structure of measurements. The russian and chinese academic art students who build up a drawing as a construction do it differently but also are working with a formal structure, and it shows. They don't attempt a painting and crash and burn, and they don't crash and burn as students.

Klimt and Van Gogh learned this tight academic stuff, and then worked loose. And Van Gogh studying that tight academic stuff even while working loose.

I was chatting with a classmate in a unaffiliated casting-moldmaking sculpture workshop who did ARA-Toronto after a solid animation degree and he's thankful for it, even though most of what he does now is more pick-up-the-pencil-and-noodle and not measure-this-and-that-holding-up-a-knitting-needle.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:02 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks for your perspective on ARA.. oops no pun intended there. When I was first in school, this sort of academic drawing was considered "illustrative" rather than artistic. One of the worst insults possible in a critique was to call a work an illustration rather than a painting or drawing. Expression was more important than precision. I suppose I still believe that, to some extent. If you go into a painting with all the skills you need to make it, and have no risk of crashing and burning, it can't possibly be expressive enough. Some of those Russian paintings and drawings you linked to seem extremely accurate and dull as dishwater. An academic sets up a painting and knows how it is going to play out, because the scene and his tools will precisely construct a specific painting. I set up a painting and I never know how it is going to turn out, and I always learn something new. Usually I learn that I should have stopped working on the painting before I screwed it all up, but now it's too late.

Well anyway, we are drifting off the topic of models. Just a year or so ago, I joined a life drawing group at a small studio, we pooled money for models. Most of the other members of the group were dilettantes, none of them (except the studio owner and me) had ever worked as a professional artist. The women of the group (which was everyone but me) always wanted to hire the extremely pregnant woman week after week. I was outvoted, everybody to one. Week after week, those damn women constantly cooing about how she was an inch fatter, oh when is the baby coming? And I'm thinking and wishing I could yell at them: FFS gimme a break, I'm here to draw and I paid money for it, so STFU, and would you please sit STILL, your every-ten-minutes pee break is coming up soon. Do me a favor and turn away from me and do a pose where I can see your back and musculature, I already know how to draw spheres. And then the constant bickering about pose duration. Everyone wanted 3 to 5 minute poses. What are they drawing, stick figures? I'm doing complex, layered pastel chalk drawings, not outlines, it takes a lot of work and I want 30 minutes, I'd prefer an hour. Oh that would be boring, we can't stand doing the same drawing for 30 minutes. Well then do ONE drawing for 10 minutes, put it aside, and then do a DIFFERENT drawing for the next 10 minutes. Well if I have to work for only 10 minutes, then she could at least pick a difficult pose, something dynamic, don't just sit there like a bump on a log. But I am outnumbered so I am polite and keep my mouth shut, and just do my best to work with this horrible situation that I've already paid for. The other students, who come in with a sketchbook and a Sharpie, are both fascinated and horrified with my drawing box and my paper. I'm using real artists paper, which is why I don't want to waste it on quickie poses, this stuff can handle being worked. I gave up and found an old 24x36 newsprint pad that was old and yellowing, I brought it to a session so I could waste it on 3 minute poses. I put my pencil to it and it ripped right through the pages, they crumbled right underneath the tip into a pile of paper fragments. That's why you don't use newsprint. And they could not understand why I'd bring a box full of dozens of different drawing tools, from charcoal, compressed charcoal sticks, graphite sticks, Conte crayons, pencils of different hardnesses, water soluble crayons, grey scale pastels in graduated tones from black to white, I must carry at least 50 different drawing tools stuffed into my box, some of them I've been using for years and are worn down to stubs, and are still going. They can't understand why I don't come in with just a 5x7 sketchbook and a Sharpie, like they do. But oh then they saw me working, and ooh it's too messy. They complained about my eraser crumbs. I'm used to blowing off the crumbs and dust, but they had a fit, you can't blow up dust around a pregnant woman. Well hell, it's a filthy old studio and the dust is just inert carbon, it won't harm you at all. If I'm not sneezing black snot for an hour after a drawing session, I didn't work very hard. But they made me stop blowing it away, so I got a little draftsman's brush to gently brush the crumbs away, smearing my pastel in the process. And if you get any dust on the floor of the decrepit studio, get down there and sweep it up.

Well I was sure glad when those sessions were done, and I did not renew my membership in the group. It reminded me why I never liked drawing groups, everybody has to work together and you all end up doing something that nobody really wants, just as a compromise. Everyone else is all into the this is art studio time I am zerious artizt thing and I'm just trying to get some work done during the 20 minutes per hour the model actually sits still (and she gets paid $25/hr even when chatting with the ladies). If you want to be ze zerious artizt, then you STFU and do the work, and you get a model who can actually model. This is not about being artists and being models. This is about the work.

So no more drawing groups for me. If I'm going to hire a model, I'll just hire one on my own, which will be like never. I can't afford it. But once in a while, I will get a friend to sit. It helped a lot when I had a neighbor who was a stripper and whose clothes were always falling off. She was an incorrigible alcoholic, she would only come over when she was out of vodka, and she wouldn't sit still until she drank every drop of liquor in my house, and then she'd sit there with a glazed look in her eyes. That works for me. Then I'd put her back together and drag her back to her house before she blacked out. Oftentimes it was too late, she'd pass out for hours, hey, time for some reclining poses in whatever position she collapsed into. The next time I saw her, I'd tell her I did some great drawings last time, and she'd say, "what drawings? I don't remember any drawings."
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:52 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you go into a painting with all the skills you need to make it, and have no risk of crashing and burning, it can't possibly be expressive enough. Some of those Russian paintings and drawings you linked to seem extremely accurate and dull as dishwater.

Sure! They're formal exercises, and would be more fun if they were rendered like this or this.

But they wouldn't have necessarily learned the point of the lesson, which would be measurement/construction, rendering etc.

After someone has worked through the program, you'd expect them to then go on and develop a few personal styles. But in ARA-type ateliers, if they're turning in stylized stuff / flashy brush handling / etc they're to some extent avoiding fundamental lessons they need to learn in terms of measuring, rendering, academic-style painting , etc.

Simultaneous with lots of life drawing:
"First we copy the bargue drawings, and learn to render, and measure from the flat.
Then we move to the cast drawings, and learn to measure in the round. We already knows how to render decently with graphite / charcoal from earlier. Now we go on to a grayscale still life oil painting - the point of this is to learn paint handling, but we've isolated this lesson, we're not forcing the student to learn know how to measure and render, since they've ok at that from the previous lesson. Now color oil painting. But we don't need to read and paint values, since they learned that previously, so we can focus on hue and chroma. "

The student doesn't move forward from bargue copy to cast drawing until we're sure they know how to render. Contrast this with the just-noodling approach to teaching, passing student from one instructor to another, without making sure they learn the stuff from the previous lesson. (I've seen some of the graduation shows at the local uni art departments and art schools, and people are graduating that don't really know how to draw. Yuck.)

If you take a grad from the ARA program and drop them into a seat doing concept art for a gaming studio, they're going to flail a little until they learn to work fast.

But there's a good chance the stuff they do will probably be expressive, working quickly with corel paint or so forth, and not doing everything tight since there's no time.

There's also a good chance their stuff will be good.

Similarly, if you want them to do greeting cards, it's going to be a bit formal until they pick up a hodge podge of contemporary illustration ideas and technique. But they'll learn it fast.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:02 PM on August 28, 2012

As a man without a milligram of ability to draw, I've always sort of wanted to attend a life drawing class and spend the hour very carefully rendering the model as a simple stick figure with a massive schlong / enormous boobs, just to see if the teacher would be polite enough to ignore or advise me - or whack me round the head with my easel and send me packing.

Try this one:

"Or this story from a woman who modeled for Maurice Utrillo.

She said that after hours on end of her standing there naked, and him standing there drawing, she put on her clothes and took a peek at the canvas. She discovered that all he'd been doing that whole time was this quaint pastoral scene of some little country house.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:26 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Once I served as a model for a friends experiments with lifecasting. She made a casting of me from chin to thighs. There's no fear of an erection when your bits are being coated in (relativly) cold alginate.
posted by the_artificer at 2:01 AM on August 29, 2012

It looks like one of the strengths of the ARA system is that it gets students to immediately stop doing contour drawing and instead, observe tones and lighting to reproduce areas of tone. That is one of the hard lessons to learn in the "flail around" system but you have to learn it early if you're going to make any progress at all. Most don't.

I personally made the most progress from anatomical studies. I tend to work from the inside structure out, , skeleton to musculature to surface. It's easier to focus on the surface tones if I'm not distracted by fixing errors I make in representing the body proportions. This is especially true of the head and face. We have hard-wired perceptual mechanisms to interpret faces (especially the eyes) and a few small errors can have a huge effect on our interpretation. Similarly, a few subtle distortions, done deliberately, can be very expressive. I think a lot of the artist's truest skills are in going beyond the surface rendering, and using these subtle distortions to an effect in the whole. If it were all about sight-size and measurement, we'd all use photos or a camera lucida.

And there, I think, is the crux of the matter. We do life drawing because every viewer comes to it with their own body perceptions. Our image is a 2D construction of that 3 dimensional experience, but projected not just onto the flat page, but onto the perceptual grid of the viewer. This isn't just about the viewer's eyes, but their brain too. This is why I'm not so interested in some of the academic representations of figures. Sure, they're great renderings of the figure, but the painting doesn't seem to do anything except do a great rendering. Most of the good painters I know that do figure painting, the figures are doing something, the figures are part of a narrative.

Now me, I never had much of a use for figure drawing. I am more of an abstract, non-representational artist (as was the predominate style when I was a student). But even in the severe abstractions, some paintings have an unrecognized debt to figure drawing. For example, this famous painting at my school's museum is not obviously a figure painting, but if you look closely, you can see large black stick figures walking from right to left. This would have been more obvious in its original setting, where it was displayed from floor to ceiling in a room where people would walk right up next to it. Yes, even Pollock studied figure drawing in traditional methods.

But to the non-representational painter, work is more of an expression of working against the limitations inherent in a media or subject. Figure drawing has a well known set of conventions, we learn those early, so we learn how to work within, and surpass those limitations. For me, the modern painter's issue is more about choosing a new set of conventions, building your own methods for surpassing them, and what that says about your work.

Well, I could say more but I am now late for work. I am scoring algebra and geometry tests, and I am occasionally amusing my co-workers by doing 3D perspective renderings of erroneous structures the students draw. One student accidentally drew a dramatic half-obelisk. I saw how it turned out in an architectural rendering, now I want to build it as a pair, two halves of the split obelisk standing right next to each other, built in marble and a hundred feet tall.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:10 AM on August 29, 2012

Years spent working from life, particularly nudes, always results in an unintentional objectification of the figure. That's supposed to happen. Happens in portraiture too, if you keep at it long enough.

When I was a student, after a few hours in life class I would need some time to see people as human beings again and not just forms, lines and tone.

People unfamiliar with the bones of art making often confuse the notion of nude and naked.That's ok though. There are more important things to confuse.
posted by Hickeystudio at 5:15 AM on August 29, 2012

At the school I help run in Philly we have some incredibly talented models. We're on the other end of the spectrum - we do looooong poses - around 80 hours of the same pose in one month. Our objective for these studies is the sensetive, accurate representation of nature. The underlying reasoning is similar to that of the ARA - get really, really good at accurately drawing and painting the most difficult subject (the human figure), because when you go to make your actual work any abbreviation you introduce will come from knowledge and not from ignorance.

Our models have been incredibly good to us. Some funny (and some scary) things have happened with our models. I'm surprised no-one has mentioned fainting yet! We've had one near-faceplant, one backwards-into-the-wall fainting, a person fainting while on a break and getting a nasty concussion, a seizure, projectile vomiting, and someone who went spontaneously blind in half of one eye (we all thought it was a stroke of the eye, turns out it was a visual migraine) - all in just our first year.

I know it sounds like we put them through a meat grinder or something, but it is just a very physical and strenuous job. We ask everyone about any possible issues, or history of fainting or dizziness, but sometimes people just don't know that standing still for 15-20 minutes will make them pass out until they try. We ask that they show up having just eaten something, and well-hydrated. We are very cautious with the health of our models, and each one has expressed appreciation for our courtesy and professionalism with them (they say our school has good energy), but sometimes these things just happen.

Over a month we really get to know them as people, and I think that helps the drawings. If someone looks a bit severe, but is really a softie, you are likely to capture those things in their pose that communicate their personality.

As for erections, I've done life drawing at least 3x a week, sometimes 5 days a week, for over three years, and I've never witnessed one. We did have a potential model that was scheduled to pose for us, and who had asked a bunch of weird questions pertaining to arousal, but I wasn't concerned because he said he was a beginner and it is a valid concern. Turns out he actually had posed for someone else in our group - and become aroused repeatedly, acted weird, and drank heavily during the session. We didn't end up hiring him, and I got so many nasty emails and phone calls from him. I'm glad we cancelled him - not because I'm scared of boners, but because posing for us is not erotic exhibitionism, which seemed like what this guy had in mind. Skeevzies.

I really, really enjoy working from life, and I actually have to cut this short because we've got a model showing up in a little bit.
posted by amcm at 8:04 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am enjoying reading this thread. While I can still draw a straight line across A3 paper with a pencil or a paintbrush, I squeaked by Nature Drawing 101 with lots of charcoal. I suspect I'm lazy and would rather sketch a concept than render it.
posted by infini at 9:33 AM on August 29, 2012

When I was a student, after a few hours in life class I would need some time to see people as human beings again and not just forms, lines and tone.

I remember once I was in a restaurant and the waitress that served me was one of my favorite models. I worked with her for weeks in classes, spent hours staring at every part of her body, but I had never seen her clothed. I absolutely did not recognize her.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:20 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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