Candid musings

A life model reflects on various aspects of the job discussing her past, her insecurities her aesthetic empowerment, her resting bitch-face, the best disguise for a cheeky fart and a pinch of social commentary.

Blue Eyebrows
1633 words - 8 min read

A bit of hesitation comes up when I say I do life modelling. God knows what comes up in the mind of the person I’m speaking to. Errrr, do you mean you’re naked?

For how long do you have to stay still? How do you manage to do that? But also, Do half of the Londoners have seen your hoo-ha? (They wonder, so do I). A few questions, all accompanied by expressions of genuine surprise, maybe admiration or something which ends down the road of dirty thoughts. Maybe, but also none of all this.

London is probably the European city with the largest number of in-person life drawing groups, followed by (needs reference …)

Whether they are centred on portraiture, fashion, burlesque, LGBTQ+ or shibari-themed, modelling sessions are a whole universe. Before moving to the UK, I was not aware that working as a life model could be a full-time real job. It is a side job for me, but I love it. I'm glad that I have decided to poke my little head into the Dulwich Art Studio in South London in September 2021. The pandemic was still hovering in our lives, and many life-drawing groups were operating online rather than in person.

I have modelled alone or with other models, in front of big groups and in 1 to 1 sessions, in studios, pubs, small or big houses, universities, community centres, and colleges and in front of ancient paintings in Museums. Despite the fact that London is Home to prestigious and ancient Art institutions, I have rarely worked with schools because they would not always offer big pay and the process to Join the roster was quite long. I could literally spread and unfold my flesh/persona anywhere and take almost any shape, with no fuss. I stand and bend on yoga mats and carpets. I can perch on sofas, tables and chairs. But more than furniture, heaters are the most desired accessories depending on the season.

I've modelled alone & with other models

Copying from a model is essential to learn drawing, before being able to create shapes out of our imagination. Inspiration comes from objects, landscapes or people. But copying is not just for students, it's fun, especially if you have a living being with a personality in front of you. It's time to chuck away those sculpture replicas with their idealised perfect body images from the Classical Era. Same with those Michelangelo statues imbued with a classical standard of beauty. Artists have been copying the same shapes for centuries. Since their very beginning in the Renaissance, Art Academies have used these perfect shapes to be copied by their students, and they hired models with similar features. Tutors directed models, who were asked to pose similarly to Classical statues. Royal Academy started to use female models already at the end of the 1700s, definitely earlier than the trend in Europe of the XX century. And now, we're going further: life modelling embraces finally more openness to body positivity and inclusivity or at least it's trying.

I would argue that to be an art model, what matters is knowing our body’s limits and strength to hold poses, and be confident. To be an amazing model, being expressive is key. No need to be a master of flexibility yogi level 10 or a dancer at the Royal Ballet. Maybe after this whole list, you would fairly disagree with me. It’s a matter of playing with our bodies, limbs, fingers, hair, space and the light to create challenging poses to some extent. Without praise or blame, I’m definitely not a Vitruvian woman. I’m not particularly tall nor small, indeed skinny with some feminine “bumps”, which on some days I don’t feel enough. Indeed, as anyone in their lives has experienced sooner or later, for a shorter or longer time, I’ve had body image issues for different reasons. But in the end, what I would be afraid of in the mirror, would not come up in the sketches… or very rarely.

Apart from my resting bitch face...

Apart from my resting bitch face, that’s always there, on the paper or in real life. I actually worry much more before and after the session, rather than when it's happening. My body keeps changing. Sometimes I see a little roll of fat coming out in a drawing and my ego cries, but I know that’s not important because I will keep eating a lot of cheese bread and I will let my body unfold and that will look beautiful and interesting no matter what my anxieties.

I did ballet as a kid, more than 20 years ago, and I do not know to which extent that is still influencing my body movements. In the ideal situation, I stretch and do yoga at home before a life modelling session. However, it would happen that I run to a session after I finish another job, and there's no time. When I let my little kimono drop, sometimes I do feel a tension for a fraction of a second. It’s particularly strong in the wintertime as I realise that I’ll be the only naked person among people who are actually warm in their clothes. But even if I remove my fabric clothes, I sense that I am wearing something different. I am myself but nude, I am playing a role and creating, and I don’t feel sexually vulnerable. Instead, I am particularly empowered as I let my body curl and stretch and the scribbling and brushing on the paper start. I can guarantee that I would not be as confident in front of a camera.

In London’s hectic life, sometimes life-modelling sessions are one of the few moments when I can let my mind wander, and not think about anything in particular. The length of the sessions varies, depending on if it’s a portrait with a long pose, which sometimes continues more than one week, or short poses, as short as 30 seconds. I focus on my body, its position and balance, but not on how it actually could look like and all my derived body anxieties. I genuinely do not know how I succeeded in holding some poses.

Background music is also a good disguise if a fart comes out

Background music is a great company for me during posing times especially when I end up picking painful poses. I still do and regret it instantly but there’s no plan B for me. I just try to calm down and wait for the time to be over. Once my numb arm fell and I could not stop it. Background Music is also a good disguise if a fart comes out. It can happen, beware. In my case, only once, but it's indeed a dangerous precedent. I remembered seeing in London a wall painting about farting while doing Yoga so I felt excused - but I did not excuse myself in front of the audience, because the show must go on. I probably became as red as a ripened Italian tomatoe. Other body embarrassing situations include sweating to death, sometimes it happens even in winter, and feeling the drops of sweat going down from literally anywhere. The whole woman period predicaments would deserve another chapter. Help.

Despite having modelled for almost 3 years, I still need to understand how posing sits in my creative practice. Only recently I have been questioning myself about what being a life model means. As Dominic Blake states in his lectures, life modelling does not have a passive role. It's a horizontal exchange between artists and models, in a participation process where they could be considered performers. Improvisation has a big role for me, but I'm also inspired by dramatic poses found in the history of Art I studied so keenly since middle school.

Sometimes, the inspiration comes from poses that other models do. Probably I am a bit of an exception, I don’t know other models, if not very few. I tend to be quite reserved, and despite being very sociable, I prefer keeping a certain distance between my self and the artists. Even if it may look counterintuitive, I’d rather not advertise myself online with photos.

Scattering images of me, nude or clothed in the endless realm of the World Wide Web is quite problematic

Scattering images of me, nude or clothed in the endless realm of the World Wide Web is quite problematic, especially with AI image generation, as Taylor Swift's recent case taught us. Despite this, I feel part of a community and I’m grateful to all the artists and the organisations that keep choosing and supporting me, and all the artists who decide to tip me at the end of the session. Sometimes I’m shy and I don’t ask to take drawings away with me. But I’m also a serial hoarder, so I'm actually avoiding a great risk.

Sometimes I laugh looking at my questionable life choices, thinking that I’m being paid to be uncomfortably twisted and cold for hours, naked with a lot of people staring at me. However, I cant really complain because I don’t risk catching pneumonia like the poor Elizabeth Siddall who posed for Everett Millais's Ophelia, or I'm not suffering excruciating poses for years like Euan Uglow’s models.

But if a spider approaches me in pose, someone needs to rescue me

What I love is that, in a sort of panta rei fashion, I am always someone different even if I’m doing the same pose. And for every person in the room, I am always someone different to their eyes. Life modelling has taught me a lot mentally. I learned about having control over my body, patience and endurance and I would have never imagined I could reach this awareness before I even started meditation. And surprisingly I cope fairly well with cold temperatures. But if a spider or a mosquito is approaching me on the pose tho, someone needs to rescue me.

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