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The Main Skills Needed to be a Life or Nude Model
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.
Other hubs in this series
In this article, we'll discuss the main physical, mental and social requirements and skills for being a great life model.
Physical requirements of being a life model
The main physical requirements of being a life model is your body, as it is, right now.
You don’t need to change your body for life modelling - you don’t need to lose a few pounds, tone your muscles or be able to bend yourself into all sorts of strange positions. Staying fit and healthy, eating well and getting the right exercise are all good ideas, but they are no more a requirement to life modelling than they are to any other aspects of your life.
There are some physical requirements that you’ll need to be aware of though:
- Be presentable - Your body will need to be presentable. This means having a shower before you model
- Be well rested and fed - Always try to have enough sleep before you model, you don’t want to doze off during a session! It’s often a good idea to have something to eat an hour or two beforehand so you aren’t hungry and are feeling comfortable. Have a bottle of water handy as well, so you don’t get dehydrated
- Be flexibile - The ability to pose is central to being a good life model and is often the most difficult thing to get right initially. You shouldn’t push your body to try stretches and poses that you aren’t comfortable with, start simply and build up from there
- Have stamina - You will often need to hold poses for between one minute and twenty minutes, sometimes up to an hour! It’s surprising how strenuous this can be. Having the endurance to do this without needing to move is a very useful thing to develop
Of course, we’d encourage anyone to stay as fit, healthy and active as they can, but that’s because it’s a good idea anyway, not because it’s something you need to do to life model.
Key skills - Exercising & staying in shape (or not)
One central idea that’s important to keep in mind is that it’s the uniqueness of your body that provides artists with an interesting subject to draw. This means that it doesn’t matter how toned, curvaceous, full or lean your body is, the physical characteristics that you already have (and your imagination) are what the artists are really interested in.
This means that you should do whatever you feel is necessary to be comfortable and confident in your skin - not because you’re going to be life modelling, but because our bodies are something that we should be happy with, in-spite of life modelling. If you’re in good physical condition, want to change your body shape or enjoy exercising, that’s great. Continue with (or start on) an exercise routine and be proud of the changes you’ll see.
That said, some of the poses you may need to hold can be quite difficult and strenuous, and a few simple and gentle exercises can strengthen your poses and increase your flexibility and fitness. Some of the physical characteristics that will make life modelling easier are:
- Flexibility and suppleness - A few simple yoga stretches will keep your joints in good shape and make poses easier
- Core strength - Pilates and isometrics will help to build your core muscles and trunk strength
- Stamina - Any exercise that helps you increase your stamina will help you to hold poses for longer
Stretching in the morning, before a class and again after finishing is a good way to look after your joints and reduce potential cramping, discomfort, aches and stiffness. Whatever you do, whether you have an exercise routine or not, it’s important that you enjoy the process of life modelling, both preparing for it and spending time in the classroom itself.
Useful internet links
Related books on Amazon
The Art Model's Handbook explains what you need to know to model for art classes and professional artists. You'll learn about the structure of figure drawing sessions, how to come up with interesting poses, costume modeling, professional conduct, finding work, and security concerns.
Mental requirements of being a life model
Although less obvious than the physical requirements of being a life model, the mental requirements are just as, if not more, important. So, what are the main ones to cultivate?
- Calm and patience - Tranquillity is a great approach to have as a life model. Whether the tranquillity comes from gentle daydreaming, singing songs in your head, thought exercises, meditation or simply thinking of nothing, much of life modelling is just spending time in your own head. Having a comfortable way to do that will really benefit you, both in the class itself and in other aspects of your life.
- Structure and objectivity - Thinking objectively about the class, your approach to it, the poses you are going to use and the planning you put into being a life model is a really good starting point. It’s very useful to think about and practice these things before arriving at the venue.
- Optimism and confidence - This would be the confidence to tell the person leading the class which poses and durations are realistic and which are not. Nobody wants to draw a model that is in pain so don’t be afraid to say if you are or suspect a particular pose of looking uncomfortable.
Bringing together the physical and mental requirements will help you build the right techniques, approach and routine for your life modelling, enhance your professionalism and ensure you have a good time in the studio.
Developing the right mental attitude
Having the right approach and attitude is central to being a good life model. This is more than being optimistic, helpful and accommodating, although that definitely helps. It’s also about developing the mental endurance and structures to keep you lucid and alert throughout the lesson, especially during the longer poses.
The mind can play some interesting tricks when it has nothing else to think about and is unfettered by distraction. Prolonged stillness is generally the body and brain’s traditional cue to sleep, so it’s not unusual to experience waking dreams when you’re immobile for extended periods. Although not everyone experiences them, just recognise them for what they are if you do find yourself seeing odd things, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal.
Just as simple exercises can help the body, they can also help the mind. Meditation is a great way to stay mentally clear and focussed for an hour or more, and in addition to benefiting your life modelling can also help with things like stress, insomnia and anxiety.
More advanced techniques include those used by memory experts, such as building memory constructs; buildings and places that can store information through visual mnemonics. The time and quiet that you have when you are life modelling can be used to your advantage, through constructing your own memory palace, and searching online can tell you a lot more about these techniques.
The right social skills
After punctuality and the ability to stay still, being able to put a class at ease is the most important quality in a model. This doesn’t mean talking non-stop, it means helping the class to relax and be comfortable with itself. If the artists are comfortable, they will draw better pictures. If they know you are comfortable and happy to be there, they will draw better pictures. If you can get your artists to be happy and pleased to work with you, they will book you again and tell their friends. This is a good thing for you.
Break out the big smiles when you arrive, give a couple of hellos and the ice will be broken. If you have time and the poses haven’t been decided in advance, ask the artists what they would like to practice or find difficult. This attention is appreciated. during the break, talk to the artists and offer any kind words that you might like to give. It’s likely that in the time you’ve spent motionless, you will have had opportunity to listen to art tutors give advice to their students. Pay attention to this advice, and then give it to other students who might appreciate it.
Other useful social skills are:
- Punctuality - Vitally important; arrive early to the class, keep to time and ensure you don’t keep people waiting
- Tact - all of your artists, all of them, will declare their work to be terrible. Agree if you want but don’t expect much work afterwards. Encourage them, recognise difficulty and use this feedback to gauge the level of the class and inform the poses that you do in future
- Enthusiasm - give yourself to the poses and the class will appreciate it. If they are unappreciative then find out why.The artists will be there for a reason, find out what that reason is.
- Imagination - standing with hand on hip is fine but it’s good to have more poses in reserve. If you can break out lots of interesting poses your class will be stimulated and excited. A happy class is something to be treasured since it feels great inside and leads to more work.
Next, we'll discuss some expectations and examples around life modelling.
Are you a life model or thinking of becoming one? Do you have any hints and tips on useful skills? If so, please let us know in the comments.
Other articles on life and nude modelling in this series
This is just one of our series of articles on this fascinating subject; please do take a look at our other materials.
- Introduction to Life & Nude Modelling - Our first article introduces you to the world of life modlling and provides an interesting overview
- FAQs about Modelling for Artists - Anyone who is interested in life modelling is going to have lots of questions. We've examined some of the most popular ones and answered them here
- Preconceived Ideas about Life Modelling - We explore some widely held beliefs about life modelling, discuss if they're true or false and help you change your perspective
- Expectations, Examples & Exercises - Find out what to expect from a life modelling class, understand what artists need from you and read some examples