One from the Vaults: Proper Care and Feeding of a Figure Model

This is a repost of one of my earlier writings. As most of you know, before my makeup career took off, modeling was the main source of my income for several years, and was one of the most rewarding jobs I have done. It also provided me with a supplemental arts education. I had the joy of working with many amazing and talented artists, some of whom I saw develop their art over years. Luckily, I have been fortunate to find that most of the artists who employ me are wonderfully respectful people, although I've had my own share of more difficult ones. After the incident in #2 a handful of years ago, I was inspired to write this. I repost it because it addresses many of the questions I get from models and from artists.

The only models that never have their legs fall asleep.

Proper Care and Feeding of a Figure Model

1. Remember that they are human.

Do not, through word or action treat them as though they are a piece of furniture or a ragdoll.
One of my jobs had a hard focal point for me to look at over the course of eight weeks. One eye would be focused in deep shadow and the other in bright light, which caused eyestrain. The solution to this was to close my eyes for a few moments and let my eyes readjust before opening them again, otherwise tension around the eyes would show in the paintings, making them look squinty, and I'd end up with a migraine. An instructor walked in to critique the paintings. She didn't say hello, and assuming I was falling asleep, made a comment to the artists that they needed to keep a cattle prod to keep me awake...very rude.

2. Respect the model's personal space.

I had a woman try to point out to a student the subtle variations in color on my face. Fair enough, it's a useful and important lesson. However, she was pointing with a paintbrush millimeters from my face, including near the eye area. It took a great deal of willpower not to slap it away. Don't poke things at somebody's eye, ever, without a bit of warning. Likewise, if the model's clothing, drapery, position, etc need to be adjusted, ask permission first, especially if the model is nude. Permission will almost always be granted, but it is a courtesy.

3. Entertain them.

I may sound like a diva with this one, but really, it is for your own benefit. Talking, playing music with a beat or interesting lyrics (blues and soul music are great, classical and jazz can be a bit too soothing) or putting on Public Radio will make the difference between a technically good figure study that you wouldn't want to hang on your wall and a figure study with a spark of life. Don't be afraid to talk to each other and laugh, not only does it give us something to listen to, but helps them to know more about you so you can better work together. There is a reason why many figure studies have their eyes closed. It is because the model has become so bored that the brain has decided to shut down and take them to dreamland. On the other hand, if the model has had things to keep their brain focused on, there is a twinkle in the eye, the face doesn't appear quite so slack, and the posture will be better. You're more likely to be happy with your work.

4. Feeding them is a big plus.

Most of the models I know do not eat large meals before going into a job, as they don't want to be bloated or standing up there digesting. It's awkward enough being in a room full of people when you are the only one naked, they don't want to have to worry about feeling fat or gassy as well. That's a great way to kill the glamour. However, the jobs are usually a few hours long, and they can get a bit hungry or even a bit wonky from hunger toward the end. Something small and light to snack on is always appreciated. My favorite groups to work for paid well and always broke for food and wine halfway through the job; they got priority booking when I was arranging my schedule. Not only did it give a small boost to the blood-sugar, but it gave me a chance to actually know and like the people who were hiring me.

5. Most models are not Yogis.

Chances are, the more interesting the pose, the shorter period of time the model will be able to hold it. To give you an idea, here is a yoga pose for you. Sit down, stretch your arms out to the side, forming a "T" with your palms flat and facing toward the ceiling. Hold it. Do not move. Try to hold it for three minutes, just three. Notice how your arms feel. Then consider that the average length of a pose for us is twenty-two minutes before an 8 minute break and back on. If you want a 45 minute pose, you can expect it to be a boring one, or if it isn't, you can expect the model to be hurting for it. It is better to break it up into two sessions.

6. If a model is good, reward them.

This doesn't have to be, nor should it be, a regular or expected thing. It is not a matter of entitlement. However, if a model has worked hard to help your art, and has done an exceptional job, this is a nice touch. Artists happy with my work have given me gifts of art, the potted plants from still-lifes, clothing that I modeled in, a mug of cocoa or milky ginger tea on a cold day, jewelry, thank you cards, and a cute little blue vase from a local ceramics place. It is not the dollar amount that counts, everyone likes to feel appreciated.

7. Keep the temperature stable.

Unless the studio is really warm, space heaters are a must. Cold muscles cramp up and you will have a sore and cranky model and the grimace will show. I modeled at a location in winter that had the model stand under a drafty and leaky skylight that dripped on me for three hours a night, three days a week, for fifteen weeks. It was miserable. I eventually made that location a spring through early-autumn only booking.

On the other extreme, if someone is on an elevated stand on a hot day, in a standing pose, under lights, it gets hot. No matter how lovely the model, they will feel awkward if sweat is running down their legs and they have to remain perfectly still. It is also important to make sure they don't overheat and faint. More than one figure model has toppled ass-over-teakettle from this, and it is enough of a danger that many figure-drawing groups do not schedule in the summer.

8. Have a private place for the model to change.

Yes you will be seeing them naked later, but there is an entirely different feeling to being nude on the stand, and stripping down in front of people. It is a psychological boundary, a chance to take a breath or stretch, a symbol of the beginning and end of work. This clear start and stop point is important to both the artists and the models to ensure professional boundaries.

9. Never. Never ever ever try to pick a model up or hit on them while they are working.

Just don't. This includes when they are packing up to leave the studio, or when they are anywhere near the studio. If you bump into each other outside of work, it may be another story...but at work is completely inappropriate. Even if you are perfectly nice, it will still come across as creepy due to the fact that someone is in a more physically vulnerable state and it will make future bookings uncomfortable for them as they will wonder what your real motives are.

10. If more than one model will be posing together for a piece, please let them know in advance.

I was once surprised to find that I would be posing with two other models on a tiny stand. They were also professionals, so I was fine. I didn't mind working with others who are mature and respectful. It's just nice to know in advance what is expected of the job. Most of the poses were laborer or shipwreck scenes. However, had I arrived to find that one of the other models was sleazy, or that the artists were expecting something erotic (sexual as opposed to sensual, a fine line), I would have walked off the job.

11. Models don't bite.

Don't be afraid to speak to models on their breaks (once we are robed, of course). Most of the figure models I have worked with are artists in their own right, and do have interesting things to say. They are not just a pretty face and body.

12. Do not piss off the model.

Most of the figure models I know are pretty level-headed, so I don't mean you have to walk on eggshells around them. I simply mean that some are very well-connected in the arts community though our work. They also talk to each other. This is great if you are a legitimate and professional artist, as they can promote you to no end, but if you are a slimebag out to scam models, it will be known and other models will be warned. I myself have turned down people who wanted to work with me because of how they acted with other models. I have likewise gotten the reference calls and warned models away from people who were unethical or dangerous. As wonderful as work in the arts can be, it can have a dark side as well. Every industry has bad seeds. Luckily, they also have people willing to look out for others.

13. If your work is not turning out the way you would like it to, do not blame the model and start complaining to everyone in earshot about it. It's possible that you just screwed up.

This one also comes from personal experience. models who work professionally (by this I mean regular work as a main source of income) can develop good muscle memory, much like martial artists. As both a model and dancer, my muscle memory is better than average. There was a class I was modeling for on a long-term basis. Same pose a few days a week for 15 weeks. My muscles knew it. Surrounded by a circle of 18 students, every one of them would measure and say that I was right where I needed to be. There was one woman, however, who every day, without fail, would loudly tsk-tsk at her drawing and say "She must have moved". She would ask me to move my hand a couple of inches over. Knowing I was where I needed to be, I'd exaggerate it and move it WAY over. She'd say "move it back". I'd put it back in the exact same spot it was before and she would say "that's it." I did this for months, and managed not to openly chuckle.

14. Figure models generally don't come with an airbrushing crew.

Yes, you will see freckles, sunburn, stretchmarks, tanlines, cellulite and pimples, and there is only so much makeup can do. You're the artist, you can figure out how to minimize the appearance of these.

15. Know the difference between a professional figure model and someone seeking a thrill/ego boost.

A professional will work with you to ensure the best possible work.

A professional has learned through trial and error what will and will not work out as expected.

A professional has learned their body's limitations and will tell you right away if that fabulous pose you chose is actually feasible over an extended period of time rather than try and hold it and have to back out halfway through.

A professional is not there for ego-validation or sexual kicks. I have been called in to replace models like this when their motivation became clear.

Oftentimes a professional has undergone their own art training as well (or has been around long enough to pick it up) and can figure out which poses will look best in which lighting and from what angle.

A professional has the experience to sense what the job needs.

A professional has gained a measure of control over their body.

A professional will give you your money's worth and then some.

16. If you like working with a model, recommend them to other artists.

Not only is it flattering, but it helps ensure that they can keep working. Easily 80% of my work over the last thirteen years has been through recommendations.

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