I have been modeling for almost a decade now, and am still surprised at how difficult it is. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about tripping on the catwalk or wardrobe malfunctions. My concerns tend to focus on the temperature of a studio or how to deal with an uncontrollable itch. If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m a figure model for artists and students. 95% of the time I model in the nude.
I started modeling for art classes when I was in college, when I was taking those very art classes myself. I needed extra cash, and it seemed like an easy work-study job that also kept me in my field of interest. In the beginning, it was exceedingly difficult to disrobe in front of my friends. Usually I would break out in a cold sweat, and I’m sure my heart was pounding. After about a half hour of wondering whether my fellow students could see the glistening beads dripping off or down my body, I settled in to my pose.
I still get nervous in the start of classes or open studios, but now I have little games that I play to keep my mind calm, but still alert. (Nothing is more embarrassing than a full-body jolt of startling yourself awake after dozing off. It tends to surprise or scare the artists.) One of my favorite ways to pass time is to blur my eyes and just watch the motion of the artists’ heads around me, looking at me and then back at their work. I imagine a large piano keyboard, each artist making a distinctive note, and together they create music. Sometimes the swipe of charcoal across paper, the tinkling of bits of pastels falling to the ground or the clunking of brushes being cleaned in a jar of turpentine would add the perfect tone or rhythm to my imagined music.
Aside from keeping my mind relaxed yet aware, there’s still the matter of the body: most often contorted into some degree of a twist, but also at a seemingly natural position. When I first take a pose, it always feels like it will be perfectly comfortable. But after 10 minutes or so, the stiffness starts to set in. I will often try to tighten then relax a muscle in hopes of stretching it, while not moving my body. Sometimes, I just need to direct my breath to that aching area, and visualize an internal massage, and challenge myself not to look at the clock.
The tradition of taping the placement of a hand on a thigh or the thigh on the seat of a chair, even hair on the shoulder can seem a bit strange. I will try to memorize the best I can all the details of the posture, so I can easily return to it after a break, and use the tape for reference as needed. The tell-tale sign of getting back into the pose, is the palpable protests of muscles and joints, the stiffness instantly returning. Time to resume breathing exercises and visualizations! Just when I think I cannot take it any longer, I discover there’s usually at least 30 minutes remaining.
This is the ultimate practice of the mind, a discipline not so different from meditation. In the end it always pays off. The mind is subdued, and the art is wonderful to behold. And when I return to my place on the other side of the canvas, with brushes in hand, my muscles remind me to be humble and to recognize all the work required in looking relaxed.