Filtered Expressions - Modern Day Miss Manhattan - Story of a Live Model

Imagine, you're in a room full of people, eyes glinting, they are all staring at you. Periodically glancing down and then right back up, studying you, every line, every curve, colour and contrast. There are lights above you shining down, they are warming your skin, and you realize... you aren't wearing any clothes.

The beautiful buzzing atmosphere of a momentary break in the Saturday Morning Figure Session at UVIC.

"to be naked is to be deprived of clothes, and implies embarrassment and shame, while a nude, as a work of art, has no such connotations."
- Kenneth Clark

The human body is immeasurably beautiful and coincidentally one of the hardest things to recreate. One slight change of angle, movement of a limb, shifting of weight and the picture becomes something entirely different.
The first accounts of a Live Model are in ancient Greece where the Gods and Goddesses would be imagined and recreated. Phyrne was a famous courtesan and was the model for the first entirely nude sculpture. Everything else before her was clothed or strategically draped. There was a distinguishable difference in how these models were depicted then, the most common and obvious was the lack of body hair. Apparently the Divine lack the ability to grow such things. It wasn't until much later that a more realistic viewpoint would be taken on the human body.
Nudity in art disappeared for a while and didn't make a resurgence until the Renaissance, but even then it was primarily men who were modeling for male Artists, at least academically. Mistresses and Courtesans seem to always have captured the creative eye.
Only in the late 19th century were women allowed to be a professional model for schools.
Much has changed.

  Audry Munson  (Miss Manhattan), a live from the early 1900's, depicted in many of the statues in New York. Today is the anniversary of her death.

Audry Munson (Miss Manhattan), a live from the early 1900's, depicted in many of the statues in New York.
Today is the anniversary of her death.

I'm not sure what the exact reason was for my pursuit in becoming a Live Model was but I know it was coming from an incredibly genuine place.
At the time, my good friend had done it at a studio that I was familiar with and suggested that if it's something I was interested in, I should give it a go.
My first session was an audition of sorts. Two moderators, experienced Artists, they had me model for them to see if I had the chops for it. A precautionary measure of sorts, as you can imagine, many people get nervous and drop out just before a paid session. Afterwards, they told me how a session usually goes and then gave me a few tips and pointers.
- Watch where lights are placed, imagine where it is hitting on your body, see it from the Artists perspective.
- Eat a moderate meal beforehand, staying still on an empty stomach isn't enjoyable.
- Keep your eyes locked on one spot to keep a steadier pose.
- Classes usually start with gestures (short held poses) and potentially go to 2, 5, 10 and 20min or sometimes a full 3 hours in one pose for sculpture or "long pose sessions".
That was 5 years ago.
It has since become something entirely set apart.
I see it as a passion of mine, a skill set, a job (in the best kind of way) but what I appreciate about it most is the collaboration aspect.
I have always loved creative collaborative energy. Whether it is just sharing space while each person is doing their own thing or working on a project with others, it gives me juice to connect on creative levels.
Modeling has also become a form of research for me. My curious nature has lead me to striking up passive conversation about goals and projects, all while I gather information and learn how to apply their skills to my practice.
I have since worked with some incredibly skilled Artists and it seems as though, as soon as they see the combination of my professionalism and creative eye, they become open to letting me be a bigger part of the process, of which I revel in. I am asked for my opinion on shape, colours, project direction. Something, one might say, borders on being a Muse rather than just a human form to replicate.
What has the heaviest effect on me is how celebrated the Live Model is. I suppose it comes with the fact that not everyone is willing to take their clothes off and be viewed by a number of people. (around 35 people being the largest group I've modeled for) That being said, there is also a deeper appreciation expressed for a "good model".
As I said, it is a skill set that comes with practice. There are things that one must be aware of, not only for personal comfort but for safety as well.
Some of the things that I have learned are as follows:
- What is the setup? Everyone in a circle around you will limit the available poses (for fear of being lewd)
- Be aware of how you feel that day. Circulation, hunger, and body aches will all dictate poses and duration.
- Keeping the rest of the body still and shifting weight slightly from one foot to the other and wiggling the toes can lengthen the duration of standing poses.
And that is just the body and environment. The other aspect of modeling is a relationship with the mind. Once the whole body image thing has become a thought of the past, there is the fact that you are to remain almost entirely still for anywhere between 2-4 hours at a time. Of course there are breaks and thoughts of what pose to do next but in between those spurts of action, there is a beautiful inaction. It usually starts with a thorough examination of the environment, which then leads into a meditation of sorts.
Early on in my journey, I was speaking to another Art Model and they said how they use that time to completely escape reality. To remove themselves from their body, almost an intensified daydream. Hearing that opened up a whole new realm of possibilities.
I am getting paid, so the guilty thought of "I should be working" cannot torment me and I am to be still so I am not distracted with fidgeting or "doing something", so this is a time where I am able to be immersed into my mental landscape.
I have used sessions to empty the clutter, to focus purely on my breath, to think about a personal dilemma, to understand myself better by letting my thoughts wander and then taking an objective view on where they land. Unless there is something pressing that I need to figure out, it ends up being a combination of all of the above.

A semi nude drawing by Gustav Klimt.

There is also a need for awareness of situations, especially with private sessions. There is a safety factor that is involved when meeting a new Artist. It is usually in their studio, whether rented or at their house and I always make sure to meet them first and check out the space. The most important thing is getting a read on them. A lot of it has to do with how much I respect their work but its mainly about how they treat me. I try to see past the first impression, take account of their small mannerisms. There is a necessary snap judge of character that happens and even if I put the utmost trust in my ability to do so, there needs to be an underlying strength involved as well. Trust in one's inner compass is all well and good but to be a Live Model is also to have the ability to say no and to ask questions.

For me, it all comes back to the appreciation of the human form. The fact that I am surrounded by people who love my body for all of its quirks and diverse lines gives me so much satisfaction and joy. I rest assured in the knowledge that as I age and my body changes, there will always be a welcomed place for it. No one cares if I gain weight, get stretch marks, have bruises, all and every insecurity I could ever dream of is viewed in awe in the eyes of an Artist. Quite simply, perfection is boring.

If modeling for a class is something you've considered, I would like to do what was once done for me and suggest you try it. Even just once. It is one of the most liberating and enjoyable things you can do for your psyche. Not only does it facilitate a new appreciation for your body but it also sheds light on how insignificant our insecurities are.
Because when it comes down to it, we're all just skin and bones, but the beauty of such things is breathtaking in every form.


Spread love,

M.


One of my favorite sketches of me by an Artist by the name of Bernie, who's last name I do not know. Done in Penticton, BC.