While most students carefully study textbooks, I’ve had the unusual opportunity to study people. After months of my figure drawing class at UNC, seeing semi-public nudity has become almost a mundane part of my daily routine.
Even in other art programs at major universities, this isn’t an opportunity many are able to take advantage of. People often ask me what it’s actually like to draw a nude model, who these models are, and what the etiquette of the situation is, and in all honesty, I’m still trying to figure it out (no pun intended).
Every modeling session is different, and there is no set procedure of what the model should do or what the experience will be like.
Of course, there are basic expectations that an appropriate distance will be kept from the model and to treat him/her with the respect needed for the relative privacy of the situation. It’s a university level class, so there’s a basic expectation of maturity that someone isn’t going to spontaneously send a picture of the model to their friends on Snapchat, make comments about the model’s body, or act in a way that makes anyone feel uncomfortable.
Typically, the models may change in the building into a robe or undress in the closed room. Our professor will give loose instructions of standing or seated positions and angles depending on the focus of our study for the week on proportions, foreshortening, etc. The models we’ve had are all incredibly professional and familiar with common poses for figure drawing that are natural and conducive to studying the human form.
At the end of a session, we’ll thank the model, they redress, and we move on with our regular day.
I know that at least a couple of models we’ve had are also artists, but otherwise I can only imagine it’s just an oddly liberating gig with a fairly generous hourly wage for being still and admired. They’ve been young and old, male and female, and all seem to simply appreciate the experience of being drawn.
That being said, my post-grad plans shockingly don’t include nude modeling. I’m thankful for my art studies for all the brave souls who are so professional about what could be an embarrassing, uncomfortable or intimidating situation for many.
I don’t believe figure drawing should be reserved for the “mature adults,” the university educated, or those who call themselves artists. Beyond artistry, it’s a lesson for all involved that we all should be comfortable in our own skin and see the beauty in what makes us all human.