Becoming Sexualised, Thick-Skinned & Engaging

For some women, the decision to try life modelling may precipitate a considerable shift in the way they are perceived by their peers, family and any other acquaintances.  If  you’ve never been perceived as a femme fatale, I’m not saying it’s guaranteed when you bare all for artists, however the confidence which you begin to manifest regardless of your traits pertaining to conventional beauty, may attract new attention.

What you do with this is of course your own business! The point is if your associates are surprised by your choice of activity/occupation, they may treat you differently. This can range from overnight being considered some sort of prostitute, to the pleasant surprise and genuine appreciation that you are comfortable in your skin. There is still a lot of taboo about nudity even here – London – and now in 2011. I hope this dissipates, but sadly women from certain cultures may be a long way off such freedom.  If I tried to recruit among some of them I’d surely receive death threats.

Obviously not everyone cares to try the open nudity thing! Including those among us who are quite comfortable with themselves, while others will consider it unnecessarily provocative, and as going against their higher principles.

The effects of life modelling are individual to each of us.  If you have a bold, independent persona then you may hardly be affected, or on a different angle it may be the peace and stillness which makes an impression.

There is an undeniably sexual element to life modelling.  While the traditional mainstream strand of the scene has no business acknowledging this,  it is invariably a factor, though not ever present.  It’s no surprise that the most sought after models for commercial artists looking to sell work, are young(ish) female slim or curvy dancers or performers.  As it stands most models fall into this category, but for that reason, other types corner their own niche more easily. There is a demand for all types, and what is most important is that the model enjoys what they are doing and exudes presence, connecting with artists.

The upshot of the attention received as an artist’s model is that one must have or develop a thick skin. You may need to be able to deflect unwanted attention while remaining professional; you must also be prepared to put up with being discussed as if an object during an art class. Each part of your body is considered as a technical detail in a landscape to be captured on paper. It is measured – though not up close unless it is for sculpture in which case calipers are wielded against you – and discussed as mass, tone, bulk and bone.

Other untutored groups may operate in ambient silence almost holy for its concentration.

Guidelines may be given on poses preferred, but usually choice of pose is the model’s prerogative. Each model it ought to be understood, knows his/her body best and further, poses are produced in sequence. By this I mean that there is often little time to relax between poses, so one tends to follow a pose with a countering poise, sharing the stress in alternating muscle groups.  Other factors of performance may come into play, so that a sequence appears to tell a story, or a model directs her gaze to a fresh direction with each new move.

One thing I noticed with the Spirited Bodies event, was that the new models had something we professionals lost a long time ago!! A certain element of rabbits-caught-in-the-headlights did come to mind. This made them unquantifiably fascinating to watch. How they unfolded with each new pose and with each moment of being there, just being there. Their faces of shock and bewilderment turning slowly sometimes to curiosity and engagement.  I was awed, fixated and unmovable for a while myself just watching. I’d never seen so many artists there (indeed it was a record-breaking turn out).

Some Feedback from Participants

We asked the women who tried life modelling for the first time how they felt afterwards. Here’s some things they said:

“I really enjoyed it – it was the relationship between the models and the artists – and the comfortable feeling between the models as well.
I enjoyed feeling unselfconscious about my body, and I enjoyed the challenge of staying still – which was easier at some times than at others! I enjoyed having such attention not for something that I had done or said, but simply to help the artists to do what they love doing; there was every chance of succeeding in the task just by existing rather than having to outwit someone else; I loved the lack of competition but the success of us all as a group.
I didn’t really think about the poses much beforehand, but when you were explaining it to us, I did worry a bit about whether I’d be able to cope – not only in holding the poses but also in thinking of how to pose – whether I could provide a pose that was interesting to the artists; they did actually say that we would have been interesting if we’d stood just upright and rigid – but undoubtedly there would be poses that were more interesting than others. The artists were very kind and appreciative!
I liked to see the pictures people had done of me, but I was also interested in seeing the pics of other models. The standard of work seemed to be extremely high.
It was thoroughly enjoyable and felt like a treat – so when everyone applauded us and the artsists were really grateful, it was such a surprise!” Laura Yeates

“Modelling was much more physically challenging than I expected it to be. Poses which I thought would be quite easy to hold for some time turned out to be very tricky, as pressure points which weren’t immediately obvious became clear, limbs went numb, and horrific pins and needles developed. My karate training helped me deal with the pain, but when finding poses I focused on my understanding of composition (learnt from a strong interest in art and a photography hobby), in particular triangular shapes and negative space; poses based on karate are too physically challenging. Seeing the sketches of me was definitely my favourite part; it was interesting to see my body through another person’s eyes, and made me realise that though my body isn’t perfect, it’s still beautiful. Many young women have problems centred around their body image, including myself, and modelling has – I feel – helped me with that. I wouldn’t say I discovered a new passion, but I definitely found a lucrative (I can make 3 times as much modelling as waitressing) and flexible part time job that provides a physical challenge and has collateral benefits for my self esteem.” Tansy

“I really just enjoyed being on the other side… artists not necessarily looking at it as a body but a combination of shapes and lines and shading/tinting.
I loved focusing on a particular artist and his/her actions and facial expressions while they were drawing… plus it helped to have something to concentrate on. Being in a group of women felt very safe and it was very beautiful to see everyone transforming from nervous and shy to empowered.
At the beginning it was both physically and mentally challenging – I just had to let go of the fact that my body is bigger right now than it has been… something that I feel pretty self conscious about – and just fully relax into the pose instead of constantly judging the way you look… 5 minutes into the first pose I felt fine… it was just the initial plunge. Luckily I have done some meditation so that really helped with focus and being able to still myself.
It’s a pretty incredible feeling to walk around and see yourself represented in so many different ways. It was interesting to see what certain people focus on… and how different body expressions are displayed. All the artists were really lovely.
It was a lovely experience. A beautiful group of women and I think that everyone did their best to make us feel comfortable and confident going in there. I never thought that I would have been able to stand in front of 50 people naked… but now it’s like this huge check mark in life… and it feels wonderful. I would definitely be interested in looking into more modelling in the future… especially in a group setting… it felt like a modern version of ‘The Bathers’!” Katrina Jurgens

“It was liberating to be nude in front of people, as well as observing my thoughts during the modelling and accepting myself as I was and my body as I was. It was nice to be able to share the experience with other women specially older women who were in there as naturally as I was. I would have felt very insecure to add to my insecurities to have only young slim women in the group.” Romina Naito

“I really enjoyed the Spirited Bodies event. It was lovely meeting all the women. I was glad there was a woman my own age modelling.
The reason I decided to take part in the event is that as a middle aged unmarried woman without a family I am invisible! In Darwinian terms I have no worth as I am past it! I can walk down a street and no one notices. In a group of women I have nothing to say as I don’t have children or grandchildren. One of the nicest things about the Spirited Bodies event is the women talk about the event and not their kids! To be drawn by a group of artists was my way of giving myself value, to be noticed. It was a way of overcoming the bad body image I have developed since menopause… Also to prove to myself that I could pose naked. To boost my self worth and to motivate myself in taking care of my body – seeing it as an instrument which houses me as a person.

I enjoyed talking to the other women. Women tend to be bombarded with images of what their bodies should be like. I enjoyed seeing that women’s bodies are beautiful no matter what shape or size they are. The posing was liberating and peaceful. Being still and quiet gave one space to think and breathe.
It is not as difficult as I expected. But I don’t think I challenged myself with difficult poses as it was my first time.” Rain

“By the last pose I was relaxed about my nudity! I did a bold standing pose as prompted by you guys, having realised that lying down can be less comfortable.
I found the half hour poses quite difficult, and getting into poses – you think you’re comfy, but you’re not.
I didn’t find it relaxing, I didn’t master it.
It was a bit like performing (theatre) for the attention.
Seeing the pictures afterwards reminds me of my bravery, I feel proud of myself. I see myself, and it’s neither flattering, nor awful. Just as I am.
Before doing this I really didn’t want to. I hated the idea of showing my body, I’m not happy about the way I look. I only took part as a favour to a friend! When it actually happened it was fun, it went quickly, and it was nice to be in a group. Lovely women, we got to bond a bit, especially in the pub.
A week later I tried another evening of life modelling, after initially thinking I’d hate doing it. I had gained confidence.” Szilvi Keffert

Morimda, Lucy & Esther

Morimda conceived of this project of Spirited Bodies and first initiated it as part of a course with Landmark. The idea was a community project where she found interested and appropriate people or leaders from the communities of life drawing and life modeling to help her. Having modeled for 15 years she had a good idea where to find these people. Life modeling can be a very isolating occupation, with a great deal of silence involved, and one does not always come into contact with other models. There are some venues like art schools (of the traditional variety which concentrate almost solely on life drawing) where one may regularly find several models. The other obvious place is The Mall Galleries, and this is where we would meet most often. It was this venue which became the focal point of our first event.

Artists at The Mall meet every week usually on a Friday evening, and there is quite a professional feel about the place. There is also the buzz of being Friday evening right in the centre of London. Of all the jobs we do, it perhaps has the strongest element of performance about it. In a large gallery, 4 models each occupy their own section, generally raised on a platform surrounded by keen artists at a little distance. When 6 o’clock arrives everyone is ready and the model, probably already disrobed, takes a pose for 15, 30 minutes or an hour, and silence sweeps the hall except for the hurried sound of charcoal scratching paper or brushes clinking on a jar.

Whilst posing the model may take in the artworks currently exhibiting around them, or catch a glimpse of the works in progress, or else turn inwards and meditate.

This seemed the ideal venue for the launch of Spirited Bodies, and we all have a good relationship with the organiser there, Simon. It was agreed that for one evening we would take over part of the gallery and invite new women to try what we do, in a group.

Esther has a background in theatre, particularly physical, as well as writing, and wanted to take on the role of coordinating the new models; communicating with them and generally preparing them.

Lucy has a professional background in PR, media and hi-tech companies, so her expertise was very useful for considering strategy.

Morimda has been an artist herself and has a great passion for the creation of art. She wants to expand into business more now, so this was a good tool for her to gain experience, even if no money-making was happening yet.

After the first event, a natural period of consolidation occurs, and it takes time for us each to realise how and if we want to take any of this further. We enjoyed it, but it does take some time and energy of course, and with no obvious means of income to follow… it becomes a labour of love so one must not have too many other compelling priorities. However, speaking to Simon, it is apparent that while the artists loved the occasion, its novelty was key – their routine of 4 individual models per evening has been broken but once before since the 1930s!! So there is no rush for another event, though there certainly is a demand. It is more important to learn from the last occasion, and make it even better, at the right time. Then it doesn’t matter if it makes no money – what matters is that we all gain valuable experience and make lots of people happy.

Hello world!

Spirited Bodies greets the world enthusiastically!

I want to introduce Spirited Bodies, which is a team of life models who are dedicated to sharing their unique experience with newcomers. Life modeling is an unusual and increasingly popular occupation, as life drawing currently expands in the UK. This type of drawing from the naked human still body, is a vital access point into art and drawing for the complete beginner as well as being great practice for the seasoned artist. It is said that there is nothing quite so difficult to draw as the human form, and it also fascinates us as we each have a body, but rarely see many others unclothed, and particularly which we may study acutely with permission to stare and keep examining.

The model must remain quite still as s/he is captured on paper or canvas. Detailed observations of the body are drawn, as well as more essential qualities relating to a model’s energy and mood.