I focus on the itch until it goes away or gets worse.
Thumbnail: Kate Doyle. Bad Nora. 2012.
On this blog I've discussed a lot of different aspects of modeling work; teaching styles, what goes through my mind, what I know about what's going through the artist's mind, but I've only touched on what happens while modeling besides of my own rambling thought process. I get this question a lot, especially when people learn that I am modeling nude. I've decided my go-to answer will be:
"It's actually a big orgy."
People can draw their own conclusions based on whatever level of sarcasm I muster.
While modeling isn't an orgy, it's not a silent impersonal job to me either. The communities I encounter are a significant part of why I enjoy the work. The ambiance of each group varies; it's part of the reason I prefer private groups to university classes. The variation is also part of the attraction. One group I work for is a collection of moms learning to paint; They talk about their children, their vacations, their dogs (love the dog talk!). Once, when I was too dehydrated and had to sit down, they knew just to feed me water and almonds until I felt better.
I have a different gig with a large group of friends, basically a drawing group set up so they can spend time together doing something they all love. Half the time I'll be modeling in a half-empty room while the rest of the group chats in the kitchen. I love this atmosphere as well. Everyone is in a great mood, there's very little pressure, and there are usually snacks. I can even bake for them if I want to get up early enough.
Another group is a mix of artists, art enthusiasts and art historians, which is critically stimulating in multiple ways. It's interesting to see the different ways people discuss art. As I've written before, I was taught to remove value judgements from my discussions of art. I write off likes and dislikes as a matter of taste rather than quality, rationalizing difference in opinion nicely. Those not educated in this fashion are open with their opinions, ready and willing to defend them, though not without a tendency toward sweeping statements. This is where I'm especially grateful that I've been taught to step back and find merit in things I normally wouldn't. It applies as equally to discussing art as it does to art itself.
My way of seeing art doesn't always fit into the conversation at hand. I have no way to argue against value judgements, little of the knowledge or even the vernacular evaluate something in terms of worth. Unless I confine myself to the small population that have been educated in my way, the ability to engage in such discussion is invaluable. Having the opportunity to listen to these discussions during drawing group allows me to foster my a transition from historian to critic. I learn what kinds of value judgements are effective, and what serve only to end the conversation. It's like an orgy of ideas. Whether it's a new perspective on an artist, a feeling of safety, or a title for my next blog post, whenever I show up to any drawing group I know I'll come away with something more than I had before. That is what happens there.
I have really been enjoying getting back to modeling in the east. Being re-introduced to the artistic communities I worked with was a great way to return to the area, and driving around seacoast New Hampshire and southern Maine is wonderful. It keeps me enthusiastic about all sorts of aspects of the artistic process, using modeling as a platform for observation.
One thing I've been enamored of lately how the artists set up the scene for the drawing group or classes I'm working with. My first job after returning was for a class taught by Pamela Dulong Williams, a really talented artist working out of Kittery. Usually the best part of working with her is seeing the paintings she hangs in her studio and listening to her teach. This time I found another draw. I walked into her studio and found a modeling stand draped in flora-printed green fabric, an orange parasol propped up on the right. There was also a small dog present, but as that doesn't have as much to do with art or modeling I'll try to move on. The spotlight was set up to shine through the parasol to give an warmer glow to my face while the winter light from the windows hit my legs. I was impressed with the thought that went into the look of the whole scene; the effort to vary the tones of my skin along with the tones of the fabric and background, and create a coherent scene.
Of course this isn't limited to working with Pamela Dulong. While setting a scene in the winter has a lot of limitations (heater placement and my addiction to the electric blanket) there's usually an attempt to bring some personality to the pose. One drawing group sat me on a fainting couch and managed to rustle up a crystal goblet so they could sketch a wine glass in my hand. I often try to bring something to the pose on my own, but it's great to have some inspiration.
What I really love about these attempts is the commitment to artistic expression and the evidence of real thought to how it relates to the rest of art. Even in the casual settings of drawing groups and classes connections to other artists are constantly considered. Pamela Dulong set her model stand to be reminiscent of Gaugin, which I tried to relate to in my body language. Members of another drawing group even requested specific symbolic pinky finger placement (which I managed to turn into the vulcan salute). It's another insight into the artistic process, one that I can directly relate to my own experience as a model. I wrote before about enjoying inserting artistic references in my poses and I find it interesting and inspiring to work with artists also looking toward that end.
As I've had limited modeling work lately there hasn't been much variety in what I've been doing. At Loyola Marymount University's art studio there is a large rolling table in the middle of the room with a black pad set on top of it. This is where I have been doing all my modeling, and only one of the classes have included any sort of prop. For a couple months all my modeling has consisted of me on a table trying to think of interesting poses, wondering if I'm repeating the same one over and over.
This sort of work is challenging. I'm forced to be creative with subtle curves of the body to make the pose interesting, rather than depending on dynamic curves. Instead of hanging a leg over the end of a couch I have to discover the angle at which my hips will cause my one shoulder to rise a couple inches. However I appreciate the time learning how to form shapes with just my body.
I have decided I prefer to model with props, a single chair. I get to take on more interesting poses, and if I have something to prop me up (get it?), I can hold them for longer. A lot of what goes into a good pose is having some angle change. Often this can be the natural curve of the body, but the arc of an angled limb is a more exciting way to create interesting shapes in the pose. Without a chair, there is a trade off between standing and sitting. It's hard to make angles with your legs if you have to stand on them for ten minutes, or if you're sitting on them. There are things you can do to avoid this but having a chair to hang your legs off of makes it ten times easier, and the pose can be held longer.
|This pose had three different levels to rest limbs on, giving a great variety of angle changes in the pose. Watercolor by Kim Grant|
Modeling with props also creates an opportunity for artists to explore the body interacting with objects. One of the classes I worked for at LMU was about how fabric hung or wrinkled on the body. That was one of the more entertaining classes I worked, pretending to text and drink coffee so the students could experiment with the body in a more casual setting. I think my preference for modeling with props stems from my enjoyment of work that shows the model in a situation.
These situations don't need to be "casual poses" with little props like cell phones and cups of coffee. I think the main attraction of using props is the aspect of inspiration. As when I model on the rocks and they direct me where to lie, any kind of prop can give an idea for a pose. Thinking of this emphasizes the idea that models need inspiration as well as artists. The aspect of the "muse," has always fascinated me, and working as a model has not deterred that interest. The most exciting modeling sessions I have are when I am inspired by the artist, not just the furniture around me. I suspect the spark of a "muse" relationship could lie in the moment when an artist and a model begin to inspire each other.