A Mandate for Nora

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: IMG_3358

"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.

Picasso, The Harem 1906The only opinion on art I've been able to hold onto: Picasso is allowed to be a generally bad human, Pollack is not.

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.

Just Pretend It's Tahiti

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. GauginDulong

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.

BruceSetup

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.

Gaugin

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.

Perspectives from a tabletop.

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.

Excuses and Eye-Openers

"Just act like you like him, buddy.
Just for one picture. Please."

As many probably know, I just returned from my Bay Area experiment and now that I don't spend my days telling children to say "squishy ponies" in desperate attempts to get them to smile naturally, I have to time to re-commit to bloggage. While traveling back to LA during my month hiatus I modeled at Loyola Marymount University, my first experience in a college-level class. It was strange to be around students not far from my own age, trying to remember how the models I worked with in high school acted so I could pretend I had any idea what I was doing.

Ultimately, the biggest difference between modeling for college classes and other groups turned out to be what the students produced. I am also sure that the difference stemmed, not from the age difference, but from the location. Almost every class I modeled for was made up of animation students. I'm sure this would be different in other cities, but of course Los Angeles drawing classes would have a clear connection to the entertainment industry. I was fascinated by the animators' approach to figure drawing compared to the "fine art" students I'd seen before. Unfortunately, I did not take pictures of the students' work, so I will have to illustrate this post some other way (starting with cute children).

I may be exaggerating.

Unsurprisingly, the poses were very short, rarely over 10 minutes. The drawings were gesturally very impressive, i saw barely any stiff, unnatural looking sketches. Even the students who professed to lean toward the programming side of animation were adept at rendering a pose with pencil in hand. It made sense that animation students were good at capturing the movement of a pose, yet the commitment to measurement and accuracy was virtually nonexistent. They gave me a variety of body types, from Barbiebody to street-urchin thin to Venus of Willendorf.

Obviously my favorite alter-ego.

Even better, some students would finish early and spend the extra time drawing on clothing, giving me outfits from stripper heels to Poison Ivy vines. The difference in style between the students was also striking; they had already developed their own ways to draw bodies. In my drawing classes we were taught that stylization comes after mastering the art of accurate representation. Honestly, I have no idea if these students had completely mastered strictly representational drawing or not, but ultimately animators need to focus on different skills.

Seeing different classes also showed me a lot about the variety of ways to teach drawing. I'll go into more detail with this later, but just as seeing Kate's class opened my eyes to how effective teaching can be, so did these classes show me how many ways it is possible to effectively teach someone how to improve their drawing. It also introduced me to different priorities in drawing classes, based on the skills the students need to learn.

As usual, all images found on Google Images.

Costal Modeling with the Kates

Apparently it was financial idiocy, but I say it's worth it.
All photos in this post courtesy of Google Images

I love Los Angeles, am pretty infatuated with Oakland, and it's impossible not to love San Francisco when you're driving on the new Bay Bridge. However, I realized a long time ago how crucial it is for me to get a break from the city at times. Returning to rural New Hampshire taught me that wandering through forests and swimming in rivers is my way to recharge and get back in touch with my spiritual roots. The time I spent there earlier in my life fostered a strong connection to the natural world; learning to access that connection in the city is important to me.

This is why I enjoy modeling out of doors. If modeling wasn't already a spiritual activity for me, doing it outside would cement that aspect of my work. I also think working with artists that use nature as an inspiration is a great match for each of us. I worked with both Kate Doyle and Kate Savage on projects involving humans (me) interacting with elements of nature.

It was a typical rocky Maine beach, with patches
of bright green and bleached white algae.

Doyle took me out on a rocky beach in Maine during my visit home, where we spent hours fitting me in crevices, crouching on rocks, and trying to avoid the tide. After a long time in the city with very little exposure to nature, this kind of work was exactly what I needed. Lying motionless on the beach hearing waves I couldn't see crashing next to me was calming and terrifying at the same time, a reminder of both the danger and beauty of the natural world. Savage took me out in Venice, California to curl up in the trees lining the streets, all twining branches and gnarled roots. I was impressed with the way she found pockets of nature to relate to in an urban area, cars driving by as she snapped photos.

Roots like these wreck concrete sidewalks all over LA,
 another testament to the strength of the natural world

It was absolutely amazing, while modeling in these situations, how the setting affected my posing. When I settled down in the midst of either roots or rocks, my only concern was finding something comfortable. The way the roots curled would determine how my back turned, I could find vugs in the rocks to settle my hands or feet in. The resulting poses were beautiful. It was such a rush to simply settle down in these strange places, and the landscape would help me into something graceful and fitting. Beyond this, my more active poses were enhanced by the world around me. When we worked with more animalistic poses I used the ducks floating in the sea as prey, crouching and crawling, staring at them as Kate quickly took photos and sketched. Not only did they aid with the integrity of my movement, but ducks are much more interesting to watch than walls when you're holding a pose. The pressure of professionalism also helped me overcome fears of insects, spiders and whatever the homeless and canine population of Venice left on those trees.

I fell in love with modeling outside in Maine, and the opportunity to do so in the city helped me realize that I could find connections to the natural world outside of my favorite tiny forest in Lee. This kind of modeling I found to be really meaningful, a chance to touch on the art I spent a year writing about in college. I wrote almost excessively about the importance of accessibility in Environmental Art, and I think the presence of a human figure interacting with the landscape in such an intimate way adds to another's ability to understand or relate to it. As soon as either of these sessions result in finished work it will be posted up on here, and I'll be able to fully explore the connection of this experience to what I wrote about in my thesis.

Modeling Westside

When I first moved to Los Angeles, Simon Harling got me in contact with the artist Jon Swihart. He holds a monthly barbeque/potluck at his house, inviting artists and art-related folk in the area for food and an art-related presentation. I went one of the first weeks I was in LA, and ended up chatting with a woman named Kate Savage, who was from Northwood, New Hampshire. We exchanged info, and she promised to send mine to other artists she knew. Months passed, I fell into the exhausting food services cycle that kept me from pursuing other jobs. Luckily Jeremy Lipking ended up contacting me, and apparently was complimentary towards me to Kate. She booked me for a small class she was teaching over in Venice, CA.  On the appropriate day I borrowed the trusty Bunnicula (my friend's car) and stick-shifted all the way through rush hour to the beach.

I was early, which turned out to be a good thing as the studio where Kate was going to teach was insanely intriguing. It was the workspace of a few sculptors, one of whom worked with iron, making commissioned cabinets, TV stands, and props for his own fascinating photography. I had time to sit down, have a small glass of wine and snacks and talk with the artists about their work. The Venice art community's openness and dedication was very impressive. When the students arrived, it quickly became clear that most of them were friends or friends of friends of Kate's, and I knew the class was going to be as laid back and friendly as the city.

Most of the people in the class were drawing beginners, some abstract painters and sculptors, all with an interest in learning to draw. Only Kate exceeded their interest and enthusiasm as she jumped into gesture drawings, explaining the importance of finding the "movement" of the pose. She had told me before to keep the poses to simple contrapposto so the students could see weight shifting.

She would sketch examples in the margins
to demonstrate advice she was giving

She then walked around giving tips and pointing out elements that were less than successful. It was interesting to be on the other side of gesture poses; I kept wanting to leap off the model stand, push someone away from and easel and start sketching armatures.

Beyond that, the patience and passion that Kate put into her teaching was astonishing and admirable. She consistently would find something positive about everyone's work, even while they were bemoaning it's poor quality. She could instantly see what part of the exercise each person was getting and what part they weren't, then give them a different way to work more in line with their thought process. When it came to the long pose, I more than once was in so much pain I wanted to cry, but the thought of interrupting her eager conversations with her students seemed apocalyptic (Solution: timer). The constant refrain was "we'll find something that works for you." Prior to this I always had a little bit of a block between active artists and teachers, but this proved me wrong. Kate lending her knowledge and passion to others was inspiring; one of the best classes I'd ever seen. I remember finding out that the woman who taught me to draw was a practicing artist and being completely surprised, not because she wasn't good at both art and teaching, but because th concept had never occurred to me (I was also in high school). However, I am slowly learning artists have different skill sets, and clearly one of Kate's is teaching. What I loved was that she worked, not to train and foster artistic prodigies, but to spread appreciation and understanding of drawing and art.

Plus, there was cheese.

Return Home: Part Two

But seriously, shouldn't someone be feeding me?
Watercolor by Kim Grant

The rest of my time modeling back in New Hampshire was equally as inspiring as my first night back. Though I managed to overbook myself to the point of illness (it was the modeling, not the going out drinking afterward, I'm sure), I managed to stay happy and extremely busy. I had never modeled in the deep summer before, and lying naked on couches with fans pointed toward me made me feel like a rich ancient greek man. I kept wondering where the grapes were.

At one of my modeling sessions I was given a book, on the meaning and importance of figure drawing. There were multiple chapters revolving around the importance of a model, which I found as gratifying as I did surprising. Art modeling is such a niche market it's often difficult to find people that know what it is ("you mean, naked?!"), much less people that appreciate it. This book frequently referenced the Bay Area Model's Guild, which I am considering auditioning for, and is basically the pinnacle of organized art modeling.

Lucian Freud, Benefits Supervisor Resting, 1994

I read the chapter completely focused on modeling in Popovers, at the same seat where I frantically studied for the GRE last winter. It was really fascinating seeing another's view on the modeling profession. Some of it really hit home, and some I found to be a little off the mark, or idealized. There were many references to the necessity of staying in good physical shape. This may wax hypocritical, as I find staying in shape to be a necessity, but I do this for my own mental and physical health, not for my job. Part of what has kept me from the fashion industry is the disgusting focus on this false idea of "beauty" they have constructed.

Bernini, Aneneas, Anchises
and Ascanius
,  1550

What I love about art modeling is that artists are interested in the figure as a reference as to how the human body works. I understand that this means that a muscular, shapely model is more likely to display the musculature and anatomy of the body, but bodies with a lot of fat, sagging skin and worn down posture can be equally as interesting.

This is what I appreciate about figure drawing; the acceptance of the human body as it is. The intent is the explore the body, celebrate how difficult it is to capture on paper, not to display an unattainable ideal. Bernini's Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius shows the necessity of understanding a variety of figures. I can't claim originality in this comparison, but you can see Aeneas' bulging muscles against his father's wrinkled skin and son's soft, chubby arms. The artist's immaculate, beautiful rendering of the skin and musculature of all different ages of man shows his versatility. I feel the need to be in shape when modeling because my confidence is so pivotal to my demeanor and the poses I choose. This shouldn't have to apply to every other model, and I can't imagine figure art would be anywhere near as interesting, varied and meaningful if it did.

The Return Home: Part One

While I am aware that it has been multiple weeks since I returned from my time back on the East Coast,  the sheer amount of time I have been standing in restaurants since then makes it feel like no time at all, so I feel perfectly qualified to write about it. Returning to Portsmouth to model was surprising in a lot of ways. First, I didn't realize how much I had agreed to do, which was a lot. My "vacation" was really no such thing. The second surprising thing was how little this ended up bothering me. Yes, I constantly stressed that I wouldn't be able to see everyone I wanted to because I was zooming from gig to gig, but the work itself rarely bothered me.

Ladder poses were so much fun
Series by Charles Cramer

My first time modeling back home was the first full day I had back, and it wasn't really until that I realized how much it was a part of my life in New Hampshire. It was almost a necessary part of feeling like I'd come home. The great part was that everyone in the group that first night reads this blog at least occasionally. Being able to talk about my writing with people who not only inspired it but read and enjoyed it (so they said...) was very rewarding. I get very little critical feedback about what I write here, and it was very helpful to get some opinions. I realized what I really missed in LA was an artistic community with which I could talk about, or that would inspire me to think about, visual art. In the drawing group we discuss vases in the MFA, the latest celebrity gossip, even the internal politics of drawing groups. As an impassionate observer of the latter, I am especially entertained by the social workings of the people I work for. However, to go any further would probably wax impolitic.

One of the more interesting conversations from my first night back was the idea of commenting on the blog, which quite clearly never happens here. One theory attributed it to my more diplomatic tone (I'm still a fan of nobody knows how because Blogger is so complicated), which I emphatically attribute to my advisor at Wooster, who consistently encouraged me to remove all value judgements from my writing. He wanted me to focus on analysis rather than evaluation.

But seriously, how does someone
not want to go to a place that looks like that?
Kinkade, Garden of Prayer, 1997

As someone teaching the next generation of Art Historians this is a sensible approach, yet as I delve further and further into writing about contemporary art, historian could easily give way to critic. It was pointed out to me that evaluative statements are generally necessary for criticism.

Yet my wariness of committing myself to an evaluation of the art I write about continues. As I read over old class notes on Clement Greenberg and scoff at his tendency to separate art into "low" and "high" I can't help but feel uncomfortable about any concrete evaluation of art. I remember my eighth grade self and (here goes all my credibility) the Thomas Kinkade calendar she would pour over, dreaming of someday seeing that stream and gazebo glazed in gorgeous flowers. I won't fault myself for that anymore than I will Greenberg for his unceasing praise of the Abstract Expressionist art I found intellectually compelling yet more or less uninspiring. Taste influences the perception of art to such an extent I have a difficult time forgetting my one frustrated thought scrawled in a corner of my Contemporary Art notebook:

What I learned today: all art criticism is bullshit.

A Romp on the Roof

I haven't had much work modeling lately, and a week or so ago I decided that that, with multiple photographers in the building, I didn't have to get jobs or get paid to continue to model. I could join the collaboration of talent and creativity of my community in my own way. My friend Sam Miller, who is a wonderful photographer and enjoys taking photos of everyone in the building, agreed to find a cool place for us to take some pictures. That was the extent of our communication of each other's expectations. This is how I learned that you should define the point of the shoot before it happens. It quickly became clear that each of us expected the other to have had a plan for what we were doing. I had a wonderful time and the results were beautiful, but the situation was more of me being awkward and messing around rather than modeling.

I kept climbing on things,
Sam kept worrying I was going to die,
It was a pretty standard afternoon.

However, the results of shoot raised the question of the difference between messing around in front of a camera and modeling. There was less pressure, but I still had to get into the flow of the shoot to begin to feel comfortable. In art modeling there's a set amount of time to each pose. With the camera I can change positions any time, but it's a matter of recognizing how much time is appropriate for a photographer to choose an angle, take a light reading, focus etc. When a pose was especially interesting Sam was vocal about telling me to hold it, but he had better things to do than talk me through each movement.

I just really wanted this man there
the whole time.

After the shoot Sam uploaded the pictures and went through them with my roommate, who is a multitalented photo retoucher/actor/philosopher with experience retouching for companies like Victoria's Secret and American Apparel (not without some moral qualms). They went through the pictures and fooled around with the color and filters of some of them. I loved seeing what happened before and after a picture was taken to create the desired image. In a real shoot I would have had someone capable do my makeup, someone dressing me even, which all would have lessened the work that Johnny ended up doing, but he was still able to create something beautiful with very little preparation on my side of the camera or computer.

A retouched version of a photo - one of my favorites

Sam and I agreed to go out again, hopefully to some really beautiful stairs in Hollywood. Now that we know what each other are expecting it's a less awkward experience, though the self-consciousness of being in front of a camera is still shocking to me. Art modeling has time limits and breaks and structure, whereas this way of take photos is fluid and uncertain. I am always being observed when there is a camera around, constantly evaluating my movements, my poses, my facial expressions. It's thrilling in some ways, and very stressful in others.

Modeling in LA: Nora Gives In

It's 10:30 PM on a Tuesday, and I've just decided I have to get my own car.

I'm swearing under my breath and my hands have started shaking as I push in the clutch, try to get the car into reverse, and instantly stall out as I slide towards the curb. Without the time or patience to change the CD playing, the screaming vocals and roaring guitar solos of my friend's cousins' band are stressing me out even more. Once I finally manage to get close enough to the curb so she doesn't get a ticket, I stumble out of her car, shaking all over. I thought modeling was supposed to be meditative, calming even.

Not when you need the artist you're modeling to drive your car up the hill you parked on without thinking before you can leave, and continue to have to answer his well-meaning but ultimately embarrassing texts asking if you've managed to get home safe.

A few weeks ago an artist named Jeremy Lipking asked if I would be available to model for his painting class. After futzing around on his webpage for a while and consequently falling in love with his work, I said yes. That found me driving back from Agoura Hills (not a bus-adjacent location) in a stick shift I had driven three times before.

I love unfinished works - my legs just end,
and the glare in the photo is from wet paint

The modeling itself was great. There was a sweetheart of a gallery assistant/apprentice(?) that kept time, asked if I needed a heater (after January in New Hampshire - hah!), I got to wear a delightful floral patterned velvet robe that took all my effort not to steal and a mirror was set up across from the modeling stand so I was able to watch myself being painted. Watching seemingly random swatches of different colors transform into a figure under the tutelage of a talented artist was fascinating.

Working with new artists and groups is always a bit strange before you realize what their style is. I was so used to the "break when you feel like it" way of modeling that when I realized my sittings were to be timed it was a bit surprising. It took almost twenty minutes to find a pose, during which the assistant/apprentice girl was nice enough to assure me it always took this long and I was doing fine. I was surprised at how much I needed the encouragement. I felt much more like myself this time, not stressed out about whether or not I was doing it right.

I was nine when this was painted
and I'm still grumpy it's not me
Image from katherinedoyle.com

I also love the process of getting to know the space in which I'm working. Lipking's studio is stuffed with his work, which makes it extra interesting to model there. It was actually impossible to get bored there, surrounded by expressive portraits, ethereal nudes stepping into tide pools and even a small painting that could have been the artist himself in a canoe? The work is a little bit Sorolla in its calm, atmospheric feel merged with great technique and composition. I've started to judge artists by how much I'd like to model for them, and I definitely judged Lipking positively. Which is probably good, as I was modeling for him.

This is when I get into model jealousy. I had experienced it before with Kate, looking around her studio and seeing finished works with models that weren't me. It's this yearning to be one of those girls, to be eternally as beautiful as one of those paintings, or as lively, or as powerful. I hope someday to be in more than one finished piece. Just as I'm sure many artists wish to make a real difference to someone, so do I wish something I posed for (inspired if I'm lucky) to mean something to someone. Really it's the same instinct as when I look at great paintings from history, a desire to be part of something that affects a viewer.

Not Just Nudity

In my last post I mentioned that through modeling I had learned to find more meaning in figure art than I had previously. I have always found figure drawing to one of the most beautiful forms of art and having taken a class where I tried figure drawing heightened my enjoyment and appreciation for it. However, I always had a bit of the mindset that figure drawing had little to offer analytically. All I had experienced up to that point were themes revolving around feminism and gender politics. It is easy to jump to considerations of ideal female body types and the meaning of nudity in art while considering a figure work. The prevalence of female models over male models contributes to that element of the study of figure.

I remember when I was trying to decide what I would write about in my Independent Study at Wooster I considered writing about figure drawing - I found it to be some of the most visually pleasing art, so I knew I would enjoy the time spent choosing images and the like. I decided not to simply because I immediately wrote off figure drawing analysis to be exclusively feminist, and I was a little burnt out on feminist art history.

For some reason all the animal poses would
include those butterfly hologram platforms...
Pastel by Kate Doyle

Through modeling I was able to see more of figure art's depth. While many of the finished pieces I was involved with are more than just figure drawings, short drawings that I have copies of now have more meaning than I would have found before. A drawing of a quick, ten-minute pose by Kate illustrates this. This was one of my "animal poses," where I would try to get in touch with my inner beast, imagining stalking prey or hiding from a predator. Of course Kate could capture it beautifully. Through my own emulation and Kate's ability to portray it in her drawing, this one picture shows that even though we've built all this exclusively human culture around us, especially art, we still are a species of animal. We all have the instinct to fight or flight, and whichever you see in my crouched body and tense arms, we share it with other animals. Of course, I could be attaching much more significance to the work than it deserves, but all art carries with it the potential from someone to construct some more complex meaning.

It looks like you could just scoot me up
a few feet and I'd be in the picture
Watercolor by Kim Grant

Another example of this is a small watercolor by Kim. It shows how artists can include small elements to simple drawings for added significance. It shows a girl napping (I was actually asleep for a lot of that pose) on a couch, directly under one of Kate's lackadaisical picnic scenes. The composition almost gives it a feel of a time lapse, as if Kim's Nora is posing for the painting under which she is lying. It gives us a window into the artistic process, the beginning and ending of a painting's creation. The mood of Kate's finished work seeps into the mood of the drawing session, and history repeats itself. It also speaks to the function of the majority of figure drawing I have experience with - to practice and hone drawing skills. This study, an exercise in learning, is juxtaposed with the assumed culmination of studying drawing - a finished work of art to be sold. In reality Kim has other employment to occupy herself with, but no one would know by just looking at the work.

These are just two explanations of what I've been able to find in figure drawing that I would not have bothered to before. In thinking of grad school as a possible career option I am now seriously considering a thesis focusing on the figure. I would not have done so without my experience modeling. I now value a knowledge of making art as a crucial part of art history, as an intimate knowledge of the artistic process has opened my eyes to a myriad of new paths of analysis.

Benefits of Anonymity

As I'm sure many of you know (where did you get the link for this post?), Facebook is the source of most of my blog traffic. Since I only update once a week, I don't feel too bad about putting up a post about my update every time I do one. A few weeks ago I put up my little reminder post, hoping to get people to keep reading, and a cousin of mine commented on it. It was an innocuous comment with a disapproving feel, to the point of "your cousins ARE on Facebook and probably don't want to see this." While I apologize for anyone who saw something they didn't want to, that someone saw me naked while looking at my blog about nude art modeling does not bother me that much. However, I did find it interesting that this comment came at the time where I finally put up photographs. I found myself almost ashamed that I did such a thing, and then in a circular thought argument with myself about what the difference was.

I have now been posting painted, drawn, inked pictures of myself nude for over a month. I was never sure if I was going to post photos, but once I wanted to write about photography it seemed like the best way to illustrate my points. I have a lot of snapshots of me in interesting poses taken for reference which I decided not to post on this blog. There is no logical reason for me to avoid posting those pictures, they could illustrate my descriptions of poses better than I do with words. I avoid it because, while I have no problem having an internet trail of works of art I posed for, reference pictures seem unprofessional. Descriptions will have to do.

My theory is that different reactions to photographs and drawings circle around anonymity. In most of the pictures I post, my face is not depicted in a huge amount of detail. Even in the photographs I posted I am more or less unrecognizable. To artists trying to capture the human form or the feel of a pose the face means very little. It is so difficult to make accurate and such a small part of of the overall piece it would be a waste of time to bother with facial features. Most people shown in anything but portraits could be anyone. The face gives a figure an identity. I have my own face, "Model Nora" looks different every time. Art models don't need identities.

What I like is that this is true for models from every time period. We all have a connection in that we contribute to something without any recognition. We are the faceless bodies of countless Venuses and Eves, and women with guitars; forgotten players in the creation of masterpieces. While our puritan culture creates a system that will provide great compensation to anyone willing to sit around naked for a while, to really be fulfilled as a model you must love art. No one will know that is your painted figure unless you tell them and even after they know most people wont care. There's no glory in modeling, just the satisfaction of knowing you were involved in the creation of something beautiful. The pride in modeling comes from the knowledge that the work would be different without you involved in its creation.

Now, Digital vs. Film

I worked with a few different photographers on the east coast, one of which the very talented Carl Austin Hyatt. My favorite part about working with him was (besides that his work was just beautiful) his camera. It was a big old plate camera that basically had to be re-set up for every shot. His process resulted in a slow, relaxed, definitively creative photoshoot. The necessity of each shot being perfect was clear, and it was almost as if I were modeling for a painter. What I was saying in the last post about dynamic, dramatic poses that I only had to hold for seconds did not apply working for him. Setting up the scene and the pose took a while, and then I would have to hold the pose while he worked with the camera. It was often very uncomfortable after accidentally taking poses thinking I wouldn't have to hold them very long. Being draped backwards over the arm of a couch looks great, but try to hold it while a photographer adjusts and focuses the camera, reads the light meter, changes small details, etc., and suddenly you're pretty sure you're about to pass out.

Compare this to standing in front of a black curtain taking a pose, hearing a click, hearing someone say "okay," then taking another pose and doing it over and over again. I love that the medium of photography varies so greatly that two processes can be so completely different. Whether it is pencil, ink, watercolor or oil, traditional media basically requires the model to stay in one place for a long time so that the artist can have time to capture the atmosphere and feeling of the scene they are depicting. Working with Carl Hyatt had a similar feel for me, it was technological changes in the medium that made modeling completely different.

Generally a traditional artist develops the style of the work while the model is in front of him or her, adjusting the pose, the skin tone, the background as the paint goes onto the canvas. In digital the model and the pose is the basic canvas, and most of the conceptual tinkering occurs after the model has left in front of a screen. Gordon Pryzbyla showed me what he intended to do with his photos of nude models, that is, overlay the skin with other photos of textures taken from nature (bark, flower petals, etc). It was beautiful and fascinating, and barely needed a model.

Since photography has so many uses beyond the artistic, it's easy to forget how technological advances affect actual artistic photography rather than just giving some sorority girl an opportunity to "filter" a picture of her Starbucks Skinny White Mocha with an extra shot of caramel and whipped cream. Changing technology also affects something so well-established and relatively insignificant as an art model's style. Photography gives me the ability to move beyond being a Degas, or a Rubens, digital gives me the opportunity to move beyond O'Keefe, and into the realm of an anonymous figure with the mottled skin of a grassy field.Photography has been doing this all through history, consistently pushing the envelope of the artistic process. Oftentimes as a model you forget how much the process of the artist you are working for affects what you do, but with digital photography is it abundantly clear. Digital photography makes modeling more modern, more dynamic, more exciting, but less connected to the model, or the moment in which the picture was taken. Instead of freezing a moment in time or documenting an artistic idea, digital provides a base for artistic experimentation. The artistry is performed before and after the picture is taken, making the culmination of artistic thought not the moment when the picture was taken, but everything that came afterwards.

Multiple Mediums: Photography vs. Painting

As I've talked about before, the length of a pose is one of the most important factors in modeling. It's one of the things you think about most. How much time will your body twist around for, how long can you lean on that one arm: all these end up mattering a lot, not only to how comfortable you are, but to how you can stay still and return to a pose if need be. I was super-twitchy when I modeled last and kept changing the pose because it was so difficult to hold. I love short poses because I can do poses that are difficult to hold and it inspires me to be more dynamic. I save the static, subtle poses for when I have to hold them.

This is part of the reason I love photography modeling. Granted, I've done much less of that kind of work because I want to be careful, and not end up in one of those facebook ads about how you can find a "willing girl" at www.thisisbullshit.com only if you click on the clearly photoshopped girl in a bikini. The great part is that each time I've worked with a photographer they have had a different style and a different way of working. It's interesting because, unlike so many drawing groups, when you're working for photographers they are artists trying to create serious work. Most of my traditional media gigs were drawing groups, where generally people got together to improve their skills, not create sellable work.

Another difference between modeling for photographers and for artists using more traditional media was the amount of direction. Instead of making up all my own poses and having people work from them I was given much more of an idea what I should be trying to portray, what was working and what wasn't. This was especially true with Kate, who I did my first photography work with. I had been working with her in drawing groups for months already, so we already had an idea of the others' style, and I especially loved that Kate had modeled in the past. It gave her an understanding of what was possible and what wasn't, so that she would push me, but not beyond my limits. Kate would explain what she was going for, I would try to interpret it, and she would correct me as needed. It was a really smooth back and forth, and I may have been at my most confident as a model during those photography sessions with Kate (even if they were just forty-minute sessions squeezed in the cracks of each of our busy lives).

After only a couple of these sessions I finally managed to get in touch with Carl Austin Hyatt, a really talented photographer who worked in the Button Factory studios in Portsmouth. He was fascinating to work for, but I'll talk more about that in my next post. The last of my New England photography modeling was done in Newburyport, MA with Gordon Przybyla (check out his other blogs for pictures from the Newburyport drawing group, which had a lot of great artists), a really fun series of less-than-thirty-second poses. My work with him summed up what I preferred about photography modeling compared to slower mediums. I was able to be more creative, more dynamic, overall more interesting. It seemed like the model was more a part of the process, since the level of interpretation that is the artist taking pen to paper was removed. The only problem with this feeling of control came with the use of digital...

In Which Nora is Out of Practice

Two days ago I finally had the chance to model for the very first time in Los Angeles. A number of private artists were reconvening for a drawing group that had been on hiatus for a few months held at Koplin del Rio Gallery in Culver City. I had been in touch with the manager of the gallery since January, when Simon and Kate were sending my name to people who might need models. I visited the gallery when I got to LA, during a really amazing show that featured many local artists with a huge variety of work. The gallery looks amazing now as well - two solo shows featuring one living artist from North Carolina and a series of older works by Robert Bero, who worked in upstate New York. Modeling with his prints all around made me incredibly homesick.

I was nervous to model again. It had been two and half months, I'd put on a couple pounds since moving, and no matter how many times I repeated "you're just Rubenesque now," it wasn't helping that much. While I had stubbornly insisted that it wasn't just the fact that I was super-skinny making me a popular model in New Hampshire, I never believed it fully. In LA I would have to discover if there was anything more to my modeling than a body that showed anatomy well.

On the bus ride to Culver City I tried to think of all the Rubens nudes that I knew, but could only remember one. By the time I was on the stand, surrounded by artists ready with their pencils and paintbrushes, I still had no idea what I was going to do. All I could do was laugh at myself and think "just make it up."I was nervous to model again. It had been two and half months, I'd put on a couple pounds since moving, and no matter how many times I repeated "you're just Rubenesque now," it wasn't helping that much. While I had stubbornly insisted that it wasn't just the fact that I was super-skinny making me a popular model in New Hampshire, I never believed it fully. In LA I would have to discover if there was anything more to my modeling than a body that showed anatomy well.

And it was alright. My body was not prepared to model again, especially after a day standing behind a cash register in shoes I bought for ten dollars at H&M, but it managed. The short poses were fun, and I began to realize they are my strong suit. I get bored with poses easily and you can do much more interesting things when you only have to hold a pose for a minute.

Then came the long pose - an hour and half with breaks. I knew standing was a bad idea, so I tried to take an interesting sitting pose. Unfortunately I was a little rusty, and I broke one of my only modeling rules - do not support yourself with your arms in a long pose. I figured I was sitting up straight enough to not need support, and ten minutes in realized that, as I leaned my head back to give them some neck my body would move back too. It was either support with my arm or abs. I tried both, and I think it was the most painful long pose I've ever done.

But I held it. And emerged more confident it was not just the skinniness that made me a good model. Yes, it probably made me a better model, for the artists and for myself. The artists were able to learn how flesh showed over bone, see muscles working. I was running every day, and my body was stronger, able to hold more interesting poses. However, I now am sure there is more to it than looking good. In many ways this blog serves to legitimize that idea, to give the model an identity beyond the object, and to prove to myself and others that figure art allows the movement and often the spirit of a model to take precedence over her physical appearance.Then came the long pose - an hour and half with breaks. I knew standing was a bad idea, so I tried to take an interesting sitting pose. Unfortunately I was a little rusty, and I broke one of my only modeling rules - do not support yourself with your arms in a long pose. I figured I was sitting up straight enough to not need support, and ten minutes in realized that, as I leaned my head back to give them some neck my body would move back too. It was either support with my arm or abs. I tried both, and I think it was the most painful long pose I've ever done.