Advice: How to be a Life Model

By Erika Moen on December 25, 2011

Erika Posing for Painters in 2008

Back in the day before becoming a self-employed full time artist, I used to supplement my day job’s income by being a life model. For several years I posed for artists once to a couple times a week all over Portland. For any of you aspiring life models, here’s some of my knowledge I acquired during that time. (This entry was originally posted on my now-abandoned LiveJournal a few years ago)

DISCLAIMER: This is just how I did things, my word is not the law!

How to Get Nekkid
for Art (And Money)

Drawings of Erika by Lee Moyer

How Do You Find Places to Model?
Cold call!
Look up the schools and studios in your area and just give them a call. Ask if they need a model and give them a brief description of yourself (age, sex, height, weight, body type)

Do I Need a Resume?
I’ve heard of some places that like to get a picture + your measurements, but I’ve never run into it myself. So, no, no resume needed. Unless a place asks for one, I guess!

How Much Is a Model Paid?
Schools (in Portland, OR) pay $40 for three hours.
Private studios pay $40 for three hours plus tips, so you can make anywhere between $41 – 80, depending on how generous (or not) people are.

How Do I Prepare to Model For the First Time?
Attend a life drawing class as an artist first. Life modeling can be painful, but drawing a bad model is BRUTAL. Find out what kind of poses you enjoy drawing, what behavior/poses you don’t appreciate, and then incorporate that knowledge into your modeling sessions.

Practice with some friends!

Do I Need Prior Experience?
Practicing with friends does count ;) But no, I’ve drawn plenty of models that were doing it for the first time. You prolly won’t be faaaabulous the first time, but just take the plunge anyway.

What Typically Happens at a Life Modeling Session?
Generally classes are three hours long and break down like this:
15-20 one minute poses (also called ‘Gestures’ or ‘Warm Ups’)
5 five minute poses
2-3 ten minute poses
2-3 fifteen minute poses
1-3 thirty minute poses

Sometimes a class is one long pose, sometimes it’s three hours of one minute poses, but generally you can expect a combination of the above. Expect a 5-10-15 minute break between sets.

How Do I Make Up Poses?
Life modeling is not like photography modeling, it’s not about Being Pretty. You need to create engaging poses with your whole body that you can hold for 1, 5, 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes. Practice at home, see how long your body is comfortable holding different kinds of poses.

Keep it interesting by rotating through modeling low (reclining, crouching), medium (bent over, not at full height) and high (standing).

Think about the negative space around your body and the shapes you’re creating in it.

For the love of God, TWIST. Even if you’re just turning your head, a pose becomes 600% more interesting when the focus of your figure is not all pointing in the same direction. Hm, I’ll have to make some diagrams to illustrate this. For now: Hip Jut! Asymmetry! TwistTwistTwist!

Warm Up Gestures of Erika by Ron Chan

How Do I Hold Still That Long?
It DOES get painful. Personally, I can go up to 15 minutes before it starts to hurt and then after that it’s just gritting my teeth through it.

Use this time to be calm, to sort through your thoughts, mentally write your grocery list or plan out the stuff you have to take care of once you’re out of class. I compose comic scripts during long poses.

Also, counting!

Oil Painting of Erika by Dawn

It’s incredibly easy to forget how long you’ve been in a long pose, so you can try to keep track by counting out the seconds and minutes. …Okay, that sounds a little OCD, but honestly, it does make the time go faster. I keep track of the seconds by counting “one (one thousand), two (one thousand), three (one thousand) …”
Once you’re into the first minute, keep track by saying the minute first and then the second; One one (one thousand), one two (one thousand), one three (one thousand)…

I find that helps keep me from getting too squirmy when I’m wondering how long till can I finally change this pose.

What Do I Do With My Face?
Personally, I just let mine be neutral. Trying to keep a specific expression gets reeeeeally painful and awkward super fast. But if you can do it, more power to ya!

What Do I Do if My Limbs Fall Asleep?
I don’t know if this actually works or if it just kinda keeps my mind from focusing on the pain too much, but flex your muscles during the pose. Otherwise, just suck it up, bitch. Your limbs will fall asleep. If a pose gets unbearably painful, speak up and tell the class something like “Hey guys, I’ve got a cramp that I need to shake out for a sec.” and then try to keep the majority of your body still in the pose while you deal with your sleeping limbs.

When you’re resuming the pose, ask the class to correct you if any of your fingers or whatever are out of their original place.

What if I Get Aroused?
I… don’t know? I’ve heard of models not being asked back if they pop a boner. But to avoid the boner-popping in the first place… jeez. I dunno. Think of the Queen?

Charcoal Drawing of
Erika by Steve Lieber

I’d Like to Model, But I’m Not in Good Enough Shape
Artists need models of ALL SHAPES AND SIZES AND ELASTICITIES AND HAIR CUTS AND BODY TYPES AND AGES. The whole point of life drawing is to get first hand experience drawing the human body– NOT The Idealized Perfect Body of a God on Earth. The HUMAN Body. Artists actually enjoy and look forward to drawing Not-Perfect-20something-Year-Old-Athletes.
So for fucks sake, DO IT.

Is It a Problem to Have Tattoos?
Nope! They may not get drawn, but they’re certainly not going to turn you away because of piercings and tattoos.

How Do I Cancel A Session?
CALL IN ADVANCE. Give at least a week’s notice, more if you can swing it. Just make sure you let them know as SOON as you know you won’t be able to do it. Life models are infamous for being completely flakey. Don’t be the Flakey Model! Don’t fuck over a whole class of people, it really sucks.

Let the instructors know that you’re available to fill in last minute for any models that do flake out, that will make you popular pretty quick.

Oh Shit! I’m Stuck in Traffic!
CALL THEM and let them know how soon you’ll be there. I write down the studio’s number in my appointment book for just such emergencies.

An Artist is Making Me Uncomfortable
Tell the instructor/leaders of the session, they should have words with that person. If you’re brave, tell the culprit off yourself! This advice does not work when it is the instructor whose being a douche. Follow your gut instinct and do not stay in an unsafe situation.

Aaaand, for you drawers of models, I’ve got some advice for you too!

How to Treat Your Life Model

How Does Tipping Work?
If there is a tip cup out, PUT SOME MONEY IN IT.

–For a single session:
$1 is good, but no less than that.

$2 if the model was exceptionally awesome.

You can go higher, but only if you’re harboring a secret love.

–For a multiple-sitting session:
For these, you only need to tip once, on the final session.
Tip at LEAST $1 per session that the model sat for. Three sessions = AT LEAST $3, six sessions = AT LEAST $6

But really, you should tip a dollar or two higher than that, since long poses fuckin’ HURT. Even if the model starts with the most comfortable pose possible, their joints will be SCREAMING by the end.

Can I Take Photos?
Only AFTER you’ve received consent from the model. Then, pay them.

I Think the Model is Into Me, Should I Go For it?

Please, please no.

Don’t be that douchebag.

If you bump into each other OUT of class (And not, like, five minutes after class is out and you’re waiting in the hall. I mean a week later at the grocery store), then that might be okay. Maybe. Possibly. But probably not.

Alright, all you potential models! Go out there and have fun!

Erika Moen’s Posters, books, prints and original artwork

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