Up In Arms

I am keenly aware when I’m modeling that I have posing “tendencies”. I don’t try to fight it or anything. I just know that I make certain moves, gestures, and physical motions on a fairly regular basis. We all move uniquely. We all have mannerisms. Our bodies strike positions that come naturally to us and that we employ, unconsciously in some instances, to express ourselves and our physicality. A crowded dance floor is a good place to observe this phenomenon. An art model stand is even better.

Like most models, I have a couple of signature moves in my “repertoire” that recur often when I pose. One of them is raising both arms to my head. Then I either grab my hair and interlace it in my fingers, or just clasp at the wrists and rest them on my head. I tend to do this especially when doing standing poses, such as in this watercolor by Jordan Mejias. Now there are a few reasons for this. One is that it elongates the torso, and that action reveals the anatomy a little more, specifically the rib cage. Another reason is that standing poses generally don’t offer much in the way of negative space. If the arms are up near the head with elbows bent, it creates little triangles of negative space which artists enjoy. The last reason – and definitely the least thoughtful – is that I have a tendency to do it. It’s as simple as that. My body just has a predilection for it. I do it. It happens. And since I’m the model I guess that’s as good a reason as any 🙂

This painting by the Swiss artist and printmaker Felix Vallotton is an excellent example of the “arms raised to the head” move. It looks great. From 1906, Nude Woman Looking Into A Psyche:

Gustave Courbet’s Woman in the Waves:

I’m glad to know I’m not the only model who plays with her hair, although this lady’s silky mane is much longer than mine, and probably more manageable! William Adolphe-Bouguereau’s Bather from 1870:

Lifting the arms clearly adds interest to a vertical torso shape. But the gesture can also bring a lot to a reclined pose. I did it (with just one arm) in the photo that is posted on my About page. It looks equally interesting in this painting, Ariadne by John William Waterhouse. See how it makes the pose a touch more “active”? Your eye goes right to those arms:

Female Nude Reclining On a Divan, by Eugene Delacroix:

The “arms raised to the head” move is particularly well-suited to figurative sculpture, bringing more angles, jutting forms, and protrusions to this mesmerizing three-dimensional art form. (Always walk around a sculpture to take in its full breadth and depth). I took this picture of Rodin’s Awakening on my trip to the Philadelphia museums last month:

And this is . . . guess who? 🙂 Yes it’s me, doing the “arms raised to the head” move, photographed by my great friend and collaborator Fred Hatt:

11 thoughts on “Up In Arms

  1. KL Foster says:

    In my mind there is no more sensuous image than a woman running her hands through and then throwing back her hair. It is a scene well played out in movies and etched into our collective consciousness. A sexy move! With that thought in mind…I guess it speaks to your very nature.

    • artmodel says:


      The sexy move speaks to my very nature? Yay! Nice. I am flattered 😉 If only I didn’t look so damn serious in that photo.

      Thanks for your comments.


  2. Vishinsky Designs says:

    Yes there is something to all those photos. The arms up pose gives off different meanings. Like the first paintings her arms are up covering the face a bit. While the photograph of you has not the arms but the hair cover part of the face. These observations that you made are important and mean something. Like if a picture of you modeling is taken with your arms to the down to the side and another one is taken with your arms up and put side by side, people would look at them differently. You would think of the 2 photos as having different meanings, moods, and feelings.

    • artmodel says:


      Welcome to Museworthy! I couldn’t agree more that raised arms change the mood of a pose significantly. All those pictures would look very different if the arms were down at the sides. Take the Bouguereau, for example. It would be an entirely different painting if the arms were down.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. Andrew says:

    Great thought-provoking topic.

    Tendencies and mannerisms are part of a model’s style and personality, which I think is part of the experience of drawing “from life.” Posing in ways that come naturally have the added benefit of looking genuine.

    The downside of tendencies – if overdone – would be too much repetition and predictability. However, I think it is inevitable that poses and pose elements will be recycled. The artwork you have chosen all have arms up, and yet they are all different. Also, since classes and workshops are not drawing the same model every week, maybe this sense of repetition less apparent to the artists than the model.

    • artmodel says:


      So well said, as always. I was going to write about the repetition issue. I’m glad you brought it up. Yes, if a model is new to a group it doesn’t matter. But I pose very often for artists who have drawn from me many, many times, and I fear they have become TOO familiar with my moves! Perhaps they are too polite to say anything 😆

      I make a conscious effort to come up with new poses. However, my “regulars” keep happening. They’re unstoppable! But I guess it’s a strong testament to the power of mannerisms and our bodies’ organic impulses with regard to movement. Not just with art modeling but everything we do – walking, running, etc. So much of what we do is intrinsic, don’t you think? I’d say a good art model finds the balance between the natural, genuine poses and the deliberate “art modely” ones that serve an educational purpose for the artists. I, for one, try to mix it up.

      Great comments, Andrew. Thanks!


  4. Speaking of thought provoked; I wonder if ‘arms raised to the head’ might be an occidental cultural thing. I started thinking, while looking at your selection, that I’ve can’t remember ever seeing that pose in Japanese prints. Subsequently I just went through a number of them without viewing said pose. Of course my premise may still be false (probably is), but it’s fun perusing and pursuing it it.

    • artmodel says:


      I think you’re on to something. I don’t think your premise is false, especially since you did some thorough investigating. It could very well be that the raised arms move is a western phenomenon. But let me know if you ever encounter it in a Japanese print.

      Very interesting. Thanks!


  5. fred says:

    I think Jim is onto something too. Since he posted this I’ve had an eye out for traditional Japanese art with this pose. The closest thing I found was here: http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/Fan%20Prints%20of%20Women,%20Part%20I.htm – eighth image up from the bottom. But it isn’t quite the same, and the voluminous kimono changes the feel of it. I believe in Western art there’s an erotic aspect to showing the armpits.

  6. Andrew says:

    Maybe the Geishas didn’t want to mess up their carefully styled hair by running their fingers through it. The only “arms up” pictures in Fred’s link are of women fixing their hair (combing, etc.)

    Also, all of pictures in Fred’s link show women wearing kimonos. There is a protocol for how to wear a kimono. Basically, the elbows are supposed to be covered. Range of motion could also be a factor, as I believe kimonos are bound tightly.

    One other thing to notice about kimonos… A single woman has long fabric called fu-ri-so-de (4 syllables) hanging from her kimono sleeves. When she marries, the furisode is cut. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furisode

    The only nude scenes I’ve seen in ukiyoe (Japanese traditional art) are in bath house scenes like this one:

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