It was probably ill-advised, because yes even experienced life models make ill-advised decisions on occasion. During a session at Minerva Durham’s new drawing studio on Broome Street, after a few sets of short poses, the time had come for me to do a 20 minute. I had been blabbing with the artists during the break and hadn’t even taken a moment to plan out my next pose. So when the timer buzzed to signal the end of the break I tossed off my gown, hopped onto the platform and sprawled out in a twisty, arched back reclining pose. I reached back to grab my ankle, because I’m a lunatic. If my thoracic spine could speak it would’ve said, “Girrrlll, WTF are you doing???” I used no pillow, no cushion…. just me on the hard platform. I figured I’d just power through the 20 minutes and get it over with (my fellow art models know exactly what I’m talking about). And I felt pretty fine during the pose. Same old same old, been there, done that … for ten years now, like an old pro. So no worries, right? Well, when the timer buzzed again at the end of the 20 minutes, I began to gently unravel myself. And the moment I attempted to straighten my torso from the weird, contorted mess I had created … it happened …. AAAHHHHHH!!! Ow ow ow ow … noooo!!!!! No no no no … don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Stop! Stop! Please!.. I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I’m sorry God for everything bad I’ve ever done … I’ll never do any of it again! I apologize!!! Mind you, this wasn’t the typical art model’s “ouchy” discomfort that we regularly experience as part of the job. We’re used to that. This was a searing, ghastly torture. Like a serrated knife jammed in my back. This was pent up musculoskeletal rage getting its revenge on me after years of bodily abuse. My baaaack!!!! 😡

As the artists got up from their chairs to stretch on the break (which amuses us models) I remained reclined on the platform, staring up at the ceiling, moving my individual body parts ever so slowly while still bargaining with God to just, please, let me stand up straight. I did. But then I had to bend over to put on my gown, and the back knife got in one final jab when I did that … I’m not done with you yet, woman! Bam!

Man, what the hell was I thinking? I should know better. But I’m a fool about 40% of the time in my life … so there’s that.

Vaintas (detail) by Leo Putz, 1896:


The number of people who suffer from back pain is, what, eight zillion or something? So there’s nothing special about me, except perhaps that I’m a full time artist’s model. There are other professions that entail truly back-breaking work, of course. And I suppose that too many of us take our backs for granted. Whether it’s brought about by improper lifting, lack of exercise, or even sleeping on a bad mattress, back pain is a total drag. Mine is in my upper back, between the shoulder blades, and it’s not going away. I lifted some plates to place them on a high shelf in my kitchen … ouch! There it was. I raised my arm in the shower to use the hand held shower head … ouch! There it was. I bent over to pick up a FedEx box outside my front door … ouch! There it was, again. My new “friend”.

A Female Nude, watercolor, Anders Zorn:


Just three days after the back attack I was back on Broome Street, modeling for a full session long pose. Seated, holding myself up straight, nothing wild or crazy, I managed fine … and I’m grateful. My friend Jean Marcellino was there and she created this lovely pastel:


I had an appointment with a physical therapist today, and he told me not to be alarmed. It was my first time ever having PT. He worked on my vertebrae and crunched me and thumped on me and did a lot of manipulation. Not bad! I hope this works, because I have more modeling to do. A lot more 🙂

24 thoughts on “Backstabber

  1. Dave says:


    I have felt your pain, but not quite as bad as you have it. I hope there’s no lasting damage. PT is a wonderful thing.

    • artmodel says:


      Yes, PT is a totally wonderful thing! I’ve had two appointments since I published this post and I’m already feeling the results! Consider me a convert 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. artmodelandrew says:

    “even experienced life models make ill-advised decisions on occasion”

    So true. Every once in a while I get into a pose and regret it after a couple of minutes… but it’s too late to change your mind after people start drawing. So I “power through” as you say, until the end of the allotted time.

    You’d think with years of experience we’d know what poses will be trouble. But I think there’s a drive to keep things interesting–to do something different–especially when modeling at places where the regulars have seen your staple poses before.

    Also, every studio is equipped a little differently, so a pose that worked while leaning on a 5 foot block last week might end up being substantially more stressful while leaning on a 4 foot stool this week.

    I’ve never experienced the sharp back pain you described, but I did have a pose from hell last year, and I committed to it for four Thursday evenings of four hours each. My left arm first experienced pain then numbness during every 20-minute segment. (I normally do 25’s but just couldn’t bear it with this pose.) I only blame myself. I could have done an easier pose, but I figured if the artists were investing 16 hours in their paintings I wanted to do something cool. I was so glad when that was over.

    • artmodel says:


      “But I think there’s a drive to keep things interesting–to do something different–especially when modeling at places where the regulars have seen your staple poses before.” <– yes, this! I'd feel so complacent and lazy if I didn't make an effort to pose 100% of the time, no matter how well-regarded I am as model, or how familiar everyone is with me. And how many boring sitting-on-a-stool poses are we supposed to do? Ho-hum.

      I can relate to the description of your "pose from hell". I feel you, friend. I'm sure the artists appreciated your toil and commitment. Kudos to you.

      Thanks for your great comments!


  3. rmmauro01 says:

    Sorry to hear about the pain. I’ve been there, if only from a minor car accident. Nothing serious that months at a Chiropractor couldn’t fix, then I had pain for years. Only exercises for the back and built up muscle fixed it. I always felt for the models while drawing, at first it looked easy just sitting or lying there. But after I had one describe to me some of the details of posing and the issues that yoga and meditation helped her with, did I began to see with each model what they went through. While in Florence last fall taking studio lessons in drawing did all the memories of the models I had worked with years ago come back to me. One of the Florentine models reminded me of you with her discussions of Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant. She even kinda looked like you. Unfortunately my life drawing techniques are really rusty, but my portrait skills have improved dramatically. The drawing of you that you posted was really remarkable. I strive to be half as good as your friend Jean, thanks for the link to her website. It would be amazing to study under someone like her. Thanks for your posts. I’ll say a prayer for your back. Feel Better!

    • artmodel says:


      I’m so glad that you came to understand what models have to endure, because it can be deceiving, like you said. There are times when a pose is quite comfortable and it is “just lying” there. But many times it’s more than that. All depends on the set up, the support, and the model’s physical abilities. That model who talked about yoga and meditation is spot-on. I love yoga, been doing it for years.

      I’m sorry you had lingering pain from the car accident. The physical therapist I’m seeing has already showed me some great back exercises too. Hope they help me like they helped you.

      That’s cool about the Florentine model who was a Led Zeppelin fan! Now if only art classes would allow us to blast Zep during drawing sessions – that would be perfect 😉

      And yes, Jean is an amazing artist. She’s been drawing me for many years, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to know her and work with her.

      Thanks so much for your comments, and keep drawing!


  4. petelatics says:


    Lovely pastel image

    Pete X

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Dennis says:

    Oh man that sounded painful! It is amazing what we models do to our bodies. I know that I will need a hip replacement at some point because of many of the poses I’ve taken. But hey – we’re supposed to suffer for our art right? 🙂

    • artmodel says:


      And suffer we do! That’s rough about the hip replacement, hope you won’t need it anytime soon. I had shin splints a few years ago, maybe from all those long standing poses!

      Please take care of yourself, and keep on modeling. Thanks for your comments!


  6. ” But I’m a fool about 40% of the time in my life … so there’s that.” You’re doing better than me . . .

  7. Bill says:

    I hope you’re OK. Wow. We can swap PT stories, I suppose. My best advice is to do everything the PT says — even after the back starts to feel better again. Just give yourself time, okay?

    And there are little things you can do. I used a pair of spaghetti tongs to pick things up. For longer reaches, I straightened a wire coat hanger but kept the hook at the end. And ask the PT lots of questions about applying heat and cold, etc. And shame people into giving you a seat on the train. And teach Jessie to fetch.

    Take care.

    • artmodel says:


      I’ve been trying to teach Jessie to not just fetch, but cook me dinner and run me a hot bath. Progress is slow-going so far 😆

      But seriously, you’re so right about PT. I really like the guy I’m working with, very much. He does a maneuver on me that was mildly terrifying the first time he did it. Heard my vertebrae *crack* loudly! But afterwards, I felt so much looser and lighter. Cool stuff.

      Thanks for your comments, and feel better yourself!


  8. artwithnudity says:

    This will pass I promise, have been there although not related to modeling. I think it might also be age-related (no offense)…could remain a weak spot though. I like your personal style of writing, thanks for the post

    • artmodel says:


      No offense taken! I agree about age-related. I don’t recall ever having even a twinge of back pain in my younger days. And I do sense that this will continue to be a weak spot despite PT treatments. We’ll see how things go.

      Thank you for your comments and kind words about my writing 🙂


  9. Ouch! Back pain is the worst. You think you’re okay, you make a simple move and –WHAM!!– your back decides to turn into Torquemada on you. My sympathies.

    PT will probably help. I had it for a knee injury a few years ago. I was suspicious of the simple exercises he gave me to do, but they really did work.

    Meanwhile, no more pretzel-poses, Young Jedi Art Model. 🙂

    • artmodel says:


      I love “Jedi Art Model”! 😆
      Appreciate your sympathies. I knew this blog post would be relatable to many of my readers. Our bodies serve us well but are not made of steel. Can’t overstate the importance of exercises, stretching, and overall wellness. I’m glad your exercises helped you! I’m down with PT.

      Thanks for your comments!


  10. Jim O'Neil says:

    “As the artists got up from their chairs to stretch on the break (which amuses us models)”

    Hey Claudia, don’t diss us that only sit and sketch, we hurt too you know! -grin-

    OK, OK, anyway, I must admit the hurtin’ from sittin’ for me is very much age related.

    Seriously though, about the interesting poses as you and Andrew discussed above, we do thoroughly appreciate your (Your, in this case, being all models.) commitment , and at least to a certain extent, realize the cost to you of providing us with them.

    Marcellino’s pastel is a delight!

    • artmodel says:


      Ha! Yes I do know that the artists feel the discomfort from sitting in those shoddy life drawing chairs. I just always have a chuckle when I see them get up on breaks and stretch. It’s like, “How do you think WE feel?” 😆

      Thanks for expressing appreciation for what we models endure. I have no doubt that the vast majority of artists respect what we do. Many are kind enough to share those feelings directly … always nice to hear.

      And glad you liked Jean’s pastel. She rocks!

      Thanks Jim. Great to hear from you!


  11. Derek says:

    Oh dear
    I am sorry to hear this . the feeling is mutual. I had back problems meself and I recently had back surgery. So far I had 5 back surgeries the first one was cancer related and and old injury from playing football (aka soccer) herniated disc that is. I hope you get well. I am now well. I feel your pain. The position that you have taken must be a toughie I must bet.
    Anyway I like to compliment on the artist who did a splendid job on the pastel piece on you. Anyway how are things with the new studio that you are in with Ms. Durham and how is she these days?

    God bless you luv and get better

    • artmodel says:


      My back issues are clearly nothing compared to what you’ve experienced. And I’ve known a couple of people who’ve had herniated discs, like you. Doesn’t sound pleasant! But you are doing great. I’m sending prayers for your continued strength and health.

      I’m glad you asked about Minerva and her new studio. I’ve been planning a blog post about the transition to the new space but have been trying to gather pictures I’m expecting from a friend (still waiting for those), and some articles. Look for it in the near future. Coming up on Museworthy.

      Thanks for commenting!


  12. Grier Horner says:

    Nice column, as usual. You write so well. And the pastel sketch of you is very nice. Wish I could do as well.

    • artmodel says:


      I try my best to present engaging writing (split infinitives notwithstanding!) I’m happy you enjoyed this one, and that you liked Jean’s pastel.

      Thanks for your comments!


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