A Model’s Many Faces

Much is made about creating a “likeness” of the model. I hear it all the time while posing for classes; instructors correcting students’ work to better resemble the model’s features such as the length of the nose, the depth of the eye sockets, etc. And I certainly understand all that. I would say, though, that students need not feel dismayed when they don’t perfectly replicate the model’s appearance if they succeed in capturing something else in her – her character, her spirit, her demeanor, her movement, her energy. All those intangible qualities which define true LIFE drawing. The model is, after all, more than a collection of bones and muscles. The model is an individual with personality and presence.

Many times I have seen a finished painting or drawing of me and thought that while it is not a flawless “copy” of me, it nonetheless “looks” like me, in some way. And I appreciate that very much, maybe even more than a carbon copy. It sounds like a cliche, but when the model’s essence is there, the artist has done well.

This charming charcoal sketch was done during a private drawing session at the home of reknowned art critic Leo Steinberg. I see myself in it. Ro, the artist, really captured my mood and countenance at that moment. Thanks for the picture, Ro!

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Sleepyhead Degas Dreams

As tired as I am from a busy week, and a full Saturday of posing for Dan Gheno’s painting classes at the National Academy, I feel the desire to post something before I turn in for an awesome night’s sleep and rest my weary legs.

My mother – the artist in the family- is a huge fan of Degas, so I write this post affectionately for her. Degas was a man of many muses, mostly dancers and prostitutes. This pastel painting depicts a woman brushing her hair. I love those paintings of people in the middle of an ordinary act. A banal task gradually transforms into beauty when an artist picks up his brush and captures it. I’d like to pose like that sometime; bathing, getting dressed, etc. This scenario of a woman combing her hair would be fun to emulate. Except for maybe the prostitute part. I’ll pass on that! Here’s Degas:

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Message to the Met: let us draw!

Since working as a full time time art model in New York for some time now, I’ve become pretty well-informed of the life drawing sessions giong on in the city; the locations, times, organizers, etc. I have not posed for every last one of them, although that is my grand plan; to stand on every available modeling platform in the tri-state area before I’m forced into retirement by arthritis and osteoporosis (or, even worse, cellulite!)

Anyway, I’ve always found it curious that there is no life drawing offered at the Met Museum. I’ve heard about a group which meets to study and draw from the artwork in the permanent collections, but I’m not aware of any drawing session taking place there from a live model. If there is such a thing, then my trusty grapevine has failed me!

I visit the Met website pretty often, and the museum is without question a venerable, rich cultural institution with myriad offerings: lecture series, film screenings, talks, educational programs. But when I read the descriptions of these things, it occurs to me that they all have a certain dry, stuffy, academic quality to them. Very research and history oriented. Not to mention a little hoity-toity Upper East Side … well, you know what I mean. I’m getting off point here.

It seems like life drawing within the hallowed confines of the Met Museum would be spectacular. As a life model, I have fantasized about posing for artists in the Temple of Dendur. That would be so cool! And they just finished the reinstallment of the Greek and Roman Art collection, so that would be cool too; a living, breathing model posing amidst the stone statues, munching on some green grapes and drinking wine out of an urn like a decadent freak (ok, maybe that’s a little over the top). Anyway, I think I might make some inquiries and find out why the Met Museum, of all places, seems to have an aversion to life drawing. Sure they celebrate, in their cold maze of wings and galleries, the frozen, immortalized models of centuries past. But what about those of us who are here now, in the 21st century? We can pose with the best of them! We are muses too. And people want to draw. They always will. What better place than the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Looks like a few phone calls are in my future. Probably won’t amount to anything, but it’s worth a shot.

Rodin the Model Man

“I can only work with a model. The sight of human forms nourishes and comforts me.”
– Auguste Rodin

If the above statement doesn’t communicate beautifully the value and essence of my profession then I don’t know what words could. I’m all choked up. Thank you, Auguste!

When I was searching for an image to accompany this quote, I came across this incredible drawing by Rodin. I was going to post a sculpture picture, since Rodin is known predominantly as a sculptor, but this drawing of the Roman goddess Minerva stirred me the instant I laid eyes on it. It also reminded me of a discussion I once overheard while posing for a sculpture class at the Art Students League. The agreed-upon conclusion was that sculptors do superb life drawings. Granted, the discussors were all sculptors themselves. But if this drawing by Rodin is any indication, then their consensus is dead-on accurate.

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A Flaunting Fool

Today was what I call an “all college day”, meaning I worked only college jobs. In this case, NYU and FIT. I try to be mindful that the classes are full of young, less experienced artists. They are not the seasoned experts of Spring Studios, but rather, students still in the early stages of the difficult process of learning to draw. I can’t draw to save my life, so I have nothing but respect and envy for those willing to confront such an undertaking. 20 years old or 40, figure drawing is challenging!

So, careless me, miss art model pro full timer, performing like a showoffy peacock, inflicted some incredibly difficult poses on the FIT evening life drawing class. I feel a little bad. With severely foreshortened legs and arms protruding at them at all angles, I sensed they were struggling mightily. Not that they should be shielded from more advanced work (how are they supposed to learn, after all? You don’t know if you can do anything unless you DO IT. That’s my philosophy). My concern, however, is that it could create frustration, which could then lead to discouragement. That’s something I don’t want to be responsible for. In any case, I think I threw them in into the deep end of the pool, so to speak. What was I thinking?

So to redeem my thoughtless, shameless bravado, my sincere message to all the budding life artists out there is, “YOU CAN DO IT! JUST KEEP PRACTICING!” And if your model is offering contorted pretzels and impossible theatrics, just assume she’s in an odd mood, blowing off steam, had too much coffee, or just came from a yoga class and is feeling extra limber. Don’t take it personally!

The Allure of Dora Maar

It’s impossible to fully convey or discuss the complex figure that was Dora Maar, muse to Picasso, in a single post. An accomplished photographer and painter in her own right, Dora carried on a love affair with Picasso for almost a decade. They met at the Cafe Deux Magots in Paris when she was 26 years old. She was intelligent, passionate, and socially-conscious. Her emotionally troubled nature caused Picasso to call her a “woman in tears”. From this striking photo, it’s easy to see why Picasso, or any artist, would be moved by her beauty and powerful, captivating presence. A muse like no other.

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A Day Without Modeling

So Sunday was my day off this week. Nothing unusual for me or millions of other people in fact. For me, though, a day off generally means three things: staying clothed, staying in Queens, and trying to stay inspired. I admit that while most people look forward to Sundays, or whatever their day off happens to be, I am always a tad uncomfortable with the prospect of a posing-free day. That empty, blank box in my weekly schedule jumps out at me like a giant void. Sure I love the rest and leisure, I’m not totally crazy! But a mild feeling of sadness and disconnect lurks in the back of my mind during off days. What am I supposed to do with myself? Ok, I’m maybe a little psychologically dependent on my job. Yes, I have an identity apart from being an artist’s model, I swear! But the work gives me so much, which is why I feel it my obligation to give so much in return.

So what did I do today? I filled my birdfeeder with more seed and I was barely back in the house before a feeding frenzy ensued. Then I went to my Mom’s house for a family get-together. It was my brother’s birthday. I asked my four year-old niece what she planned to dress up as for Halloween and she offered three answers, “Belle! And a gyspy! And a movie star!” Apparently the final decision is still pending. It’s ok, she has a month. I played with my Mom’s old, senile dog, printed something on the computer for my Aunt Iris, and looked at pictures of my late father who is deeply missed. Then we all suffered through a heartbreaking Met game which ended their season in a way one can only describe as a devastating collapse.

It’s evening now, and I’m back to work tomorrow. I see my bookings for the week: the Studio School, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, SVA, and a ride on Metro North up to White Plains to pose for a cool group of film animators who like to draw from a model one night a week. Not bad. I stretched, did some yoga, took my vitamins, and gave myself an intensive hair conditioning. I’m ready.

Raise your hands!

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my art modeling is not to neglect- or overlook- the significance of arms and hands in a pose. For a while I was always thinking torso, torso, torso. (Not completely my fault, by the way, since instructors are constantly referencing the torso when they teach. And I pay attention!) But I know now that arms and hands express gracefulness, elegance, emotion, and purpose more than any other parts of the body. What I mistakenly treated as mere utilitarian limbs, have now become major players in some of my best poses. And my private work with Dan Gheno has taught me a great deal about the expressiveness of hands.

This drawing by Fred Hatt features a model with unusual and interesting hand/arm placement. The model is not me (if only I were that curvaceous!), and her pose is memorable. No wonder Fred was inspired by it.

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Lost in thought

I just got home from working an art modeling triple. Yes, you read correctly – a triple! Two shifts of figure drawing at the Studio School on 8th Street, morning and afternoon, then a long subway ride up the Lexington Line to the National Academy for evening portrait drawing. I’m physically tired for sure, but I think a good portion of that is attributed just to travel exhaustion.

And though my legs ache and a cramp is still pinching in my lower back, it’s my mind that requires the most decompression right now. Why? Because during all those hours and hours of posing in quiet art studios, holding still in one place for ten or twenty minutes at a time, you are trapped with your own thoughts. Like a hostage. And that, my friends, is quite possibly the most challenging, unsettling, and crazy aspect of this job. Many times, curious artists ask me, “What do you think about while you’re posing? Don’t you get bored?” The answer: sometimes. but not as often as you might think.

During posing, the art model watches the artists, but not too much to avoid the “darting eyes syndrome”. Or the model observes her surroundings; every detail of the room to the point of minutae, like the paint drippings and splatters on the floor. I once noticed blue paint splatters on an exit sign over the door, a good ten feet off the ground and spent five minutes wondering how that could have happened. I also noticed that the ceiling of the big drawing room at the Studio School looks like a spaceship.

Or the model contemplates life, and that’s when things get personal and confusing and emotional. I spent an entire class last week thinking about the ex-boyfriend I ran into recently, and about how good he looked and then started to ponder whether I should give him a call. This is a person who caused me a great deal of heartache, and here I was posing for work actually considering calling the guy! Thank god for the timer beeping loudly at the end of my pose. That little gadget promptly snapped me out of my momentary insanity.

Less drama-filled and much more mundane are my thoughts of errands I need to run and housechores I’ve procrastinated and bills I forgot to mail. Thrilling stuff. But hey, I’ve organized a lot of my life while posing quietly and motionless for art classes. Really, if it wasn’t for art modeling I’d never remember to renew my subscription to Yoga Journal Magazine. And that’s important!

So if you’re an artist and you’ve ever wondered what’s going through the model’s head while she’s posing, here are the possibilites in a nutshell: the origins of paint splatters and broken easels, past (or present) romantic woes, and grocery lists and ConEd bills. Hopefully there’s no visible evidence of any of these thoughts in the drawings!

Lying down on the job

There is something so classic and timeless about a reclining pose. What’s interesting is that people sometimes assume that a model prefers to recline because it is easier than other poses – like we can just close our eyes and fall asleep for 20 minutes. Models do that, I know! (Hopefully without snoring). But I try not to fall asleep while reclining. Besides, the best reclining poses in my opinion are the ones with a beautiful twist in the torso, and when twisting like that, the pose is much more difficult and strenuous. Cramps are inevitable. It’s far from napping. But it’s all worth it, I feel, as evidenced by this lovely pencil drawing by Jon Rettich. This is me at the Salmagundi Club, Monday night sketch.

Posing as alternative medicine

This is that time of year, change of seasons and all that, when we can easily get sick. I woke up today feeling awful. Had a terrible night’s sleep. More troubling was that I felt lightheaded and a little queasy. I thought, “oh great. now I’m catching a cold”. Art modeling is not one of those jobs you can perform well feeling sick, with all the moving around, balancing, and the pressure of being “present” for the class. And the nudity, don’t forget the nudity! A bleary-eyed, near-nauseous art model is not exactly the most inspiring of subjects, wouldn’t you say? So I had to work at SVA this afternoon and I was slightly panicking as I made my way there. The subway made me feel sicker and the chaos of 23rd street made it even worse. What was I going to do?

An energy drink, I thought. Better yet, a power juice with loads of extra ginseng and spirulina and bee pollen, etc. So I got a 16 ounce juice concoction and slurped it down as I hurried my way to SVA. I felt like I could faint.

There I was, in class, getting undressed, trying to steady myself from an impending and inevitable cold. The students came filing in. Then the instructor. I have to pose for these people! I want to do well! And I did.

Once I was up on the platform, my timer set, my assignment to do 20 one minute gesture poses in quick succession, everything fell into place. The art modeling gods were smiling down on me, and I struck clean, elegant, expressive gestures for the students. I thought “wow!” This is going great. They were focused, serious, curious. And I was at the center of their learning process. No fainting, no shaking, no stumbling, no dizziness. It was like a miracle!

So what’s the point of all this? Maybe it’s that when you’re lucky enough to have passion for something, and get paid to do it, other forces take over in the face of adversity. Forces which allow you to rise to the occasion and do well. Because it matters so much. Because others are depending on you. Because you still have FUN doing the thing you love, and that kind of inherent joy is no match for a little head cold. Ok, flu and pneumonia maybe not! But a “touch” of something, no big deal.

Who knows, maybe it was the juice with the ginseng. I doubt it, though. Ginseng is good, but passion is better.

Hello friends!

I have just spent an embarassing two hours setting up my blog because I am one of those ridiculous people who, when confronted with trivial “options”, falls into a state of indecision and confusion. I mean really, how significant are “widgets”? I suppose I’ll find out. For now, I’m just a virgin blogger with a slow computer and high hopes. Ok, that sounds like a bad combination! But as long as I have fun and contribute at least something useful, original, humorous, thoughtful, and personal to the blogosphere, then I will not have failed too miserably.

I’m a professional art model here in the Big Apple. I work full time and spend my days riding the subway from job to job, posing for classes, making friends in the art community, and discovering that my lifestyle and experiences are unique in many ways. Art modeling is a more rewarding profession than one might think, and I hope to share much of it with you. I’ll post drawings when I can and info about exhibitions, classes, gallery events, etc.

And now it’s almost 3:00 in the morning and the School of Visual Arts is expecting me to be well-rested for tomorrow. Goodnight all!