The word of the moment is professionalism. The basic reality of figure drawing is that social norms regarding nudity are going to be violated. An adult is going to “present” their completely nude body to a room of completely clothed artists for the purpose of creating art. This suspension of normal “modesty” guidelines is possible because of widely agreed-upon rules of conduct. Nudity is always confined to the pose itself, and everyone acts in an adult manner with great respect for the model. The model, in turn, is freed to present the best poses possible.
Good behavior for a model begins at the doorway. An attitude of professionalism and propriety should be a standard presentation. You should always be on time, and never cancel if humanly possible. When speaking with professors or coordinators, the model should always be warm and deferential. A model who is clearly happy to be there, and who is a professional in all their actions, will be a valuable asset to any draw. Once present, the next basic protocol issue is the elephant in the living room… nudity!
Yes, you are going to present your naked body to others to look at, and to draw. Yes, the artists present are going to look at your naked body, and examine it intently for shapes and shades and lines and values. Basic protocol makes this possible. Let’s start with the wardrobe. When the artists encounter the model, he/she should always be dressed in a robe tied properly, and slippers. This is the model’s work “uniform.” It is only proper for the model to dress or undress completely out of sight of the artists. If there is no changing room, the model should go to the closest bathroom, and change there.
The model’s body should always be clean, and the model should be consciously aware of everyone’s personal space. Artists (especially new artists) are often a slight bit nervous around a model who is wearing nothing but a robe and slippers. Every professor will tell you the horror story of the creepy model (usually male) who violated this protocol. Their careers as models are usually short-lived.
Talking with artists should be kept to a minimum for the same reason. Exceptions to this protocol include community draws where the social atmosphere is more relaxed, and also in communication directly with an instructor, which should be immediate and warm. It is considered bad form for students to converse with a model, so interaction with them should be kept light and brief. The exception to this is with students who have drawn a model repeatedly and begin to establish an artist/model relationship.
Basic protocol for poses is simple. At the moment a pose is set to begin, the model comes out of their robe, mounts the dais, and sets the pose. A timer is begun, and the pose is held. At the conclusion of the allotted time, the model dismounts the dais, and re-dresses in their robe. At no time does the model approach anyone else present while in the nude. Anyone who approaches the model while in a pose, including the professor, should always ask permission first.
If these basic rules of protocol are followed, everyone will survive the experience without harm. Any behavior outside the protocol is verboten. A model can expect their career to be extremely short if they extend their nudity beyond basic protocol (ie: during break, or out in the art room amongst the artists) or if they allow anything in their behavior to become sexual. A figure drawing session is about the creation of beautiful art. Anything prurient is a distraction at best, and a gross disrespect at worse.
Because this art process requires a violation of social norms, special consideration should be given to the artists. Simply put, they have to look at your nakedness! Looking in their eyes directly while they are doing this will make them extremely self-conscious. Therefore, while in a pose, the models eyes should be fixed on some inanimate object either near the ceiling, or near the artist’s feet. The gaze should be fixed and unmoving, never roaming around the room, and never looking directly at an artist. If it happens accidentally, the model should smile quickly, warmly, briefly... and then look away permanently. The best advice is not to let it happen in the first place.
In other matters, there is nothing that a model can do, male or female, about their reactions to cold (nipples and or goosebumps) but other gender related protocol considerations are always in effect. A male must be able to control his state of arousal. Period!
While any male will exhibit different penile forms based on room temperature and fullness of bladder… to exhibit a full erection is absolutely verboten. In a community draw setting, a male model might expect a sober conversation following such an event. In a university setting, such an event may end their employment suddenly and unilaterally. If arousal control is a difficult issue for a new male model, perhaps a different form of employment should be considered… just saying.
Having said all that, arousal can also be an occasional unexpected (and very unwelcome) issue even for the experienced model. My only difficulties in this area came about as a result of 1) duo posing with a female (hint, fix your gaze elsewhere in the room) and 2) a situation where the artist was determined to draw “those parts” and was verbal about her process with the professor and other artists. Guys are hardwired to physiologically respond to what they are thinking about, and when a male model is consciously aware that an artist is focused on that specific area, uncontrollable arousal can result. The proper protocol in this situation is to break the pose (sooner rather than later) and to wait until the situation resolves itself before continuing.
For a female, the considerations are slightly different. While arousal for a female is usually a non-issue, females have other problems. Each model needs to decide for herself whether she is willing to fulfill commitments during the worst of her monthly cycle, or whether it would be wiser to cancel. Most models use the technique of a tampon with the string tucked. Others go on sabbatical during the worst days. A word to the wise: model coordinators loathe cancellations… just saying.
The bottom line is that a model is a normal, functioning human being. Anything that can happen to your body is going to happen. You are going to burp, stomach rumble, fart, sneeze, yawn, hiccup, get drowsy, tremble, and maybe even drip (hint: drink less and empty your bladder completely before beginning). Enough hours on the dais, and eventually all of these things will happen. When they do, a single, quiet, sincere “I’m sorry“ is appropriate. Then move on.
BTW… scratching an itch is considered ‘amerature hour’ and will annoy even the nicest artists. The only one I can’t stand, and always “break” for, is a drip on the end of a runny nose. I can ignore 5 inches simultaneously, but not one lone little drip! lol (hint: bring an antihistamine in your kit)
Anything except the three B’s is considered a break (breathing, blinking, and your heart beating). Minor adjustments in the first minute while settling into a long pose are expected and allowed, but major “settling” in a pose (from start to finish) is considered poor form. The most important thing that an artist needs is consistency in what they see. Therefore the most central and foundational protocol of all is: Do Not Break!
In every model’s career there will come a time when you have to break a pose. Something in your limbs was set poorly, or something is falling asleep and beginning to ache, or something is wrong with your G.I... but your instinct is to preserve the pose at all costs. No instructor or artist anywhere wants you to hurt yourself. In the event of severe pain, your wellness as a human overrides the value of that one pose.
Be honest, and speak out if you are hurting. Break part of the pose temporarily if needed, and the whole pose if necessary. My best advice is: learn your body, and listen to your body. And most fundamentally, use your noggin when you set the pose in the first place. You will learn with experience what you can and cannot hold, and for how long. In the end, you are the final arbiter of what poses you do. It is always OK (but difficult) to say to an artist or professor, “No, I can’t do that!” They may not be happy to hear those words, but they will be even less happy if you break a pose halfway through… guaranteed!
I tell my protégés that they are human, and no human being is capable of a perfect pose. You will break… the question is how much? The more ‘still’ inside the pose, the more valuable the model in the eyes of the artist. Even slight movements will flummox someone who had just set a perfect mark down. This is especially true when rendering a portrait piece. This is also why silence in a pose is valued. Invariably, someone in the room is going to be drawing your face, and is going to be annoyed if you talk. The old adage is a wise guide regarding talking while posing… “less is more!”
My guiding phrase for my protégés is this: “pursuit of perfection.“ No model will ever do a perfect pose unless they are dead. But you can always ‘pursue perfection’ in every pose. In the process, you will become a favorite of artists everywhere. Built upon the foundation of basic protocol, an experienced model capable of varied, interesting, well-held poses will be worth their weight in gold. You will be asked back again and again. You will be shared with others. Eventually, if you are in a large market, you will have more work than you are capable of accepting. Basic protocol is your best friend.