Unlike most other jobs, modeling work comes one engagement at a time. Having sessions scheduled in your book this month does not guarantee a full schedule next month. Finding employment results first and foremost from carefully preserving the relationships you have with current venues/artists, even if it’s only one venue and only a small handful of artists. Then, you parlay these contacts to find more. Cold calling is typically less effective, so having a personal referral is important. Then, an actual visit with a handshake and a warm smile is the most effective course.
It is just a fact of life that most coordinators and professors who schedule models are very busy people! They don’t really want to talk to new models when they have enough models currently to fill their needs. The trick is to have them remember you (in a positive light) at the moment they suddenly don’t have enough models. So when you “gig hunt” and you must present yourself enough to be remembered, but not so much that you annoy.
My friend Chet Griffith, owner of Artworks in Kenosha, and my first teacher regarding the realities of life modeling, said this to me early on about getting gigs: “Model coordinators are funny! They’re extremely busy and don’t really want to be bothered... that is, until the moment they lose an important model on their roster. Then they're desperate to speak to you.” He said he couldn’t recall how many times he had been contacted by a professor or coordinator who suddenly needed to find a new model!
Given this reality, the question is how to make coordinators/professors aware of the quality of your modeling skills and your desire to work for them, so that when their day of need comes, you are the person they try to contact first. This is the essence of gig hunting. If you can accomplish this, you will get the work.
I have found that sending an unsolicited email yields little. Coordinators and professors always have terribly full inboxes, and will usually disregard anything they don’t recognize. (Don’t we all?) What seems much more effective is an intentional contact in person. First, do some research. Find the name and location of an institution’s coordinator.
The best way to do this is to ask any artist you already know, who they know. Nothing works better than knowing a name and a location of a person one of your artists knows personally. Even better, the personal referral could include a phone number, the coordinator’s email, hints about how best to approach them, and often permission to use the artist’s name during the contact as well. This level referral is golden, and I look for it all the time from current artists.
In the absence of a personal referral, you can do research on your own. You can call college/university administrations, and ask who does the coordinating. The best place to start is in the art department. Several times I have gone onto a campus and wandered around the buildings asking questions, starting in admissions, or at an information desk (usually there's one in the Student Union). Persistence will pay off to find the person, somewhere on that campus, whose job it is to hire and schedule models.
Research regarding community draws helps as well. You can find out most of the places that offer figure drawing in your area by using this terrific guide from ArtModelTips.com.
As in your research for institutions, leads for community draws are focused on finding that one person who is responsible for hiring and scheduling models. Community draws have an advantage over universities in that they are open to the public. This means that you could go to that draw as an artist yourself (even if you are a beginner) and actually draw! Being there as an artist will give you a close-up look at how that draw functions, and who's in charge. From there it's an easy task at the end of the draw, to introduce yourself and hand the coordinator your resume.
Universities are a little more tricky. Once you have identified your target, the next step is to meet this person without making them angry. In the absence of a personal referral and an appointment to meet, an unsolicited visit requires finesse. When I have done this type of gig hunting, I will not go on a Monday or Friday (busier days) and I will try to go in early afternoon, right after lunch, when a workday is less hectic. I will plan on being there only a few moments, being very friendly and pleasant, and having in my hand the best resume I can produce to leave with them. The goal is to leave a positive and memorable impression. Hint: the old adage is crucial here… “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!”
Once a 'first contact' is established, follow up contacts should be regular but light. I would try to do a follow up about twice per semester per location. Every time another contact is made, a new improved resume should be delivered. They will put your resume in their file, and that will be what they will remember on their day of need. If they have an application form to fill out, take the time to do that while you are there, and have them staple your resume to it.
To help you in thinking through how you might create a resume, here are a couple actual past samples of resumes I actually used during my own gig hunting:
I will close this piece with a couple of anecdotal stories to get you thinking. The first happened when I was gig hunting a small community draw in a resort area of our state called the door county peninsula. I had heard it was begun up in Sister Bay but I had no other information other then it’s flyer. It was called DrawDOCO (Draw door County). I decided to ‘hunt’ it using the technique of going as an artist.
The coordinator arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, and informed me apologetically that a mistake had been made, and that there would be no model this evening. I smiled widely and said “I just happen to be a model, and I just happen to have all my equipment in the car with me!” She was thrilled to hear this, and 20 minutes later I was posing for the draw!
The second anecdotal story is about MIAD (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design), one of the most prestigious art schools in my area. I began gig hunting MIAD when I had only posed three times, but they said I needed to gain more experience. After that, I stopped there at least twice a semester, and went through three different coordinators. I would drop off the latest copy of my resume when I stopped, and I once even sent a card to the coordinator wishing her happy holidays, leaving in her 'in-box' just before Christmas.
After a year and a half of contacts, as well as personal referrals from professors who work for MIAD and knew me from other venues, the email finally came asking if I’d like the job. (yay!) When I went to the meeting we scheduled to accomplish my paperwork, but the coordinator was anxious to show me something first. With a grin she went over to a side desk, grabbed something off the bulletin board, and then laid it on her desk in front of me… it was the Christmas card!
This semester I have 26 separate gigs scheduled at MIAD with 11 different professors… just saying! 🙂