If you aspire to be a professional life model, there simply isn’t enough work in community draws to fill your time. Besides, a community draw is at best one or two commitments per month. The only solid option for filling your appointment book is to take work at universities. By this I mean any instructed class. You can usually find art departments that employ models at state universities, private colleges, art institutes, and local museums/galleries.
However, be forewarned. Modeling for instructed courses is a completely different animal from modeling at community draws.
The first difference is compensation. In a community draw, a nominal fee is collected from each participant. The pool of these funds pays the basic costs of the draw, including the model’s pay. There is usually no formal contract, no withholding, no benefits, and usually no promise of employment beyond the current commitment. Payments are made in cash and reporting to the IRS is left to the model.
At a college, university, institute or museum, things are usually different. More often than not you will sign a contract, fill out a W9 form, have your pay mailed by check or directly deposited to your bank account. Also, withholding will usually be taken from the funds before you receive them. At universities you are considered an LTE (limited time employee) with all of the formalities and responsibilities of full-time employment, but none of the benefits. Expect a visit to each HR department before your first session on any campus. I’m employed by five University of Wisconsin schools, and although I am paid with one check through one payroll department, each campus employs me separately.
In a university you will usually be booked by an administrative assistant tasked with coordinating all models, but you will work directly for a professor. Ultimately, your employer is actually the students who are paying for their education (or their parents). Simply put, since expensive degrees are being pursued the stakes are higher. Rarely in academia is nudity presented to the consumers (students) during normal coursework. Such is the case with figure art.
In deference to these realities, basic protocol for modeling is especially important in an instructed classroom. The norms regarding being dressed in a robe at all times (other than upon the dais) takes on even greater importance. From beginning to end behavior while on campus needs to be professional. The students will be instructed to avoid speaking to you directly, except when invited to do so by the professor. Often, they will not be allowed phones, tablets, cameras, or any other recording device while a model is present.
Most of these classes will be lower level classes populated by freshman and sophomores. It is here that they learn the basic knowledge and techniques foundational to all forms of art mediums. Here, in the entry-level courses, impressionable young adults (18 to 20 years old) will have their first encounters with creating art from a live, adult, naked human being. Some of the students may be sexually active themselves and therefore will be more mature, but others will have come from very sheltered upbringings. They may have never seen a naked person other than themselves in real life. Their anxiety will almost certainly be high.
Because of these facts, it’s crucial for the model to be ‘benign’ in an instructed course. The professor or art teacher, skilled in their craft, will guide every session in the delivery of basic skills. The model is a tool to this end. As such the model belongs to the professor. A good model will show up early, prepare the dais and themselves as quickly as possible, and then stay quiet ready and attentive.
It is important before class to be quiet and unassuming. It’s my habit to get completely ready and then to sit quietly in a chair placed by the side of the dais with my head down reading a newspaper article or book. Students filing into the classroom will see me, immediately know that I am “the dude that they will soon have to see naked” but assess me as quiet and non-threatening. If I am peaceful and calm it will have the effect of reducing their anxiety. Then everyone can focus on the goals of the lesson! (Yay)
It is possible to be asked to do anything in an instructed course: a progressive schedule starting with gestures and ending with a long pose, all gestures, a single long pose, a “draped” (clothed) pose, sitting for portrait or sculpture, a costumed or diorama draw, etc. The instructor will always take some time to speak with the model briefly before the class, explaining the lesson plan and the desired poses. Usually the instructor will allow the model to choose ‘fitting’ poses based on the needs of the lesson and then will negotiate slight alterations to better it.
Some instructors want to time every pose themselves. Some instructors will let you time the poses, especially if you have a nice app like “Seconds Pro“ on your phone. It shows “time remaining,” has helpful beeps, and can be set to any required program. I find it helpful to time long pauses. This ensures that I will be allowed to break the pose after the allotted time. When instructors insist on timing the poses, there is a risk that you will end up holding a pose longer than suggested if the professor loses track of the time, or is simply inconsiderate. If this be the case, caution should be exercised in successive poses created for this particular professor.
Some professors will allow you to play music quietly during poses. It is best to ask in a warm manner prior to class. If it is allowed, special attention should be paid to lowering the volume completely during non-posing classroom instruction. This will require diligence, but the reward of music (especially for me) is worth the effort. Other professors don’t ever want to compete with music in their classroom, and prefer silence. All a model can do is ask, and then abide by the wishes of the instructor.
The attributes of a model most prized by instructors are attentiveness, enthusiasm, appropriateness of suggested poses, and excellence in performing them. The attributes of an instructor that are most prized by a model are friendly (rather than demanding) negotiations of needs and poses, consideration of the model’s condition and comfort while in poses, and respectful warm communication in the presence of students.
A good professor will always check with you before asking you to extend a pose. A good professor will always ask permission before approaching you, and will never actually touch your person (unless they accidentally graze your skin while pointing out an anatomy feature for a student). I will always enjoy giving artists my best posing, but a good professor makes the task so much more enjoyable.
I will close this section by relating a personal anecdote. I was hired by a favorite professor in Milwaukee when she got a gig to teach “Intro to Drawing” at a private college. She signed me up for nine dates over a semester. As will usually happen in a classroom with multiple encounters, the students and I became comfortable with one another by the third or fourth session.
Near the end of the semester I showed up early for class one day, as was my habit, and began dressing the dais. This was a private all-girls college, and only one young lady was in the classroom while I was preparing. By this time she had already drawn me during several previous classes. As a result, I was at ease around her… my usual happy, energy filled self. I chatted easily with her (or perhaps ‘at’ her) about the wonderful session I had at another university earlier that day. I remember that she was mostly quiet, while I did most the talking. Shortly, the rest of the class and the professor arrived and this casual conversation was forgotten.
When next I arrived to model for the same class, the professor asked to talk to me alone in the hallway. There she reported that the student I had the casual conversation with the week before had reported me to the dean. The professor told me that this particular student suffered from a mild form of autism, and my speaking to her, while we were alone together, caused her great anxiety. The professor was not angry with me, and even assured me that she had defended me to the dean… but advised me to be more careful in the future.
The impact on me was severe. I am passionate about my craft, and I take criticism hard. The lesson for me was clear. These young impressionable artists need to be approached with caution, maturity, and graciousness at all times. In a university setting it is always best to “err on the side of caution.” The work is rewarding, but the model is called to a higher level of behavior than at community draws.
I often say that unlike other models, I like doing intro courses. In an intro course is where you can get snickering or inappropriate comments from brand new, less mature young adults. But this is also the place where a lifetime love for art may be born. I love to think that my behavior as their model (perhaps their first ever model) if it is authentic and passionate, will help to set the tone for their own passion. And just maybe, one of these young artists will embark on a famous career, one day to be considered a ‘master’ with works hanging in famous galleries!
… and I will have been an inspiration in the infancy of their greatness!
How cool would that be?