Once the difficult threshold to life modeling is crossed… coming out of the robe… the rest comes down to an equally difficult task: setting and holding a good pose. Poses come in all forms, from a brief momentary pause before a photographer’s lens, through short 1 or 2 minute gesture poses, thru longer times of 10, 15, 20 minute poses, all the way up to full session and even multi-session long poses. Poses can be standing, sitting, reclining, costumed, duo, trio, portrait, sculpture, photographic, etc.
A good pose: 1) is interesting, 2) is within the model’s capability (will not cause suffering/injury because of awkward/painful aspects), 3) has some asymmetry in limb placement and pelvis/thorax/head orientation, 4) shows some emotion or energy, and 5) is held with as much concentration and peaceful stillness as humanly possible. In an instructed environment, I would add: 6) A good pose is one that directly meets the objectives of the artistic aspect or technique that the instructor is attempting to teach.
Most models have many poses that they are experienced at exhibiting, and can easily formulate new ones given different props or furniture. For the beginner, the task of producing several different interesting poses in rapid succession can be daunting. Early on in my the development of my craft, I began naming gesture poses. Having a list of potential poses I could quickly exhibit, helped me be less anxious while posing. I would seek out new ideas from any and every source for new pose ideas to try. There are books available that are filled with pictures of various pose possibilities, and websites online that provide the same. (See artists page)
Over time, as my repertoire of poses grew, and my confidence upon the dais grew as well, I began to realize that a good pose had more to do with my attitude then with my surroundings or posture. Since I have been an actor in over 30 productions, I began to think about human beings and their movement in the world. Just like character's in a stage production, I began to think about creating poses that actually communicated something. The dais became my stage, the artists, my audience.
For example, I have a pose where I lean upon a stool with the palms of my hands and one knee up (to show what my leg would look like compressed like that). One day I did this pose, and I suddenly decided that I was leaning over the edge of the pond filled with goldfish. I imagined that I was in awe of these beautiful fish, and from this posture I looked down with great intensity. Suddenly, this fairly mechanical pose that I had done several times before, was imbued with a new energy and focus. It made it incredibly enjoyable for me to do.
And so here is my best wisdom about what I consider to be the most important aspect of making a pose. If you can find a way to completely ‘inhabit’ a pose by imagining what you might be doing/feeling in real life (if were you in that anatomical posture/position) then you are going to communicate more than lines and shapes and shadows. You are going to communicate energy and life. If you’re visibly enjoying the process of posing the artists will know it immediately, and they will enjoy drawing you.
If you’re not enjoying the process of posing… on the other hand… neither will anyone else in the room.
Every model will learn early on what they can and cannot do. For example: you will make a pose with feet here, arms there, head this way, etc., and halfway through the pose timing you will find yourself in pain, struggling to make it to the end. I call these “note to self” moments. In my very first session I hung from my arms on rope they had tied on the ceiling, letting my head hang backwards without support. 5 minutes into a 10 minute pose I had mounting neck pain! I didn't break it despite the pain, and as a result my neck was sore for two weeks. (Note to self: don’t do that again!)
I held that pose because I didn’t want to be embarrassed, so pride was the cause of the injury. In my career I have held several poses that were painful, and that I should have spoken up about, but did not. As I gain experience and wisdom, I am more apt to negotiate in my favor prior to a pose, and to speak up if a pose is causing me great pain.
It is usually possible to break a pose slightly, giving relief to the affected limb or area, and most artist's are tolerant of a need for "mini-breaks," especially if you're giving something clearly difficult. But if need be, a pose should be broken in its entirety. Only you can decide if a moment comes like that. I will add this here though: most modeling careers end because a model pushed their body past its limit, and sustained an injury. I am the first to admit that pride plays a role in this, and in the final analysis your whole modeling career is simply not worth a single pose.
(I just know someone’s going to copy and paste this paragraph to me in an email should I ever sustain an injury modeling! lol)
As you gain experience, you will find poses easier to formulate, and you will become acutely aware of how long you are able to hold different dynamics. Simply put, the more dynamic with twist and extension a pose is, and the more it has balance issues, the shorter the time frame that it can be held. A reclining pose can be held longer and more comfortably then a sitting pose, and a sitting pose can be held longer than standing pose, etc. A good pose strikes a balance between three competing interests: what the artist/instructor desires, what is interesting, and what can be physically held.
I have a one legged standing pose (1 foot up on a stool) that has one arm supported on the raised knee, and another arm holding a staff. I call this pose the “traveler” and I regularly hold it for (my) maximum of 25 minutes. Although most of my weight is on my single extended leg, this is actually a tripod pose because my other arm/foot and the hand/staff provide two more points of contact where some weight is supported. For the emotions of the pose I imagine that I am on the edge of a cliff after a long day of travel, looking peacefully across the valley at a beautiful sunset.
It is important when setting the pose that you understand how your weight is traveling down to the dais. A standing pose set contrapposto (meaning: counterpoised, asymmetrical with weight on one foot) is more difficult to hold then a standing pose that is centered over the the hips. When your weight is centered, you can make minuscule adjustments without changing perspectives for the artists, and yet providing great relief to a complaining hip joint. In the left example I am drawn in a centered standing pose... the right "Joseph" is contrapposto.
Folks ask me all the time, “Which poses hurt, and which poses are easy?” The simple answer is, they all hurt! Even a pose that is the most comfortable in the world, will hurt if you are in it long enough. I did my signature pose at my “200th Pose Party” for 100 minutes uninterrupted. Even as comfortable as it was, everything was stiff when I got up from that one!
Usually I leave the dais immediately after a pose, and re-robe the moment I reach the floor with my back to the artist’s. However, It is always advisable to come out of a long pause slowly. Stiffened joints and sleeping limbs require special gentle tender care. I flex aching joints gingerly, and I carefully test my limbs as I leave the pose. This leaves me on the dais, naked and moving slowly, in full view of the artists… but I usually encounter compassion at this moment. Most everyone understands I’m struggling to come back to life, and they avert their eyes.
Recently, when I was doing a "duo" pose with a protégé at UW Milwaukee, her leg fell asleep during the session's last 25 minute pose. At the completion of the pose we both dismounted the dais, and she attempted to stand prior to putting on her robe. Her leg was completely asleep! There, alongside the dais, in front of 16 young artists, she collapsed completely! Embarrassed, she quickly stood again... only to collapse a second time. Both times it happened so quickly that no one could assist her, but everyone saw her. I felt so very bad for her. To her credit she laughed it off! What a trooper!
A last bit of advice before I leave this subject… vary your poses for height, direction, focus and emotion. This is especially true for a 'series.' Very often at the beginning of a class or community draw the artists or professor will request a series of gesture poses lasting anywhere from 30 seconds up to four or five minutes. Sometimes they will do a 'progressive,' meaning they will have you do 5 in a row at 3 min; then 5 at 2; and then 5 at 1 minutes each, etc. The idea is to push the students to make fewer and fewer marks, and to make each one count.
When doing a series or a progressive, each successive pose should be different and pointed in a different direction. Here's an example of throwing together some variety: start with a standing pose facing the door of the room; follow that with a kneeling pose 1/3 turn to your right and look up at the ceiling somewhere; follow that with another standing pose another 1/3 turn to your right and say, looking down over your shoulder; etc. When doing shorter poses extend your limits with reaching dynamics that have long lines. Finally, begin thinking about your 'next' pose immediately, and be ready to switch instantly at the end of the current one. I personally love gestures, and making poses up on the spot! They give me a chance to really extend dynamic poses, and showcase my own creativity.
One of my favorite posing sessions was with a photographer named Gwen Parysek from Racine. I held incredibly extended poses stretched to my limit, while she moved around me snapping photos. Since I only held them for moments, I was released from the normal confines of my own ability to hold anything. Boy I felt free... and she sure captured it! She's creating a whole series. Her process is to use these photos to Project images upon a wall. Then, using canvass taped to the wall, she makes charcoal and oil paint pieces on canvas. Amazing!
I will leave you with a few more examples of named poses that I have…