Once the difficult doorway to life modeling is broached… 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, on 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 because of 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. Early on in my the development of my craft, I began naming gestures 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 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 than 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. I began to think about creating poses that actually communicated something.
For example, I have a pose were I lean upon a stool with the palms of my hands and one knee up on it (to show what my leg would look like compressed like that). One day I did this pose, and I 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 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…
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 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 did not break, and as a result, I hurt myself, and 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 partially, giving relief to the affected limb or area, but if need be, a pose should be broken in its entirety. Most modeling careers end because the model pushed their body past its limit, and sustained an injury. I am the first to admit that pride plays a role in this, but in the final analysis, your modeling career is 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 sustained 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 and extended 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 comfortable than a sitting pose, and a sitting pose can be held longer than standing pose, etc.
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 a pose that you understand how your weight is traveling down to the dais. A standing pose set contrapposto is more difficult to hold then a standing pose that is centered over the hips. When your weight is centered, you can make minuscule adjustments without changing the perspective of the artists, and yet providing great relief to a complaining hip joint.
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 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 artists. 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. I know it leaves me on the dais, naked and moving slowly, in full view of the artists… but I usually encounter compassion in this moment. Most everyone understands I’m struggling to come back to life, and they avert their eyes.
Recently, when I was doing a dual pose with a protégé at UW Milwaukee, her leg fell asleep during the session’s last 25-minute pose. She immediately dismounted the dais and attempted to stand prior to putting on her robe. Her leg was completely asleep so there alongside the dais, in front of 16 young artists, she collapsed completely! She quickly stood again, only to collapse a second time. It happened so quickly that no one could assist her, but everyone saw her. I felt so very bad for her, but she was not injured, and to her credit, she laughed it off! What a trooper!
A last bit of advice before I leave this subject… vary your poses. 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”. This means they will have you do a few at 3 min, then some at 2 min, and then some at 1 min (or some other variation). The idea is to push the students to make fewer and fewer marks and to make them count. Some progressions work in the opposite direction, allowing the artists ever-increasing periods of time to draw.
When doing a progressive, each successive pose should be different and pointed in a different direction. For example: start with a standing pose facing the door of the room; follow that with a kneeling pose 1/3 turn to your right and looking up at the ceiling; follow that with another standing pose another 1/3 turn to your right and 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 love gestures! They give me a chance to really extend dynamic poses.
One of my favorite posing sessions was with a photographer named Gwen Parysek from Racine. I was able to hold incredibly extended poses stretched to my limit, while she moved around me snapping photos. She then used those photos to project images upon a wall, from which she made charcoal and oil paint pieces on canvas. This one is called reaching:
I will leave you with a few more examples of named poses that I have…