My experience nude modeling wasn’t what I expected, and I feel differently than I thought I would. It is no less positive than I was anticipating, just different than I thought.
First, I arrived at the school and met the art teacher. She was nice and mellow, and also very serious. She asked me if I was nervous (yes) and verified that I had not done this before. She walked me through the process and put me at ease.
I changed into my robe and slippers in the handicap stall in the bathroom. What a surreal moment that was – undressing in a bathroom stall. Bathrooms are for bathroom functions, not for undressing. Just felt kind of weird.
I then went to the art room and leaned against the counter in my robe and slippers. I think it was a good idea to buy a new robe – mine is a few years old and kind of ratty. It made me feel more comfortable having the nice new robe because I looked as put together as someone can in a robe. Plus I bought one that is extra-large so it’s nice and roomy like a blanket. New slippers, too, so that I looked about as slick as one can expect to.
I don’t know why, but it was imperative that my purse be in that room. My tote bag with clothing and my coat and sweatshirt were all in the office, but I needed my purse in the drawing-room with me. It wasn’t near me, left on the counter while I was posing, but its presence made me comfortable.
There were lots of students milling around and chatting about their personal lives and their art. No one looked at me directly that I noticed. No one spoke to me. It felt very strange to be in a room full of people who are about to give you their undivided attention but until that point completely ignore you. While I waited I texted, checked email, browsed Facebook, and look busy. After ten minutes of waiting I just started watching the artists move about and prepare their things. It occurred to me that perhaps I should pay attention to what was going on to mentally prepare, rather than distract myself.
At this point I felt pretty cool, dressed to the nines with my new robe and slippers, and thinking of myself as a model. I felt special and important, because my purpose was necessary for the artists to work. I felt fine about everything until I saw the art teacher wheel the model stand to the center of the circle of artists. Then my heart started to race.
A few of the artists made eye contact and smiled from time to time. They seemed like a diverse and nice group. There were more women than men and that made me comfortable.
The art teacher collected me and led me to the center of the circle. The artists were getting ready and weren’t paying attention. She was able to speak to me without all of them waiting on me to get started. She told me that I would face a certain way since some artists in the circle have been getting the back of the models lately. I told her I’d like to face that direction since I can look out a window that way. She arranged towels and foam underneath a white sheet and we talked about poses. I told her I didn’t want anything too ambitious since I had never done this and I didn’t want to mess it up. She understood. I explained a pose I had seen when researching this last night and she was receptive to this. She knew what she didn’t want and let me decide the rest.
This pose is very similar to the one I selected, except instead of looking away from the direction I was leaning, I was looking in the same direction. One arm was supporting me (like in this pose) and the other draped across my torso and resting by the other one.
She instructed me to “get settled”, but I wasn’t sure if that meant getting in the pose with my robe on or off. She kind of chuckled and told me to take the robe off and to just get it over with, essentially. Moment of truth!
In about point five seconds I mustered all of the courage I had and took the robe off. Many things run through your brain at this moment, but I found it didn’t matter. Cat was out of the bag, here I was, baring it all. Covering up quickly would not have made any difference. So, once the robe was off, I felt better. Plus, I didn’t look at anyone for fear that I would see them looking at me. I kept my eyes down.
I tried to arrange myself on the platform as gracefully as possible without exposing the most private parts of my female anatomy. I tried to do this as quickly as possible because the post I selected showed the parts I didn’t really care about and left the rest hidden. The art teacher then wheeled me into the proper position and locked the platform so it wouldn’t move. I had placed my robe on the platform in haste and wasn’t quite sure where it was, but didn’t want to move around too much to try to see what was behind me. Once I found my safe zone I wanted to stay there.
I found a comfortable position and the art teacher spoke to me about the breaks. I told her the timer was in my purse. For a moment I felt like it was weird to ask her to get it for me, but there was no way I was getting up after I had just taken the robe off. I probably wouldn’t get it off again. So she collected the timer and I explained that rather than have it count down and beep incessantly, I would have it count up and keep an eye on it and let her know when it reached twenty minutes.
I sat there while the artists got ready, which was pretty weird. Here I am all posing and stuff and they weren’t even paying attention. Definitely felt like a bowl of fruit. I made minor adjustments to the weight distribution of my pose and got ready to be still.
Finally she turned on the lamps, said for them to start, and I pressed start on the timer. Then I waited.
The first twenty-minute pose was pretty brutal. Twenty minutes is a long damn time to sit still. And, it’s not even about being still, it’s about blood flow. The weight of my upper body was resting on one hand and my hand and forearm were at a ninety degree angle. This cut off the blood flow to my hand and the tingles started, first in my hand then up my arm through my elbow and up to my shoulder. I very badly wanted to shake my wrist out but that was impossible. I was supposed to be still. By the end of the twenty minutes I had no feeling in my hand at all and couldn’t move my pinky and ring fingers. To bend my wrist in the opposite direction was extremely painful. It took ten minutes for it to feel normal again. I knew I had to do something different, there was no way I could be in that much pain five times in the next two hours.
During the break I put my robe back on and went to the bathroom, drank some water, and checked my phone. Inhaled some water by accident and had a coughing fit – embarrassing. An artist offered me a cough drop but I told her I had some. I told her I also had wet naps and aspirin – prepared for everything. She laughed. So, cool interaction there.
When it came time to take the robe off again and get in the position, I found that this was just as unpleasant as the first time. For some reason, sitting nude for twenty minutes isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as taking something off your body. There is a kind of intimacy to undressing, and I didn’t care for it. I’d probably rather be nude the entire time and walk around, etc, than put a robe on and take it off. Something deep within my brain was poking at me every time I took the robe off, reminding me that I was exposing myself. Oddly enough, sitting nude didn’t bother that part of my brain at all.
The second pose was not as bad as the first. I did not really announce that we were starting, it’s kind of obvious when the nude model is back on the platform, and the timer makes a loud beep when you start it. So, if they heard it great and if not whatever but I was going to sit still for twenty minutes and then get up. If an artist took five minutes to realize everyone else had started, that was just too bad.
During the second pose, I found a way to put most of my weight on my hip and little on my hand. I also found minute ways to adjust to keep the blood moving. The art teacher told me privately that I did a very good job for my first time and that made me happy. When all of your focus is on staying still and being in tight control over all your muscles, every movement feels like I might as well be jumping up and down. I was determined to be as statuesque as possible, but she let me know that the artists understand I am a person and some movement is necessary, because I shouldn’t be in a severe amount of pain.
Also during the second pose, I began to notice other things. I listened to the music more and I watched the light change through the window. I also noticed how much tension and muscle control it takes to keep your head still. I so badly just wanted to hang my head to give my poor neck a break. I also noticed that being so focused on the muscles in the upper half of my body was making me tremble slightly, and with these artists paying such close attention I did not want someone to advise me to take a break. So I had to get that under wraps. And, because my torso was turned, it was hard for me to take a deep breath. My breaths were normal and evenly spaced, but I longed to stretch my ribs and really fill my diaphragm and lungs.
Another thing that occurred to me was the half of the class I could not see because they were behind me. This freaked me out more than those facing me directly, but I tried not to think about it.
After the second pose I was about halfway through the gig and so I took a quick cigarette break. I went outside in my robe and slippers and found an alcove in the building to hide so no one would see me in my robe. At this point I was more uncomfortable smoking outside with a robe and slippers than I was sitting nude for strangers. Bizarre, huh?
For the third pose I was getting more comfortable, and also feeling more comfortable taking control in my role. During the second pose I sat for twenty-five minutes instead of twenty, because I sensed most of the artists were right in the middle of something. I felt bad taking a break anyway, because I knew they would draw me all day if I could sit that long. In a more comfortable position I probably could have. Laying down I probably could have fallen asleep for the entire three hours. This time I got in the pose with my robe on and then took it off from my seated position. This was still uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as standing and disrobing.
I also started alternating between my hand laying flat and making a fist to straighten my wrist to keep the blood flowing. This was irritating because every time I did this it moved my shoulder up or down two to three inches. I noticed a few minor exhales or bristles when I did this, but at this point I didn’t really care. I am a person after all, and I was just trying to stay in the least amount of discomfort.
At one point an artist approached me and requested that she move my robe, which the timer was on. I said sure and then reached over and grabbed the timer. I felt the mood change and I laughed and said “Um… I probably shouldn’t have moved, huh?” and there were a few chuckles. So the whole ordeal was generally relaxed.
The art teacher had been making rounds and advising each artist. Some artists seemed pleased while others frustrated. I could hear them talking about lines and shapes on my body, and my natural reaction was to look at what they were referring to but I had to sit still. Some artists were walking around and talking to other artists. It was fun to be a part of their conversations without being a part of them. It didn’t exactly feel like eavesdropping, though. When someone said something funny I smiled, and I did watch them from time to time. You can only stare out a window so long before you seek out other things to entertain you.
The other thing I noticed is that I was busy staring out the window but I could see five artists in front of me in my peripheral vision. One in particular was directly in my field of vision and I was looking at a space just above the top of her head. Every time one of the artists looked from their paper back to me, my manners wanted me to return the gaze, make eye contact, be polite. But that is frowned upon. That was even more uncomfortable than even being nude, feeling and seeing people looking at me and not able to look back at them.
For the fourth and final (I think) pose, I was getting pretty tired. It’s exhausting work sitting still and putting all of your focus on nearly every muscle group in your body. I was more relaxed and more comfortable making minor movements, because we were almost done. I started watching the artists directly and once in a while did make eye contact as a result.
When the art teacher called wraps, I put my robe back on and let out a sigh of relief. I did it! The artists pushed the teacher pretty hard that they weren’t finished, so she asked me to come in again on Thursday to do another session so they would have more time. I immediately said yes because it wasn’t so bad and they weren’t done. A few of the artists did allow me to see their work and I was very impressed, and relieved. Because it’s not a photograph, it is a representation and artistic perspective of me, the model. Some of the ones I saw did not include my head which means if someone I know comes across it it’s likely they will recognize it as my body. And the ones from the front do look like me, but someone might not necessarily recognize me immediately by looking at it. And, even if they did, the work is extremely classy and beautiful. I felt beautiful looking at them, like someone had captured grace and elegance I wasn’t sure I possessed. Perhaps I don’t possess it at all, perhaps the artist drew it that way. I don’t know much about drawing.
I got dressed and left and felt… very strange. First of all, I was exhausted. Second of all, I was starving. And third, I felt great but had a completely different set of feelings about it than I thought I would. The problems I thought I would have weren’t the big ones – mostly the problems I had were physical discomfort and mental stamina. No one looked at me in a leering or inappropriate way, they were focused and critical and paying attention. I felt their eyes on me but they were analyzing lines and shapes, not drooling over my figure. And there was a lot of holding the pencil up and turning it one way or another, then applying that same angle of the pencil to the page. Not exactly sure what that was about but it was funny to watch.
And, I didn’t feel as vulnerable as I thought I did. Perhaps I was, but so were they. I can’t even imagine how it would feel to sit and write with someone sitting in the same room. I would feel pressured and uncomfortable. I might have been performing, but so were they. And as a creative person, I often feel that works of art are rarely finished. They could always use some tweaking here or there and I am never fully satisfied with any creative piece I do. Fun fact – I do not re-read my blogs before publishing them. I do a spell check and that’s it. So if I start at point A and end up at point Tree, I don’t really know it until later.
All in all, it was exactly what I was looking for. I feel freed and different. And proud. Incredibly proud that I did something brave for my personal being. And excited. I am excited to go back Thursday, even though it’s going to be just as uncomfortable since it’s the same pose. I am more excited to continue working with students and doing this kind of thing regularly, I just hope I can find poses that are more comfortable or at least not so painful to hold.
In conclusion, this was awesome. And you should all do it at some point in your life.