Thursday, March 18, 2010

Holding Still

My first session of figure modeling for life drawing last year was unnerving. I mean, I wasn't too intimidated - I had the basics down; you disrobe, pose for varying amounts of time, and some of those poses can be very long. Not a difficult concept. Because of my experience in front of the camera, I didn't feel like it would be that much of a jump to pose in front of students/artists instead of photographers.

In a lot of ways its not a big difference, and then of course, in some ways, it is.

It's really, really difficult to hold still for longer than 5 minutes. And that's even for the "easy" poses. You know, positions you usually imagine yourself holding more than briefly - such as simply sitting or standing. But I don't enjoy simple for simplicity's sake, I love complex things that have been designed or highlighted for their simplicity. Like the iPhone. Which I don't have. Anyway...

Longer poses require careful considerations. Primarily: "Can I hold that pose for that long?" And the answer probably is no - not without shaking or some limb falling asleep. I often tried to overpose, to give that 110%, but that would lead to the aforementioned shaking and limb-fallen-asleep-ness (hold on, there has to be a word for that. wiki says: paraesthesia) so over time I've learned to balance which poses will or wont be udderly arduous to hold (the yoga has really helped comfortably extend my holding times) and yet maintain a repertoire of cogent, expressive and diverse poses. However, during this learning curve for life modeling I never expected to learn another skill that would be much more rewarding in and of itself: Learning to hold still.

When I was much more unpracticed, less mindful, the timer was my prison. In the very beginning, I thought it would be best if I couldn't see how much time I had left to hold the pose. Good thought in theory. But turns out, I need to check in once and a while and modify my mindset, and make decisions on how to slightly adapt my pose for longevity. There is bliss in the tiny movements.

But in the spaces between check-ins with the timer, the pauses, is what I've had the most satisfaction in practicing. There was quite an adjustment from photography modeling, where I'm used to strobes flashing, music, directions and comments from photographer, and other distractions that I can usually divert my attention to for at least a moment. Not at all the case in the classroom or at co-ops. The only thing you hear consistently is the sound of many pencils drawing on paper. It's become a trigger for me. As soon as I hear that sound, my mind prepares itself for quietness. Stillness. It's become a very peaceful space. A very mindful space.

First I settle in to the pose. Then I pick a focal point for my eyes.
Try it. For 5 minutes. Set a timer, sit down and settle yourself.
Pick something to stare at.
Don't move anything, including your gaze. Don't scratch anything.

Tell me what happens.

Then, try it for 40 minutes.

I've had some amazing sensations come over me, and plenty of quiet time for clear, constructive thinking. Being blissfully aware and present in the moment. Even if I wasn't terribly passionate about contributing to art, these moments of stillness would be all the reason I need to stay a life drawing model for a very long time.

More on my thoughts about this later.


Sylvie Blum.


Andrew said...

Great post! I think it is true that modeling for fine art photography has a lot in common with modeling for drawing and painting -- both are about the "cogent, expressive and diverse poses" as you say -- but the pace makes the experiences very different.

The duration of photography poses means more experimentation is possible. Try this variation and that variation. If a pose is a dud it's no big deal, but sometimes the spontaneous idea is the winner. A pose for a 25 minute drawing or a multiple-day painting is a bigger commitment.

I like what you said about finding the balance between sustainability and keeping it interesting.
Judging by your first-class photography portfolio, I'm sure you're a big hit in the drawing sessions where you model.

Derek said...

I am an art model in Toronto. I started doing it almost 15 years ago. U used to use it as an opportunity to fill in between freelance graphic design gigs as that was my main career. 8 years ago I gave up graphic design for various reasons and I became a full time art model. the peacefulness and inner reflection has helped me to overcome many issues and blockages, while also allowing me time to think on many other things,

If I am working on an elaborate project in my own life, I can do all the initial planning stages in my mind while posing.

I can use the time to ponder may problems and have at times come to great understandings about many things.

at the same time I work for some of the top animation schools in the entire world, and knowing that the students are learning largely because i am comfortable enough with my own body to pose nude for them is wonderful as I know that they are learning because of me. I am the inspiration which creates great art and great artists.

I love my career. I will probably be an art model in some form or other as long as I live.

Sully said...

You have my admiration in this respect. lol

I have tried meditation once a week, for about 1 year now. My best is about 19 minutes. but I have been able to sit still for about 15 minutes, before a muscle would cramp, or a event would draw my attention back to the real world. usually a sharp sound, or a bug.

to accomplish this for 40 Min? WOW.

Great article.

Alex said...

excellent post and it came just as I was planning my own post on life modelling. Come by and let's share thoughts and ideas.

semi234 said...

Very good post.

Question though, was the "40 minute" duration something you yourself imposed or was it like the class/artist request?

I'm asking simply because when I had art models during my undergrad classes, about the max we would ask of them was about 15-20. They'd get 2 breaks & by the 3rd, it was time to start breaking down.

Jeff said...

This is great! I run life drawing classes and I get a lot of questions from people interested in modelling. Hope you don't mind if I post a link to this aricle on my blog. I think it'll be very useful to others.

I also occionally teach meditation, and one of my favorite techniques is called Trataka--basically staring at a dot on the wall. For a visual person, it cna be incredibly relaxing and focussing (but figure drawing is much more fun!). It's in my book "Everybody's Meditation Book" available on

. said...

Interesting advice. I'm into my 3rd Nude pose night for Artists a 43 year old male (in OZ) for some extra ca$h. I'm not flexible, but strong - with a physic from hard work, rather than gym-bobbing the muscles. Modelling for long poses (my first was 4 hours with 2hours being x4 30 mins) is 'hard work' and my muscles felt it after the session for a few days. Cheers!