6 Essential Things to Know About Modeling Nude For Art Classes

6 Essential Things to Know About Modeling Nude For Art Classes 1

If you’re an art stu­dent, you’ve prob­a­bly seen most of your friends naked in each oth­er’s art.

Nudity just isn’t a big deal in art­sy com­mu­ni­ties— as a mat­ter of fact, it’s nec­es­sary and stan­dard for learn­ing about the human form. Human skin reflects light dif­fer­ent­ly from clothes, so hav­ing some­one wear a flesh-toned leo­tard would­n’t suffice.

An art mod­el pos­es, often nude, in front of the class, as stu­dents draw them. This seem­ing­ly sim­ple job demands much con­fi­dence in one’s body, body aware­ness, and pain tol­er­ance. If you’ve ever won­dered how they stay so per­fect­ly still, the short answer is that they don’t! They’re humans who feel pain, have lim­its, and take breaks for food, just like you.

How do I know? I work as an art mod­el. If you’re curi­ous about what it’s like, read on and find out:


UPDATE: COVID-19 has changed mod­el­ing a lot. Read more about lin­gerie and nude mod­el­ing online in my new­er arti­cle.


1 It doesn’t matter if you’re not conventionally attractive

“Oh gosh, I would be so self-conscious if I did that as a job,” I often hear in response. The truth is, that was nev­er a con­cern for me. Even though I’m super self-conscious before a nude pho­to­shoot, pos­ing in front of a class is a total­ly dif­fer­ent job.

A variety of figure models shows students a variety of real bodies

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I’m there to help the stu­dents learn. It does­n’t mat­ter if you’re not curvy, or not mus­cu­lar, or don’t have chis­eled cheek­bones. It helps stu­dents to prac­tice draw­ing all sorts of dif­fer­ent body types and faces, in dif­fer­ent posi­tions and light­ing, and yes, at dif­fer­ent times of day as I eat more and my stom­ach expands. To them, it’s just anoth­er, real human body.

Let’s also frame it through the lens of rep­re­sen­ta­tion: I’m giv­ing the stu­dents the abil­i­ty and option to draw peo­ple with my body type and bone struc­ture in their future works of art.

Despite my inse­cu­ri­ty about hav­ing a petite frame and small boobs, there are stu­dents who find my appear­ance inter­est­ing enough to focus their draw­ings on my bust. There are stu­dents who, after draw­ing me, bet­ter under­stand how to draw dain­ty breasts drap­ing over pec­toral mus­cles. When big boobs are the norm in nude erot­ic art, I like know­ing that I’m bring­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent to the table.

Ethnic diversity in American art: a growing norm

It’s rad to know that not only can the stu­dents draw Asian eyes accu­rate­ly, but also that a stu­dent chose to draw me, an Asian-American woman, as part of a tarot deck. No stereo­typ­i­cal faux-ethnic garb or Dragon Lady bull­shit— just a per­son who hap­pens to be Asian.

In a per­fect world, that would­n’t be note­wor­thy; there are artists mak­ing new mul­ti­cul­tur­al tarot decks all the time. However, as things cur­rent­ly are, tarot can be quite white. Working as an art mod­el of col­or means increased rep­re­sen­ta­tion for peo­ple of my ethnicity.

For my job, it can actually an asset that my beauty isn’t totally conventional

No mat­ter what you look like, it’s good for art stu­dents to be able to draw a vari­ety of peo­ple. To oth­ers, pos­ing nude might be nerve-wracking. To me, it’s at worst just me show­ing what a real body looks like, and at best doing my part to diver­si­fy beau­ty in art.


2The pay for art modeling isn’t as great as for photoshoots

…but it is more con­sis­tent, low-maintenance, and enough to make a liv­ing. Art mod­el­ing for class­es gen­er­al­ly pays $15–20 an hour. In con­trast, for a pho­to­shoot, I can expect to make $30–65 per hour of shoot­ing. The key phrase is, “per hour of shooting”.

If you’re a freelance alt model, there’s probably much more to your job:
  • Promotion and social media management
  • Vetting and oth­er safe­ty measures
  • Preparing your outfits
  • Maintaining your appearance
  • Prepping hair and make-up for photoshoots
  • Paying for help with any above (an agent who pro­motes might take a 20% cut of your profit)

The real­i­ty is that much of the work involved in mod­el­ing takes place away from the cam­era. Unless you’re estab­lished with a major design­er (for exam­ple, doing fit mod­el­ing), there might be lulls in income from week to week, pos­si­bly sup­ple­ment­ed by anoth­er job.

These drawbacks don’t apply to art modeling to the same extent

6 Essential Things to Know About Modeling Nude For Art Classes 3

Once you get the ball rolling, it’s gen­er­al­ly pret­ty steady. You do have to net­work with art instruc­tors if there isn’t a coor­di­na­tor assign­ing mod­els to class­es, but it’s not hard to find uni­ver­si­ties and com­mu­ni­ty col­leges with art pro­grams in an urban area.

From there, if you’re doing it full-time, you’d rotate the class­es and insti­tu­tions you work with: maybe two pro­fes­sors on Monday and Wednesday, anoth­er two pro­fes­sors on Tuesday and Thursday, anoth­er one on Friday, anoth­er one on Saturday… and then do it again with a dif­fer­ent line­up the fol­low­ing week.

It’s much more sta­ble to be able to work 40 hours a week on a low­er per-hour wage than to be on-and-off with a high­er per-hour wage for few­er hours at a time. This isn’t to say that being an art mod­el is bet­ter; it comes down to what­ev­er’s more reward­ing for you. What’s more, you can cer­tain­ly do dif­fer­ent kinds of mod­el­ing to gen­er­ate mul­ti­ple income streams under the same brand.


3How to quickly think of short gesture poses

The first thing stu­dents do in a draw­ing or paint­ing class is pret­ty much always ges­ture (warm-up) draw­ings. The mod­el holds a series of these pos­es for about 1 minute each (though it can be any­thing between 15 sec­onds and 3 minutes).

For the most part, peo­ple know whether they can hold a pose for 1 minute.

6 Essential Things to Know About Modeling Nude For Art Classes 4

The chal­lenge with short pos­es, how­ev­er, is com­ing up with many pos­es in quick suc­ces­sion. Pretty much my whole time hold­ing a short pose, I’m think­ing about the fac­tors going into what pose I’m going to do next. Here are some quick guidelines.

Just get moving!

If you don’t have a back­ground in dance, fit­ness, or sports, sign up for a class or look up videos. Take men­tal notes! It’s prob­a­bly the most impor­tant thing you could do to think of pos­es on the fly. I visu­al­ize myself go-go danc­ing or doing yoga, and show what it would look like if I froze at a ran­dom moment.

Do I want to do a lying, seated, kneeling, or standing pose?

Come up with a go-to pose or two for each of these 4 cat­e­gories: lying, seat­ed, kneel­ing, stand­ing. Then, branch out with vari­a­tions for each pose from the front view, back view, side view, and 3/4 view. With this tip alone, you have more than 16 com­bi­na­tions you could do!

What are my arms and legs doing?

To keep things inter­est­ing, have asym­me­tries among your arms and legs. For exam­ple, one leg is bent to the side and the oth­er is straight. One arm is up above your head and the oth­er is draped across your chest. Variations of con­trap­pos­to with one hand on your hip are easy classics.

Foreshortening is also some­thing to keep in mind: extend­ing an arm or leg looks total­ly dif­fer­ent from the front view vs. from the side view, so I always make sure to include a few pos­es where I have an arm or a foot extend­ing towards the viewer.

What furniture or props do I have nearby that I can use?

6 Essential Things to Know About Modeling Nude For Art Classes 5Props eas­i­ly add vari­ety to pos­es and/or offer sup­port! Here are a few items very com­mon in fig­ure draw­ing class­es, and some ideas on how to use them for flair.

  • Low bench for slight ele­va­tion — prop­ping up one of my legs when stand­ing or squat­ting. Lying face down, rest­ing my head on my arms on the bench. Lying on my back, arch­ing my back over the bench.
  • Rod or long piece of PVC pipe — imag­in­ing it as a weapon or base­ball bat and show­ing the twists and turns I might do when club­bing something.
  • Armchair — show ways to drape my limbs over the chair’s arms.
Gestures take more creative thinking, but they give you more creative license!

Gestures and short pos­es were the part I wor­ried most about when I start­ed, but once I got mov­ing, it actu­al­ly end­ed up being a lot of fun. My mild fear of doing the same pose twice was large­ly unfound­ed, con­sid­er­ing I prob­a­bly could­n’t do the same pose from the same angle twice if I want­ed to.

Once you get past the set of short ges­ture pos­es, the time increas­es to 20 min­utes at a time.


4Long poses are excruciating in ways you don’t expect

If you ask a fig­ure mod­el, “what’s the hard­est pose you’ve ever had to do?” chances are, their answer won’t be what you expect.

It’s not even pos­es that demand the most strength or flex­i­bil­i­ty, or are the most com­pli­cat­ed, that hurt the most. The most painful part of being a fig­ure mod­el comes down to cir­cu­la­tion issues when you hold seem­ing­ly basic pos­es for a long time. A hand and foot might go numb, or a locked knee might be painful to flex.

Long pose no-no: pressing hands and feet against hard objects

There have been times where I seri­ous­ly could­n’t feel my foot; I could move it, but total­ly not FEEL the move­ment at all. This is much more like­ly to hap­pen if I rest weight on a bony part of my foot against a hard sur­face, so hav­ing cushy tow­els or a pil­low helps a lot.

Likewise, I don’t want to sit on the edge of a hard chair, which places a lot of pres­sure on my thighs and, yes, reduces cir­cu­la­tion. I’ve even had a hand get tingly and fall asleep from bend­ing my wrist and press­ing my hand too hard on my hip, some­thing I total­ly did­n’t real­ize was a thing.

Long pose no-no: locking knees

6 Essential Things to Know About Modeling Nude For Art Classes 6

We don’t gen­er­al­ly stand with legs total­ly straight. I learned the hard way that there’s a good rea­son for that: it’s fuck­ing painful to main­tain a knee locked straight, espe­cial­ly while shift­ing weight on it, for 20 min­utes. When I get a break and start mov­ing my leg again, it feels like Jell‑O.

And aside from the pain, there are prac­ti­cal rea­sons you would­n’t want to do that. For one, it’s bad for your knee-joint, and sec­ond, it’s a great recipe for low blood pres­sure in the brain. Normally when you’re stand­ing, your knees are slight­ly bent and you engage legs mus­cles to hold you steady. Keeping your knee total­ly straight and rigid, by con­trast, demands far less mus­cle engagement.

Therein lies the pos­si­bil­i­ty of faint­ing: if your leg mus­cles aren’t engaged when you stand, your veins do less work to bring blood back up to the heart, and less blood goes to your brain. This brings me to my next point…


5Figure modeling can be physically demanding, so it’s okay to take quick, frequent breaks

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Bring snacks and water, be assertive, and take care of your phys­i­cal and men­tal endurance. You don’t want your blood sug­ar to drop while you’re pos­ing, which can also lead to faint­ing, and you def­i­nite­ly don’t want to abrupt­ly end a pose in pain. It’s crit­i­cal to have body aware­ness and take breaks accordingly.

If you need to shake a leg out a few times while hold­ing a pose, it’s okay to do that and return to the pose. If one foot is espe­cial­ly giv­ing you trou­ble, it’s okay to give the stu­dents a heads-up and rest your foot while main­tain­ing the rest of the pose. You can always bring it back to its pre­vi­ous place.

Nobody is going to be mad at you for tak­ing a few sec­onds to recov­er. Even if you need a 5‑minute break before one is sched­uled, speak­ing up and tak­ing breaks still allows you to do your best. Frankly, if some­one has nev­er fig­ure mod­eled before, and nev­er known how hard it can be, they don’t have much room to crit­i­cize you.

My back, shoul­ders, and neck would often be sore after I came home from work, but that’s okay when I have no short­age of back mas­sagers. Treat yo’­self! Help your­self so you can help others.


6Encourage the students who draw you to be assertive too!

Remember, fig­ure mod­el­ing is all about help­ing stu­dents learn. If I start a pose for 20 min­utes, take a break, and return to the same pose for anoth­er 20, I always ask the fol­low­ing question:

“Is there any­thing you’d like me to adjust before we start again?”

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That way, I can make sure for their sake match­es the pose I had before. This makes them more com­fort­able with request­ing that I rotate my leg a lit­tle, adjust the slope of my shoul­ders, what­ev­er I need to do to keep it consistent.

Even when I start a new long pose, I ask what adjust­ments I could make. The thing is, in a foundation-level class, stu­dents might be used to set­tling and not ask­ing for what they want. I want them to know that it’s total­ly okay to make requests. As a for­mer art stu­dent myself, I want them to be sat­is­fied with what they draw.


There’s always a demand for nude figure models

UPDATE: I’m no longer mod­el­ing nude for art class­es, so I can’t com­ment on how the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has affect­ed it. If you’d like to look at oth­er ways to make mon­ey online, I do have new­er posts about that!


Modeling for art class­es is a sim­ple job, but a poten­tial­ly reward­ing one if you’re into art and want to get involved in its cre­ation. If you’re already near a big city, you can start by:

  1. Getting some head­shots and bathing suit pho­tos done to show what you look like
  2. Finding art school fac­ul­ty via Model Mayhem or the school website
  3. Introducing your­self, your ath­let­ic hob­bies, and why you want to be an art model

Once you get mov­ing and under­stand how your body reacts to dif­fer­ent pos­es, fig­ure mod­el­ing is a lot less scary and a lot more fun!

If you’d like more posts about mod­el­ing, con­sid­er donat­ing to buy me a coffee!


Photo credits

22 Responses

  1. Indigo says:

    Interesting and thought­ful post. As a for­mer art mod­el a lot of what you wrote res­onat­ed with me. As an artist new­ly returned to life draw­ing you remind­ed me of why I need to get back into it as part of my prac­tice. So thanks!

  2. Trix says:

    As a for­mer art his­to­ry major, I found this fas­ci­nat­ing and useful!

  3. Sarah says:

    I used to mod­el for art stu­dents and would love to get back into it in my new city. To add some thoughts to this post: the hard­est pose I ever had was two hours with one foot on a lad­der. This was when I had just start­ed, and I had no con­cept of how awful it would be to have most of my weight on one leg for 2+ hours! Learned that les­son real quick!

    Overall mod­el­ling for art class­es is the job where I’ve been treat­ed the best…checked in with, made to feel as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble, giv­en a lot of choices…I feel like when you’re not wear­ing clothes any kind of exploita­tion or care­less­ness would seem par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious, so folks tend to be care­ful to real­ly treat you like a human and val­ue your labor. That being said, self-advocacy is super impor­tant no mat­ter what! Thanks for this post! It’s a good reminder to check out these gigs in my area!

  4. Jay says:

    Back when I was in school I con­sid­ered mod­el­ing for extra cash, but in the end I chick­ened out. I don’t regret not doing it, espe­cial­ly since my school was so small, but I would prob­a­bly be more open to it now. It was real­ly inter­est­ing to read the thoughts and tips of some­one who does this professionally.

  5. Tar says:

    Love all of your tips! I have learned most of these the hard way real quick. Lol Though, one thing I try not to do is give com­plete con­trol of my body to the Art stu­dents. They don’t know what feels com­fort­able to the mod­el. So being open to any of their requests is not always the best answer. You’ll end up in a pose that kills.

  6. C says:

    That sounds like an inter­est­ing job. I have motor tics so I feel like I would always be twitch­ing in weird ways while the stu­dents are try­ing to draw me ??

  7. Miles says:

    I am a male mod­el in my fifties. I start­ed mod­el­ing a few years ago sim­ply because I love art and love being part of the art world. It also keeps me moti­vat­ed to stay fit and take care of myself. It’s real­ly reward­ing to see some of the work that artists pro­duce and to know that I’ve aid­ed in the inspi­ra­tion of that work. Plus, I’ve met some won­der­ful artists and it’s fun to feel a part of a community.

  8. Tom says:

    I’m an old­er man and first start­ed to mod­el for art class­es when I was in grad­u­ate school. I picked it up again about 10 years ago. I main­ly mod­el for open stu­dios, but have done lessons and class­es too. I just want to say that a mod­el should nev­er have to hold a pose longer than 25 min­utes with­out a break. I’ve held pos­es for 30 min­utes, but won’t do that any­more. The teacher or an artist can use tape, chalk, or what­ev­er to mark foot, leg, arm posi­tions so the mod­el can return to the same pose. After get­ting resum­ing the pose I ask the artists if i need to adjust my body posi­tion at all. I’ve done two and even three hour pos­es this way. I would like to hear from oth­er mod­els, so feel free to con­tact me.

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