Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some Notes for the Model

Get undressed before you enter the room. Bring a bath robe so that you can cover and uncover yourself as desired. Stretch. You need to be fit. The paintings make you look like you are just laying about for hours. Don't believe the images. It's hard work. You will be in pain the next day and you won't be able to hold a pose unless you are strong.

If you are standing absolutely still for more than eight minutes, raise your heels occasionally, like a soldier when on parade. If you are pregnant, raise your heels constantly throughout the pose. Otherwise, when staring out the window of twelve panes; the trees, the sky, the brick paving outside will pixillate your vision and rush towards you. The blood will fall from your brain and you will stagger against a table, a chair, the wall and the artists will become alarmed. "I saw your colour fall like the tide!"

Enjoy those negative spaces, between your elbow and your waist. Tie up your hair so they can paint the lean of your neck.

 Despite the pay, small artists collectives are the most rewarding work. They are eternally grateful for your naked self. They may gift you their pictures. Fat artists will paint you thinner than you are. Thin artists will paint you fatter. Sometimes you will be beautiful and other times your frown of concentration becomes your whole self and your breasts will look like two sockfuls of sand. But then they will cut for a break and offer you cups of tea and home made cakes. Don't be intimidated by the arts centre administrator trainee who fumes at your bare feet whilst you are sipping tea in a flimsy bath robe. They got their job through Work for the Dole. You are the muse.

When you model for master classes, listen to the master. Try to ignore the summer blowflies that hover around your thighs and the sweat that gathers under your breasts. Break a pose just before it becomes excruciating, just before your limbs begin to shake. Tell the artists you are going to move, rattle out your whole body and then return to exactly the same pose. Ask them if your return is correct. They'll tell you. Some will swear. Others will break charcoals. But they will happily tell you where to move, if you ask them.

You will go to your favourite artist's funeral, one day. Maybe the other models will go as well. You will sit in one of the rows behind the family.

Don't let them touch you.
Some elderly male artist tells the class an anecdote about his sculpture group in the city, where they will 'pose' a model, leaving their wet clay fingerprints over her chin and her feet and her hips. The artist women will snort and shake their heads. You remain impassive, because they are drawing your face at the time.

People's shoes will become terribly interesting. They narrate whole novels. The blanket you lie upon, face down, weaves last night's dreams before your eyes. Yes, you will remember all of your dreams and maybe future ones too when lying still and staring into the weave of a blanket. It's called scrying in some cultures. The optic nerve switches off after prolonged staring and the subconscious takes control. Be careful.

On one of your first jobs you will be summonsed to the state education centre where the only people present are three sixteen year old boys who didn't finish high school and an aging, unsuccessful artist-come-teacher. The boys will be utterly terrified of you. They'll mask it with guffaws and flickering eyes. The teacher will appear relaxed in making conversation with you but you can tell that he dyes his hair black and that he is sweating. Those boys will have never, ever been given overt permission to examine a woman's body before. Porn perhaps, but not a live body and nothing like you, with all your stretchmarks and flaws and womany smells. By the end of the session - and they will only get one session of life drawing in their whole year of training - you and they will realise the beauty of the gift you have handed to them. Years later you may see one of the boys on the street and he will recognise you and something in his eyes is respectful, thankful and remembering.

In your travels you may go to a week-long festival and gravitate to the art pavilion, where models walk in after swimming naked in the river and sit down on a bale of hay and pose for random painters. You will sit too for the artists.

On the third day, you find some paper and some water colours. A beautiful woman will walk out of the river and sit in front of you. You lay strokes of colour and black ink onto the paper. You remember the master's words: "Find the line of the body. The essence. Paint that line in one sure stroke. It may be the spine. It may be a curve of her thigh. It may be where a crease cuts her body in half. Find it."

And by some strange process of osmosis, you know the bodyline the moment you spread the ink up the paper in a sure, single stroke. The sound of the brush on paper will exhilarate you. You know what you are doing. You have absorbed the lessons of all the artists and masters you have ever modelled for.


  1. Merc, that story came up after reading about your drawing class! There's a whole world in the line 'the model was good'.

  2. Beautifully said. And having done a lot of modelling myself, absolutely spot on.

    I have posed for groups where the lecturer has asked permission to draw with thick texta on my body. Of course as an artist myself I agreed, because I have done it myself when I have been instructing others. My sense of 'respect' for myelf as a piece of flesh art and others too has possibly suffered in the process - people as art objects!

  3. Hehe, I somehow knew that! Sarah, you can really write good you know. I was thinking about the models I have been working with, and everything you wrote was perfectly viable. There is a numinous relationship for sure. When you write and publish your book ;-) I want an invitation to the launch OK?

  4. Ok Merc.
    I don't know if I'd enjoy being drawn on MF. But it is a really interesting form of communication, being an artist's model.

  5. Feels kinda nice being drawn on, as long as it's a soft thick texta!

  6. The film the Pillow Book goes there, Greenaway at his least obscure. For me the model is not a muse, though the feeling is one of gratitude, there is a distance that equates lines achieved (or not) divorced from the usual inhibition of society.
    I am surprised by how cold I become in pursuit of my ideal perspective.

  7. I was once one of those boys 50 plus years ago. Her pose was bizarre - digging the garden with a spade and my constant thought at the time was that nobody I knew would dig with bare feet.

  8. I have just discovered your very evocotive writing. Once working at a private all boys school a 'mum' arrived before a life drawing class and the teacher and i told the 17 year olds that she was the model - the look of dread! then in walked a very petite young model - well you could have heard a pin drop for two hours pencils were worn to the stump !!