I’ve been wanting to write a post about working with art models; since I spend 12 – 18 hours a week drawing, painting, teaching and lighting them, it seems a fair subject to talk about.
Models are first and foremost, my colleagues. I couldn’t work as I do without having a good relationship with these wonderful, hardworking people.
Beyond that, many are my friends; some in that professional ‘office’ sense, casual friendliness within the work hours we spend together. Others become closer, friends to have dinner with and talk of art.
Many art models I know are, in fact, artists themselves; others are deeply involved in the related fields such as dance, poetry, literature, music. Some teach when they are not modeling (or conversely, model when they are not teaching). Some model full time, which I think is the hardest gig of all; a nine hour workday spread from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., then get up and do it again.
Real people, with real lives. Then they get on the model stand and transform. They take a pose, and a different relationship takes place, a non-verbal connection between artist and muse.
As the instructor I always make sure we begin with gestures; 1 and 2 minute poses that warm the body (theirs and ours!) and open that visual pathway between hand an eye, eye and model. Then come the longer poses; the timer starts and we dive into the pool of visual stimuli and draw.
If we are on, warmed and stretched like the morning runners, we can break through the wall of visual assumptions, (from early childhood we have accumulated icons, ‘visual assumptions’, pictographs that identify and catalog such exquisitely and essentially abstract shapes as a leg, or an eye. Inexperienced art students observe the real eye, and then draw the pictograph; an almond shape with two points and a circle inside. Tell me you have never done that!)
If we can get past that impulse to dash off a pictograph, if we instead really observe what is before us, shapes will appear: edges, angles, colors, light and shadow pattern, positive and negative space, the abstracts of sight that fit together into a human form. When we concentrate on looking for and seeing these abstract jig-saw puzzle pieces, and then begin to draw them, the work of drawing becomes a river of connection, of communication that begins with the model and flows through us and onto the page.
This incredible communication isn’t possible with out the living and breathing person on the model stand. It is enhanced (in ways that amaze me) when the model is also on, in tune with us and themselves, bringing their presence into every gesture, every pose. That presence, that energy can catch fire with our own and infuse mere lines and shadows with energy, power and grace.
Just last week my entire figure drawing class burst into applause, after the model completed one of an incredible series of gestures; they were that energized and in tune with her.
So, I titled this post Fourteen years (or so) of painting Anton, then haven’t spoken of him at all yet! Anton is in his nineties now, and still comes to model for us every quarter or so. He has a long and varied working life, including as a photographer before becoming an artist model in the 1990’s.
We don’t have him do gestures anymore, it is enough to have him sit for us for three hours; he is so wonderful to paint, wonderful to gaze at him, peel each visual layer and express the person underneath.
I’ve added a gallery of work I have done with Anton, in rough chronological order. Click on the first one to see it in slideshow.
It is kind of fun to watch his beard grow ;.)