I modeled for my very first figure drawing session exactly 34 years ago today. I bring that up here since modeling, especially nude modeling, provided the genesis of my novel The “Volunteer”, and is a major focus of my next novel Life Models. In celebration of this anniversary, here is a slightly edited piece I wrote a few years ago about how I got into modeling in the first place…
Art modeling is an unusual job because it is one where nudity in front of others is required, and yet, there is nothing overtly erotic or titillating about it. It can be very physically demanding, both doing short action poses and long extended ones. The human body was not made to be still, but to be in motion. Maintaining a pose for any length of time goes against that nature to move. And yet, in spite of the physical demands and the fact that I am putting myself on display to an extent greater than any other job that I can think of, I still love it. I wouldn’t have done it for 34 years and counting if I didn’t.
I grew up in a very clothes-compulsive house. Nudity was simply not present except in the bath or shower. I don’t think I’ve seen either of my younger brothers nude since they were toddlers. So when I was 18 and a freshman in college, I rebelled from that clothes-compulsiveness by taking it all off for art classes. The idea that I could be a nude model for a whole classroom full of people was born in the dormitory cafeteria. I lived in an all-male dorm, but it was next to a female dorm, and we all shared the same dining hall. I was sitting across from a young lady one day in the fall of 1984, eating lunch. This girl was a little odd, but she was also cute. I remember being very interested in her. I don’t even remember her name now, all these years later, but one random fact I do remember is that she was a big fan of Grace Jones. During our lunchtime conversation, she mentioned that she drew “naked people” in her art class. I knew that such classes existed from watching an episode of Three’s Company not too many months earlier. In the episode, Jack Tripper (played by the late John Ritter) tries to impress a new girl in the neighborhood by agreeing to pose for an art class she is teaching. When he arrives at the class, she tells him to get undressed. He is surprised, not even suspecting that the art class drew nude models, but he goes through with it anyway. The punchline is that his landlord, Mr. Furley (played by the late Don Knotts), walks into the class with his drawing pad under his arm just after Jack has disrobed. The look on his face was the funniest shot of the episode. But Three’s Company took place in California. I didn’t think classes in Fayetteville, Arkansas would use nude models. I was immediately intrigued. I told the girl at my table that I wanted to model.
Later, as I thought about it, I decided that I had to go through with it if only to impress upon this girl that I would do what I said I would. I ventured over to the art building and saw a sheet on a bulletin board advertising for models. They were paying five dollars per hour, which, at the time, was better than any other campus job I could get. I went to the Tuesday evening open figure drawing session and made an attempt to draw the female model there. My drawings were terrible, but I wasn’t too interested in drawing. I wanted to witness a session and see how the model acted, was treated, etc. It took me awhile to gather the courage to sign up as a model myself, but I finally did.
While waiting for my first call, I went to the college bookstore and found the textbook for the figure drawing class. It contained a few black and white photographs taken in drawing classes. One of the things that I couldn’t help but notice was that the female models were nude but the male models in the classes wore a jock strap. That wouldn’t do. I couldn’t see myself modeling like that, with my genitals covered and my bare butt hanging out. That would be far more embarrassing than being fully nude, I thought. Besides, if the females get to be completely nude, why not the males? I went back to the open drawing session, but there was another female model there. I asked one of the ladies drawing if they ever had male models, and she said yes. I then asked if the males had to wear anything, and she said no. That calmed my nerves a bit. Unfortunately, my second attempt at drawing was even worse than the first.
I got a call a few Tuesdays later from the coordinator of that open session. His model had cancelled for that night, and he needed someone to cover. I accepted somewhat reluctantly. Once I hung up the phone, I realized that the class started in less than an hour. I took a long walk around campus before entering the studio. There were only two women who had shown up to draw that night, including the one I had asked about the jock strap thing. It was election night, and I’m sure a lot of people stayed home to watch the returns. (Reagan stomped Mondale that night, by the way.)
I didn’t even have a robe, but the female models I had observed hadn’t had robes either. I started taking off my clothes beside the modeling platform. When I got down to my underwear, took a deep breath, and slipped them off. There I was. The two ladies did not run screaming that there was a naked man in the room. I took my poses and got more comfortable as the evening went on.
I eventually modeled for the regular figure drawing class during the spring semester. Alas, the young lady who had introduced me to this new profession never saw me model (she had only taken the class in the fall). The figure drawing class was small, only five students, and I got very comfortable posing for them. Toward the end of that spring semester, the instructor asked me to model for her introductory drawing class. I agreed, and I was somewhat shocked when I showed up for it. The room was packed with at least 20 people. I definitely had butterflies just because of the number of students and the knowledge that they had never drawn from a nude model before. I went ahead, gulped real hard, took everything off and hopped on the model stand. My experience in that class was wonderful, as if my platform were an island outside of everything else going in my life and I was sharing it with these special artists in the room. By the time class was over, I didn’t want to have to get dressed and go back out into the rest of the world. I was hooked on this strange, wonderful profession.