Every art model remembers the first time they posed nude for an art class. It’s hard to forget stepping onto that podium and unceremoniously dropping your robe to the floor, standing completely exposed in front of a group of strangers as their eyes scrutinize every detail of your naked body. The physical awareness, emotion, and vitality of that moment are still with me today, though I will never recapture the essence of those first few poses on the stand. So what is it like the first time an art model poses? I’ll answer with my story below, but I’m interested in hearing from the other models out there as well – what was your first time like?
As I related in my previous post on why I started modeling, my inspiration was a trip to Italy and the lasting impression made by the many superb sculptures I saw, particularly Michelangelo’s David. After returning from Italy in January (9 years ago), I contemplated the prospects of art modeling over the next few months, and in April finally decided to take the plunge and call around to find a life drawing class willing to take me. After several days and a few dozen phone calls, I finally found two community groups willing to have add me to their roster. At the time I lived in a moderate size Southern city, and only two life drawing groups existed. They had a grand total of one male model that posed for both groups; the prospect of a new male art model was appealing to them.
So after a “trial run” at one of the groups where I posed in a costume (I dusted off my old high school soccer uniform for the first time in 8 years), they penciled me in for a nude session 6 weeks later. The other group – held at a local Jewish community center – had already scheduled me for a session in July, but called back the very night of my first costumed gig and told me they had a cancellation – I would be modeling in just 6 days for the first time ever! I hung up the phone with excitement and trepidation – a series of intermittent “butterflies” started that wouldn’t go away until after that first session was over.
As excited as I was to start my art modeling career, I had three major concerns: what poses to do, body hair, and getting an erection while posing. Body image wasn’t particularly worrisome for me: naive though I was, I still understood that my reasonably fit body wouldn’t be the best they’d seen, nor would it be the worst. The posing concern was resolved easily enough with practice. Every night leading up to the session I would undress, stand in front of my full-length mirror, and practice posing. Like most figure drawing classes, this session consisted of a series of short poses (gestures), then a few 5-minute poses, then 10-minute poses, and finally four different 20-minute poses to end the evening. So I tried to think of interesting, dynamic, elegant poses that were feasible for each amount of time. I consulted art history books, reviewed famous paintings and sculptures, and added my own twist to some yoga poses. After completely rehearsing my repertoire, I was ready to pose.
The body hair fear was foolish on several levels. First of all, models have body hair of varying degrees. Artists want to see a “real” human body, not a hairless mannequin. Second, I have a fairly low amount of body hair as it is – just a tuft of chest hair, very sparse fuzz on my back and buttocks, and an average amount of pubic and leg hair. Yet for some reason I considered this too much, and actually shaved all of my body hair except for my armpit and head hair. Silly and unnecessary I know, but I was a neophyte and thought this would be more appealing to the artists. I still trim my pubic hair, but the rest I now grow naturally.
Finally, the erection issue. I think every male art model at least considered this occurrence before taking the stand for the first time. After thousands of poses and a few dozen erections over the past decade, I now realize a boner on the modeling stand is rare, short-lived, and taken in stride by the artists. But to a relatively sexually inexperienced man in his early 20s who got aroused easily, this was a concern. I decided that when I felt the slightest stirring down below I would just bite my lip and think of something really sad – that seemed like the best way to physically and mentally quench an unwanted spontaneous hard-on.
The day of my session arrived (a Monday), and I was nervous throughout. I glanced at the clock anxiously during the day, apprehensively anticipating the arrival of 7:00 pm. Butterflies zoomed through my stomach and my heart raced every time I thought of dropping my robe. I arrived as the JCC 15 minutes early, and found the small studio tucked in a corner above the gymnasium. The monitor, a figurative sculptor named Arthur, made me feel at ease and directed me to the nearest restroom so I could change into my robe. I read enough about modeling online to know to bring a robe and sandals to wear between poses, so I was prepared from a “dress code” standpoint (ironic as it is).
By the time I had changed and made my way back to the studio, the other artists (10 total) had arrived, all setting up their paper and selecting their pencil and/or charcoal stick for that evening. Six women and 4 men were there – all the men were middle age or older, several of the women were in their early 30’s – about what I expected, and would come to learn is typical of community drawing groups. I stood in front of the model standing, pacing unconsciously, trying to act calm on the exterior while by heart raced at an ungodly rate. My time had come.
“Ok, let’s get started,” Arther boomed. “Five 2-minute poses, then two 5-minute poses, please.”
Realizing this was my cue but not entirely confident about what I should do next, I stepped to the side of the modeling stand. Looking down at the floor in the cold, weighty silence of the room, I untied my robe and with a light toss, dropped it to the side of the stand. I was naked. My heart pounded out of my chest. The emotional vulnerability of that moment is indescribable – I was completely exposed in front of these 10 people, and there was nowhere to hide. Very few people had seen me naked to that point, but there I was in front of a group of strangers, their eyes pouring over the contours of my figure. My stomach flipped again and again, and the physical awareness of my nudity was profound: it’s as if every cell in my body were alive and sensing every change in temperature or micro-current of air, and I was consciously aware of all of it simultaneously. Yet the thrill and exhilaration was the highest high: I felt immortal and yet utterly vulnerable. The rush of adrenaline and sympathetic stimulation was among the most intense of my life. It had begun.
I gingerly stepped up onto the stand (a make-shift platform that consisted of a table propped on boxes), and assumed the first 2-minute pose, a nicely twisted gesture with my hands on my left hip, derived from a Bernini sculpture; I still use it frequently today. And with that pose I was into the flow of things. Looking back on that first session, my performance as a model was pretty mediocre. Yes, I stood still and held some decent poses, but I was too still: my poses were stiff and rigid and tense. I hadn’t yet yearned to settle into a pose in a way that is interesting yet relaxing. I had also yet to learn how to expose myself completely beyond the physical nudity. Being naked is only the surface exposure – good models expose themselves through and through, including their fears, emotions, and spirituality. I was nude, but I wasn’t fully exposed. The artists were all very complimentary (though Arthur sensed the tension and said I needed to appear more comfortable up there), and I was assured of repeat bookings. Their renderings of me were insightful and gratifying – there I was, a completed drawing on canvas! I had inspired this small work of art, but it was an art work nonetheless!
And what of my 3 major fears going into the session? Well, the poses were good, but I hadn’t yet mastered the ability to make them simultaneously interesting and relaxed. Still, for a first session they were more than adequate. The body hair issue was indeed a non-issue. No erection occurred that evening, as might be expected. Anytime I became aware of my penis in any way I clinched my teeth and tried to prevent it – a practice that undoubtedly led to my apparent tension on the stand.
Thus with a single invigorating session under my belt and none of my fears in any way an issue, I was hooked. I always think back on that first session with fondness – as nervous as I was, nothing can compare with the rush of that first time dropping the robe and assuming a pose. Of all the many sessions I’ve had since, that was without question my most memorable.
So what about you, fellow models? How was your first experience? I would love to hear how your first time was similar and/or different from mine…comment away!