Thursday, August 27, 2015

Life Drawing: a Novel

I have finally begun editing and rewriting the novel, called Life Models, that I started back in October 2013.  I never actually finished that first draft since the story had taken a turn that I knew would have to be drastically changed.  Because of this, my motivation just kind of petered out without putting an ending on the 84,000 word manuscript.

I retrieved the manuscript after it had lain dormant for over a year and started over at page one, revising and re-writing.  My female main character, Lydia, has undergone some radical changes from how I had written her in the first draft, which has necessitated changes throughout the story.  The plot also needed a lot more conflict to make it interesting, and these changes to Lydia help provide that.  I’m hoping to finish this draft in October so that I can start on a new project for 2015’s National Novel Writing Month.  I’ll pick up Life Models again in December for a third draft and a polish and hopefully have it ready to submit by February.

In the meantime, I’ve got a short story or two that I plan on submitting to magazines and literary journals.  To prepare for this, I bought the newly released 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.  In one of the articles about outlining in the early part of that book, a novel called Life Drawing by Robin Black was referenced.  I was immediately intrigued since the first title for my novel was Life Drawing (I changed it to Life Models in December of 2013).  In fact, I was so intrigued that I ordered a copy from Amazon and read it in about two days this past week.

I will say that Robin Black’s Life Drawing is not the type of novel I normally read, but there are similarities to Life Models.  Both are told in first person and both involve (sort of) recently widowed spouses.  Infertility also plays a part in both stories.  When I received Life Drawing in the mail, I was surprised to find a full nine pages of quotes from reviews, which made it seem to me like the publisher was trying too hard to sell the book.

Ms. Black’s novel deals with an artist who is married to a writer.  The writer’s death is alluded to in the opening pages, but the rest of the novel deals with the two of them trying to maintain their marriage after a previous infidelity.  It is the type of family drama that I normally don’t enjoy, and I didn’t think I would like Life Drawing until late in the story, when the couple takes a trip to Cape Cod.  It was their exchange on the drive there that really sucked me into the story (finally).  When the writer’s death does come, it is shocking and jarring and would have been far too much if it hadn’t been alluded to in those first pages.  The story is, ultimately, a tragedy, but it is one that I did enjoy.  I’m glad the title prompted me to buy it, although there were no scenes in an actual life drawing class, nor were there any references to drawing the nude (in spite of the woman in what appears to be a robe on the cover).

I did notice that one of the review quotes in the opening pages of Life Drawing was from author Alice Sebold, the author of The Lovely Bones.  In 2007 Ms. Sebold did write and publish a novel called The Almost Moon which features an artist’s model as the central character.  I read it a number of years ago and had mixed feelings about it.  I do recommend it, however.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On Nudity

I did a three hour standing pose last night (with breaks at regular intervals, of course), and I valued the time to just be alone in my head, letting the thoughts run through my sometimes overactive mind.  Given my physical state at the time, I started thinking about nudity in our society and how my job as an art model is perceived by the general public.  Society trains us into equating nudity with sex and that, because of this, we have to keep our bodies covered at virtually all times.  And for most people, this is a self-fulfilling condition; the sight of a nude body does generate a sexual response but only because they so rarely see it and because they expect such a response.  I have modeled nude with quite a few other models over the years (although not that often since most schools and art groups can’t afford to pay two models for the same session).  In each instance, I have taken just a very brief moment to admire my fellow model’s form and beauty (because all bodies are beautiful) before getting to work myself.  I have never felt that that admiration and appreciation of the human body has ever been sexual.  I’ve been doing this job for over 30 years, and I’ve seen quite a few other nude models and works of art created from those models.  I’ve been seen countless times myself, and at 48 years old and with a few fat layers from my full-time job sitting at a desk and looking at computer monitors, I still marvel at drawings done of me.

I do think that there is an allure to nudity because we as a society hide and cover it so much.  When people succumb to that allure, they turn to “adult” entertainment which keeps perpetuating the lie that naked bodies are only to be used for sex.  But then again, pornography itself is a lie, with atypical bodies saying and doing atypical things.  I’ve often thought that if we as a society were more open to nudity in everyday life (especially nudity of the average body and not the idealized bodies that our media almost exclusively presents us) that pornographers’ incomes would come crashing down.  But instead, our society has prohibited simple nudity from the public arena.  When singer Erykah Badu got nude on the spot where JFK was assassinated for one of her music videos, authorities in Dallas launched an investigation to find someone who witnessed it and who could be convinced to file a complaint.  Once that person was found and the complaint filed, Erykah was charged with disorderly conduct and fined.  Why go to all that trouble for a “crime” that had no victims?  It just saddens me.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

30 Years!

I modeled for a figure drawing class for the very first time on November 6, 1984. Last night, at an anatomy class at the Texas Academy of Figurative Art, I finished my first 30 years of modeling. Tomorrow night, at the Friday Night Lights and Shadows painters group at Brookhaven College, I will start my second 30 years on the model stand. It is a job I love. With all the busy-ness going on in life, doing an art class is one of the few chances for me to just simply be. And when, after a long pose that causes cramping, pain, or the loss of feeling in a foot or leg, I question why I keep at it, I only have to look at the amazing and beautiful works of art that are produced.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

About Modeling

It has been far too long since I added a blog post here, and for that, I apologize.  My full-time job has been taking more and more of my time, and the kids' activities even more.  Modeling jobs have seemed fewer and harder to come by with my current schedule, but I still take what I can get.

Two or three years ago, I was approached by a fellow model at the University of North Texas.  He wanted to produce a book for models detailing the profession and loaded with photos of sample poses.  I loved the idea and immediately signed on.  At first, the book was to be strictly for the models at UNT, but he also had ambitions for making it more widely available.

We did a photo shoot in one of the empty drawing studios at the university in mid-May, just after the spring semester had ended.  I did examples of short gesture poses and what would be longer ones while he snapped photos.  He had tried to get a rotating platform, but that idea had proven to be impractical.  Instead, I turned 45 degrees for each pose to get four different angles.  I did quite a few solo poses, poses with a female model, and poses with another male model.

For whatever reason, the university art department, which, according to this model/author/photographer, had at first seemed enthusiastic about the idea, soon seemed to lose interest in the project.  Still, this fellow model talked about producing a more widely available book.  Unfortunately, life intervened as it so often does, and he had to move a bit further away.  We still communicated sporadically via email, and he finally got a few spiral-bound copies of the book printed and sent to the models who had participated.

He had planned on retouching the photos to remove the backgrounds and put more highlight on the model and the poses, but he hadn't had time to do that yet.  The photos in the book I received were dark, grainy black and white images.

There were a total of seven models of various shapes and sizes photographed for the book, three males and four females.  I think I was, by quite a few years, the oldest model in the book.  When I look at my copy, I am struck by the pure beauty of the pure human form, the lines and shapes.  We are truly amazing creatures, and it sometimes makes me sad that society insists that we keep ourselves covered at virtually all times.

The book makes me proud of my almost 30 years as an art model, and it also makes me want to do my own book.  I envision a project that is part memoir, part how-to, and part photo-journal.  Rather than photos in an empty studio against a plain backdrop, I would love to illustrate it with color photos taken in an actual drawing class, with students and artists busy working.  Maybe one day...

Here's a sample page from the book I received from my former UNT colleague.  Out of respect for the other models who participated, I chose a page that featured only my solo poses.  Needless to say, the image is not quite safe for work.  Click on the image to see the full size version...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Modeling at Medical School

I got an interesting email from a professor at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine.  They were conducting a special course called Topographical Anatomy: Art and its Applications for six second year students.  This professor wanted to know if I would be interested in modeling for any of six sessions.  The email then went on to describe each session along with a schedule.  There was only one evening class listed, and it was the very first session.  And that session was to take place the very next night.

I wrote back immediately and said I was very interested in that first class.  We booked it, and I showed up last night.  It was an amazing experience.  The class was held in a section of the anatomy lab.  Six easels were set up.  A local artist named Jan Friedman had been hired to help teach the students to draw proportionally.  There were also three members of the medical school faculty in the class.

The first part of the class was a two hour standing pose with the students drawing on standard drawing paper.  I don't think any of the six students had ever drawn from the figure before, and I usually like to do standing poses for people just starting out.  So even if I hadn't been asked to stand, I would have suggested it.  Here's a photo I took of part of that set up...

Once that pose ended, things got really interesting.

"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well."- Psalm 139:14 (ESV)  This verse came to mind as I lay on a table while the students worked.  Their job was to use body paint and draw the organs directly onto my body.  They then had to use an ultrasound and see if those drawings were in the right place.  It was amazing. I am happy to report that my gall bladder is very healthy with not a stone in sight. And my liver and kidneys all looked normal.

Here are some unedited pictures, some of which are NSFW, from that session (the drapery kept getting pushed down, but I think it was there more for the students' benefit than mine):

Friday, February 28, 2014

Trying to Be the Best

I love this job, and every booking I get, I try to do the best job possible.  I am always completely ready to go at the designated start time of each class.  For a credit course, I am rarely needed at the very beginning, but just being ready to drop the robe and start posing the second that class starts makes a difference in the eyes of the teachers and students.

I had a Drawing II class last night at UNT that I didn't want to end.  They were doing the perspective exercise I wrote about last year (, where I had to do three poses in a rectangle on the floor, and the students had to draw each pose in the same drawing.  The instructor, a young Asian woman who was thinking about my comfort, suggested that I do the three poses in a really comfortable chair with a very high back.  There were students all around the room, and no matter which way I posed, someone was going to see much more of the chair than me.  I grabbed a tall, flat stool and told the instructor that I would pose on it.  "They need to see me more than they need to see the chair," I said.  And, I figured, they can draw a chair any time.  Their time with a live model is limited and should be maximized.  The teacher thanked me, and I did the three poses with the stool.  I think the students appreciated this as well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Modeling Paradoxes

I modeled for another Drawing II class at the University of North Texas last night.  I left my full time job at five, drove faster than the speed limit, hurried from my car to class and arrived almost out of breath but on time at 6:00. And after moving as fast as possible to get there on time, my job then is to be as motionless as possible for long stretches. It is sometimes difficult to wind down from the rush to get to class.  The whole process seems like such a paradox.

I started thinking about another paradox with modeling for figure drawing classes.  The feeling of being nude in front of a large class is amazingly liberating.  I couldn't adequately describe it to someone who's never done it.  The paradox is in confining myself to one pose for whatever length of time is prescribed.  I've sometimes thought that people who are claustrophobic couldn't be models. That urge to move can become almost overwhelming.  The human body was made for motion, and being completely motionless is so unnatural (even when it's done in one's natural, nude state).  Perhaps that's why I love the short one or two minute gesture poses that most classes start with.  I get to be free of clothing, and I get to move with some frequency.  And maybe that's also why I really dislike doing those long, clothed portrait sessions (although I sometimes love the resulting artworks); I'm not only confined to clothing but also to one pose.  But I do the portrait sessions because I'm a professional and they are a part of the job (and in doing them, I hope to get more figure bookings).  I wonder if any scientific studies have been done on the mental makeup of a person who has modeled for art classes for as long as I have.