I’ve been obsessing so hard on The Pedant that I haven’t mentioned some notable things that have happened lately.
First off, I’ll tell you about last night’s “co-modelling” session – the first time I’ve nude-modelled with someone else.
It was a total coincidence that I got that job and that I was paired with the person I was paired with. I’d been meaning to cold-call a certain job lead for weeks, and finally got up the nerve yesterday afternoon. The place was an artists’ collective that holds life drawing classes. The particular member who answered the phone also teaches life drawing at a local art school, and had a cancellation for that night’s class, so he slotted me right in there. The other model who was originally going to pose had also cancelled and been replaced, and this was how I ended up working with a woman I’ll call The Veteran.
The Veteran – as her name implies – has been life modelling for a long time. Eight years, as a matter of fact! I think that’s pretty rare; seems like most life models do it for a few years to make extra money in university or whatever, and then move on.
Though younger than I am (and prettier than the following description would imply), The Veteran has a grizzled, seen-it-all quality to her; she told me she actually has back injuries and other bodily issues from pushing herself too hard on the job back in the day. She’s hardcore. And because she’s so experienced (including “co-modelling” before on many occasions) she was totally blasé about posing with me, which was exactly what I needed to calm my first-time jitters. If both of us had been slightly weirded out, the vibe would’ve been much different.
The job itself ended up being a lot less stressful than I’d anticipated. I’d thought it was going to be all short poses, but the instructor decided we should do one long pose, instead. So instead of me constantly having to come up with poses that were both different from and complementary to The Veteran’s while trying valiantly not to block her from view with my enormity or knock her off the tiny posing stand with my out-thrust hip or elbow, we just had to settle on one position we could stay in for the whole class (with breaks).
And The Veteran told me up front, in her matter-of-fact way, that she was fine to touch me or be touched in a pose if that’s what happened to work best aesthetically. We didn’t end up touching, but I was glad she said that. I’m generally willing to touch other models, too (whatever looks good – I’m all about the showmanship, baby!) but I worry that if I say this, the other person will think I’m being pervy – that I’m hoping to make bodily contact with them. I’m not. I don’t like touching strangers. I’m just willing to make sacrifices for the job. Apparently The Veteran is the same way, and I respect that.
Everyone agreed that the two of us should occupy different levels, and that it would be mean to make either of us pose standing up. It was decided that one of us should sit and the other should recline or half-recline. I was feeling a bit self-conscious about being so much freaking taller than The Veteran, and felt that if I were seated and she were lying down, I’d look ridiculously huge. The Veteran said that her messed-up back makes most reclining poses painful, so she was thrilled that I offered to be the lying-down one.
The audience decided that it would be best if The Veteran and I weren’t facing the same way – more variety, more angles, etc. So (still clad in our robes, and just to test out what might look good), The Veteran sat in her chair and I lay on my side at her feet, my front facing her legs and my back facing the audience. I propped myself up on one elbow (the instructor had given me a cushion, thank god), laid the other arm on my hip in a way I knew would accentuate that curve, and turned my head so I was basically looking at the hand on my hip. It would’ve felt more natural to turn my head away and look down at the posing stand, but then the whole room would’ve gotten the back of my head – and a weird angle on it, at that.
Everyone seemed to like The Veteran’s and my configuration, so we stripped down and then got back into it for the first 25 minute pose. It was bizarre being so close to a naked lady I’d just met, and I avoided looking at her. Pretty soon it would all start to feel more normal, though, mostly because, as I said, The Veteran is so blasé.
The instructor had told me ahead of time that the two of us weren’t expected to make a cohesive tableau together – we should each just do our own thing, and people would draw whichever of us they wanted. But, the minute we actually got naked and assumed our respective poses, one lady piped up that we looked a little disjointed together and she’d like us to look more unified.
“Here, why don’t you move your feet into my…area, here…” I suggested, indicating the bend where my thighs met my torso. The Veteran rotated in her chair until her toes were four inches from my pubes, and the room at large agreed that this was an improvement.
During the first or second break, The Veteran beckoned me to a spot in the room where we could see most of the artists’ work in progress and giggled quietly to me that our pose seemed kind of “Sapphic,” with me being the butch and her being the femme. She said she was posing with her gaze trained on the middle distance, but her head was angled in such a way that a person could easily change her eyeballs to be staring fixedly at my boobs. We both thought this would be hilarious.
Then she asked me if I’d mind telling her how old I was, and when I said I’d just turned forty she freaked the hell out because she’d figured me for more like twenty-five. Then it was time to get back into position for another 25 minutes, and once we were posing she was still going on about how crazy young I look: “I can’t even believe it! Jeez, there’s not a wrinkle on your body!” (So…she was openly looking at me while I was naked. And didn’t mind letting me know. Which was a bit awkward but, because her tone was so matter-of-fact, not creepy.) (Also, she herself is thirty-four and not that different from me, body-wise…how much did she think a person would degrade in six years? Jeez.)
By the way, I’d anticipated that the arm and shoulder I was leaning on would be the biggest problem in my chosen pose, but no – the bigger issue was that my bottom leg began to fall asleep. The discomfort of that far outweighed the strain on my shoulder, and by the time the next break came, that leg was entirely dead and I had to swing it off the posing stand manually and stand carefully on my one still-alive foot to get my robe back on. Same thing happened in the next pose. In the one after that, I discovered that I was just lying on a pressure point or something and just rolling over on my hip by an inch or so was enough to immediately send the blood back into my leg.
The Veteran started giving me posing tips during the breaks. She seemed really into mentoring me. Most of what she said, I’d already figured out for myself, but she put some things into words in a way that was helpful to me. While I appreciated that she wanted to teach me things, it did strike me funny how basic some of her advice was. I’d told her at the beginning of class that I’ve been doing this for two years* – that may not be long compared to her, but it’s plenty long enough to have learned not to attempt a ten-minute pose with my arms held way out from my body, thank you!
She did give me an amazing piece of advice to help me get back into a pose after a break, though: before the break, close one eye and see where the tip of your nose lines up with the objects/people in the room. Then line your head back up the same way when you come back. Instructors put tape around other parts of your body for long poses so you’ll know where to put those, but it’s really hard to replicate the position and angle of your head.
“Home” was in the same direction for both of us, so when class was done The Veteran and I travelled together. We exchanged contact information and she said she thought I was awesome, she got a really good vibe from me the moment she saw me, and she would heartily recommend me to anyone who needed a model. And she said if I ever wanna hang out, she’s down for that.
When I got home I texted her the URL for my art website because she’d expressed interest before. This morning I got a super-enthusiastic text back, thanking me again for a great class and telling me my art is awesome and she’ll hopefully be in touch soon with some job leads for me. So it seems like she actually is intending to keep in touch.
Oh, tangent: I hate to say it but the artists at this particular class were…really not great. I don’t normally mind sacrificing comfort in order to pose in a visually striking way, because the resulting pictures are usually so amazing. But most of the drawings and paintings in this class were firmly in the Napoleon Dynamite oeuvre and I found myself thinking “I made the entire right side of my body sore for this?” Uncharitable but true. Seriously, though, these people had been taking art classes for months, if not years, which doesn’t give me a lot of respect for the efficacy of this particular school.
Tangent The Second: ohhhhhh, no wonder I was feeling a little extra-fragile about The Pedant’s crush on [model] when we texted after class; I’d just spent all evening having my body compared to someone else’s and it was exhausting; I didn’t appreciate it happening some more once I got home.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like people in that class were having some detailed, clinical discussion about which of us was prettier, or even openly comparing and contrasting us at all. The most that happened was the instructor making numerous references to the height difference and pointing out that our skin tones were a bit different. But you know that everyone present (who chose to draw both of us rather than focusing on just one) was having to continually compare our bodies in order to get our relative proportions right. And I guess this feeling of being scrutinized and compared stressed me out more than I’d realized at the time.
Tangent The Third: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about feminism and how women are (still!) objectified and treated as decorative in ways that men are not (graphics programs often incorporate a drawing or retouched photo of a woman in their packaging/logo, but never a man; women are sometimes a motif on clothing for no reason other than looking pretty, but I’ve never seen a t-shirt of a man that was meant to be beautiful and decorative rather than funny/political/weird, etc.).
Now, when it comes to figure drawing, I have mixed feelings. Yeah, in long poses I’m basically being decorative, but men pose for drawing classes, too, and are also being decorative. It’s not like the women are expected to lounge around looking ornamental while the men pose in capable, utilitarian ways; long poses pretty much always involve a person standing around or lying around doing nothing in particular. In short poses I’ll often do more action-y things, and nobody yet has told me to cut that shit out and be more damn ladylike. And while it sometimes feels surreal to be pantomiming everyday activities while naked, I can see the point of the nakedness – it’s helpful for the students to see what my bones and muscles and tendons are actually doing at any given moment so they can understand the structures. If you draw a clothed person without necessarily understanding how their body is put together, the results can be…pretty weird.
And I think short, action-y poses with a second model – male or female – would also be educational. Had The Veteran and I been asked to do short poses, I was going to ask her to collaborate with me at least some of the time because I feel it would have been good for the students to see two bodies interact (tug-o-war, fighting, leaning on each other, whatever).
But the idea of two women in a long pose like last night? Irks me. Because it was purely decorative. We were in an artsy-fartsy configuration in which we each looked all graceful and demure and shit but weren’t interacting with each other – a configuration that would never randomly happen in real life, naked or not. We were not using our bodies to teach people what a real-life interaction looks like when you remove the obscuring clothing. The only point of having two women posing instead of one seems to be “Hey, more womenz to draw!”
And I could be wrong but I’m betting nobody has co-model sessions with two dudes. So yeah.
Well, whatever. I made money and met someone awesome and got to be in my happy place of being naked in a practical setting devoid of leering and catcalls. So I’m not really complaining.
*Lies! It’s only been one year. But the instructor was within earshot and I’d previously exaggerated my experience to him, so…