While many of us feel awkward undressing in front of our cat, let alone a room full of strangers wielding pencils and brushes, there are hardworking life models across the capital doing just that on a daily basis. We spoke to some of London's most in-demand posers about the agony and ecstasy of their unique job.
What's the most enjoyable thing about life modelling?
"If you're lucky — and you make a sensible decision regarding the pose that you’re holding — you can fall into an almost meditative state," says Lily, who's been life modelling for five years. "I also find modelling very meditative," agrees Valentina, who was introduced to the job by a friend three years ago. "I think about all sorts of things — childhood memories, my shopping list, you name it."
Andrew — a veteran model of 17 years — says, "I enjoy the feedback you get from artists, and the excited, focused looks of concentration on their faces when you are doing really dynamic poses"
I think about all sorts of things — childhood memories, my shopping list...
"I love the silence and long hours of introspection," adds Carla, who started modelling when she moved to London from Venezuela four years ago. "I don't feel fragile or vulnerable when I model — I feel strong and alive."
What is the worst or most difficult aspect of the job?
"Poses can be long and painful," says Valentina. "Plus there's lots of travelling involved; I can get two or three jobs a day in different locations and that requires careful planning."
Tiziana — who moved to London from Italy three years ago — says, "It is very demanding on the body. You need to manage different poses and try to alternate standing, seated and reclined ones, along with fulfilling the tutor's brief and class needs."
"Lots of the models I know have injured themselves at work and it's quite easy to do yourself some damage if you are not very experienced," says Lily. "I practice yoga, which I find to be less of a luxury and more of a necessity in order to keep my limbs functioning!"
Lots of the models I know have injured themselves at work
Andrew says, "The worst aspect of the job is that artists can be detached and don't make any attempt to communicate with the model, as if the model is only there as a body to be drawn."
Esther — an experienced model of eleven years — adds, "The worst thing is when you depend on the work, and you end up feeling too objectified in jobs where the poses are very prescribed."
What do you think of the artwork created of you?
The results of all the posing can be intriguing, affirming — or even alarming — as the models explain.
"It helps you accept the physical imperfections that people see and represent, though not always with the greatest skill, so sometimes I look really weird!" says Tiziana.
"Sometimes I love what people see in me, and sometimes I hate it. I try to detach myself as much as possible from the result," says Carla.
Sometimes I love what people see in me, and sometimes I hate it.
"On most days the work I see makes me feel strong, powerful, lucky, and beautiful," says Lily. "I'm a human being, though; if I’m having a bad day or am feeling insecure, seeing drawings of myself in that place can make me feel vulnerable or exposed."
"An artist's work does not reflect on me as the model; it is a reflection of their skills and ability," says Andrew, who also works as an art tutor. "I always encourage those who doubt themselves or say they can't draw by telling them drawing is a learned skill like any other."
Dominic, who got into life modeling after posing for a painting four years ago, adds, "I love all of the works of art created of me, and always feel so excited when I wander around a studio during breaks between poses. It is endlessly fascinating seeing how people perceive and interpret me."
What has life modelling taught you about body confidence and attitudes to nudity?
While the life models dare to bare in the art studio they aren’t entirely hang-up free, but the job can certainly boost confidence and lead to acceptance.
"I used to be angry with my body," Carla admits. "I always loved fashion and I grew up wanting to look like a mannequin. I wanted to be long and tall, and I am not. Every time I model I can finally understand that my body — any body — is perfect as it is."
Similar stories emerge from the other models. "I grew up in a very religious conservative household where nudity was seen as shameful and sordid," says Andrew. "Being a life model helped me to question all these negative ideas towards nudity and realise it’s perfectly healthy and as natural to humanity as breathing oxygen."
I grew up in a very religious conservative household where nudity was seen as shameful and sordid.
Dominic says, "I grew up feeling really ashamed of how I looked; in my mind I was the weediest, geekiest guy in the universe, and the idea of being nude, or even semi-nude, in front of anyone, was impossible. Life modelling teaches you that you have no reason to harbour such feelings, and that you are in fact beautiful, worthwhile and a limitless source of inspiration."
"It can still be tough, after years of practice of body love, as one gets older," Esther adds. "One is aware of becoming less physically appealing to certain sorts of artists, in relation to younger models. On the other hand I bring enormous experience which also goes a long way."
Memorable moments and challenges as a life model?
The models have many stories from their nude adventures, from the funny and fulfilling, to the downright frustrating.
"One of my favourite stories is when a friend of mine, totally unaware that I'm an art model, came and drew me by chance at one of the classes I model for," says Valentina. "It took him until the interval to recognise me!"
Tiziana says, "My parents had concerns about me posing naked in front of strangers, and now they're on social media they check all my posts! Last Christmas when my father saw a photo of me posing with an older man he was very upset, demanding I delete it and asking if I was at least paid extra money to do that."
"I do find it funny, and even interesting, when some artists or art tutors sneak a look at your cleavage once you are dressed again after a session, when minutes before they had you completely nude in front of them." Carla remarks.
Lily describes a special assignment, when she modelled for a special class at the Royal Academy for blind and visually impaired artists. "In the run up to the class I was 3D scanned and printed, and the models created were used as tools for the artists to understand my body better. An artist trained in audio-visual description described my pose in great detail (very strange to hear!), and I also described myself and how I felt about my body, and took any questions the artists had. The work produced in that class is some of my favourite representations I've seen of myself."
I do find it funny, when artists or art tutors sneak a look at your cleavage, when minutes before they had you completely nude in front of them.
"One amusing (or ridiculous, depending on your perspective) thing that recently happened to me in a life drawing class was when, half way through a 45-minute standing pose, my heater cut out," Dominic explains. "At the end of the pose, I discovered that one of the artists drawing me had turned it around to face them because they were 'cold'. I had to explain that, of the two of us, I was definitely colder!"