The Art Of Being A Nude Model

My first time nude figure modeling for an art guild was in 2010 in Pittsburgh’s South Hills. I was nervous and unprepared. I had no idea what I was doing. But after only one session, I knew I discovered a place where I felt safe and happy and had found serenity. Since then, I’ve worked all over at museums, guilds and schools.

Someone once asked me about how awkward it must feel to be exposed in a room full of people. The thing is, the only time I feel uncomfortable is when I have my period and I’m terrified of accidents. Enjoying it is easy when most of my jobs allow me to interact with the artists.

Some academic settings don’t allow that and anything students want to say to me, they first have to ask their professor. In most, though, I can be naked or robed and have no problem answering questions, suggesting different music, talking about the latest TV shows and laughing.

I love that I help bring art into the world.

I was surprised when one of my partners noticed the difference in me shortly after I’d started modeling. He had gotten used to my depressing texts. I had a night booking which I don’t particularly like because I hate driving in the dark. The happiness I was feeling came through in my texts. I had no idea the change in me was something so powerful that someone else would notice it by only seeing my brief written words.

I’ve also had modeling jobs during some of the worst times of my life: my father’s prostate cancer, for one. I was glued to my phone and kept texting the woman I was dating, but it was in one of those rigid academic settings when I wasn’t back in my pose precisely as the teacher needed me to be. Plus, I kept crying while up on the stand. I did my best. I tried not to move.

Amber Love 2012 Modeling Photos by Zoltan Sisko (3)

The professor made a comment about me using the phone and I don’t even think I answered her. I just put it down and got back to work. If I had been stuck behind a desk or working retail, I don’t know how my stress responses would have reacted. I kept wondering why I felt better when modeling. It’s not that I’m more comfortable without clothes on. I’ve gained about 50 pounds since I started, so it’s not that I’m wrapped up in pride over my body. There are two things that make it my comfort zone:

The first is the company of talented people. I’m more comfortable around artists regardless of status (hobbyists or professional). They generally have the personalities I like to be around. The second reason is that it’s basically a three­-hour yoga session. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it’s extremely physically demanding — it’s not just laying down for a couple hours as someone paints or sculpts you.

It’s not always a bed of roses. Some younger students have been rude; I’m not about to pretend everyone is an angel. As far as more mature adults, one seemed displeased with me as the subject and walked out of an open studio session. Another awkward moment was after my all-time favorite series of weeks with a group of painters my own age. I later learned that a famous artist I practically worship prefers very thin athletic figures and that’s why he never called me to work privately after I offered my contact information. I was crushed.

Here’s what a typical three-hour session is like: Short gestures begin as one ­minute poses and go up 10 minutes. They are meant to be fluid, exciting and all about movement. For poses, I turn to yoga… and comic books. Yes, comics. I go through some yoga poses that I know I can hold for a minute or more. Then I think about the figures in comics and mimic some superhero in action as best as I can without moving through the dynamics.

My go-­to ones are pretending I have a sword or using an invisible shield block the invisible arrows coming at me. (I actually get to have real swords sometimes). Sculpture sessions are a different beast altogether. After gestures, the poses get longer. I stop every 20 minutes to move around and stretch. Lying, standing or sitting still in a way that looks good doesn’t always feel good.

I worked with one group at a museum for several weeks and the instructor requested a standing pose with me having a hand on an antique table. It looked great. After an hour, it hurt. After a set of weeks, meeting only once a week for it, my hips were having none of it. By the last session, I was down to holding the pose for one minute and shaking it out; holding, release, holding, release. It had to be hard for them, but it was one of the most painful times I ever had. Lying down is the same way. I flip-­flop around in bed all night trying to sleep — there aren’t too many ways I can be comfortable for 20 minutes. Every little tiny movement jeopardizes the pose by changing where the body parts and fabric are, shifting the light and shadows and disturbing the people who need me to be still.

Amber Love 2014 by Herb at Morris County Arts Association

I’ve had some artists tell me that I’m their favorite model and that brings a feeling of joy that I can’t really explain. I guess it’s the same as any employee evaluation where they say you don’t suck, or maybe when you publish a book and people love it. Regardless of how physically demanding it is, I still love my work. I love that I help bring art into the world. Art is too often considered less important or discretionary. School art budgets get slashed. Terrorists destroy its historical legacy. Dictators hoard it. Art doesn’t always have to be a shared experience, but I love sharing when I’m part of it.

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