If you've ever wanted to work as a nude artist's model—do it. But first, put aside any thoughts such as “I'm too skinny/fat/old/oddly shaped”. Artists aren't only interested in drawing athletes and nubile lingerie models. All shapes and sizes are appreciated and the variety of the human form forces the artist to look and draw what they really see, rather than what they imagine a human thigh or shoulder should look like.
People have asked me with a mix of shock and admiration, “Don't you feel exposed?!" I remember thinking before my first life drawing class, “I'll either be hopelessly nervous, or I'll be fine, and there's only one way to find out!” It turned out I was fine. You won't know until you try it.
There are way more female nude models out there, so men, you have an advantage. But generally artists and instructors aren't picky about the gender of the model—they see it as a privilege to be able to work with a live model at all, and you will be treated accordingly.
You could start off modelling for art classes, either at an art school or night classes, before trying to get work for individual professional artists, as the expectations of professionals will be higher and sessions probably longer and more demanding. Modelling for groups or classes can be quite fun and there is less pressure on you—you are more or less in charge of what you do and don't do.
The perfect poser
Don't do anything you're not comfortable with. Students or instructors may suggest poses (most of the time they'll expect you to make them up quickly on the spot). However, if you are asked to strike a pose that is either physically uncomfortable or makes you feel too exposed, simply tell them you don't think it will work and suggest an alternative you are comfortable with.
A beginner's mistake is trying to strike poses that show off the most flattering parts of your body—it's obvious when you are doing this and comes across as amateurish. You need to be comfortable with your body and not try and hide what you think are its faults—these may be the very things that make you interesting to draw.
So, try to vary poses, but if you come up blank, just go back to an old favourite. One of mine is: hand on hip, other hand on head, shoulders at an angle to hips. This is good for up to 10 minutes. It's best not to constantly ask the students or instructor for suggestions as this can come across as unprofessional, however, you can ask for ideas if it's unclear what they want. The key is, mix it up, keep it varied, using a combination of sitting, standing, crouching, reclining and action poses. Think about giving them some interesting angles to work with, perhaps a twist of the torso, uneven weight, so muscles on one side are accentuated, etc.
'Emotional' poses are often well-received, such as a hunched, sad pose, or an expansive, exuberant one. Stroppy and defiant ones (hands-on-hips-chin-in-the-air-one-foot-forward) are also welcomed.
Keep an eye on the room
If you are modelling for a large class, make sure you don't always face the same way, especially if you are in the centre of the room. In fact, you can strike more or less the same pose, changing the way you face, and it will look completely different from different angles. Many artists, especially beginners, struggle with details such as faces and hands, so a good pose doesn't have to be front on. Try leaning on things such as a chair or wall (this accentuates certain muscles), you can create rather dramatic 'action' poses for the shorter ones.
Know your limits
It’s easy to overestimate your ability to hold a difficult pose for a long time. It's important that you know how long you are expected to hold each pose. Short poses can be more dynamic. Life drawing classes generally warm up with a series of short 'gesture' poses lasting anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes (depending on the instructor), and then progress to longer (5-20 minute) poses and usually finish with one or two longer ones (30-90 minutes). The length of poses will be entirely up to the class instructor and they will tell you before you start a pose.
My general rule is, anything over 20 minutes has to be very comfortable and straightforward. I once did a standing pose where I had one arm raised high with my hand against a wall for support. Doesn't sound too strenuous, right? Well, all the blood drained out of my arm and it went numb and started shaking, so I had to stop and say "Sorry, I have to cut this one short and try something else." Another time I was so comfortable I fell asleep—luckily I don't think anyone noticed!
Actually one of the hardest things I find is keeping my head still. The best way to do this is to pick a spot to look at that's directly in front of you (but try not to stare into the eyes of an artist, it makes them nervous). You can let your eyes wander so they don't tire, but use this spot as a reference point to reorient yourself.
You get to know your own limitations from experience, but it's not a bad idea to practise a few different poses at home and see how long you can comfortably hold them and which muscles tire quickly. Try it while watching TV so you don't get too bored. If you have the time and motivation, yoga is an excellent complement to modelling, and develops flexibility, strength and stamina. That said, fitness is not essential but knowing what you can and can't do is.
You're the boss
Don't forget you're the boss; if you get tired and can't hold a pose as long as you thought, just say you need to take a break and stretch. Then you either go back into the pose (the instructor can help you figure out your position by looking at the students' work and directing you back into that pose) or, if you really can't continue with the same pose, apologise and start a new one rather than injuring yourself—they will understand.
I've already said this but it needs to be hammered home: don't do anything you're not comfortable with! If you have an instructor/artist who is demanding and makes you feel obliged to hold poses that hurt your body or your pride, then don't work for them again. I find the best instructors are ones that have worked as models themselves and understand the effort required to stay still for long periods.
Bring a robe—this is essential, as you may have to get changed in one room and then walk through to the art studio. You don't want to be negotiating hallways in the nude! This happened to me when I forgot my robe. Someone very kindly loaned me a towel. A robe is also useful to sit on for hygiene and comfort, and can be incorporated into the pose if the artists want to practise drawing folds of cloth. Have a bottle of water handy. Also, discuss with the artist or instructor roughly what format the session will take so you can come mentally prepared. For example, painting or sculpture classes usually have longer poses than drawing classes.
Get paid for your body
How much you get paid very much depends on what part of the world you live in, and what sort of school/artist you work for. That said, it isn't the sort of job where you should accept minimum wage as a beginner and work your way up; it can be a challenging job and you have to work to a professional standard straight away. Classes are typically only a couple of hours, you spend a significant amount of time getting ready and getting there, so your pay should reflect this. My pay has varied between NZ$25-40 (US$18-28) per hour. Ask around to find out what other models are paid. Experience helps you get jobs and get recommended, but won't necessarily translate into higher pay. You should negotiate an hourly rate up front.
How to find modelling jobs
It’s similar to other types of freelance work: contact art schools, look at classifieds, join Facebook groups for models and/or artists. There may be a models' directory for your city, which is an invaluable place to list yourself and find posted jobs. Generally, once you get started you'll also get work by word of mouth. Let the instructor or admin staff know you're happy for them to pass your details on. Don't expect it to be full-time though, or even regular—work at schools is seasonal, there will be busy times of year. Work out what these are and contact the school in advance.