Advice for Models

Advice for Models © 2007 Iver Johnson OFD Inc.


Any individual has the potential to be a useful even outstanding model. The varieties of forms, body types, ages, are excellent subject matter for learning. We are particularly interested in a variety of ethnic backgrounds. At OFD Inc we encourage both experienced and inexperienced models to join our group. Experienced models may offer some advantages in selecting and holding poses. People learn modeling in variety of ways; some are natural and intuitive, most learn on the job, some learn from attending studio sessions, and some from reading this paper. Practitioners of yoga, dance, or other physical activities, including theater, may have some initial advantages in modeling. However, we can offer the uninitiated a chance to start a career in modeling. All of the models are paid for their service and adhere to professional conduct. Both genders are utilized in separate sessions.

We may need to address the issue of nudity for new practitioners. This first hurdle is a social obstacle; the members of the group are accustomed to working with nude figures. While the group may be used to spending several hours with a model, new models must accept being the focus of a group of strangers. Usually this issue quickly dispels in the course of the work (usually within the first few minutes) as one concentrates on creating and maintaining poses. Seeing the group in action is one of the best ways to make people comfortable, please come in to observe our group! Just call to arrange a visit to observe, no obligation, and you will see first hand how models operate.

Nudity is a cultural issue. Our society usually guards against exposing too much of our bodies. As a group, artists suspend this tenant and give ourselves permission to accept nudity as a natural act, and one that is necessary to our work. Nudity should not be confused with sexuality. Sexual behavior is not condoned from models or participants. A casual environment with respect is maintained. For your privacy, your last name is not used and your contact information is not shared unless you wish to be contacted for work from reliable agents.

The question is sometimes asked, “Why use nude figures?” Drawing with costumed figures is helpful but lacks a great deal of critical information about the makeup of the figure. If it could be possible, we would use models without skin and muscles for a clearer view of structure. Clothing will not provide such an obstacle once a drawer has had practice with the unclad figure. The beauty and simplicity of the figure seems to be reason enough. I am exploring why models find this work appealing through interviews with models. One of the main answers is for the financial reward. Many find it an easy way to make money. Another reason is to participate in the creation of art, many find they also learn about making art. Many people find it rewarding to be a subject, to have their likeness represented by a variety of artists. Some people feel their physique and poses are their gift or talent, and wish to express themselves through modeling.

THE POSE: The artist perspective. An artist can aspire to portray the universal within the specific pose. Artists will find something of interest with every model; a particular attribute, mood, characteristic, gesture may provide the spark that will inspire. OFD Inc offers studio experiences for all ability levels. Entry-level artists will often struggle with capturing the pose. Novices may struggle with a likeness. Occasionally entry-level and novice level interests fall more towards ‘getting it on paper’ than to an aesthetic statement. Eventually many artists in mastery will look for a pose with “that certain something,” a physical embodiment of some concept, aesthetic, emotion, or storytelling element. Models should be aware the mirror of the arts image is not always accurate; representations may be diverse from photographically representational to highly abstract.

THE POSE: The model perspective. Models should be prepared with their own ideas of posing but may ask for guidance. There is detailed information in the following pages for creating poses. While collaboration between model and artists is desirable OFD Inc gives the model options to create poses. Occasionally artists may also have specific ideas for work and give spontaneous suggestions. We should realize that many options for finding a satisfying pose. Pose repeatability is a desired characteristic for models. Remember if you require a break during the hour pose it can be arranged. Both artists and models will usually have enough information available to help reposition the original pose. It is a shared responsibility. Using initial sketches, body memory, as well as physical cues such as chalk or tape, helps in re-assuming a pose. Typically these are not employed at OFD Inc sessions. The illustrations of work included with this writing are examples of possible exercise poses. Sketchbooks with gesture poses are available at the Westcott Community Center and may provide inspiration. Breaks are placed at midpoint of the evening.

You are to remain safe and comfortable; you not expected to hurt yourself for art. Idealistically we would have an immovable object, yet we recognize the reality that you’re human and need to adjust, rest, and maintain circulation. If you are experiencing discomfort, please let us know! We can pad, break, or go to another pose. All we ask is that before you move, tell us so that we can guide you back to the original position if necessary. For those models or participants with issues regarding nudity it is important to talk about acceptable limits. While OFD Inc uses only nude models, there are alternate options in other settings. The models can dress in costume, or be partially covered or draped. We must address everyone’s needs and comfort for a successful introduction into modeling.

Generally, one main overhead light is used for all poses. Working in the round may require some adjustment to the lighting. It is appreciated when the poses stay within the general lit area. If the lighting is bothersome to you, please speak up. We can use heaters or fans to adjust to your needs. We rely on your judgment and want to know your requirements. Often we are not aware of the environment during the act of drawing, models should keep us informed. Notify the host if a fan or heater is needed.

We will provide an area that you can change (the bathroom) and leave your belongings (a Tupperware container at the music stand). You may bring your own robe or use one of ours if you wish. There is one extended break where a robe could be useful and often there are a few minutes between poses for equipment adjustments. Professional models often bring their own drapery and or props (see below).

Models are allowed to converse while maintaining a pose. We seldom ask for facial features as part of the pose but please maintain a basic pose for the head. We occasionally ask a model to revisit a point of eye focus (periodically) this allows some artists to work on portraiture.

The Wescott Community Center group, Open Figure Drawing Inc., has an average size of about 18. There are occasionally opportunities to start with a small instructional group that is 6 to 10 people. Individual work can sometimes be arranged with one or two artists.

VARY THE POSE (6 Key Features)
•   Rotate Please face in a different direction for each pose, unless specifically requested. Models may develop a way of working within “the round,” providing interesting views for a number of artists simultaneously. Facing sequential poses around the room ensures each artist a different view. OFD Inc requires you to move about in “the round’ in the middle of the room. This allows each participant a different view, more challenges, and variety in their portfolio.

•   Vertical / Horizontal Poses (Elevation)
A variety of poses prove interesting: compact, elongated, standing, seated, reclining. Height is another aspect to consider. Look for a range of postures from standing to lying. This includes sitting, crouching, and all the possibilities in-between. Generally, keep to the stage area; using the floor may block some participants’ view. Stools, chairs, pillows, and blocks are available but should only be used when participants view will not obstructed for long periods.

•   Stretch Verses Compactness
Consider the space of the pose. Both compact and stretched poses are valuable and sometimes difficult to maintain. Compact can be equally exciting as stretching but often is overlooked by many models.

•   Twist/Tilt
A twist and / or tilt in head/torso/hips generally provide spatial interest. Some artists work upon discovering the relationship between the upper torso and hips. Deciphering the angles of the hips and rib cage becomes an activity for both the model and artist. Natural flow is more desirable than straight alignment, a novice model may tend to align their body segments. Twist can also be reflected in the details; hands, feet, and heads. More tilt and twist may be more difficult to hold, gestures are the perfect place to experiment.

•   Settle
Experience will aid in finding a pose with speed and grace. Forethought during one pose can help lead smoothly into the next pose. There is also the “settling in” effect with longer poses. Muscle groups relax over time and weight shifts during extended periods. This causes slight shifts in the pose that models can learn to anticipate and adapt to sooner than later. Exploring the pose for a few moments, seeing what may be the effect of time and gravity may be, will provide the artists with less adaptation to their work. With practice models will learn their abilities over specific time periods. The host will try to advise if they believe the pose may cause difficulties over time. We wish you the freedom to try a pose, and grant you option to bail out if it does not work.

•   Follow Through
Just as in many sports, the follow-through is important. Experienced models will place their feet and hands in a manner that compliments the pose. The angle of the head, hands, feet should naturally complement each other. Professionals will position their entire body including their fingers into the pose. This is the mark of experienced models (and dancers).

The above variations may provide a basic library of poses. There are others avenues to explore on finding dynamic, interesting poses. Beyond the basic considerations listed above, here are some suggestions for discovering poses. A pose can manifest an internal story. A movement can convey a message. You may wish to consider the following items:

Narrative A story can be illustrated by a series of movements. The scenes can be “storyboarded” in succession of poses that tell the story. You can assume multiple characters, each reacting to the other. The artist can illustrate the frames and create a movie of poses, without even knowing the story. Suggestions can be as simple as Fairy Tales (Little Red Ridinghood) to novels. (Imagine War and Peace!) Any scenario can be acted out with great results, going fishing, a seed growing into a tree, whatever strikes your fancy!

Classical Work If you have a background in art history or even just favorite works of art, then you have ample poses to draw upon. Any Masters work will provide excellent material, sculpture provides poses that work well in the round. A few of my favorites are Michelangelo, Rodin, and Degas.

Sports Any sport (football, baseball, volleyball, golf, bowling, soccer) has a number of possible stop action poses. Pitching, catching, passing, etc. can be used as a series or individual poses. Miming or using props is acceptable for dynamic poses. As alluded to before, dance, gymnastics, or yoga all provide excellent material for poses.

  1. Reliability – late or no-shows are a great disappointment for the group. In the pool of talented well-paid models, the ones who take responsibility for appearing promptly are the ones who are re-hired. Our primary concern is to start the groups on time. There is not an accessible phone at WCC, the model coordinator can often be reached up to an hour before opening at 475-3400. Usually work is confirmed Mondays before the Wed. booking. Substitute models are called starting at 7:00 for late models and the booking is canceled. Successful modeling requires a personal calendar that is updated and reviewed.
  2. Willingness to try a variety of poses. The host can provide suggestions, but you are expected create your own poses. Models will develop a repertory of poses over time; new models may need occasional direction. Using the time during one pose to conceptualize the next is the mark of a valued model. Smooth transitions between poses are an ultimate goal.
  3. Holding a pose within reasonable time limits. Small movements do not matter, but continual large changes are difficult for artists to adapt. A rule of thumb is to keep poses simple. The longest poses should be relaxed and the shorter poses should be more challenging. The host may make suggestions or give warnings when I think a pose is too difficult for the time frame.
  4. Links to other groups. We only share lists with your permission to protect your privacy. You will only be referred to by your first name, last names are withheld for confidentiality. If you would like further work at Syracuse University, Cazenovia College, Walton St. Irregulars, and/or private artists please let me know. As a policy for the groups I run, I ask that phone numbers (from participants to models) be exchanged through me. This alleviates any awkwardness (or pressure) for models or participants. Another avenue for models is photography. Photographs are not substitutes for an actual three-dimensional model and are not allowed at OFD Inc. sessions. There is information for learning in the photos but they do not serve in building skills of translation from three dimensions to flat surfaces.
  5. The decorum of the studio is informal and relaxed. Although it is not typically thought of as a family friendly environment, we are proud of our inclusive and welcoming temperament. There is the potential for models to garner a power from their nudity. In modeling some discretion is required as not to be overtly sexual. Anyone exhibiting inappropriate behavior will be given a warning. At the judgment of the host, models may be immediately dismissed


Among the physical considerations are a few items particularly useful for the model. Raised platforms, cubes, and steps are especially helpful for adequate viewing. They provide different levels of body support, such as: crawling, bending, climbing, etc. Pillows, mats (futon), blankets, and foam pieces can pad hard surfaces and make longer poses endurable. OFD has two stools that can be used.

The use of props is another way of creating variety; stools, chairs, poles, all offer potential. We also supply rods, 2×4’s, a telephone, hoops, balls, and books to add focus and create natural poses. A variety of fabrics can provide drapery for both model and props. Models may bring their own cloth or props.

Lighting control is also a creative factor. At present we use a single strong source that we manipulate during longer poses. To provide maximum potential for dramatic we employ lighting from a reflector with a bulb (200W) on a boom arm that can move up and down as well as back and forth. A second fill light of smaller size can also be useful. Light control for both adequate viewing of the work and the model is necessary. Models should try to keep to the center of the stage for best lighting. The lighting is the responsibility of the host.

The space that the group meets should allow for privacy (window covers) and controlled access. The room should have enough space for easy viewing and repositioning easels. A variety of music in the environment can provides pacing as well as masking unwanted sounds and providing entertainment. Some models use the music as an informal timer; the host however will announce timing.


The idea behind short poses is to have a dynamic range not retainable in longer poses. Longer poses are necessarily less demanding so we can have time for detailed work. Time constraints affect the images. Artists must learn to deal with differing length opportunities to draw. A two-minute picture will vary from a ten-minute image, as would an hour drawing. We need to see varying solutions to fit our time frame and pace ourselves differently. As we view the possible stages of an image, we will gain a better sense of pacing ourselves. We can view poses as either short or long term opportunities. The models’ abilities and comfort can be taxed in any situations. Short poses can run at any length, often 30 sec to five minutes. OFD Inc uses a series, 5 -30 sec., 5-1 minute, 5-2 minute poses. The instructional group concentrates on medium length 15-minute poses.


The short pose often yields expressive movement possibilities that are not retainable in longer poses. Limited time requires artists’ quick abstraction and minimal detail. Greater dynamics are difficult for the model to maintain. Even short times may leave muscles shaking, or the model may lose balance requiring shifting positions. The instructional group explores shorter poses in mid-weeks after skills have sharpened. Upon entry, a 15-minute drawing may be a lengthy challenge, however in later weeks 15 minutes may allow only a start of an image. As skills develop people may desire 30 minutes, then an hour, then more! Left brain is goal orientated and the Right brain wants rewards. The 15-minute pose allows each satisfaction!

The long pose offers different set of challenges for both model and artist. For the model, retaining a pose offers multiple difficulties. Humans are biological, systematic creatures. People usually shift positions regularly, maintaining circulation and resting muscle groups. Natural endurance for remaining still is short. Experienced models may stand for 1/2 or one hour poses. Novices are advised against this.

We must give careful attention to the models comfort throughout a pose. In long poses models must evenly distribute their weight and be well padded. Cushions, foam, pillows, or towels can aid in protection against hard surfaces. We should not impair circulation so care must be give to avoid ‘sleeping’ limbs, especially if it’s a weight-bearing member. Numb limbs may result in a possible fall, not to minimize the discomfort! Models should always give themselves a brief reviving period after a long pose to assure that they are in full operating condition. Please stay seated and test yourself before standing.

Retaining a pose can be strenuous work. A “settling in” occurs during long poses. Muscles relax causing posture changes over time. Tissues gradually react to gravity and surfaces, such as sinking into cushions. This naturally occurs with any human. It says nothing about the ability of the model. Foresight in choosing the pose may help minimize the effect for 30 minute or longer poses. The model should generally choose relaxed poses, such as sitting or lying.

Models need breaks for long poses. Stretches should scheduled between poses or be given whenever necessary. The model should always retain the right to break whenever it is needed. A brief advance warning is appreciated.

The challenge for the artist is the need of extended working time. After setting up the initial work – ranking, broad tone, defining shape, – the artist must continue to develop and refine detail. Artists will adapt and overwork as they develop a feel for the subtle or sometimes gross changes that occur that detail will not require vast amounts of rework. Each developmental level of artists has an associated period of working. People in the entry level are comfortable with working only for a small time. There is so much information available that artists can become overtaxed without an approach to organize it all. As artists learn to shift through visual information, set up our drawings, and work into greater detail, our ability to draw longer increases.

Portraiture has many more demands on the model. Not only must they keep a body position, the head should remain relatively motionless. The expression of the face is most difficult to retain, the best method of working is to revisit the expression. A mirror or artist guidance may be required to help the portrait model back to the required expression. Typically twenty minutes is an average sitting time, although many sittings may be required to complete a portrait. Photographs certainly are an important aid to portraiture. Lighting is also a key element, and it is far more important to have adequate lighting to bring out the small details of the face. Setting the lighting in portraiture will be more time consuming and exacting than figure work.

Open Figure Drawing, since 1989