True Story: I’m an Art Model

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Miranda and her work as an art model.
A piece that Miranda modeled for

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Miranda. I’m 22 and currently live in Atlanta. Besides art modeling, I work as a nanny and I’m trying to get into costume design. I enjoy going to museums, reading, knitting, hanging out with friends, and making costumes for Dragon*Con.
For those of us who don’t know, what’s art modeling? 
Art modeling consists of posing your body in interesting ways for artists to use in their work. Models are used for a variety of mediums including sketching, painting, sculpture, photography, and even body painting! Most models pose fully nude, but sometimes an artist will want you fully clothed or only partially nude.
What are the biggest misconceptions about art models? 
The first is that art modeling is really sexy or risque. Most people think I work with hot and broody art students and sessions are full of sexual tension. (Think the sketching scene from Titanic.) But most of the people I work with are middle-aged artists and I’m usually too preoccupied with parts of my body falling asleep to feel turned on. Also, artists look at you differently; they’re concerned with the shape, color, and lines of your body and how to represent that in their work. Unless the pose is meant to be suggestive, sex doesn’t really enter into it.
Another misconception is that art models are all young, tall, and thin like fashion models. Most art models are regular people. They come in all shapes and ages. I think artists would get bored if they sketched the same body type over and over again.
How do you find modeling gigs? And how much do they pay? 
I started out emailing artists and art teachers in my area. Once I found a few artists, they referred me to others. Sometimes I meet new artists at sketching groups. Right now, I have a steady rotation of about 5-6 artists. If work is slow, I’ll send out an email blast with my availability, but mostly artists will contact me.
The standard rate is $20 per hour in Atlanta. I’m not sure if that’s the same everywhere. Most colleges pay less than that, usually $12-$15 an hour. And you have to go to HR to fill out paperwork, get a voucher for parking, and wait for your check in the mail. I don’t often work with colleges because of the extra hassle, but I probably would if I was still in school.
What does an average art modeling gig consist of? 
It depends on the medium. Most sketching groups like to do a warm up period of short gesture drawings (30 seconds to 2 minutes each), then we’ll do some longer poses (10-20 minutes each), and usually we’ll do one long pose for the rest of the night.
Painting and sculpture classes often dive right in and we’ll do the same pose the whole time. Sometimes people will ask to take photos so they can continue they’re work later on. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s definitely okay to say no.
When I’m working one-on-one with an artist, it can be all over the place. We might do lots of gestures until we find a pose that inspires the artist. We might dive right into a pose they’ve picked out. Or we might play around with props and drapes and then take photos.
Most classes are 3 hours long. I take breaks about every 20 minutes. I like to walk around and see everyone’s progress during breaks and grab some snacks/coffee if they’re provided. My favorite artist always has candy and wine at her studio!
How do your friends and family feel about this? 
My mother had a mini-panic attack when I first told her. She was mostly afraid for my safety, but after I reassured her I wasn’t going to end up in Playboy or on a milk carton, she calmed down. My dad was cool with it. Most of my friends were curious about what it was like and wanted to see photos of the art.
What have you learned from your experience? Have there been any drawbacks? 
I think one of the best things art modeling has given me is a complete and objective understanding of what my body looks like. I know exactly what my figure looks like from all angles. It helped break down some misconceptions I had about my body and start to appreciate my body for what it is. Also, artists give you really specific and unique compliments. I now know that I have “interesting” cheekbones, an “elegant” neck, and a “classical” figure. And seeing yourself immortalized in art is a huge body confidence boost.
Another great perk is artists will sometimes give me their work. I have tons of sketches and 2 paintings.
I used to worry that modeling would hurt my nannying career, but all my families have been supportive.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting into art modeling? 
Be prepared to hurt. Given enough time, every pose results in numb limbs and sore muscles. Accept that, but never push yourself too hard.
Bring your own sheet, pillow, timer, and space heater, just in case. Most artists will have these things, but better safe than sorry.
Stand up for yourself. 99% of the time, artists are sensitive to your needs and comfort. But sometimes, you get an artist who doesn’t give enough breaks, takes photos without asking, or will try to push you into a pose that is uncomfortable. It’s sometimes hard to speak up when you’re naked and under a spotlight, but do it. No work of art or paycheck is worth compromising your body or values.
I’m always happy to talk about this and hear stories from other models. Feel free to email me questions at mirandabarzey@gmail (dot) com.Thanks so much for sharing, Miranda!  Have any of you guys ever art models?  Any questions for Miranda?

13 Comments

Jess

Hi Miranda, thanks, this was really interesting. What made you want to take up art modelling?

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Miranda Barzey

Hey, Jess. I always wanted to try modeling as a bucket list kind of thing. Something cool and new that would make a great story later. But then I was walking around the High Museum in Atlanta and I was shocked to see how many of the women in the paintings had the same body shape as me. I never saw anyone in popular media that looked like me and then BAM, here was Venus with the same shape as me! It really hit me that my figure (small breasts, big butt, round belly and all) was something that could be celebrated. It renewed my interest to get into art modeling.

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Dave

Great interview, Miranda! I've been modeling for nearly three years now on an occasional basis, and it has been a transformative experience for me. I have much better feelings about my body, imperfections and all (I'm male and in my late forties), and I love seeing the (sometimes) beautiful art that comes out of the sessions. Like you, I've collected some of the better renditions. I do it because it makes me feel great and produces a lot of great stories, not for the money (I have a very nice day job). I hope your interview inspires others to give it a try.

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Dave

Thanks, Sarah. I don't think male and female models have much difference in their perspectives–I could identify with just about everything Miranda said. The act of posing is itself pretty much asexual (and weirdly impersonal–I once was seated at an airport departure lounge directly across from a woman who had drawn me 4 days earlier, and she still didn't recognize me as the model even after I said hello and mentioned that I had spotted her at the session). I think men might be more reluctant, on average, than women to try art modeling because they believe they would be especially exposed and vulnerable on the platform, but that's about the only difference I've noticed.

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Anonymous

Although I've never been a model, I have taken life classes, and then encountered a couple of the models later in ordinary life. One was delivering pizza to my office. Another was in the gym, working out on the machine next to mine. Of course I recognized them (even clothed) but saying hello would have been cumbersome; they would not have recognized me, or given me the same intense scrutiny I had given to them in the studio.

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Miranda Barzey

Once, after a 3 hour class, I came back into the studio in my street clothes and one woman didn't recognize me at all. She said, "Sorry, but for the last 3 hours you've been all light and shadows to me!"

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Art Model

Miranda, this is a great interview. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for separating fact from fiction in life modeling.

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