Being a life model is a lot of work and indeed requires a few essential skills that not everyone possesses.

Let's face it, many humans view their bodies as something to cover up. We'll do the most awkward things to gain some privacy as we try on clothes in shop fitting rooms or as we get undressed in the pool or gym change room. Most of us are just not accustomed to baring our bodies to strangers.

Depending on how you feel about nudity and the human figure, you may or may not bat an eyelid when you see models and celebrities wearing next to nothing in magazines and social media feeds. Without discounting the importance of the Me Too Movement, and the effect so-called 'perfect' body images on young girls, people tend to be more conservative when it comes to exposing their own bodies.

How we perceive beauty or masculinity has changed considerably over the last several centuries. However, if you look at yourself like an artist does, you may realise that the human form is a spectacular artwork, amazing and astonishing in its diversity and the things it does just to keep us alive.

Life drawing models tend to either feel confident in their own skin or are comfortable knowing their figure is simply an object to those doing the drawings.   

Do you think you can strip down in front of a room full of people who are there to draw you?

Are you comfortable with the idea of changing poses multiple times?

Are you okay with holding those poses from anywhere between two minutes to half an hour (or longer)?

If your answer to each of these questions is a not-too-hesitant yes, then perhaps life drawing model jobs are something you would like to pursue.

Perspectives on Life Drawing and Being a Life Drawing Model

In many art school courses, life drawing is a compulsory unit for Fine Art students. That seems natural, but apparently, it is compulsory or highly recommended in architectural studies as well, according to Director of The Art Room, Erika Gofton. The point is, the ability to accurately sketch the human body provides a good foundation for the development of further artistic skills.

What do life drawing models do?
A model for a life drawing group needs to be able to hold poses for up to half an hour or more, and be comfortable doing so | Source: Unsplash - Photo by Ava Sol

As an artist, Erika says the thing that strikes her the most about the models is how willing they are to share their vulnerability and humanity. Thinking about this brings home what she loves about life drawing — it's not the challenge or the opportunity to get messy with charcoal, but 'the connection that happens between model and drawer and then between fellow drawers in the group'.

“In the beginning it was quite difficult but if you treat it like an art, the body as an art form, you can get rid of that dirty thought about the nude body.”

∼ Kam Wong (Life Model) ∼

Kam Wong has posed over 100 times at art schools throughout Sydney. Initially, before his first time on the platform, he remembers he was so nervous his hands were shaking. Yet, once he focused on posing, that nervousness went away and he found he really enjoyed it.

Kam decided to 'give life modelling a shot' after spending a year as a student studying and sketching life drawing models himself. What tempted him to try it out was a desire to build his confidence — he was impressed with how self-assured they were and wanted some of that for himself.

Concurring with the director of The Art Room, Erica, Kam says:

“The artist or student all they care about is the process of drawing and painting. They don’t care about your body shape or what you look like, if you are fat or slim. It’s good they have that kind of opinion in my mind. They are just interested in the art form, not the body.”

If you're thinking it's easy for Kam Wong, as a former personal trainer and regular at the gym, to feel confident in his own skin, then consider Canberra Times journalist, Karen Hardy. Middle-aged and 'bigger than I have been for a long time', Karen put up her hand to try life modelling as part of the newspaper's We tried ... series — and astounded herself by loving the experience.

Pleasantly surprised by how friendly and welcoming each student artist was, and by their encouraging murmurings of 'a delight to draw' and 'you're a natural' as she moved between poses, Karen says the best thing about the experience was the chance to be still — in both body and mind.

Her message to anyone who's thinking of giving it a go — do it.

"They're looking AT you, not at YOU."

How popular is life drawing in Australia?

If the popularity of the SBS showLife Drawing Live, which premiered in July 2020, is anything to go by, we can probably safely assume the answer to this question is 'very'.

Life Drawing Live, which continues to be available through SBS On Demand, was hailed as Australia's first live life drawing class. It took amateur painters (including celebrity chef, Adam Liaw, and comedian, Susie Youssef), through a series of live lessons, culminating with a final drawing challenge.

People who chose to view the show live also had the option of pausing the stream in order to participate in real-time from the comfort of their homes. In addition, they were given the opportunity to submit their artwork and have it featured and analysed live during the broadcast.

There were celebrities involved in this, and the show was on while many Australians were still coming out of lockdown and working from home.

True, but let's put it this way — if you go on to almost any recreational art school website and look through their classes, it's the life drawing ones that are more than likely booked out.

Popular? Yes.

What this also means, though, is there are potentially lots of life drawing model jobs out there.

So, let's find out a little more about these jobs.

Why is a Life Model Important in a Drawing Class?

You might be modelling for one artist or fifty, all of whom want to produce a portrait, a sculpture or a painting representative of the human form and anatomy. It's really important, therefore, to remember these individuals are only looking to represent your image, rather than judge your appearance. In fact, if we all looked exactly the same when we were nude, then artistic pieces would be incredibly boring and repetitive!

For an artist, life models can play a very big part in teaching about the form and proportions of the male and female figures. As much as they can learn about the structure of the human body in Biology classes and practise drawing people in the street, it is almost impossible to really understand the body without seeing it in real life.

How much does a life model earn?
During life modelling sessions, you are often required to change your position every few minutes to show different angles and features | Source: Unsplash - Photo by Lavi Perchik

During sketching or painting sessions, the person modelling will be asked to pose in a range of ways to showcase different parts of the body, display different sets of muscles and to expose different angles.

While photographers can take images of the human body, defining structure and tone,  they simply cannot express the sense of life in the same way as illustration. Every breath the model takes and each tiny shift in movement impact the shadows on the skin.

Furthermore, photographed images will only show surface detail, yet not capture the weight and gesture of the life model, which is why life models are vital for anyone learning how to draw the human form.

Learning how to sketch the human figure with accuracy often improves the way an artist draws non-figuratively.

Who becomes a life drawing model?

Life drawing model jobs attract a lot of actors and models as it is often better paid than working in hospitality or retail and also goes hand in hand with their choice of career, in that they are required to use their body, expressions and movements in an artistic way. Don't be fooled into thinking it's easy money though. Kam Wong makes the point that life modelling is physically demanding as you are often required to be present for up to five hours at a time, and hold poses for long periods of time, which can be quite gruelling on the muscles.

Many artists also choose to be life models for the very reason that they understand the importance of students having experience with a live model. They may be more relaxed and have a greater understanding of the different poses that work and are needed.

However, you don't need any specific qualifications to become a life model so, in theory, anyone can apply to become one! There are, of course, a few conditions to meet before you start out, which we'll detail below.

So what exactly is required to become a life drawing model for drawing lessons and what should you expect?

Life drawing models can have a long career.
Paul Cronin has been a life drawing model for more than 40 years and is still in high demand | Source: The Berkshire Eagle

To learn more about this art form, check our life drawing guide.

Be Confident: Perfect Bodies Aren't Always the Best

You might think that unless you have a six-pack, a flat stomach or toned muscles, there's no point applying for a modelling job with a studio.

It's quite the opposite.

Teachers and art school directors are more likely to look for people for their drawing classes that are not the 'perfect' humans fashion magazines tend to put on their covers.

Life models with unique physiques and body types (interpret that as 'normal' bodies with all their crooked, wobbly, wrinkly and sticky-out bits) are what schools are looking for when it comes to figure drawing.

Artists are learning to look at the detail of individual features, such as lined faces, curved bodies and tattoos or scars. It is about gaining experience representing the human figure in all its shapes and forms.

The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your body when it's nude. You won't be cat-walking in front of hundreds of people and dozens of photographers, but you will be posing nude in front of any number of strangers.

Most people who pose for the first time in front of a class get nervous. Who wouldn't? It is perfectly normal to feel a bit apprehensive, perhaps with sweaty palms, dry mouth and a pounding heart, when you are a beginner in this line of work but remember that all life drawing classes follow a strict etiquette.

The instructors, and often the students themselves, want to make sure the nude models they will be drawing feel comfortable — after all, a relaxed model will deliver better and more varied natural poses.

There are a few universal rules when it comes to these classes:

  • No one touches the life model, EVER — this rule should never be broken, even (or especially) if you are life modelling in a private session with a single artist.
  • Only artists (or teacher and pupils) should be in the room — it is a standard rule that artroom is closed while a session is in progress. No one wants a random student having a peek and disturbing the class.
  • No comments — all artists present during a life drawing workshop are expected to refrain from making any comment on the model's body.
  • The model should be physically comfortable — this includes the studio providing a comfy chair and regular breaks, especially if the model is expected to hold poses for a long time. Also, basic manners, like being introduced to the class by your first name, go a long way to creating a friendly and relaxed work and study environment.
  • A model should be allowed to change privately — this means a bathroom or changing room should be provided for the model to undress and put on a robe before entering the studio.

Find drawing classes on Superprof here.

How long do life modelling sessions run for?
Models often have to hold poses for half an hour or more without moving.

In most cases, life modelling sessions have a designated facilitator, usually the teacher, who makes sure all rules are respected. The facilitator is also the one who introduces and assists the model if necessary.

If a pose needs to be corrected, or it is time for a break, the facilitator will be the one looking after you.

All these rules are there to guarantee that everything is conducted in a professional manner, meaning everyone, models and students or artists, can enjoy their time in the art lesson.

Being confident in your natural body is just the first step to becoming a life model. Rules do apply to the artists who are sketching you, but being a life model also entails some duties.

For those more interested in drawing than modelling, check out our guide to online life drawing classes.

Life Modelling Etiquette

Many people who come to art modelling do not end up choosing it as their primary career. It is often a casual job or a temporary solution to financial hard times.

A recently graduated university student might be looking for their first job, an actor between roles, or still searching for their breakthrough, may turn to art modelling as a short-term source of income. It is worthwhile to note, however, that most employers will insist life models are over the age of 18 for legal reasons.

Art modelling is just like acting. You have to perform in front of an audience. You have to be creative about the poses you adopt and about the gestures you choose.

Whatever the reason you decided to take on a figure drawing model job, there are a few things that are expected in every life drawing class:

  • Be on time — this applies to every job you will ever have, but when it comes to life modelling it is even better if you arrive a few minutes early to get set up for the session.
  • Be creative — find poses that might be interesting for the drawers or painters to sketch on their canvasses; knowing classical poses is a great start. A lot of models practise at home in front of the mirror and learn to hold still for extended periods; with time this should come to you more naturally.
  • Don't be a hero — if a pose becomes too hard to hold, say so and ask to take a break. No one is going to be upset about it because nobody wants to see a model struggling to maintain a pose.
  • Cover up — if you're having a coffee break between poses, or if you are stretching (which is highly recommended), wear a robe or a piece of fabric to do so. Being clothed on breaks is the rule.
  • Other things to avoid — reading a book or listening to music with earphones while you're modelling; looking directly at one of the artists (it could be awkward for both of you); talking while posing.

Your job is to provide the class with some great subject matter. Life drawers tend to be very focused on you and their work — disturbing them in any way is simply not good etiquette.

What rules must a life model follow?
An artist will often become totally absorbed in their work and being disturbed may not be appreciated | Source: Pixabay - Image by bridgesward

If you stick to these rules when you start life modelling, you will be regarded as professional and competent. As many of the art modelling gigs you get will be through recommendations and word-of-mouth, it is vital to maintain a good reputation.

Always remember, however, artists and models should always be equally comfortable with, and respectful of, each other.

How to Prepare for a Modelling Gig in a Life Drawing Class

Most figure drawing classes unfold similarly and you should get used to the schedule pretty quickly.

These painting and drawing classes can last up to 3 hours, or sometimes longer, so be ready.

To help ensure you are as prepared as possible, it's a good idea to:

  • go to the bathroom before the session and every time you get a break
  • make sure you have something to eat beforehand as a growling stomach could be a little embarrassing, not to mention distracting
  • make sure you are comfortable on the chair or structure that has been provided for you to pose on
  • check to ensure the temperature suits you (it's okay to ask for a small heater to keep them warm or to request the air conditioning be turned on if it's too hot
  • stretch before, during and after the session to avoid cramps and sore muscles.

What to Expect During a Session

A life drawing class usually starts with the model taking short poses, from 30 seconds to a few minutes, so artists can draw quick sketches as a warm-up.

A repertoire of different poses and gestures are needed for the warm-up. If you are new to life modelling, the teacher or instructor will probably help by guiding you but as you gain more experience, and through practising at home, you will eventually come up with new postures you can move into without thinking about it.

Practice makes perfect!

After the warm-up, it is time for serious poses. From this time on, each posture should last 20 to 30 minutes, with artists taking their time to draw as many details as they can. Holding a pose for this long is not as easy as it might seem, so this is where any training or practice will really be of benefit.

Poses can be divided into four categories:

Reclining poses

These poses are, in theory, the easiest to hold as your body is supported. The floor or a platform, plus gravity, is what keeps you still for the most part. However, if a reclining pose involves holding your arms or legs straight, it might prove to be surprisingly tiring.

Seated (or semi-reclining) poses

You might think that sitting down on a chair or a platform is going to be relatively comfortable. However, although very little muscle is required to hold a seated posture still, the main issue is going to be your backside. The reason for this is that, when we're seated, we tend to move around to release the pressure on our posteriors. You probably don't even realise you're doing this, but as art models, it's simply not an option. Just make sure whatever you are sitting on is comfortable, soft and well-padded.

Standing poses

These will be difficult to hold, especially if you have only just started modelling for life drawing classes. When you are standing, all your weight is resting on your legs, which is tiring. As with seated poses, you can't jiggle around to relieve the pressure, so there is no opportunity to shift from one leg to another as you might naturally do when standing in one place for any length of time. Sometimes a standing pose will be made easier thanks to a pole but if you don't think you have what it takes to hold a standing posture without support for at least 20 minutes, it is better to be honest about it and tell the instructor before the class starts.

Kneeling poses

Probably the hardest ones to hold for long periods, kneeling poses can be particularly strenuous on the back and limbs. These poses are usually kept short unless models are supremely fit.

The trick to maintaining any pose is to make sure your posture is right. Life modelling is definitely not as easy as it seems and being rested beforehand, and prepared for what lies ahead, will make a huge difference.

What happens in a life modelling session?
Although it might not seem so, life figure modelling is not much different from a full-body workout | Source: image by Cindy Schultz

The Application Process For Life Drawing Model Jobs

How to find life modelling jobs

A good place to begin your search by visiting all of the usual job sites, including Seek, Jora and Jobsearch. Gumtree also features occasional advertisements for models and similar positions. However, if you feel more comfortable going via reputable and known organisations, then you may wish to consult the websites of art colleges or look at recommended employers on an official modelling membership site.

The Life Models' Society, based in Victoria, has a wealth of information on their site. If you become a member, you can also gain access to their listings.

Life models are free to set their own rates, but the Life Model's Society recommends:

  • $40 an hour for a minimum 2-hour booking
  • $75 an hour for a minimum 2-hour booking if photography is involved
  • up to 50 per cent of the agreed fee in addition, to cover travel expenses where relevant.

What to expect from life drawing interviews

Applicants who are beginners normally have to pose at a life drawing workshop by way of an audition. As with any job, note that most employers won't take you on without meeting you first and giving you a trial.

You may be asked to do a combination of short 5 or 10-minute poses and one or two longer ones, up to 45 minutes, so they can check your ability to keep still for long periods as well as assess your initiative. It is perfectly normal for those starting out to be asked back a couple of times to build up their confidence before being hired as a regular model. However, some people are just naturals in front of a crowd and, due to the lack of volunteers, many are accepted eventually.

When auditioning for a role as a life model, you may not be paid. You should check the terms of the agreement in advance.

Experienced life models may also be asked to audition, particularly if they're applying to be part of a team of models, although references from other employers may be enough to secure the job.

While you don't need qualifications to be a life model, you still need to undertake the interview process with professionalism.

Promote yourself as a life model

Make a website

If you are truly serious about becoming a life model, then the best thing you can do is to set up a website attracting potential employers and jobs.

With many free web host platforms such as Wix and WordPress, you can easily set up a website that will help market you, but it's only worth it if you can really sell yourself through it. Of course, this is not the place to post a series of pictures of you with no clothes on.  Good references and showing an understanding of the business is the goal of a website.

Use social media to your advantage

Use the power of social media to your advantage, advertising your services and ambition. Agencies and clients are constantly on the lookout for top-quality models on social media platforms, and it may be the case that some art schools also use social media to find employees.

Social media is the perfect platform to show off your personality, mixing professional-style images with those of you as a person. Be vibrant and socially friendly with your captions and use appropriate and popular hashtags.

Make relevant connections

If you are able to socialise and interact with clients then you will see more opportunities coming your way. So, why not sign up to a life drawing class or course?

You should aim to impress but also take note of the model and what seems to work for them. If nothing else, you can take away a valuable lesson in what to do or what not to do as a life model!

Useful Websites

If, after all this information, you are now keen to find a job as a life drawing model, there are a few places you can look for extra information:

  • London Drawinga collaboration between professional artists, tutors and performers, offers life drawing and painting classes, including bespoke classes and corporate workshops in life drawing, creative drawing and creative problem-solving. Check their website for future online events.
  • Many well-known art school bases are often looking for new models.
  • The Life Models' Society is an excellent resource and support organisation for all life models.
  • The National Association for Visual Arts (NAVA) is a great place to find contacts.

Being involved in life drawing, either as an artist or a model, can be rewarding. There is that sense of calm and acceptance, and the growth in personal confidence that can be passed on to other areas of your life. Getting in touch with your local art schools, studios, community groups or art centres is a great place to start.

There is a demand if you know where to look and you feel that the role is something you could be comfortable with doing. The options to work with large groups or individuals, beginners or accomplished artists, and even in person or online are limitless. They all need live models.

"Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see."

∼ Edgar Degas ∼


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Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.