Art, au naturale
Leland Page, ready for his first strip-down session, sized up the room. The all-white ceilings contrasting with the scattered art supplies, the circle of easels surrounding a block and a single stool in the middle. This is when Page realized he would be exposed not only for the entire class, but also for a well-known friend.
Page is a junior hoping to major in anthropology. However, his new gig is modeling au naturale for drawing and painting classes in the art department.
He has modeled for one class so far, and has another session next month, he said.
Page’s session began with a pose he held for about 15 minutes, which he said was relatively comfortable. The next pose he was asked to hold was not as comfortable. Once it was time to get started drawing, he figured he would get straight to the point, Page said.
“I was like ‘Well here we go, you guys are going to see this anyways,'” Page said. “So I scoot into the middle of the circle, into the gauntlet, and I strip down like I’m about to hop in the shower.”
Sometimes the models do wear clothing; most of the time, however, the models are naked so students can learn how to draw the human form, associate professor in the art department Cynthia Camlin said.
“When students are learning how to draw the human figure, they’re learning how to draw the skeleton,” Camlin said.
To understand the body, a student must see the body exposed, Camlin said.
Page began shaking after holding a difficult pose for 20 minutes with his back against the box, body facing away from the class and all his weight resting on one shoulder. Students began asking if he needed to take a break, he said.
“I was stoic, I did not respond, but then a few more said ‘Hey, can we give him a break?’ I said, ‘Oh me? Yeah, sure, I wouldn’t mind taking a break I suppose,’ trying to play it off all cool,” Page said. “They could see right through me, and they could see all of me.”
Posing for the class felt almost euphoric, Page said.
There has never been, to her knowledge, an inappropriate moment in the classroom during Western’s modeling sessions, Camlin said.
Drawing the naked body is a rare experience and something many students look forward to, but the context of the ordeal is not necessarily sexual, Camlin said.
“To know that there are just kids who are eagerly, and avidly and almost viciously looking up and sketching, you can feel the energy in the room and I couldn’t describe it as anything less than magical,” Page said.
Face and chin to paper, the students scratch their pencils against the page, quickly sketching and examining Page. The faces they make while the pencils scratch and quickly sketch scared him, Page said. It is tough to stay still and not sneak a peek, he said.
Aeron Murrin, a junior majoring in theater, found the modeling gig on the Western job board last fall quarter and although the posting called for experience and she had none, she responded.
When visiting the art department office to fill out an application, Murrin said she was asked if she was applying to be a nude or clothed model.
She didn’t know clothed modeling was even an option, but still decided she didn’t mind being naked, Murrin said.
Murrin said her experiences in the art classrooms have been consistent; before she gets undressed she waits for the professor to take attendance or explain the week’s tasks.
“About half an hour in, there’s this awkward moment where I’m like, ‘So I get naked now?’ And that line always kills them,” Murrin said.
There’s one thing she’s said she’s noticed about a certain point during the sessions.
“When everything’s done and I put on my clothes, it feels a lot more sexual than when I was naked,” Murrin said. “Everyone’s used to me being naked, and now I’m putting on my clothes, like should I be doing this in the bathroom or something?”
Since she began modeling, Murrin said she’s seen artists off campus while at parties.
“It’s always so funny because you and them shared this weird intimate experience that no one else around you has,” she said.
Junior Patrick Mogg, another model in the raw, chose a position for the students to paint, and held it for 30 minute intervals with breaks in between, Mogg said.
“I thought it would be super easy, but it definitely wasn’t,” Mogg said. “My left butt cheek and my right shoulder got really tired.”
Mogg, hoping to major in communications, said he heard about modeling during his freshman year and just recently posed for his first class.
During Mogg’s time in class he said he had thoughts such as, “It’s cold in here, I hope they realize it’s cold and it’s not just me.”
Mogg actively tried to keep his mind off things that would make the situation more awkward, he said. He felt he was just another subject for students to make paintings of, Mogg said.
The nudity is just for art, Mogg said, and didn’t feel weirdly sexual.
Not all of those who model are seasoned talent, however. Kyle Takagi is anticipating modeling bare-skinned in winter quarter as he just applied last week. He is excited but nervous, he said.
He expects the experience to be like jumping off Whatcom Falls for the first time, looking over the cliff and jumping towards the water, unsure of the decision but having a great outcome, he said.
Whether they are just getting into modeling or have been doing for a while, there is something intrinsically important about being a part of one of these modeling sessions, Camlin said. It’s not something that not many people get to experience.
“In the figure drawing situation, clothed or unclothed, you do have a sense of it being special, like a performance happening,” Camlin said.