When you go through the art program at a college, one of the rites of passage is taking figure drawing classes. If you're not familiar with the set up, it's basically this: a group of artists gather in a circle and draw a human subject. The subject is more often than not nude. Occasionally a prop will be added to further aid the artist and/or model in enhancing the poses, like a chair, a broom, or a hat. Similar in the way an actor uses a prop to enhance their performance. This sort of thing is rare, so mostly the model is sans prop.
The whole scenario is quite bizarre if you think about it: A couple of people looking at and drawing a completely naked person. If you were to walk by the room and were totally oblivious to where you were, you would definitely do a double-take because of the fact that you don't normally see a naked person just struttin' their stuff right out in the open. Along with a bunch of onlookers surrounding said naked person.
Throughout the years of taking figure drawing classes there's bound to be some interesting situations as well as interesting subjects from time to time. I have a couple I'd like to share with you all:
My first figure drawing class was at Dekalb College (now Perimeter College) in Atlanta back in 1987. Being a community college, they did not have it in the budget to pay for full-on nude models so we were forced to look at the human body in leotards and Speedos. No lie. It was a strange sight. The first model I ever had to draw was, weirdly enough, someone who I knew from high school. She was one of the "stoner" kids who hung out the smoking section behind the school (yes, they had places like that back then). Apparently she needed some extra cash and modeling (semi-nude) in art classes was just the ticket for her. So, it was an odd feeling to sit right in front of her while she disrobed and displayed her figure for all of us fledgling artists to see. And did I mention it was her first time, too? It showed. During the first couple of long poses I noticed that she was so nervous that she began to quiver and shake. The poor girl. Trying to look calm in a relaxed pose, all the while her slightly-overweight body jiggling. I almost wanted to grab her robe, throw it on her and wisk her away from all of us naughty peeping-toms and tell her everything will be alright.
Another interesting model at Dekalb was this older man with a very very obvious toupee. He was almost hitting 65, but had an orange tan and a barrel chest if you ever saw one. Yes, all this and glorious Speedos to boot. The entire time he would talk and try to hit on all the women, making for many awkward moments while we drew. We all agreed that he thought that he was God's Gift to Women.
Later on in my career I took some "continuing education" classes -- basically classes for older folk who felt the urge to take that one class on pottery that they missed out on when they were young. To further my career in the animation field, I needed to take some figure drawing classes to help me with my gestures and figure studies. There were no instuctors, making it cheaper and therefore, easier for me to take. Even though there were no instructors, we did manage to maintain some sort of respectable dignity in these classes -- we were, afterall, "older" students. But the models soon would take advantage of the situation and become more relaxed with their posing. This would be the first time I would be drawing nude models, so the initial 'unveiling' always shocked me -- it's such a strange thing to witness, you know? I found myself always looking down, or looking out the window whenever the model disrobed, out of respect. I know, strange, since we were about to view the model naked full-on for 2 hours, but whatever. It was almost involuntary for me.
The way it was set up was this: quick 1 to 5 minute poses at first, then on to 15, 20 and/or 30 minute poses later on. The second half was the big test for the models, and they knew it. I could sense their seething frustration whenever the timer was wound to 20 minutes and they had to find a decent pose that would be sorta interesting for us to draw that long, as well as be relaxing enough for them, without some body part falling asleep on them.
This one lanky girl, no matter how hard she tried, would always start yawning during these long poses. Not just simple, cute yawns, but a big, long, full-gaping-wide-mouth yawns. And many of them. I literally had to stop my drawing to wait for her to go about her business. It was very annoying. And then she would fall asleep during some of these poses -- mouth open wide for all to draw.
There was this one female model who was different. She was quiet, and kept to herself (some of the models would at least make small talk during breaks). I didn't notice at first when she disrobed (I was looking somewhere else, remember?), but it wasn't until I was drawing during the quick gesture poses that she... well, she had no hair "downstairs." On purpose. And she had her belly button pierced. I remember thinking to myself, "Oh. Well... this is different."
But it didn't stop there. See, the connection between artist and model is a strange one. When you start to draw a nude figure, you are no longer looking at a person with no clothes on anymore. You are looking at your 'subject.' They become an object to you. There are no sexual thoughts going on in your brain, just your inner artist trying to get the gesture, the pose, the subject just right. Good models know and understand this connection and will work with us and help us attain our goals. Some are very aware of their poses and will ask if that particular pose works for everyone, but some could care less. They come across as mindless drones, posing like they are working in a factory. No fun for everyone involved. Anyway (got off track there), this one particular model was okay. She wasn't bored or anything, but her poses were VERY different than what we were used to. And I noticed it right away. All her poses were very suggestive and almost Penthouse-worthy. I kid you not. It was very odd to draw her with her patootie up in the air, legs spread out. For those who take figure drawing classes, you know that this is not typical. This crossed the line from artistic subject to porn-mag subject. I eventually stopped drawing her and began to sketch this old man to my left who had a front row seat to all this porn-glory. It was pretty funny for me to think about what was going through his head. I also imagined the scenario later on that evening at home: having to explain to his wife why he had such naughty drawings in his sketchbook.
One model came in to the studio and I literally had no clue if it was a he or she, until they took off their robe. It was a female, but she looked like a little boy. She made for an interesting subject, that's for sure.
So, there ya go. Some curious tales from the art set. I was wondering if any of you guys had some intriguing tales to share? Would love to hear them.