Enigma of Models: What Are They Thinking?

Have you ever wondered what a model is thinking while standing bare in front of you so you can draw their human body in various poses? From the moment when for the first time I pulled out my sharpened pencils and roll of newsprint, and the model took her robe off and stood still in the spotlight of the small stage with her face focussed, a mysterious gleam of a saint in her eyes, I have been wondering about that. 

This enigma of models had to be probed. Being an obnoxiously curious creature , a few years into life drawing I dared to ask models about it. What you are thinking when standing there? 

Most of them smiled and shook their heads. Some of them said:

- Nothing of importance.

Of course, they meant: Nothing of importance to YOU. The last resort when your body is exposed in all its glory and misery ( just thinking how my personal history can be read and misinterpreted from the scars on my body makes me shudder with unease) is the privacy of thoughts .

Then, in the last week's New Yorker, there is was a short story by Tom McCarthy, who as a poor, young, aspiring writer had a modeling gig in Prague. I was thrilled to read this passage:

" Standing still for forty minutes—absolutely still, without moving a finger or shifting your line of sight—is something few of us have ever been called on to do. Even fewer have done it naked while circled by twenty people whose gazes are intently focussed on each bend and angle of your body. What I can report of it is this: nothing I’ve ever done, before or since, has afforded me such a state of concentration—intense, extended, charged. I would run whole passages of text—Baudelaire, Rilke, Ponge, whomever I’d been reading, even my own small works in progress—through my head, forward, backward, taking apart each image, amplifying each metre and sub-rhythm in the loaded silence. I probably learned more about literature in the six months I spent on the podium than in the three previous years of study. I also learned about space, in an immediate, almost visceral way."

Finally, an answer to my inquiry! This explains the saintly gleam in the models' eyes!

To read the whole story "The Best, If Worst-Paid, Job I Ever Had" by Tom McCarthy  CLICK HERE.

But regarding the people who draw models - they keep seeing things that aren't there. Drawing a human body can be a difficult mountain to climb. A life drawing from yesterday:

Finding Hidden Life in Life Drawing

Life drawing is like an exercise - when you don't do it, you lose it. To be in a decent shape, you have to do it regularly. But, like any exercise or obligatory task, it can become tedious. 

This week we had an excellent model, with a beautiful body and inspiring poses. All of us were scribbling feverishly on our papers, trying to put down the lines and capture the exquisite, fleeting beauty in front of us in less than 2 minutes. Then the model took a 10 minute pose that I drew in 2 minutes and I got restless. Of course, it was not a good drawing but instead of trying to get better at it I got bored. As an animator, I am mainly interested in a gesture, not in making pretty pictures. I also don't have a lot of patience. So I stopped at this:

- What else is there for me to draw? - I thought. I had 8 more minutes to look at this pose until change to another. Suddenly, I saw the object the model'd body was resting on. It was alive! With renewed vigor I started to sketch this:

Then of course, I started seeing things every time the model took a pose:

The moral of this story: a little boredom can spur something new into existence. 

Body the Beautiful

Art is different from Nature with that it has a human point of view. Human body might be a result of myriads of human cells dividing (in a human body nearly two trillion cells divide each day) but the vantage point from where you view it will determine your conclusion: is this body beautiful or not?

I have not studied Art, I only practiced one form of Art (animation) for last 20 years so I can barely talk about Art and I can barely draw. But that doesn't preclude me from having a point of view.

Humans develop a point of view on a bare human body with the help of nude beaches and their bedrooms. A point of view on human bodies in nude beaches: - Eek! A Bedroom point of view: -Whee!

But there is another place where to form a point of view on human body: a life drawing studio. Few years ago I started going to life drawing to see if it would improve my animation work (it did!). I am still not very good at it because I just can't make myself to see the anatomical structure formed by bones under all the skin and fat, because the moment the human model takes clothes off and steps on the small podium front of the small group of artists I go: -Ah! A strong emotion of awe, amazement and gratitude swell in my chest and tears flow to my eyes obstructing the view.

In that light, on that podium a human body seems like a temple, a mysterious vessel full of unreachable divinity. 

Then the model takes a pose and the timer beeps, indicating a start of one minute pose. You have one minute to capture the Magic, the Mystery, the Divine and put it in a jar like a butterfly. But, like a butterfly, the Magic is evasive. I end up with nothing in my jar, just smudges of lead. 

One minute attempt

One minute attempt

Then the model takes another one minute pose and you start the chase again.

Sometimes, but rarely, I show my drawings to other people, like to you today. I am ashamed of my inability to draw because people assume as an artist I am better at life drawing than I really am. But this particular model (see below) was so amazing that I thought my drawings were particularly inspired and I dared to show these sketches to a friend (not an artist).

- Why does she feel so proud? - he asked. - There is nothing ideal about her shape.

I was stung, as if he insulted me personally.

- She was the most beautiful model I have seen in a long time, - I said. - And part of her beauty was being so confident. She was channeling the light from within and from Above.

- I just think she should be more realistic and humble about her body, - he replied.

Two minute pose

Two minute pose

Quick pose

Quick pose

We may have two trillion cells that divide every day and miraculously we never fall apart as a result of those divisions,  but who will protect us from each other's opinions and points of view?