I'm a nude model for artists as a side gig. It's great for extra cash and requires oddly specific skills.
- Seven years ago, I left my full-time job and pursued a few side-hustles. One was figure modeling.
- I pose nude for art studios and schools for $20 to $25 an hour. It's been great for my body image.
Seven years ago, I left my full-time job at a major university to focus more on writing and performing. (I'd eventually return to the 9-to-5 world on my own terms, but at the time, I desperately needed a break from the endless cycle of commute-desk-sleep-repeat.) I amped up my side gigs, while also working part-time at the front desk of a barre studio and exploring my options for earning money on a flexible schedule.
Then I started figure modeling and found an offbeat, perfect way to make extra cash.
What is figure modeling?
In general, art modeling entails posing for structured classes and open studios — the latter is when artists can come in during a specific period of time and draw, paint or sculpt.
There are two types of art modeling. "Portrait" modeling is usually done in a seated position with clothes on, so artists can render the model's head and shoulders. "Figure" modeling, more often than not, is done fully nude in a variety of positions. (Think of all the nude paintings and sculptures you see at an art museum!)
Some models only do portrait jobs. But I found that being a nude, or figure, model meant more gigs and thus, more money.
How it started and how it's going
I was friends with working nude models, some part-time and others full-time, at local art schools. One of them gave me the email address for a studio in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood that mainly catered to adult artists. I sent in two clothed photos and booked my first job the very next week.
Seven years later, I've modeled both portrait (clothed) and figure (nude) — mostly the latter! — for everyone from high school students to retirees. I mostly model in studios and art schools, but I've also posed after-hours in a tattoo parlor and in an artist's living room.
It's still strictly a side hustle for me, but a lucrative and interesting one, where I've met all kinds of people and pocketed a healthy amount of cash (my rate is now between $20 to $25 per hour, plus tips if someone takes a photograph in an open studio setting). In my city, art modeling is very much about word of mouth — I usually leave a job with at least one to three new bookings.
Nude Modeling 101
In my experience, an art modeling session usually runs three to five hours (I've modeled as long as seven or eight, with a long break about halfway through), and the model is paid by the hour.
The model poses for anywhere between one minute (warm-ups when students are quickly sketching) and 25 to 30 minutes at a time (often referred to as "long pose"). Sometimes I'll strike the same long pose the entire time, or I'll switch up long poses every time I sit (or lay down). I'll get a break every 25 to 30 minutes, usually for about five minutes or so.
Sometimes the session monitor or instructor will time me, and other times I'll time myself. (Thank goodness for phone alarms.) The monitor or instructor may play music or the radio, and I've started listening to podcasts on my earbuds to make the time go faster. After all, I can't move for anywhere between one minute and half an hour!
More about posing
When I said nude modeling requires a very specific skill set, I wasn't lying. While instructors may suggest poses, for the most part, poses are entirely up to the model. For "quick poses" — usually between one and five minutes — I often use variations on ballet and yoga positions. I make sure not to pose with my arms above my head for more than one to two minutes.
For longer poses, I sit or recline. If I stand in a long pose, it's with both feet flat on the floor with both arms supported or resting on my body. Art schools usually have their models pose on a platform for easier visibility, and offer chairs, stools, pillows and/or yoga mats for the model's comfort.
There are two main aspects of a good pose. First, a good pose should be interesting for the artist to draw, no matter where they're situated in the room. Ideally, I want my body to be situated at some sort of angle, not only for visibility, but also so the artists can use techniques like foreshortening. Second, and most important, I have to be able to hold the pose — whether that's for 30 seconds or 30 minutes at a time.
What I've learned as a nude model
Spending part of my working life in front of strangers, without my clothes on and holding completely still, has definitely taught me a lot. I've learned that first and foremost, an art model should be on time. (Artists will forgive a lot if the model is punctual.) I bring a robe and flip-flops to hang around in on my breaks, as well as coffee, water, and snacks. I also try to stretch before and after a session — modeling is very physical work.
Nude modeling has also made me appreciate my own body more. When I'm feeling good about myself, I like to see different renderings of my body and the pose. I'll even take photos of my favorites and share them. (I once posed one morning a week for an eight-week session, and an artist gave me her finished oil painting! I have it hanging in my apartment.)
Nude modeling has definitely been great for my body image, as well as my wallet.
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