Figure Drawing

Published in The Student Life on 3.07.2008 

Figure Drawing
Sketch by Katherine Roy

My theater teacher once said that being naked on stage is the greatest challenge for the actor. From a logical standpoint, I found it strange that a person ready to reveal emotions and share intimate truths with the audience would be intimidated by nudity for the sake of inspiration and art. However, when the bold part of me asked the timid one, “Would you do it?”, I was not so sure.

I heard about the Figure Drawing club at the very beginning of first semester and was immediately lured to show up as a model. Excited to test my courage and confidence and to become part of one of the most beautiful forms of art, I talked to the president of the club and went to the meeting. Before the first pose of the other model was finished, I was already back in my dorm.

I am not sure what sent me home that night. Nudity is not a social taboo anymore. In Europe the naked body is so commonly flashed at the spectator that it has become trite almost to the point that an experimental play of six nude actors leaves you with nothing but disappointment. I don’t think any societal considerations kept me away from the art studio. It must have been the lack of confidence, the hesitation to do something my friends would have claimed insane, or the pervasive feeling of vulnerability that settles as soon as clothes disappear. My vanity would not let me realize how wrong my inherent perception was: the people in the studio would not be interested in my body, but in the art they would create with it; they would not see in me a naked girl, but an object, just like the apples and the jars in a still art.

Second semester was a fresh start. When Amy MacKinnon contacted me due to previous interest, the possibility to pose nude seemed frighteningly real. I needed a couple of weeks to let the idea become a part of me and by Sunday night the balance between nervousness and excitement was finally achieved. On Monday I did all my homework ahead and waited in silent excitement. By Tuesday morning I had somehow managed to push it out of my mind, but my planner was firm: 7-9pm, figure drawing. After class I went to the gym, took a long shower, and declined a dinner invitation. I needed solitude and time to stare at the image in the mirror and lay on my bed in my underwear. At 6:45 I got dressed very slowly and left hoping none of my sponsor group mates would ask me where I was headed.

Shoes have a different click for every mood. My heels that night sang about both fear and excitement; about butterflies in my stomach that made me both jumpy and sick. Speaking of stomach, mine was empty: I didn’t have any dinner beforehand.

The club meets every Tuesday 7-9pm on the second floor of Rembrandt. The corridor you have to walk through is scarier than The Grudge but inside the studio is well lit and comforting. In the center of the room there is a big wooden platform bathed in light and the artists’ chairs are placed around it. The walls are covered in drawings and posters and the slanted windows look to the sky.

Because there was no changing room, I undressed in the scary passage and walked in covered in my coat. No one giggled when I ascended the platform nude; they were there to draw, not to stare or judge. It seemed like a slow night: only five people, three of whom I already knew. The presence of a good friend gave me comfort, but I felt that, in general, posing for strangers would be easier.

The logistics of modeling were simple. Over the course of the two hours I had to hold about ten one-minute poses, six five-minute poses, four ten-minute poses, and a final fifteen-minute one. I could stand up, remain seated, or lay down. At first, I was painfully conscious of my nudity; I felt uncomfortable following the people’s eyes as they moved from my body to the paper and back. I tried to close my eyes and think about the music playing in the background and realized that my whole face was tense and distorted. As time passed by, however, I became more and more comfortable with my nakedness and paid more attention to the variety of the poses. My nude body was in harmony with the surroundings; it was also in harmony with itself. The experience was extremely liberating and inspiring. It was a confidence boost, too: when I looked at the mirror later that night, I liked my fully clothed self more than usually.

If the thought of modeling naked ever crosses your mind, don’t reject it. Give it some time and prepare yourself for a wonderful experience. And remember: bring your own towel or sheet to lie on, and save the most relaxing poses for the very end.

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