Baring it all: Life drawing at TRU


I have never had a problem getting up in front of a crowd. But this situation was a little different. I had never been in front of this sort of audience before. Everyone looked at me expectantly as I stepped up to the platform. I looked back at everyone watching me and try to forget my nerves. And then I dropped my robe.

When a friend of mine mentioned that she does nude modelling for a little extra cash every week, I was intrigued. After all, who can’t use a little extra cash? Before then I had never even considered the possibility of doing any kind of modelling, but before I knew it she was sending along contact information and I had set up a session for myself.

There are a number of opportunities at TRU for one to get into nude modelling. The Visual Arts department offers some classes in life drawing for which they hire models, and there are also externally-run drop-in classes that take place at TRU where anyone looking to practise drawing the human form can pay a small fee to join a class.

Thankfully, my boyfriend was all for the idea. He said he finds my body beautiful and he wants other people to see what he sees. So that was one of the most important people in my life. What about the others? The night of my session came and I was having dinner with my parents and sister. When my parents asked what I was doing later that evening, I told them – and I have never felt like more of a disappointment.

I don’t think they disagree that it’s art. I think my parents are okay with the concept of people modelling nude for art. What they are not okay with is their daughter modelling nude for art.

“I get treated better there than I do as a waitress. Less like a piece of meat.”

Since I don’t completely understand my parents’ disapproval, I can’t completely explain my reasons for doing it. It’s just a really cool life experience, one I am proud and excited to tell people about.

DSC_7674-3Jenna Cann, a fourth-year English major, also models for these art classes. When she told her family, some of them were not impressed. Cann told me her grandmother said she was “ashamed” of her for doing it.

Some of her family was very supportive, however.

“They thought it was great for confidence and body image and my mom is now saying that she wishes she could try it too,” Cann said.

Cann passed on a piece of wisdom given to her by one of her professors. “Someone told me ‘If you’re not offending your older family members you’re not living your life right,’” she recalled.

This bit of advice has helped me to feel better about my parents’ reactions to my choice.

Before I got to the session, I had a number of worries. Will I know what to do? Will this kill my back? What will people draw? Cann had similar worries.

“I was a little nervous about people judging my body, seeing my stretch marks, my imperfections… I was worried about being judged, but everyone there is absolutely lovely and treats me very respectfully. I get treated better there than I do as a waitress. Less like a piece of meat,” she said.

Adam Patrick, a TRU Open Learning student and former life model, had similar things to say about the first time he modelled for a life drawing class. “One worry was that it would be embarrassing. What if everyone is all weirded out in class?” he said.

DSC_7623-1Of course, being up on the platform comes with its own set of difficulties. For me, the most difficult part was knowing what to think about while not being able to move a muscle. At first I tried counting to intervals of 60 to see how close I could get to the actual number of minutes. Then I tried to see how high I could count in the various other languages I know, but that too got old fast and I had to figure something else out.

On one of the breaks I sent a text message to Cann, pleading for the answer. She later told me “I usually pick a movie that I know really well and play it in my head. My personal favourite is I like to play ‘Grease’ in my head. Because there’s lots of music and stuff so I can kind of hum in my head to it.”

Patrick has a different approach. “I like to put myself into the method, per se. When I sit in the poses I remember I would think ‘I am a professional right now, being paid to model.’ I need to focus and to relax.”

It feels very important to occupy your mind, because your body is certainly not being occupied. Cann and Patrick both agree that the most difficult part of life modelling is holding poses for long periods of time. My experience was the same. A typical session includes various poses lasting anywhere from one to 20 minutes. This can be very taxing on one’s muscles, so it is recommended that a model stretches between his or her poses to release lactic acid buildup.

DSC_7628-2It is important to stress how respectful the atmosphere of a life modelling class is. In fact, the artists were so respectful to me that, during breaks, they would talk amongst themselves and ignore me. This had the opposite effect as intended, however, and it was at this point that I felt the most dehumanized. I am a person, and at this point I am currently robed, why don’t you want to talk to me too? Once I approached them and asked about their work, however, the artists were more than happy to share.

Patrick has also found talking to the artists to be an effective way of overcoming tension. “I break down those walls of awkwardness by being super overt. So talking after class and saying ‘hey, can I look at what you’ve drawn?’ I’d ask if I could see this or ‘how would you do that?’ Always very positive.”

In the end, life modelling was very rewarding. Getting to see how others see you is a very rare experience. Cann said “it’s just really fun to look at the pictures afterwards and see how the people have drawn you in different ways. It’s just really cool to see what other people see.”

There are many different reasons one might choose to try life modelling. Cann, Patrick and I all had different reasons going in, but as it turns out, none of our experiences ended up being exactly like we had expected. If you choose to try life modelling, be prepared for an intimidating experience, especially the first time, but I encourage you to be confident in your choice. Not everyone will agree with this decision, but it ultimately comes down to what you want to do with your body. After all is said and done, life modelling can be an incredibly valuable experience and you should choose to do it for your own reasons, and choose to do it for yourself.

Photography by Tristan Davies
Model: Jenna Cann