Art imitating life

Rebecca Mohr

Artists observe student models in classroom

The sound of pencils scratching against pieces of brown paper is the only sound heard in Room 109 of the Art Building. Eight art students quickly take in the student model and the pose the instructor has given them.

Easels sit in front of the artists. Red plastic cups hold brushes and yellow Styrofoam dishes hold the acrylic paint. One artist is listening to her iPod while she sketches, completely lost in the art.

“I really like drawing the models,” said Caitlyn Elmore, freshman visual communication design major. “You think you know how a person should look, but you need to see a person as a shape, not a person.”

Drawing or sculpting a student art model can be a challenge even for those with experience. Assistant art professor Don King teaches sculpting now, but took the class as a student.

“I have taken the figurative sculpting class as a student,” King said. “It’s the most important three-dimensional sculpting experience that I had, sort of like one of those things, even if you don’t ever do that again, it lays a foundation and a way of looking at things that sort of helps your work no matter what you do later.”

King said taking the class as a student helped him teach his students.

“I learned sculpting the figure from a retired teacher. I basically just kind of filter through all the stuff that I learned from him,” King said. “I try to make it as simple as possible for the students.

“What I learned as a student taking those classes is really how to look at things – objectively.”

King said drawing a student model can help students become artists.

“We get so intense into working on something, like trying to make the nose perfect, you might spend an hour working on it, but then it’s not until you step back (that you) realize the nose is perfect, but the eyes are not in the right place,” King said. “Critically look at what you do – it’s one of the hardest things to get across to my students.”

Sculpting a student model does not necessarily mean it has to be a duplicate, King said.

“We’re not trying to make an exact duplicate of what we are seeing,” he said. “We’re trying to represent what we’re seeing – trying to make it look human.”

Overall, working with a human model is a learning experience for the students.

“Proportions human body is one of the most difficult things to draw,” said sophomore nutrition major Hilary Miller. “Sometimes the models have really long poses like a half hour to an hour, and sometimes we do quick, just two minute sketches. Ones where they are really sprawled out are the most difficult.”

Miller said she has been drawing nude student models since high school, when she would come to Kent on Fridays for the open drawings.

Miller said nude student models do not affect her concentration on her artwork.

“Everyone always asks me isn’t that kind of awkward. It’s not,” she said. “You’re more focused on anatomy and portions. You’re not really focusing on the fact that it’s a naked person.”

Lisa Held, director of the program for student art models, said nude modeling is considered a very respectable job on campus.

“All of the students and faculty work very hard to make sure that the models do not feel uncomfortable and feel a sense of pride,” she said. “It’s a very respectable and important thing in our art department.”

Held said there are no specific body requirements for models.

“They like to see different body types,” Held said. “Anybody who wants to try, I’ll normally give them a shot. The most important thing is to be prompt, reliable and professional.”

Student models have a more difficult job than most people tend to believe, Held said.

“You would not believe how difficult it is to be still,” she said. “Art students make very good models because they understand what is necessary.”

Back in Room 109, the quick strokes of the artists capture the still face of the model. Their canvases start to form black and white pictures of what is sitting in front of them. Their eyes take in the moment. The only thing that makes it seem like a class is the teacher taking attendance in the foreground.

Above all, the student model program seems to benefit both students and teachers in the art school, but it does present new challenges.

“People are intimidated by having a real person sitting there. With a skull, people would have no problem going up and looking at that skull very closely because it is an inanimate object,” King said. “Once that’s a real person, people don’t want to encroach on the model’s space – they might sit really far away or do not get close to the model to look at them.”

King said, however, that element of unpredictably is what makes drawing or sculpting a student model more interesting.

“There is something just more intuiting about having a human sitting there – a live, living, breathing thing that you are trying to recreate,” King said.

Contact features correspondent Rebecca Mohr at [email protected].

Getting involved: becoming a student model

Lisa Held, director of the program for student art models, said nude modeling is the highest paid job on campus. While there are also positions available for clothed models, they do not earn as much money. Nevertheless, Held said becoming a student model is a decent way for students to earn some extra

spending money.

“We want to make sure what students are seeing on their paychecks is worthwhile,” she said.

Held said there are some requirements for student models.

“Models have to be physically capable of holding a pose up to a half an hour, and I would prefer they be a least a sophomore,” Held said. “You have to be in a certain frame of mind to be doing that

kind of work.”

There are about 10 to 15 students currently employed as art models. Held said there are a few ways for interested students to apply for

the position.

“First thing they have to do is set up with Campus Works. I generally post on the job board once an academic year,” Held said. “Or students just need to come to the front desk in the Art Building and ask for an application.”

Held said the application is not the typical job application.

“It’s more of a questionnaire,” Held said. “To see what the student’s exposure to modeling has been or if they have had modeling experience, none is required but they might be better prepared.”

After receiving applications, Held then conducts short interviews with the interested students.

“Almost everybody that applies gets the opportunity to try it out,” Held said.