It is 8 p.m. on a Thursday night in a deserted wing of Andrews Hall. Unfinished pieces of furniture and bowls of wax fruit clutter tabletops inside dim classrooms. Inside one of these, the silence is broken by the scratching of charcoal pencils. Several artists peruse canvases in semicircles around their subject, which is not flowers or fruit but a person stretched out upon a couch.
Although the typical image that comes to mind at the word “model” is that of a fiercely thin Parisian woman, within the College of William and Mary art department, anyone who is willing to sit still for a while can be a model.
“It’s really just another job on campus,” Bailey Stewart ’12, an applied mathematics major who has been an art model for two years, said. “It’s at night, so it’s easier if you have classes during the day.”
Classes such as Life Drawing, as well as art sessions held at the College, use human models as their subjects. These models are often nude, although clothed models are used as well.
As one might guess, art models must be willing to stand, sit or lie still. Otherwise, said Catherine Cole ’11, who heads publicity for art modeling, there are no qualifications to being an art model.
“You can have any body shape or size,” she said. “Some bodies are better for anatomical study — if they’re more muscular or more skeletal — but there are advantages and disadvantages for each.”
Most Americans are not used to the idea of being naked in front of a group of others. Stewart said that modeling was scary the first time she did it, but that since then she has never felt uncomfortable.
“It’s scary for a lot of people,” she said. “But [the people drawing models] are all artists, so they are very professional and distanced.”
Cole said nude models are used because it is important to focus on human anatomy and to understand the body’s forms when drawing people. The amount of extensive detail that is involved in drawing — or painting or sculpting — a human body elevates an artist’s skill level, according to Cole.
“When you learn to draw a figure well,” she said, “You start to be able to draw other things well, too.”
In addition to modeling for college courses, several students model for open life sessions, which are held at the College but are open to the public. Sessions take place every Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m. and cost $3 per hour.
“Sometimes local artists will come in for open life sessions to practice,” Cole said. “Sometimes professors come. Anyone who happens to be interested can come.”
Modeling reels in $12 per hour, compared to a Virginia minimum wage of $7.50 per hour. Each model poses for two to three hours at a time, taking breaks every 20 to 40 minutes.
A few difficulties are associated with this job, according to the models. One is physical: When a person stays still for an extended period of time, his or her limbs fall asleep. There is also a mental aspect: What does one think about for three hours?
“I just think about my homework or go over my day,” Stewart said.
“Sometimes [models] don’t know what to do with their eyes, so I give them a focal point to look at,” Cole said. “Some models tell me they meditate [while modeling].”
Cole said that not all nude models are necessarily confident when they begin.
“Some do it to build confidence. If they’re not confident in themselves, they’re comfortable with the idea,” she said. “There’s a range of opinions. Everyone has a different self-image.”
Other models appreciate the process.
“It changes how others view you,” Stewart said. “It builds self-confidence. You gain comfort in your own body.”
The art modeling program allows artists to create using another person, rather than pottery or plastic plant life, as a subject. Whatever models’ motivation for the job, it remains one of the most unique (and well-paid) employment opportunities on campus.