Andrew Wyeth created a series of 240 paintings and drawings of his German neighbor, Helga Testorf. Picasso painted photographer and poet, Dora Maar, repeatedly during their nine year love affair. Modern day oil painter, Jeremy Lipking, frequently uses his wife, Danielle, as a model. So why would we return to the same subject again and again? It may be partially about convenience. It is sometimes about love or lust. However, a certain type of magic happens when we truly begin to see and understand a specific model. When we repeat subject matter, it frees the artist and allows us to simply focus on skill and process. Rather than comparing beauty from one model to the next, design and concept becomes the highlight within a body of artwork.
In Greek mythology, the muses were the children of gods who inspired and embodied the arts. For figurative artists, our “muses” are the models who bring that certain beauty and energy to the artwork. We share a friendly rapport and they often surprise us with a thoughtful expression, the perfect costume piece, or holding the hardest poses for hours.
So how do we find, and keep, our muse? Here’s your checklist:
- Don’t be creepy. Most people will not respond to a stranger’s request to model. There are better resources found within your community. Local art colleges or universities may allow you to advertise a job posting on their message boards or websites. Ask other artists if they will share their contacts. Seek out friends of friends. Avoid Craigslist- there are a lot of weirdoes out there. If you want costumed models, talk with the administrators at dance studios and theaters.
- Pay well. Modeling is harder than it looks. Prices vary city by city. Depending on where you are located, models get paid $15-$50/hour. Check with your nearest college art program to see what they pay models. That’s usually the low end of the scale. If you can’t afford to pay a model a decent hourly wage, get a couple other artists to split the fee with you and do a group session. If they have to travel far, compensate them for these expenses and tip generously.
- Be clear in your expectations. How exactly do you want their hair or make-up? For clothed models, have them bring a few options. How long of a session should they expect? If it’s a group setting, let them know how many other artists will be there and ask them to show up 15 minutes before others arrive to show them around and get the pose and lighting sorted out.
- Get it in writing. Have the model clearly state and sign something that says “Artist is hereby authorized to use Model’s name and likeness in all forms and media for art sales, advertising, and any other lawful purposes.” A more detailed model waiver should also outline pricing and expectations. See an example model release for artists.
- Remember that their comfort is your responsibility. Have a space heater, fan, and extra pillows on hand. Provide a comfortable, private place to change. Depending on the pose, agree on a reasonable time to take a break and set a timer to announce it. If the model looks uncomfortable, encourage mini stretch breaks and give more frequent breaks. Provide coffee- a comfortable model can easily fall asleep naked in front of a room full of strangers.
There has to be a mutual trust between the artist and model. They need to be comfortable and understand your vision. When that happens, all you have to worry about is finishing the painting.