Across the table from me at a downtown Lawrence coffee shop, Loni Hosking scrolls through photos on her phone. She shows me drawings and paintings that art students at the University of Kansas have created based off of her body. “That just took my breath away, to be captured like that,” she says about one piece.
Hosking, 52, has been working as a life drawing model since August, which she says is the coolest job she’s ever had. “It’s very meditative,” she says. “I go into this sort-of zone when I hear the pencils hit the paper or hear people start tapping their brushes.” Seeing students’ work is one of her favorite parts of the job. “I love the rush that I get out of seeing art,” Hosking says.
To prepare herself for work as a life drawing model, which includes modeling nude for art classes, Hosking spent time practicing at home and researching. “I sat in the nude for basically a month prior to starting, just acclimating myself,” Hosking says. “I’d sit on my bedroom floor in front of my mirror totally naked for hours posing.”
Hosking is a University alumna who graduated with a degree in sculpture, so she was familiar with life drawing classes. “But don’t let me minimize how nervous I was,” she says. Through her experience working as a model, Hosking has become more accepting of her body – and now, when she looks down in the shower, it’s not so bad, she says. “A very good transition has happened for me,” Hosking says.
Rebecca Wood, 35, says figure modeling has boosted her self-confidence and helped her become comfortable with her body. Wood has worked as a figure model for seven years, first in Austin, Texas, and now for the University and other groups in the Lawrence area. As she has aged and her body has changed, Wood says figure modeling has helped her love herself in a way that she might not have been able to otherwise.
Modeling became a miniature protest for Wood, who is a St. Edward’s University alumna. “I don’t look like what society wants a woman to look like,” Wood says. “So it’s my way of normalizing different body types besides what the media wants you to see and look like.”
Rachel Sandle, 26, says she used to worry about how clothing would make her body look. But now, on a day when she’s working as a figure model, there’s not a reason for her to worry about it, she says. “I have noticed that people’s drawings turn out the same regardless of what I think I look like that day,” says Sandle, a University alumna who started working as a figure model during the fall 2019 semester.
While it might seem more comfortable for a model to be slightly clothed, Wood learned that wasn’t the case when she modeled for a life-drawing class for teenagers in Austin and was required to wear a bathing suit. “Not only is it more uncomfortable because you have clothing digging into your body and you’re holding the same position for maybe 45 minutes or so, but also, the outlines of clothing create these boundaries of a body that you wouldn’t have normally, if you were nude,” Wood says. “If you have a bathing suit bottom that’s cutting into the hip, it interrupts the beautiful curve of a woman’s hip.” And no one would think twice about body hair on a nude model, Wood says, but that changes if a model has pubic hair that goes beyond the lines of a bathing suit.
While Sandle was nervous to start modeling, she says it wasn’t because she was insecure about her naked body, but because it was a new and vulnerable experience. “But I did feel worried that if I did or said something wrong, it would be more embarrassing because I was a naked person in a room full of clothed people,” she says. Sandle has gotten more comfortable modeling because she trusts that she’ll be respected by the instructor and students, she says.
The naked aspect of figure modeling can seem like the elephant in the room, Sandle says. But to her, it’s not a big deal. “I would want people to wonder – and I don’t mean this in a judgmental way – but what is it that makes it a big deal?” Sandle asks. “What is it that we have to overcome for it to not be a big deal?”
Knowing your body’s limits
A couple of years into working as a figure model, Wood fainted in front of a freshman class in Texas. “That was probably the most vulnerable that I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Wood says, “Being unconscious and nude on the floor in front of 20 19-year-olds.”
Figure modeling is similar to a low-grade yoga class. It’s relaxing, but also physically demanding, says Hosking, who once went home and threw up after working. While poses you hold for a short period of time can be intricate, longer poses have to be simple, Hosking says.
Classes at the University are usually broken into short, medium and longer poses. Short poses are between 30 seconds and two minutes, medium poses are five to eight minutes, and long poses are between 10 to 30 minutes, says Michael McCaffrey, a visiting assistant professor in the visual art department, in an email with CHALK. Life drawing models at the University make $15 per hour, according to the University's website.
Figure modeling is not an easy job, Wood says, and artists should model at least once in order to understand what they’re asking of figure models. “Whether you’re doing 30-second gestures for 10 minutes and changing your position constantly, to holding a difficult pose for three hours, it’s very, very physically demanding,” Wood says. “And a good model has to have a pretty good understanding of their body to be able to do that and your body’s limitations.”
Art and the body
It’s not vain, Sandle says, but she likes seeing herself seeing other people’s interpretations of her. Maybe it’s human nature, she says. “The same way that I think it’s fun to take 100 selfies in a row, it’s fun to see a bunch of different pictures of yourself,” Sandle says.
Students have different styles, skill levels and mark making, Sandle says. “I’m acutely aware when I’m looking at their drawings that they’re drawings – that they’re not me, it’s an interpretation,” she says. “And so I love to see how people translate what they see onto the page.”