Figure models take it all off, for art’s sake

Taline Helwajian

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Originally Published February 13, 2006

Blank canvases fill the intimate space of an art studio, which is focused on a wooden stage in the front of the room. Students are propped up in their seats waiting to begin class. Charles Coffman listens for direction from the professor to begin posing for the students. The pose lasts for two minutes until a timer is set off signaling a change in position.

Coffman has been a live nude figure model for the CSUN Art Department for almost 10 years.

He became interested in this field when he modeled for a drawing workshop at another school to fill in for someone. He was quick to point out that it takes more than a body to become a figure model.

“It’s a little like acting, a little like dancing,” Coffman said about attempting to express thought through poses. “You might be in a meditative state, or be thinking about your problems. Depends on the class.”

Many of the poses last only two minutes. With students looking for figure references in their drawings a model concentrates on their own muscle shapes, frame lines and the steadiness of breath. Coffman said one of the most important qualities in figure modeling is the ability to express one’s self while posing.

The CSUN Art Department requires all art majors to complete two lower-division drawing classes, which feature live nude figure models. These skilled male and female models can range in age from 18 and up. A model will pose according to the specific part of the human anatomy that a lecture focuses on.

Posing in a classroom isn’t just a matter of standing in one position while students draw.

“You need to know how to hold a pose, whether your head is shifting, some sense of how the pose looks from some angles,” said Coffman.

Inhibitions have to be tossed out the window in order to pursue a career in modeling where men and women pose nude in front of an audience that examines every line, curve and form of their bodies.

“Most of my friends are artists so they understand,” said Coffman, “others who first find out (what I do) react oddly.”

Coffman feels that his is a respectable profession but can admit that for some it is a shocking thing to do.

Ken Jones, an art professor of eight years at CSUN, believes that students use all the tools they have learned when drawing the anatomy of a live model.

“I thought it was very helpful. There’s nothing to be shy or embarrassed about,” said Christine Choi, junior art major. The model keeps moving so it helps the mind to better understand how the human anatomy works, she added.

In addition to modeling, Coffman is an artist himself. Many of the models are actors and actresses as well, Ivone Mack, a model coordinator, said.

The modeling positions are not advertised for, said Mack. Word of mouth has helped to gather a consistent group of models that are booked for an entire semester. They usually work between three to 12 hours a day except on Fridays.

Although it doesn’t happen often, Mack said there have been students who cannot participate in these required classes due to religious reasons. The department works with these students in order to replace the courses with others. A note from a religious institution is required to be excused from classes.

In order to be respectful of the models, faculty members also will not allow cell phones in class due to the new camera features.

On Feb. 8, the department also began their Spring 2006 Figure Drawing Workshop. It is an opportunity for anyone who is interested to draw using live figure models. The workshop takes place every Wednesday throughout the semester. A full semester (14 sessions) costs $55 or $5 per session. More details may be obtained by contacting the art department.

Mack said it is important for a figure drawing class to have a live figure to draw, whether students are working on figure, anatomy, animation or portrait. Tangible models provide a way in which the artists can capture true form by painting what they see.

Lucian Freud, a 20th century British painter once said, “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me. That would be a pointless lie, a mere bit of artfulness.”