Nude Manifesto: An Artist’s Model Comes Clean

By Liz Pardue-Schultz

Nude Manifesto: An Artist’s Model Comes Clean

I’ve been an artist’s model for 14 years now, and I’d tell anyone that I genuinely love it, although not for the decent money or because I get my kicks from exhibitionism. Our society frowns on those who have the audacity to enjoy ourselves without any clothes on, but, honestly, a state of nudity has always been where I feel most comfortable when in repose; additionally, I’ve always been fascinated by the study of the human form and its ability to convey an endless array of emotion. For me, collaborating with artists to continue the ancient tradition of exploring humanity through art feels like an honor.

When I was in college in North Carolina, I learned that a prestigious art conservatory nearby was looking for models to pose for a starting hourly wage that is still rather impressive. Never being one to hassle with modesty, I thought, “How hard could it be to stand still for an hour?” and immediately applied for a position. The next week, I started with a one-hour class, where I quickly learned how wrong I was about the amount of effort I’d need for this job. Being an impulsive teenager in search of interesting experiences and “easy money,” I did no research about poses that would work with light and shadow to best display movement and emotion;  I just made sure to bathe and grab a robe on my way out the door. Huge mistake. I was put on a small platform in the center of a gigantic loft studio with students and easels surrounding me. I’d been performing on stage since I was little, so I wasn’t uncomfortable being in front of a group. However, suddenly realizing that I was performing unscripted, by myself, and in the buff stunned me with a case of the jitters.

To begin, I was encouraged to choose my own standing poses that “showed energy” for three minutes each, and despite the room being a little chilly, I was dripping sweat within moments as I realized I might have been too ambitious by choosing a pose that put all my weight on one foot. I was absolutely sure I was going to collapse when the timer buzzed a few minutes later. Although I clearly had no idea what I was doing, I completed the class and the professor asked me to return two weeks later. I continued until the end of the semester and, it was the best possible way to begin a career as an artist’s model. During the few months I worked there, I learned how to create emotive shapes that cater to every angle, and how to stay still in these positions for extended lengths of time without hurting myself. As someone who has never had a slender typical “model body,” I could’ve never anticipated that I would continue doing this for so long, but one job led to another, and over time, my portfolio and list of references grew.

Unlike modeling commercially, I have booked work despite my weight fluctuating drastically and my body changing after I gave birth. Not one of the artists I have sat for has ever criticized my body or tried to categorize it within a marketable “type.” My imperfections are never edited out; artists unflinchingly include the extra bumps on my thighs and the scar that smiles beneath my belly button as evidence of cesarean surgery years ago. Within art, there is a sense of acceptance and the realization that a body does not have to be conventionally attractive to be interesting.

Artists prefer me to arrive unedited. I keep my nails natural, my hair loosely swept up, and I wear minimal makeup – usually just a little mascara and some blush if I’ll be under direct lighting. The painters, sculptors and sketchers I’ve worked with are interested in studying the real, raw essence of a human in her natural state. This is a stark contrast to our popular society that seems to insist people aren’t presentable unless we’re heavily made up or photoshopped.

Perhaps I’ve gotten lucky or my paranoia has made me overly concerned with taking precautions, but I have never once had a bad experience posing for an artist. I attribute this to working for classes at respectable institutions and obsessively checking references for artists before I meet to work one-on-one. I model for groups in mixed company, with artists of all ages and genders and, to date, I have never experienced anything other than absolute professionalism – not even so much as an accidentally-inappropriate comment. I may have been spoiled, but this has fostered in me the expectation that all modeling sessions are to be carried out with respect, and I shouldn’t accept anything less.

This is not to say all my work environments are somber. Just last month I was posing for a collective of about twenty senior artists, who like to listen to a local classical music station.  That week, the station was having a fundraiser that promised a John Williams anthology CD to anyone who signed on as a sponsor, so imagine my surprise when I struck a back-facing pose and the theme from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark started blaring from the radio. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t keep a straight face, and the minute I started smiling, the rest of the group broke into giggles, too.

This work has never been my full-time career, but for me, it is absolutely the job that I most enjoy and that continues to benefit me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. When I sit for artists I feel as regal as the thousands of women who have posed nude through centuries before me, whose forms immortalized in paint or clay represent the stages of womanhood, life and humanity that stand the tests of time where fashion or ornamental trends cannot. Regardless of what happens to the pieces my form has inspired or if my work ever becomes more than just a part-time gig, it has been therapeutic through the years to have a reminder that each of us, naturally, is art.

About this writer

  • Liz Pardue-Schultz Liz Pardue-Schultz is a writer, model, custom framer and oddity curator in beautiful Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina.

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One Response to “Nude Manifesto: An Artist’s Model Comes Clean”

  1. Liz, I enjoyed your story. Your confidence level is admirable. While my artist friend was painting a nude man, he wiggled his little finger, and she thought it a proposition. We still laugh about that.

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