Strike a pose… What it’s like to be a life model
By Anna Nunhofer
Published on 21 April 2014
As part of the RA Outreach programme we give school students across the UK the chance to take part in life drawing workshops to discover the important role that drawing can play in developing creativity. But what’s it like to be a life model and pose for these budding young artists?
Carol Holt has been a life model for 23 years. She regularly travels miles across England, modelling in many different schools. Carol also works at the RA in the Visitor Services team and is an actress appearing both on the stage and on TV. Most recently she played a beautician in 'Doctors', and she can also be seen riding a tandem across the Yorkshire moors in a sponsor for the ITV weather!
What was it like when you first started life modelling, being exposed in front of a group of strangers?
I was begged to fill in for a model that had let the school down... I protested wildly saying I could never do such a thing, but I was persuaded with promises of a small, girls-only group, in a nice carpeted art room in a Westminster school. They kept their promise, but that didn't stop sweat rolling down my skin for the first ten minutes! But then I thought, this is actually very similar to performing, and quickly the students were working so hard I could just as easily have been a bowl of fruit or a lump of driftwood.
What is the secret to staying still for long periods of time in sometimes uncomfortable positions?
I think experience. Only over time can you learn how long you can maintain certain poses comfortably, so in the beginning there were many torturous half-hours! You also have to be confident enough to admit if you have made a mistake with your pose and change it, which is preferable to keeling over (which I have almost done several times)... oh and always make sure you have eaten.
Do you ever look at the drawings when they are finished? And, if so, what is it like to see many different representations of yourself?
I have seen hundreds of drawings over the years, some I like so much that they are on my wall at home. In some pictures I look about 97 and others about 12... you can guess which I prefer!
What is it like working with young people?
When we go into primary schools with the life workshop [for primary schools Carol wears a leotard] their enthusiasm and boisterous nature really stands out compared to the sixth form students. They are not afraid to come really close and say exactly what they think... LOUDLY.
Can you tell us about any funny experiences you’ve had over the years?
Most of the juicy stories involve children that aren't actually in the workshop... they know it's going on but being shut out is too much for them to tolerate.
I was modelling once in a school gym with a large window, and a couple of boys dragged out the school’s trampoline, so as I stood giving my best Greek Goddess pose, delighted heads were bouncing into view through the window. You have to admire their audacity!
I have also certainly shocked many a poor unsuspecting window cleaner and caretaker over the years.
I think my favourite story is of a 10 year old boy, who couldn't handle the life drawing process at all and fell over backwards laughing hysterically when I took my robe off (I did have my leotard on underneath). His teacher marched him out of the room and he came back later with a letter of apology that read: 'Dear Miss, I am sorry I laughed when you took your clothes off.' All in a day’s work.
Anna Nunhofer is the RA’s Schools and Families Co-ordinator.
Outreach workshops can be booked through the Learning department for the forthcoming school term. Visit our teachers and students page for more information.