July 19, 2018

Figure drawing models strip in the name of art

Bruce Williams figure models for two reasons: to help students learn and because it allows him to be naked.

“I’m a nudist,” Williams said. “You don’t get to work at your job naked very often.”

Williams has been modeling for figure drawings in the St. Louis area for 20 years. He said when he models at Webster University, he tries to create poses that are unique, but simple enough for students to draw.

“I try to think of olympic symbols, like the archer shooting an arrow or the boxer pose or a wrestler,” Williams said. “I move around each pose to give them different angle. So, if you got a front pose this time, you’ll get a side the next pose, or if you got shortening from my arm at you this time, you’ll have a full side body the next time.”

Eric Peniston is also a figure model. He said he enjoyed the profession because it not only stretched out his body, but it also allowed him to help students learn to work with the figure firsthand.

Peniston first modeled at Webster in 1989. During drawing sessions, he used nontraditional poses to challenge the artists.

“I give people very classical, sometimes complicated poses just so they can see [the figure] three-dimensionally,” Peniston said. “Instead of standing there and giving people a front or a back, I try to give twists.”

All figure drawings at Webster are arranged by drawing professor Brad Loudenback. He teaches introductory and narrative drawing classes, both of which require figure drawings.

“I usually try to find a good variety of models,” Loudenback said. “Different ages, different sexes, different body types. I try to mix it up.”

Loudenback positioned the models for longer poses, but sometimes allowed models to choose their own poses for shorter intervals.

“There are short and long poses,” Loudenback said. “Some poses take two minutes, some five, some I would say 10 to 20 minutes. At the end of the semester, some poses are an hour long.”

Peniston said modeling certain poses are harder on his body than others.

“If you’re a model, you’re working sometimes up to four classes a day,” Peniston said. “If someone in a morning class says ‘I want you to do a standing pose for an hour,’ then the rest of your day is shot.”

Peniston is also a figure drawing artist. He said his favorite poses to draw were gesture poses.

“I love the gesture poses,” Peniston said. “Those are the warm up poses you do at the beginning of the class. They’re fast, and they’re active. Some students don’t get it, but they will. It’s trying to get the hand and eye to work together as quickly as possible. It’s a great exercise, and it’s also very satisfying once you get the hang of it and into the groove of it.”

Like Peniston, Williams had other hobbies aside from modeling. Williams is a freelance writer and has collaborated with some of the art students to create illustrations for his stories.

“A lot of my work is writing,” Williams said. “The people I’m helping now might someday be illustrating my books. Plus, I learn more about drawing from listening to what the teachers tell the classes and from looking at the artists’ work. I think that helps me to be able to draw more than stick figures.”

Loudenback felt it was important for his students to learn how to work with the human figure. Art major Rachel Regan agreed, explaining figure drawings helped her to become a more well-rounded artist.

“I struggle with getting my proportions right whenever I do a figure drawing because I’m not used to drawing from life,” Regan said. “I usually have reference photos, and I feel like that’s easier for me because I have more practice with that. My biggest challenge is adjusting from drawing from pictures to live drawing.”

While Regan worked to accurately depict the models on paper, Peniston was more focused on holding a pose––and staying warm.

“I’m usually counting [in my head], and if there’s any pain, I’ll try to shift to using another muscle group to keep the pose without changing it,” Peniston said. “As I get older, that seems to be more of an issue than when I was younger.”

Williams said the hardest part of modeling is the toll it takes on his body. During drawings, he distracted himself by thinking about plots for his stories or what he was going to eat for dinner.

“I concentrate on my body so the artists don’t have problems with bad angles or changing shadows on my body,” Williams said. “About the only thing I’m moving are my eyes. I’m looking along the side of my nose and the side of my vision, marking where my head is pointed so it stays with those same markers along the wall or along the floor.”

Peniston said figure drawings were a learning environment all art students should experience.

“It’s very important to know how a figure works because if you can draw a figure, you can draw anything,” Peniston said.

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