For the purpose of modeling for fine artists, the basic parameters are the ability to hold a pose for at least 20 minutes, and to be comfortable with being nude in front of strangers.  There are certain protocols that artists expect from a model, and that models  should expect from the artist or group in turn.  The model is a professional collaborator in art making, deserves the respect of a dedicated craftsperson, and should  give complete attention to the practice of presenting the body as an inspired subject for artists.

There are different ranges of expectation for how long a pose can be held, from one minute (or less) to 5, 10, and 20 minutes.  A good model should have a repertoire of “gestures,” poses that are usually held a minute or two at a time, very dramatic and sometimes extraordinarily difficult, but usually taken without undue strain since the time involved is so very short.  Those with dance or yoga backgrounds almost invariably incorporate the positions and postures of these disciplines into their gestural routines.  While they traditionally serve to warm up both model and artists for the session ahead, gestures can be the most beautiful and artistically satisfying work that the model does.
Of course, not all poses can be held for the longer times, but those that the model undertakes for the 20-minute session must be taken and held without “drifting.”  Light and shadow patterns can dramatically change with even a tiny shift in position, and those patterns are just as important as the shapes the body itself takes in the pose.

Fundamentally, the creative process is a shared experience between the artist and the model with, paradoxically, the model being the more active participant.  Figure painters are gathered together for a singular purpose–the making of fine art–so their mindsets in the presence of the nude are radically different than anywhere else.  The more comfortable models are with their bodies, the more they will also understand what the artists are attempting, to be sympathetic with that, and project a cooperation of the creative spirit that is almost impossible to describe but which is palpable and invaluable to experienced artists keenly sensitive to receiving it.

Although many of the requirements for posing are the same, the documentary aspects of photography changes how the model is seen and expected to move.  The genres of glamor, erotic, and pornographic subject matters involve specialities and sensitivities unique to each, for which the model should be prepared well in advance of the actual working session.

Finally, beware of “auditions” (except as part of the application process for joining established model groups).  No reputable artist will expect or demand that a prospective model disrobe before being considered for work–references are all that are needed.  Those working in erotic photography should have a portfolio of work that they can show along with those references.  The studio is for working, the office is for talking.




The group practice of figure drawing and painting has to observe certain courtesies between model and artists so that the creative process can unfold without unnecessary interruptions.  A comfortable temperature in the studio, cleanliness of the posing dais, and adequate privacy from outsiders (and for the model to change) are only the beginnings of good professional manners.  There are some behaviors, too often overlooked, that need to be seriously addressed and definitely changed.  Cavalierly dismissing the impacts of tardiness, mob rule, overt criticism, cell phone use, unwelcome talking, and broken concentration tends to make the drawing session chaotic and unproductive of nearly everything but frustration.

First of all, be ready to start by the time the model is ready to begin–no dragging tables, easels, tabourets, portfolios, drawing boards, paintboxes, or rolling carts around the room in an attempt to set up while not only the model but the punctual artists are trying to work.  If you’re late, wait outside or stand in the back and work in your sketchbook until the break.

Only one member of the group should direct the posing, correct a mis-pose, light and tape the pose, and otherwise interact with the model on behalf of the group; other members should speak to the model through that coordinator.  The break is for chatting if the model permits it, but technical matters relating to the model’s work should be deferred to the coordinator.

No artist should talk about how the model looks during the duration of the session, or within earshot of the model (or anyone else, for that matter).  Keep grumpiness about the pose or the lighting or the costuming to yourself–real artists make the best they can out of the spontaneity of the given moment.  Besides, most sessions are meant to be workouts, chances to practice and build the skills that contribute to more laboriously crafted and carefully finished pictures later on.  In other words, you’re not in the group session to make a masterpiece–you’re there to flex and grow your hand-eye coordination under the stresses of time and chance.

Cell phones are not to be used in the studio.  Models who don’t want to be photographed can’t tell whether or not that’s being done when  a cell phone is waved around, and those models have every right to terminate the session and be fully compensated if they even suspect that photos are being taken without their permission.  In any case, ringtones are vastly annoying; the group has just had its concentration broken by their irritating noise, often unfortunately accompanied by the atonal yacking of a one-sided conversation that overrides the subtle working rhythms of the studio–quiet music, graphite and charcoal scratching gently on paper, and the tapping of brushes on water jars.

Each group has its own dynamic as far as conversation during the session is concerned, so if you speak and no one replies, that’s your cue to speak no more.  Wait for the break.
When its time to change your place on the floor to another perspective, or to go to the bathroom, or get coffee–wait for the break!  Its not only rude to the model who’s concentrating on holding the pose, but rude to the artists still trying to work who must now deal with the shuffle and scrape of someone moving through the studio.  If that person is leaving early, the rest of the group must also endure the dragging of tables, easels, tabourets, portfolios, drawing boards, paintboxes, and rolling carts around the room as well, often right in front of them and their view of the model.  If your picture is perfect, and not another jot or scratch or stroke can enhance its stellar beauty, then work in your sketchbook until the break signals the proper time for you to exit.

A larger group will have more strictures, and a smaller on fewer, but these are pretty basic to most situations in the figure studio.   After all, the model is usually the least physically active but most energetic member of the group, a silent wellspring of inspiration to the receptive spirit of the artist.  Breaking that bond of concentration is rude, selfish, and unforgivable; just a small amount of self-discipline contributes mightily to the harmony of dynamic drawing experience for everyone.


D. Riggs

The Art of the Open Studio


At least once a year local arts organizations sponsor a chance for art-lovers to visit the studios of participating artists, who thereby hope to achieve two main objectives:  show off the fruits of their labors to interested observers, and sell a lot of it. Unfortunately, the emphasis on selling art has undercut the experience of being in a space where serious art-making is happening.  The result is that the fascinating bones of a working studio have been covered up with the fancy dress of a retail store / gallery, and the chance for outsiders to see some of the drama behind-the-scenes in a real artist’s workplace is lost to the high-gloss surface sheen of a commercial enterprise.

Living in an economic depression doesn’t inspire much confidence to buy art, of course.  What’s worse, though, is the paltry attention given to art in the educational system, where an ongoing depression of ignorance steadily diminishes the demand for the supply that is being offered.  Working artists are just about the last line of defense against such institutional indifference, which is ignoring a hunger in our culture for the making of things of beauty.  Encouraging people to pay attention “to that man behind the curtain” might unveil more than a few levers and blinking lights–it just might inspire a longing to be a part of a real artistic expression.

So, all you open artists out there–don’t tidy up that studio, don’t put on a clean pair of jeans, don’t waste a lot of money on temporary display racks.  Do put on a pot of coffee, pull on your best paint-spattered smock, and get to work–just like any other day. When the guests stop by, welcome them in, introduce the model, be ready to talk all the shop anyone can stand to hear, and amaze everyone with the skill and hard work that makes the magic of your particular beautiful thing.

Doug Riggs

Originally published November 7, 2011

Un/Titled Art

Sometimes it’s perplexing for artists to figure out what to call the result of an essentially non-verbal experience, since naming can be a profound appropriation of meaning and therefore of understanding and appreciation. Furthermore, an artist’s tendency to title work in a certain way often indicates the origin of their art spirit. What makes mature work is the artist’s ability to universalize the particular, which means that sentimentality–the glorification of the particular–must be avoided except, of course, when making propaganda.

An academic terminology (involving a simple, objective description of form and content, such as “Still Life with Knife and Onions”) tends to elevate the tone of a piece to a more serious aesthetic level, although the academic use of irony usually becomes nothing more than pompous, condescending sarcasm. And beware–titles with colons in them are pretentiously over-explanatory, without exception. Personalizing a title (as in “Amber’s Favorite Things”) alienates viewers who don’t happen to belong to the artist’s implied intimate group, which is most of us; indulging in poetic license (“Romantic Reverie” or “Peaceful Zinnias”) panders to shallow emotional responses rooted in a pleasure principle devoid of any expansive aesthetic or critical feeling. In the best case, however, the emotional tone of a piece can be tuned pitch-perfect by a thoughtful title.

So, the fewer words in a title the better. One-word titles may be the best, though the feeble compromise of titling something “Untitled” means that eventually someone will attempt to differentiate a body of such work with numbers, colons, parenthetical descriptions, and other devices of commercial and scholarly accounting. A careful study of the great works of art history will help the artist to appreciate the deep resonance of simple naming in order to describe the complex work of speaking the visual language of art.
Doug Riggs

originally published August 1, 2011

The Art of Not Giving Up

One of the most notorious creative blocks in a serious artist’s life is the fear of doing bad work.  If we made a close examination of the commonly accepted, contemporary opinions of  “good” work, we would see that the concept of  “good” has no real meaning outside the simplistic market ideology that drives it.  The great contribution of modernism to art has been to emphasize the importance of personal creative seriousness in the artist’s practice, out of which then comes new insights into individual and social values and their subsequent transformations.
Every artist eventually reaches a limit to their technical and inspirational capacity.  The problem then becomes how to break through to the next level.  Taking classes; going back to basics; exploring every subject matter of their own lives (especially the fearful and shameful ones); hanging out with other artists and talking out the work–are all classic ways to try to solve the dilemma.  It turns out that simple hard work is most often the best stick for beating back the adversity of staleness.
At a local venue some years ago, Manuel Neri remarked that eventually, for the serious artist, “good” and “bad” come to have no meaning, and the only important artistic value is simply to go to the studio every day and do the work.  Chuck Close likewise commented, “Inspiration is for amateurs.  The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Eventually, constant practice, absolute honesty, and unending patience are those qualifications of the artist most conducive to producing interesting and relevant art.

Doug Riggs

originally posted 07/31/11

Making Art from Real Life

Many artists try to freeze a moment of life into a photograph, presuming to make it the model for a leisurely recollection, in paint, later. What too often happens is that the photo becomes a slave driver instead of a muse, and the subsequent painting is a flat, lifeless copy of an inferior derivative to the lost moment. These artists have forgotten to include feeling, memory, dream, and mystery in the standard elements of composition because interpretation — not documentation — is the essence of the artistic vision.

Art is a record of how the artist feels about what she’s seeing, and the reality of that is a complicated mix of sensation and expressive media. “What is reality?” makes an intriguing metaphysical dilemma which we all have to figure out for ourselves One way to confront the enigma is for the artist to go back to the subject again and again, examining it in every variation of shape, color, and value. Maybe the physical world isn’t real after all, but it’s invariably the beginning of the investigation, and art means taking risks with perception at all levels as it presents itself at the moment of its experience.

If the need to use a photograph is because the subject is unobtainable, the artist may be overlooking all that which makes up her real life and so, of course, her true art. A photo is an extraordinarily fallible document which can be only one of the starting points of a compositional strategy. The practices of drawing and painting must be taken back from a mechanistic dependence on photography in order for them to come alive again and become proper artistic statements about real life.

Doug Riggs

originally posted 08/01/1

On Framing Art

After all his technical mastery has whipped and cudgeled the demon of inspiration into a worthy picture, the artist is faced with the dismaying proposition of framing it, usually at the last minute–the submission deadline looming with a spectral menace in the haunted house of his slovenly procrastination. However, with just a little advance planning and adherence to a few basic principles, framing is a relatively simple problem to solve. Find a framer whose workmanship and design taste you can trust, KEEP IT SIMPLE, and include the cost of framing in the price you charge for a finished work.

Framing protects a picture from unrelenting environmental pressures, such as air pollution and the ultraviolet spectrum of light, which are usually taken care of by glazing and matting (varnishing is the artist’s–not the framer’s–responsibility). It also presents the picture in a special “sacred” space, commanding the viewer’s shift of focus to a heightened aesthetic awareness, where the frame outlines and isolates that special space from its surroundings. Finally, it makes a picture relatively inaccessible, so that the artist stops working on it, which is the only true definition of “finished”. Once these provisions are satisfied, the artist’s framing responsibilities are done.

It is an entirely foolish exercise in narcissism to agonize over whether one’s drawing or painting is “overwhelmed” by the frame–if that is actually the case, then the picture is certainly a bad one. If someone won’t buy because the frame is unacceptable, the artist should be ready to take the picture from the frame at a (slight) discount. Despite normal aesthetic considerations, the artist’s presentation should be as simple (and inexpensive) as possible, with the bulk of his care going to the protection of the piece, and the buyer’s responsibility is to frame according to their personal decorative taste.


Doug Riggs

originally posted 11/ 07/11

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