The Reality of the Nude Model
Stripped! Secret lives of nudes
Nude models share what it's like to be naked in a crowded room
By: Michelle Oyola
Issue date: 12/1/05 Section: LifeStyle
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Media Credit: Brent Holzapfel
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Could you do it? Could you walk into a room of 40 people, take off your robe and let all of those people see, you know, everything? Could you stand there for two or three hours while they studied your every nook, cranny and crevice?
The nude models hired for the Webster University art department do so multiple times a week. Although their lives are different, most of them have a strong appreciation for artists and share a similar goal - to promote art.
For the Sake of Art
Webster currently has 10 models in rotation. Brad Loudenback, Webster art department associate professor, said the art department seeks equality in terms of different ages and body types.
"We want students to experience all of it - young and old, thick and thin, male and female," Loudenback said.
Figure drawing is a requirement for all art majors. Loudenback said the class is important for all art students because they must learn to understand the structure beneath before they can draw people with clothes on. Observation must come first, he said, and then students can draw the person they saw in the coffee shop or have their friends pose for portraits. Humans will always be an important art subject, he said.
"There is always such a human side to art," Loudenback said. "There will always be people in it."
He said some art students may feel awkward when asked to draw a naked body for the first time, but few freshmen show any outward signs of discomfort.
Sophomore Emily Williams said she felt a little uncomfortable the first few times she drew a figure model, but she eventually began to concentrate on her drawing. She began to see the parts of the human form, not just a naked body.
"Undoubtedly, it was more awkward for me than the model," Williams said.
Williams said figure modeling involves much more than just drawing. She said she had to study the muscles, skeleton and more, because human beings are not flat. There is a lot of geometry involved, Williams said.
Kustelski devotes her life to art. A musician, artist, dancer and figure model, she has a deep appreciation for St. Louis' creative scene.
Kustelski, 35, majored in English while in college and has since traveled all over the United States. She chose to live in St. Louis because of the art community. She is a member of Maid Rite, a St. Louis-based all-girl country pop band. She also locally teaches Middle Eastern dance and performs Middle Eastern music. She plays a wide variety of percussion instruments, including the doumbek, symbols, spoons, drum sets and washboards. She also plays the guitar. In addition, Kustelski is a part-time photographer.
She has been figure modeling for about six years, but her first figure modeling experience wasn't a professional one. While living in Louisville, Ky., she and a group of women used to get together every Saturday. Since they were all artists who didn't have the resources to take more classes, they decided to draw straws to see who would pose for figure modeling - and Kustelski got the short straw. All of the women were very supportive, she said, because they could've been up there instead of her.
During a trip to New Mexico, she met a woman who taught figure drawing and modeled for her. She began modeling at Washington University in 2000 and began at Webster in 2001. She is now a full-time figure model, scheduling sessions at many area universities and colleges, including University of Missouri-St. Louis, Lindenwood University, Maryville University, Fontbonne University and Washington University.
Kustelski said she loves working with artists and art teachers and being a part of the college community. She loves inspiring artists. She uses her knowledge of dance and visual art to come up with interesting poses. She also has taken some drawing classes which gives her a knowledge of composition and line. Kustelski knows what is required of a good figure model. She said she aims to be a vehicle for learning for other artists.
"My goals are to help communication happen, to support art and to help people feel good about themselves," Kustelski said.
While sitting up there for several hours, Kustelski said she always tries to think about positive things. If she dwells on something unpleasant, the artists may draw her with a sour face, she said. Her abilities as a dancer also give her muscle memory and the ability to center herself into a pose so she can brush hair out of her face and put her hand exactly where it was, she said.
Kustelski said she views her body as a good example of a figure for artists. She doesn't own a television and tries to not be involved in the mainstream media because of the image of women portrayed in media today. She feels she is in good shape and tries to feel good about herself. She hopes other women can see how comfortable she is with her body and follow her example.
"If a woman in class is looking at me and sees how comfortable I am with my body, maybe they can be comfortable with their's," Kustelski said.
She said she became comfortable with herself through Middle Eastern dance, which glorifies the beauty of every woman. She said while her body isn't perfect, no one's body is.
Bruce Williams celebrated his 52nd birthday this month, but his nudist beliefs are as strong now as they were back in college. Williams was one of the original University of Missouri-Columbia streakers during the 1970s and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism. In Austin, Texas he was part of a nudist group. Taking the next step to figure modeling was a natural decision for Williams.
"Since I followed a nudist philosophy, I didn't have a problem being nude in front of artists," Williams said.
He began figure modeling in Austin, and continued his career in St. Louis. In addition to Webster, Williams models at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and Washington University. He has modeled for groups as large as 45 and for individuals.
Williams said the nudist group was composed of "like-minded people who socialized and happened to not have on any clothes."
He said people in these groups just happened to enjoy being textile free.
Despite his nudist philosophy, Williams said it is human to be a little self-conscious. Most people prefer to draw female figure models, because they are curvy and more marketable. Flaws are often more noticeable on the male body, he said. In addition, many people are close-minded when it comes to the naked body in general.
Williams said few people understand the effort required to figure model, as well. It takes time and energy.
He is a perfectionist with his poses, so he tries his best not to move. Some poses require him to twist his body or to extend muscles in a certain way. Williams said he has posed in a handstand for 45 minutes before. In order to maintain these poses, Williams said he turns inward and meditates, utilizing his knowledge of yoga. He said he lines his eyes up with objects in the room to lock in his poses.
Williams said he is flattered and proud for the artists when he sees their renditions of him. He aims to inspire artists and help them improve their abilities.
Williams enjoys the flexible hours of figure modeling, and the pay of $10 to $14 an hour is decent. In addition to figure modeling, Williams is a freelance writer, and his topics include poker, art and works of fiction. He also is a massage therapist and previously worked as a sports writer in the newspaper field for 20 years.
Wheat was voted most hyper in high school, so her family was more than a little shocked when they learned she had taken a job where she had to be quiet for two to three hours.
Wheat, 29, is a full-time figure model who first tried figure modeling because she wanted to know what it was like to be the subject instead of the artist. Wheat has a bachelor's degree in mass communications with an emphasis in broadcast journalism from Lindenwood University, but is continuing her education and currently studying digital photography. She eventually wants to open her own digital photography studio. She just made the cover of American Art Collector for December 2005.
Wheat said she was very nervous the first time until she took off her robe. After that, it wasn't a problem for her, she said. She didn't care what people were thinking about her.
"If people want to scrutinize me for the way I look, it's not that big of a deal," Wheat said. "If they got a problem with me, they don't have to draw me."
Wheat said she didn't always have high self-esteem. In high school, she wouldn't leave the house unless her hair was perfect. Now she doesn't care, even though more people are looking at her. She said people realize things about themselves as they get older and self-esteem gets better as people age.
Wheat's list of clients includes Webster University, Washington University, Fontbonne University, Maryville University, Principia College and various local drawing groups. Including weekends, she works about 50 hours a week during peak times - not including her jobs as a hostess at Savor Restaurant in the Central West End and a promoter for Hpnotiq liquor.
Wheat said she isn't sure if she would recommend others pursuing figure modeling full-time because it is a feast or famine job. It is hard to find work when school isn't in session, which includes December, January and the summertime.
She has become accustomed to seeing others' drawings and paintings of her, but she remembers how surreal it was when she first started. Wheat said she received a 360-degree perspective of herself that she had never seen before. Now she doesn't bother to look at the artists' work unless she just completed an interesting pose.
Her occupation has resulted in some strange off-the-clock experiences. Sometimes she'll see artists who drew her at bars or clubs.
"It's weird because they've already seen me at my most vulnerable," Wheat said.
She said some people assume that figure models like to dress with a "stripper look," but this isn't true. Others assume being a figure model is an easy job, but Wheat said it is very physically taxing. She has training as a dancer and in yoga, but some of the poses are still difficult.
However, her job as a figure model allows her listen to music most of the time while posing. Wheat said she goes crazy when she isn't listening to something while posing. During the Cardinal playoffs, the instructor put the game on the radio for her and even though she did her best to keep quiet, she couldn't help but let out a few cheers.