The naked truth - What it’s like to be a life model?

Portrait of the model

Portrait of the model - Credit: Archant

Artists’ model Ruby Henderson tells Mairead Mahon what it’s like to be naked in a room full of fully-clothed people.

Emily Burke captures the profile of the model during the session

Emily Burke captures the profile of the model during the session - Credit: Archant

Ruby Henderson is used to people exclaiming: ‘I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on’ as she sits on the bus or queues up at the supermarket. But she doesn’t take offence – Ruby is a professional life model who regularly poses in the nude for artists.

‘It can be a conversation stopper but I’ve been doing it now for almost nine years,’ says the 29-year-old. ‘There is always a moment when I gulp before posing for a new group of people but that feeling doesn’t last long because, to me, nudity is completely natural and, anyway, after a few minutes, I forget that I’m naked in a room full of clothed people. I’m comfortable in my body and I know what’s required from me.’

Debrett’s haven’t yet issued a guide to the best way to conduct oneself when sitting entirely naked in a room full of observant artists, so just what are the rules?

‘There aren’t any as such, except for the absolutely irrefutable one that – once the artists have started work, then the model has to remain statue still...a lot easier said than done. Poses can last for anything between 20 minutes and two hours and it is the business of the model to not move a muscle during that time,’ says Ruby, whose ability to remain still was tested when a wasp settled on her bottom!

Mark Ibbotson captures the model using chalk

Mark Ibbotson captures the model using chalk - Credit: Archant

‘That’s one of the downsides of summer posing – the windows are usually open and that’s when all sorts of unwelcome creatures can buzz in. I’m proud to say though, that I remained still. If it had been a spider it might have been a very different story.’

Ruby, chatting between sessions at a life drawing session in Fulwood, usually meditates while she poses in order to take her mind off any unwelcome itches or creeping numbness.

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‘Yes, I meditate before I begin, as well as during the process. One tip I can give is that if an itch refuses to go away, try to imagine it on another part of the body. Honestly, it works and, if it doesn’t, then give the alternative treatment a go – put up with it,’ laughs Ruby.

It’s not just meditation that is a useful skill to have when posing naked, a good level of fitness and stamina come in handy. ‘Well, I do have to arrange myself in various poses. On average, I present three poses in a two-hour session and, as well as maintaining them, I have to get into them in the first place. Some of them, I can tell you, do require a fair bit of contorting,’ says Ruby who keeps fit by being a dab hand at yoga, as well as a keen hiker.

Painting by David Crossley

Painting by David Crossley - Credit: Archant

One piece of essential kit is her trusty dressing gown. ‘I’m afraid it’s not very glamorous but it is cosy and, in chilly church halls where art groups often meet, it can be a life saver. I don’t walk around the hall naked. I keep it on until it is time to go into the centre of the room and pose and, as soon as the pose is over, I reach for it again. It is a Life Drawing, not a nudist camp.’

Is she ever tempted to give a star out to the artist who has done the best likeness? ‘Well, as it’s not about capturing an exact likeness that would be odd! Sometimes, I ask to see what has been produced but it is the artist’s personal interpretation, so I don’t expect to always see a portrait that my mother might recognise,’ says Ruby who studied fashion and drawing at college.

Ruby is one of the most sought after life models in Lancashire and, as Life Drawing is becoming ever more popular, her diary is always full. But how did a lover of fashion become involved in not wearing any fashion at all?

‘David was beginning his weekly life drawing group in Fulwood, so he asked me to be one of his models and, as I know how important it is to be able to draw the human form, I agreed. It was as simple as that.’

Profile portrait

Profile portrait - Credit: Archant

David is David Crossley, a respected fine artist whose work is held in private collections both nationally and abroad and who also runs Big White Frog, a company often commissioned to produce murals for television production companies and galleries such as the Tate in Liverpool.

‘I have a pool of 32 nude models, male and female, all ages and all body types but that wasn’t the case when I began. My request was often met with one or two funny looks, so I soon learned to take photographs of my commissioned work with me in order to prove that I was a bona fide artist and not someone with a different agenda altogether,’ smiles David.

Art Schools have cut back on the number of Life Classes they offer, so David’s groups are meeting the high demand. They are attended by a wide range of people from professional artists and art students to psychologists and engineers.

‘It isn’t a taught class but a certain degree of competence is required,’ says David, whose duty it is to make sure that the hall is warmed up, with extra fan heaters on hand if required, and who is hoping to arrange an exhibition of the group’s work later in the year.

Artists tools

Artists tools - Credit: Archant

So, has he ever been tempted to pose in the nude for the group? ‘Well, never say never but it’s probably best left to the professionals like Ruby.’

David Crossley

David Crossley - Credit: Archant