The Other Side of the Easel - Interview with a life drawing model

We stare at their naked bodies for hours, trying to figure out the lines and tone that define their body. The poses they choose define our drawings. We keep drawings of them in our sketchbooks and portfolios. And yet, most of us don’t know much about the models we have this unique form of intimacy with. Professional life model Andy Lamb gave us this interview to help rectify this. He provides some valuable insights into life drawing from the viewpoint of the model, and we hope you enjoy it.

Andy set up an innovative collective of life models called Cardiff Life Models. Check out their site here.


1. Why did you get into life modelling?

Well, I was living in Brecon and had an artist friend who was running a short life drawing course in a lovely building, underfloor heating and windows all round. And she couldn’t find a male to model for her. So, being open to new things, I stepped in…

2. How do you come up with the poses you do?

Initially I based poses on yoga and took the lead from the tutors I was working with. Probably was a bit rubbish although any nude body pulling any shape is good to draw so long as the model is still and I always work hard and through the pain to remain as still as possible.

I have worked hard at developing poses though and now have a portfolio of shapes that suit all occasions and sessions, from the symmetrical standing pose for measured drawing sessions (I’m a typical 7.5 heads) through casual waiting for a train or sitting reading a book poses to the avant garde contorted and twisted shapes that truly challenge both the model and the artist.

As a group we meet monthly and work through new pose ideas, especially with collaborative work, and this is also an opportunity to share hints and tips.

Whilst modelling I am always gaining insight into my body, what’s possible and what’s not and so am constantly gaining ideas for creating better new poses.

3. How hard is it to hold some of those poses? Is it good for your body to hold poses for such a long time, a bit like yoga, or is it just painful?

Every pose, even a seated or prone lying down pose, will be painful over time. Some are painful after a couple of minutes and some after twenty. All are uncomfortable after 30 minutes.

Long poses are usually less dynamic than shorter poses but not always so. Holding a pose successfully, so not moving, is down to the model’s choice of positioning the body and the models ability to work through pain.

Although I personally regard life modelling as a bit of a yoga workout I think the length of time we hold some poses, with restriction of bloodflow and so pins and needles, cannot be healthy. It is therefore important for models to have a shake out every thirty minutes and for models to care for their bodies by going for swims, to yoga, to saunas and for regular massages.

I think we can accumulate muscular and skeletal damage which, if not addressed at as it occurs, will have a debilitating effect on mobility in later life.

So, I fight through the pain and pride myself on not moving much but I also work hard at pampering myself and looking after my body.

4. I’ve heard people say that life modelling can be good for people who are self-conscious of their bodies, as a way of accepting them. Do you think that’s true?

We have never had a model run away from the life room screaming, in fact our experience is quite the opposite. All models feel empowered and energised after their first few sessions and this feeling continues throughout mosts modelling career.

As a group we never say no to anyone having a go and actively encourage this. We want all body shapes across all ages represented for artists to draw, to counteract the influence of the media upon our perception of our physical selves.

From Cardiff Life Models

From Cardiff Life Models

5. Do you like to see the images the artists produce? Which types of drawings or paintings do you usually like best?

Yes and I think most models do. I take photos regularly and share the artists representations of myself on my blog. I have no preference for style really as each drawing or painting is individual and uniquely interesting.

6. Why do you think that drawing and painting people in the nude is so popular?

Drawing the nude is, in my opinion, the key to becoming a proficient artist. With the human body there is no room for error. Because we are surrounded by humans all of the time we instantly recognise when eyes are too widely spaced, when arms are not properly positioned… And so learning to draw the figure from life hones observation skill. Many of the working artists that come to our sessions or that use our models are doing so to maintain their skills and to gain further insights into drawing. Those learning to draw and paint come along to improve their skill base, to fill their sketchbooks.

I draw, not because I feel relaxed after a session, I don’t, I am too hard on myself for that, but because drawing the figure requires total attention for the artist and is almost like a meditation.

There is no catch all response to ‘why is life drawing so popular’. Different reasons for different people at differing stages in their artistic development but I guess that is the key word, development… We all want to get better 🙂

7. What would be your top 3 tips for someone interested in becoming a life model?

Just do it, don’t prevaricate! Do it as soon as you can! Only do it if you are being paid properly for your time and never for less than the accepted current minimum rate. We demand £15 per hour as a minimum.

Finally, I set up Cardiff Life Model Collective to gain more work for myself and models I knew, to professionalise the role of the life model and so to educate artists and tutors, to drive up pay and conditions of all life models and to work with other models as a peer group and to encourage expression of confidence with and acceptance of all body types.

I think we’ve achieved much of those original aims and although we still have a fair way to go our work has already touched many thousands of artists, students and casual aquaintances through direct contact or through the press coverage that we have achieved.

Thanks to Andy for the excellent interview and good luck to Cardiff Life Models. Another great resource for life models in the UK, is which includes a life-model search hub and modelling directory, a personalised life modelling promotion tool and a gateway for making contacts & connections.

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