The Sexist

The Hazards of Nude Modeling

Three area artists’ models bare all about the job’s hazards: potential psychopaths, fake artists, and people who draw imaginary shorts on them.


When she was in college, F. took off her clothes for $16 an hour. F., 23, worked as a model for figure drawing classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, a job that required her to stand in the center of a circle of students, disrobe, and strike a series of poses while the beginning artists sketched her form. About six months into her tenure as a nude model, F. posed for a painting class where she held the same position for several hours—naked, seated, reading a book—while artists painstakingly reproduced the image. During a break, she wandered around the classroom to silently critique the students’ work. “Hey, that’s me all dismembered,” she remembers thinking of one student’s painting, which portrayed her with all of her extremities disconnected from her body. “Everything was just jumbled up—arms, legs, torso, head too probably,” she says. “I thought, ‘That’s kind of gross. OK. I’m going to go back and sit down now.’ It freaked me out.” After the session, the artist cornered her outside and offered her a ride home. She declined.


Lise Bruneau, a local actor, was modeling for art classes in San Francisco in the early ’90s when she decided to begin advertising herself for private sessions. She reported to one artist’s hotel room in the Tenderloin. The venue put Bruneau on edge, but she kept an open mind. “I thought, ‘Hey, artists are poor! Artists don’t have any money! This could be normal!’” she says. Still, she made sure to inform a friend of her whereabouts, just in case the guy turned out to be weird. He did. “I met him, and he was a very unusual, awkward guy, but I wasn’t going to let that bother me,” says Bruneau. “Again, he was an artist.” But when Bruneau asked to review the artist’s portfolio, he refused. “I don’t understand why we can’t just get started. You can go change in the bathroom, or you can take your clothes off right here,” he told her. When Bruneau insisted on seeing the work before undressing, the guy reluctantly produced a couple of drawings. “He showed me two crayon drawings. Stick figures. One was an oblong shape with another circle above that and a pair of pigtails on top,” she says. “I was seized with terror when I saw those drawings. You don’t hire a naked woman in your hotel for an hour and not be an artist.” She left the room as quickly as possible.


If you’re a local artist’s model who has hastened an exit after finding yourself alone with an artist whose vision includes extracting your limbs, or whose crowning achievement is a pair of crayon renderings of little girls, you can always call David Quammen. Quammen, who has a decade’s worth of experience in figure modeling, started the Figure Models Guild in 2002 to help eliminate such inappropriate encounters in the sometimes misunderstood profession of posing nude. “Nudity is so touchy. If you even start to make the sound—’nuuu’—all of a sudden everyone is up in arms and it becomes a big deal,” says Quammen, 70. “The goal of the guild is to treat the subject artistically, to increase the level of confidence and professionalism in the field.” In addition to his Guild duties, Quammen runs Georgetown’s MOCA DC gallery, which supports the work of figure models and artists through such annual exhibits as “Heads and Tails: Fine Art Portraits and Tasteful Backsides.”

But Quammen’s strangest task may be working to eliminate the scene’s weirdos. The Guild currently maintains a membership list of 125 models—70 male and 55 female—a resource that Quammen discloses to artists only after a proper vetting. Despite the precautions, Quammen has addressed a variety of bizarre complaints over the past eight years. Once, a group of female models approached Quammen to report that an artist had been staging sessions as a way to corner potential dates. Several months ago, Quammen received a phone call after a model thought she had spied a hidden camera on an artist, and summoned the police. A few years ago, Quammen reprimanded a photographer who got 30 minutes into a session before informing his nude model that he would be finishing the set without his clothes on. When the Guild first started up, one man calling himself a photographer showed up at Quammen’s monthly open drawing session for ogling purposes. “He wouldn’t draw. He would just look,” says Quammen. “Whenever a male stepped up to model, he would go outside in the lobby or out in front. But whenever a female got up, he’d be back in the room, watching.” Nude modeling tourism is now against Guild policy. “If you’re not drawing, then you’re not to be in the area where the model is,” he says. “There have been cases of people coming in for the wrong reasons. I try to weed them out as effectively as I can.”

As a model, Quammen has encountered the opposite problem—artists who refuse to look at him at all. Since the D.C. area is host to dozens of colleges, figure models are offered constant sessions in front of artists who are, by definition, amateur. “It isn’t uncommon for some male students to react in strange ways to their first encounter with nude male models,” says Quammen—particularly if the students are reluctantly fulfilling an art requirement for an unrelated discipline. Quammen has modeled for male students who have been so incapacitated by their homophobia that they refuse to draw Quammen’s genitalia. Some have addressed the phobia by sketching tiny shorts over his penis; others obscure his crotch in shadow; a few have outright refused to draw him, a process that would require them to actually look at a naked man. “As the students get used to male models, some overcome their aversion and draw what they see. For some, however, it becomes obvious that their homophobic reaction is rooted in a deeper paranoia,” he says. “It’s usually a small number who retain this attitude. On the other hand, most classes adjust rather quickly to it and realize that drawing genitals is part of the process.”

“If somebody comes to me with a problem, I won’t automatically take their word,” says Quammen. “I’ll have a discussion with the artist and the model, and if it doesn’t get resolved, I’ll act on it. If it is a model, I’ll take them off the model registry and kick them out of the Guild. If it’s an artist, I’ll let them know that I have a lot of clout in this field, and that I can blackball them throughout the whole area if necessary.” Quammen says he’s been forced to ban only a few artists for inappropriate behavior. He’s also ejected a handful of models from the Guild, for mostly mundane reasons—absenteeism or tardiness at modeling sessions. But Quammen says that the awkward sexualization of nude modeling isn’t only a symptom of unprofessional artists. “There’s a younger model who will get an erection on purpose,” says Quammen. “He’s like a rooster just crowing out there, saying, ‘I’m a big man. I’m an alpha male.’ He’s very popular."

Artwork by Keli Anaya

  • jules

    Whoa. The woman who saw the picture of herself all "dismembered" made a great choice NOT accepting a ride home...

  • 4Sure

    I agree. Talk about a real life horror movie!

  • k

    Quammen sounds awesome and very professional.

    I wish there was a way to do what he's doing for nude drawing models, for fashion models. Now there's an industry full of creeps.

  • Bisexual Vampire

    I would love to see Ricky Martin naked posing as a model. Ricky have a nice tight body with a nice ass. I don't know what his private looks like, but it's probably fat and uncut. LOL

  • PL

    I can appreciate that Mr. Quammen might attribute an amateur male artists reluctance to work with a male models to homophobia. However, it would seem to me that this is using a rather broad brush. There could be several reasons that amateur male artists are not comfortable with depicting male models, probably the most reasonable being that depiction of male genitalia in popular and modern culture is practically taboo.

    I would suggest to Ms. Hess that she could have been more careful in illustrating that it is Mr. Quammen's opinion that she is reflecting, and that not all male artists that have struggled to attempt to depict male models suffer from homophobia.

  • Keli

    Bisex Vamp, I agree.

  • chris

    I've heard a bunch of stories like these from nude models. This one woman was telling us about this guy that kept trying to get her to pose with her legs spread really wide for a bunch of photographs.

    That, and like 90% of the straight male students in my classes have that same exact problem with drawing penises. Which doesn't make much sense to me, I mean, most guys have them, you'd think they'd be okay drawing them.

  • chris

    Not to mention male models are a lot less common, at least in my experience.

  • Saurs

    "There could be several reasons that amateur male artists are not comfortable with depicting male models, probably the most reasonable being that depiction of male genitalia in popular and modern culture is practically taboo."

    Yeah, the phallus as an architectural shape, for example, is so seldom used, I've forgotten what they look like.

  • lily

    nude modelling classes are known awkwardness. its not so much the nudity as the exposure of so many body choices. I've had classes with models who had body mod cuts, abdomen & penis piercings, scalp tattoos, other tattoos, etc. In any profession where you transcend a social contract & disrobe, people are going to test your nude models should be savvy about accepting private sessions (in a hotel room? seriously? thats such an obvious red flag. if the artist is that poor he can sketch himself naked in the mirror, not hire a nude model)

  • DoctorJay

    One thing I find interesting is the disrobing of the models in group figure drawing sessions. It's always better for the model to change into a robe in another area, then come out and drop the robe, than it is for the model to take off their clothes in the room next to the stage/riser. I guess it's a difference between being nude and getting naked?

  • burning girl

    I am one of the more successful models in this area. The robe is a mere formality. And, yes, there are plenty of creeepy guys that you encounter in this field. Someone that only hires you for an hour could be flying a big red flag, for instance. Most models won't book for less than two hours.

  • Jon

    PL,Mr. Quammen is using the real definition of homophobia, not the more popular but incorrect definition (not liking gays) Homophobia is pretty much exactly what is described in the article, not wanting to draw or look at male junk (if you are male) basically being uncomfortable looking at or being close to those who are the same sex as you

  • mc

    HA. i nude modelled in college, at Vassar -- it was the highest paying of the work-study options, and it basically involved taking free art classes and learning tons about art history too, just i had to be sitting in the center of the room and be naked. I was totally cool with it -- but I got asked out way often as a result (i get naked easily, so i must be an easy lay, right? barf), which also bugged me out. It also got commented on a lot at parties, but thankfully it was generally a friendly enough environment that if some douchebag commented on it, there'd inevitably be like three women's studies majors in the room with me to embarrass him in return.

    One particularly memorable experience involves this kid who went so far as to not talk to me after class, but to ask the teacher my name, find out where i lived via the student directory, and three days later proceded to COME DIRECTLY TO MY DORM ROOM UNANNOUNCED AND ALONE (facebook? it existed then?), walk into my room uninvited when I opened the door, sit down on my bed, and tell me that i looked 'stunning' or something in art class (read: naked), and ask me if i'd like to go out for drinks with him, and then get really bummed and creepy and possessive when i was all uh, no thanks and asked him to leave since I was studying. It was almost disappointing becuase he was extremely attractive, too -- it was just a "feminist litmus test" insta-fail. had he come up to me after class, made a comment about it being awkward, and commented on the teacher or the class or something other than HOW HOT I WAS NAKED and how that totally entitled him to stroll into my room and sit on my bed and essentially tell me i had nice titties. Not okay. Just 'cause you've seen me naked doesn't mean i want to be naked in your bed!!!

  • Stephen Kosciesza

    I've been a male art model for 15 years. I suppose you might say that I'm a charter member of the Guild. I believe that explaining a man's reluctance to draw a nude male model--and to draw a penis--as "homophobia" is just way too simplistic.

    Nudity among non-intimates is something that most people in our society are not used to, and there's bound to be discomfort and uncertainty at first. I'm sure many men AND many women feel some nervousness and discomfort when faced with drawing from the live nude model for the first time. No doubt, the nature of that discomfort would depend first on who they are themselves. And then it would likely depend on whether the model happened to be of their sex or of the opposite one.

    A woman might very well feel awkward drawing the nude man in front of her, too. And a man might feel uncomfortable the first time actually looking at the nude woman modeling in front of him.

    It's human nature, and as with everything about human nature, there's rarely one, simple explanation. And since when we're talking about human nature, we're talking about individuals, generalizations are noteworthy mainly for their exceptions.

    I think to boil male reluctance to draw the male nude as homophobia is way too easy and dismissive an answer.

  • Stephen Kosciesza

    By the way, while that woman was probably wise not to accept a ride, it is not unusual for an artist to use the model to draw sort of fantasy pictures. And it's also true that a lot of models could use a ride after a session. The person drawing the model dismembered might not have been a closet serial killer. And his offer to drive the model MIGHT have just been helpfulness.

  • Adrienne

    Stephen K, it's human nature to feel uncomfortable with the human body? Really? It seems to me a clear case of the exact opposite, of a reflection of how societal constructs and expectations actually inhibit true "humanity" (whatever that is).

    There's no "natural" reason for men to be uncomfortable with the sight of a nude male body. I wouldn't go as far as to say every man who is uncomfortable is homophobic (I don't think the article was saying that, either) but there is an idea pervasive among many in US culture that for a man to look at another man's body is "gay" and therefore wrong. We don't have a cultural space for the appreciation of the male form as a work of art (certainly not like, say, the ancient Greeks), so to see a nude male body is jarring for many people. The biological penis has so much cultural weight as a tool of sex that it's hard for a lot of people to get out of that mindset, and for some men this manifests as homophobia.

    This is the exact opposite of "human nature" which, if anything, would dictate that people be, by default, comfortable with nude bodies of all genders.

    I know we probably agree on a lot of this (being uncomfortable with nude men not being an exclusively male trait) but it bugs me when people bring out "human nature" to justify/explain away behavior that is actually learned and socially constructed.

  • Adrienne

    And mc, wow what a creep. Thanks for disproving the myth that a woman will put up with any kind of behavior as long as she finds the guy attractive, and that we only reject/criticize the ones we don't think are hot.

    Why on earth did the instructor give him your name? That's completely unacceptable. My usual modeling boss calls me by my first name in his class, but when I posed for a university the instructor only referred to me as "the model," which I really appreciated.

  • Stephen Kosciesza

    Adrienne, (I'm actually wondering if we know each other, BTW) it would take me an hour (and some rather personal revelation) to build a case for what I believe--and obviously I can't do it here.

    So let me just declare for the record that I think at least part of it is hard-wired. I believe that AS A RULE (and we must never forget that when we are talking about people, we are talking about individuals--and individuals are just that, individual) men and women respond differently to nudity within their own respective sexes and in the opposite sexes. That is to say, the response of men, on the one hand, to naked men or naked women is not mirrored by the response of women, on the other hand, to naked women or naked men.

    Sure, a lot of that has to do with culture, but I believe that a lot has to do with our basic natures. And I believe that the cultural side of it comes from the nature side--and that the two build on each other.

    Some people have discussed the unarguable fact that strip clubs featuring women stripping for men vastly outnumber those featuring men stripping for women. Some say it's some sort of taboo, from some notion that men think they're too good to be putting themselves out there. Others suggest it's a cultural thing about women largely having their sexualities suppressed, in order to be "ladies."

    But I'm convinced it's nothing but market. I know plenty of guys who'd love to put themselves on show that way. But my experience is, most women are not interested, at best. (Again, please, exceptions! individuals!) And I believe that to a large extent, it's natural. As I said, I couldn't possibly build any kind of argument here in this forum. I simply state, this is the way I'm convinced it is.

  • Saurs

    Stephen, all due respect, but your comments don't make a whole lot of sense. On the one hand, you're suggesting that humans are "hard-wired" for something -- I'm not quite sure what. On the other hand, you insist that we treat hypothetical cases as "individuals." I'm sure most of us here are wary to generalize for fear of resorting to stereotypes, but if we're all just individuals, anything "hard-wired" into us is a moot point.

    The gist of your comment seems to be that men like naked women, don't like naked men, and women are totally comfortable with naked women but don't care to look at naked men, either. You seem to think that your limited personal experiences and your knowledge about how we are "hard-wired" buttresses this theory, but it remains a confusing one nonetheless, one that seems to insist that because things are the way they are (we live in a misogynistic culture in which men and women are brought up to equate women with sex), the way things are merely reflects what is "natural." By extension, this argument rejects the rather obvious fact that we're socialized to learn, exhibit, teach, and reproduce the man-made culture we're born into, and that there is nothing necessarily "natural" about the way we live. That's the bread and butter of evolutionary psychology -- since white westernized dudes living in the twenty-first century like something, disregarding the rest of the world and its disparate cultures -- our genes and our deep history must, like, be responsible. I'm sure you agree that that's very silly, yes?

    Apart from that, despite what you may or may not think or know or believe about heterosexual women, heterosexual women dig naked men and dig men's bodies in general. That men don't often strip for heterosexual women and homosexual men is not because they're not willing and not because it may or may not be a lucrative endeavor, but because they can have real jobs that pay real wages, and because men in general are valued for more than their sex appeal. Thus when a dude strips, he's either partaking in or assisting artists in creating legitimate "art" (nude models) or he's a Chippendale-style "entertainer" who is, by definition, a muscular, powerful-looking dude who gets paid to shove his junk in women's faces and be sexually aggressive. His female counterpart -- the stripper -- is paid to look vulnerable, passive, and sexually available in a non-threatening way to her patrons. There is no bloody parity between the two.

  • Stephen Kosciesza

    Well, your statement of my "gist" falls right into the overgeneralization that I hoped to avoid. Also, you talk of my "limited" experience; presumably everybody's experience is limited--almost by definition. And you don't know what mine happens to be. I've said I don't plan to try to prove my thesis here, only to state that it's my belief--and I'm going to try to hold to that. But to answer a few of your points:

    As to your statements about the economic considerations that motivate/drive people to model or strip, again, way oversimplified. There are people, both men and women, who model/strip in clubs/strip at kinky parties/walk stark naked through crowded San Francisco city streets/live naked for a week in the high desert of Nevada because they ENJOY it--ENJOY the sense of risk, the violation of taboos, the attention they get. I suppose women will realize, if they don't from the start, that they can be putting themselves at risk of too much "attention." Men soon realize that it often just doesn't go over too well.

    You say--again, far too simplistically--"heterosexual women dig naked men and dig men’s bodies in general." I presume you mean just as heterosexual men dig naked women and dig women's bodies in general. But then with your last sentence, "There is no bloody parity between the two," I submit that you've contradicted yourself.

    I find that a lot of people consider the penis (which is what brought this up in the first place) to be kind of ugly and repulsive. This includes both (heterosexual) men and women in general. And it includes women who enjoy sex with a man; they perfectly well enjoy having the penis of men they like inside them, but they're not interested in checking it out, gazing on it, or exploring it (and by the way, I believe most don't particularly enjoy taking it in their mouths; I think a lot of women--tragically, young women and sometimes girls especially--have convinced themselves that they're supposed to like it).

    "Like a dead fish," one woman I know--a woman who does thoroughly enjoy good sex with a man--put it to me.

    You mention Chippendale guys, and that is one of the bases of my conviction here. Whatever happens at the Hangar Club or anywhere else, Chippendale guys keep the last bit on. And I saw women being asked as they left a Chippendale club. They all agreed that they prefer that those guys do keep that last bit on; they enjoyed the unveiling of the buff male bodies, but they didn't need to see the packages, thank you.

    Your arguments here remind me of a woman (pathetically, this was an older woman of much experience, who should know better) who urged me to go and watch porn movies to learn what a woman likes sexually. That is a woman who, in spite of a fifth of a century of sexual experience, is very confused about sex--and has bought the nonsense that men and women work the same way.

  • Max

    Great article, Ms. Hess. As an art model in the NYC area for over a decade, all I can say is I wish we had someone like David Quammen to help bring order to the chaos that is New York art modeling. I greatly respect what he does both for artists and models in DC.

    I also find it interesting that the younger model who gets intentional erections is very popular. We often hear about the taboo of getting an erection on the stand, but of the several dozen times its happened to me over the years I have not had a single negative comment and have always been invited back to pose. If anything the reception is generally positive. Obviously there are pervy guys out there, but there seems to be an interest in drawing a legitimately good model in a state of arousal. Maybe some of the artists would like to comment?

  • Rick

    Yes, I am a male model and I have often had erections modeling, and only once did an instructor complain (at a women's college). Usually I will judge how cool the group seems and then let it go up. It's an incredible feeling when you can't stop the erection, like a jolt of electricity. I have had only compliments about my "great energy" and "dynamism" when that has happened. So this is contrary to what I always hear: erections are bad, they will get you fired, etc. I think an erection is a glorious sight and have posed with other males where we both got one.

  • http://hazardsofnudemdeling tom

    i i posed for the first time for a drawing class during my third pose i did get an erection, , no one commented or said anything. and also the erection does not last long, if you dont think about it