The Other Side of the Canvas
An Interview with David R. Quammen
David R. Quammen is an art model,
founder of the Figure Models Guild of Washington DC, and a co-director
of MOCA DC/A+M Galleries. Artist-Perspectives has profiled a number
of artists; in this interview David offers a perspective from the
other side of the canvas. — Editor
long have you been an art model?
I started modeling on Halloween Day 2000.
There must be many thousands of drawings and paintings
of you. Does it ever concern you that your likeness may be recognized
by someone you know?
I don't have any concerns about people who may recognize
me in an artists rendering. I think that Western mores regarding nudity
are a bit over done and a bit prudish. For those who believe in God, we
are supposedly made in His image. If that is fact, then it strikes me
as hypocritical to be ashamed of His image when it is presented in an
What qualifications does one need to model professionally?
There are several, but there are some minimum standards:
First, I consider a model to be a tool for the instructor, a template
for the artist and an inspiration to the process. As a tool for the instructor,
the model can help by showing up early to find out what is being covered
that day. If it is a new class, then complex poses would be inappropriate.
If the lesson were on negative space, then the poses should be those where
everyone in the class can have at least some minimal view showing negative
As a template for the artist, the model should take care
to remain in the same position during the pose, not move parts of the
body, or if necessary, tell the class that, for example the right arm
is asleep and will be moved in one minute, while leaving the rest of the
pose intact. If a long pose, the model should take a pose that could be
held for more than 20 minutes at a time. Based on discussions with many
artists and teachers, the longer the model is in the pose, the greater
the potential creativity instilled in the artist; thus a better result.
As an inspiration to the process, some models have a natural
presence which, all else being equal, helps the pose to be inspirational.
Models should be aware of their own limitations for endurance, or whether
or not they look good in some poses. For every given body type—even
a 10 on the good looking scale—there are some poses that just don't
look right. Facial expressions are also important. For example, a smile
would look absurd in a pose that suggests drama or stress.
Do you have a standard repertoire of poses or
do you mostly look for direction from the artists or instructor?
When I first started modeling, there were no guides
available. Over time, I took digital pictures of poses done by famous
artists, as well as from the classics. I reduced them to one inch then
organized them in categories of standing, seated and reclining; these
are now in a pose guide that I give to models, whether new or experienced,
for reference until they gain enough experience to develop their own poses.
I try to avoid doing the same poses all the time, but I do have a few
standard guidelines. For example, I believe that modeling begins when
the model gets to the model stand. Avoid distracting the class if the
teacher is speaking to them. If the session starts with a series of short
gesture poses, I treat it as a dance, knowing in advance what pose I'll
do next, make a smooth transition then allow a few seconds before starting
the count. I always count short poses in my head, since I believe that
a timer is disruptive and detracts from a smooth transition from one pose
to the next.
of David R. Quammen by Barbara Pace
What constitutes an interesting pose? What makes
a pose compelling for an artist?
This is a tough question, and differs from artist
to artist. Some prefer poses with a lot of drama, others like a more natural
pose. Even natural poses can have a lot of movement, so I try to take
poses with a lot of action, or that suggest something realistic that is
How do you sustain long poses without moving?
First I make sure the pose has a good balance. When
I'm settled into it, I find two or three points for reference then find
something to concentrate on. I'm fairly fit, so I check that these reference
points are where they should be. I've done a lot of planning while modeling,
and let my mind go to work on whatever it is at the time.
Who do you model for?
I've modeled for just about every school and group
in the greater Washington DC area, and for quite a few artists privately.
I'm rather aggressive, so when I found that I enjoyed it, I sought out
every place I could.
Is the demand for male and female art models
There's a greater demand for female models than males,
although there are more male than female models who can model during the
day. A lot of the female models are in college, which limits their daytime
availability. Even if there were an equal number with an equal availability,
I think the demand would be higher for female models than male. There
are several reasons for this, including that society is more accepting
of female nudes in the arts, that society in general has a dim view of
the male nude, and that a lot of males seem to be homophobic.
Are there many male art models (relative to female
models)? Do you find a supply and demand imbalance (too many or not enough
to meet demand)?
In the DC area, there are definitely more male models
than females; all the places I model ask if I can send some female models.
What type of modeling gigs do you like best?
I prefer modeling for organized groups that meet
on a regular basis, or for the schools with a high ratio of adult students.
Generally, the artists are more serious about their art and have a greater
respect for the model.
What type of jobs do you try to avoid?
Schools with students who are taking art classes
more because they are required for web-related curricula; they tend to
be less interested in their art, and are thus less attentive and more
prone to joke around and disrupt the concentration in the class.
What was your most fulfilling modeling experience?
There have been several instances where the class
applauded after some rigorous poses. It helps to know the effort is appreciated.
While modeling for a class where the teacher was
out of the room reviewing students as part of the final evaluation, three
students were talking, disturbing the class and irritating me as the pose
was particularly difficult and I wasn't taking a break. I finally told
them to shut up or I'd leave. It was the first of three sessions, and
the class told the teacher that I was right; they never spoke again during
that or the remaining two nights.
What advice do you have for people interested
in modeling for artists?
If you're really interested in being a professional
model, treat it like anything else that you might enjoy doing. Learn the
ropes and respect that those you are modeling for are spending their time
and money to learn or practice their art, and you're a major part of the
You founded the Figure Models Guild in July of
2002. Why did you start this organization? What is its mission?
When I first started modeling, many artists told
me that models wouldn't show up, would show up late and couldn't hold
a pose even if they knew what one was. As I became more familiar with
it, I discovered that the artist community was partially to blame because
no organization trained models. The major source of new models was via
ads in a local paper— if you agreed to take your clothes off, you
were called a model and could get as many gigs and at the same rate of
pay as those with years of experience. I saw problems on both sides of
the easel, but it would be easier to work with the models for change than
with the user community. Basically, I did it to make the model pool more
dependable by making the models more professional.
The primary mission is to enhance the relationship
between artists and models. At this juncture, I have to say that the mission
is being accomplished.
What does the Guild do to support its members?
First, I maintain a Model Registry that is given
to all the schools, groups and individual artists who hire models. This
includes the model's name, a headshot, physical description and other
pertinent info, including how to contact them. I've put together what
I call the Art of Modeling: A Handy Guide for Figure Models. This includes
a two-page narrative covering the basics, and a pose guide of one inch
images organized by standing, seated and reclining poses: 220 for the
female, 208 for the male.
I also maintain a Figurative Arts Directory, listing places
that use models. It includes address, contact information, nearest Metro
station, how much they pay models, etc. There is a separate listing of
open groups that's available on the web site for the guild.
What activities or events does the Guild sponsor?
The first Sunday of each month, we have a Model Meeting;
the first hour is set aside to meet each other and discuss various issues
in modeling. Artists are encouraged to attend this part of the meeting.
Then models model and artists draw. It gives experienced models a chance
to learn new poses. It also provides a venue for those interested in becoming
a model, to see how artists work from the model and to try it themselves,
if they choose. There is no pressure to model nude, and some have actually
modeled clothed, or partially clothed. We also have open sessions on Monday
and Wednesday nights from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Models are scheduled and
paid for these, and artists pay a fee to attend. The Monday session uses
two models, the first from 7:00 to 8:30, the second from 8:30 to 10:00.
I try to schedule a male and female for these, which is shorter gesture
to longer, 15-20 minute poses. The Wednesday session has one model, one
pose for the session. Periodically, we schedule two models together for
the long pose session.
We also have workshops, perhaps as a more concentrated
training session for new models, or a two-model pose for two or three
What are some of your favorite art books?
My favorite art books are those with a lot of illustrations
of the nude figure. An artist friend, for whom I've modeled often, has
a lot of books that he graciously let me borrow, including one of Paul
Cadmus, Pierre Paul Prud'hon (very similar style and technique), John
Singer-Sargent and a few others with a lot of inspirational poses. Also
Kenneth Clark's The
Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, and The
Artist's Model: From Etty to Spencer. The latter is a book produced
to accompany an exhibit held in 1999 in New York, London and Nottingham.
More recently, I've come to enjoy The
Undressed Art: Why We Draw, by Peter Steinhart, an artist, naturalist
and writer living Palo Alto. Besides getting favorable reviews in the
New York Times and Washington Post, Peter attended several sessions of
the Figure Models Guild when it was first being organized. He told me
then that he was writing a book about artists and models—little
did I realize that I would end up being mentioned in his book. Aside from
that, it is a good read.
You are a partner in the Museum of Contemporary
Art in Washington, DC. Tell me about what that organization does, and
your role in it.
When I was starting the guild, Clark, the director
of MOCA, let me use the gallery for organizing meetings, and was very
supportive of the goal. It was an immediate success, and MOCA has been
home to the Guild ever since. His guiding principle has been to provide
a venue for innovative and undiscovered art and artists. Later, I founded
A+M Galleries (Artist & Model), as a way to provide figurative artists
a venue for their work. It's basically wall space in commercial lounges,
but it has been well received. I was interested in finding a home base
for it as well, so I approached Clark about hosting more exhibits. At
that time, he was faced with operating the gallery by himself so we decided
to join forces and in January I became a co-director of MOCA DC/A+M Galleries.
My role is to guarantee the rent each month, manage the day-to-day operations
and organize shows. I've had to cut back on my modeling, but this new
arrangement is a challenge that I really enjoy.
Tell me about the Artomatic.
Several years ago, a group of artists was looking
for a way to exhibit their art, and came up with the idea to find a vacant
building and have a one-month exhibit in it. The first one was in a former
laundry, hence the name Artomatic. The first year was a success, so they
did it again, to a larger number of artists and a tremendous reception
in the community at large. When they held the third one, I approached
them about having an open drawing session as part of the festivities.
They agreed. So on opening night, several members of the guild modeled
for a number of artists who were also regulars at guild activities. It
was an immediate success, so we repeated it three more times, and also
at the closing party. We tried it again at last year's Artomatic, but
we didn't have a convenient, closed space for it, and someone complained
so they moved us to a location with no foot traffic at all. I
thought it was inappropriate of them to move us without even discussing
the complaint or alternatives, so I don't plan to hold any open sessions
Well, Dave, you've certainly had some interesting experiences.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts from the art model's perspective.
“Given the importance
that the figurative arts community places on the model, one would
think that they would have addressed proper training a long time
ago. Yet the vast majority of these communities throughout the country
have little or nothing that would help new models to become the
inspirational figure that artists look for to unleash the creative
spirit essential to produce the best outcome. This work has all
the tools one needs to develop into a skilled professional model—a
boon to art instructors, art students, model coordinators and those
artists who meet in groups to work from the nude figure.”
David R. Quammen, Founder, Figure Models Guild
The Art Model's Handbook from Amazon.com