Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

Every Tuesday evening, Digital Arts 308 becomes a circle of eyes, quiet except for the frantic scratching of pencils.

In the corner of the room stands a chalkboard from an earlier class, scrawled over with instructions for figure drawers: “No straight lines. Follow the body’s topography.”

Amanda Kanter is the map for tonight, standing in nothing but her socks and a bold stare.

Nude figure drawing is a requirement for the UC Santa Cruz art major, and Kanter is currently in a pool of 25 models drawn upon by Sarah Diaz-Bastin, art department assistant and procurer of bodies.

“I’ve never been out looking. They’ve always come to me,” Diaz-Bastin said. “[Model selection] is based on what the faculty wants — male or female, someone with costumes or who’s really muscular. It depends on what kind of drawings they want to do.”

Diaz-Bastin has two requirements for the position: hopefuls must have experience and a non-UCSC student status.

At UCSC, the going rate for disrobing is $20 an hour, a sum paid for by a $40 quarterly materials fee levied upon students in the figure drawing classes.

A San Francisco art school graduate, Kanter has made a living by modeling nude across the country for about 10 years.

“For me, being nude is the most comfortable state of being,” Kanter said. “You know in your heart when you’re comfortable, because people are going to be staring at you, at the pimple on your butt … you really have to leave your body.”

Self-assured and natural, Kanter is a professional and it shows in every move. But the big business is in the big cities, and in the slower scene of Santa Cruz Kanter has a restaurant job in addition to modeling.

Model Melissa Lundgren has also posed for UC figure drawing classes, and along with Kanter has worked through the Palo Alto Models’ Guild, an organization that ended up booking about 70 percent of her jobs.

Although experience is not always necessary to register with the guild, models have to prove their capabilities in an informal interview and audition. New models who are unable to sustain longer poses are asked to put in a little practice time and try back later.

“Just get in front of the mirror and try different poses, use a timer,” Lundgren said. “Get a sense of what your body can handle and for what length of time.”

Third-year art major Deena Hashem has drawn nude figure models multiple times, enough to know the experienced models from the rookies.

“There are poses that they hit that are super-dramatic and have a lot of emotion,” Hashem said. “A good model knows the classic poses, and people like Amanda are not static at all.”

The range of models seen on the UC Santa Cruz pedestals is dependent on specific class objectives.

“A lot of the faculty requests larger models, sometimes for beginning students,” Diaz-Bastin said. “They don’t have as many sharp angles and are easier to draw.”

The art department has a shortage of bigger bodies. This kind of modeling is not about cookie-cutter figures, and for Hashem, the idea of drawing the kinds of uniform bodies represented by the mass media is boring.

“I enjoy models who are not the classic beautiful body,” Hashem said. “When they’re carrying a little weight or have saggy boobs, that’s the kind I like.”

One-third of the UCSC models are over 40 years old, adding the shape of the aging body to the art department’s grab bag. Most are seasoned professionals who have been modeling for 10 to 20 years.

Drawing older figures involves more difficult detail work, which artists appreciate.

“Older people, especially with portrait work, have body shapes and expressions that are more evocative,” Diaz-Bastin said. “Their life experiences come out in their bodies.”

The Felix Culpa Gallery and Sculpture Garden offers $10 figure drawing classes every Thursday and Friday, and gives newer models a chance to get into the arena.

Those interested in posing nude for the class have only to talk to Robbie Schoen — manager, curator, gardener and sole volunteer at the gallery. Everyone is invited, but not everyone will be booked.

“I once had a couple of teenagers come in, and it seemed like they were doing it to dare each other,” Stoves said. “But I don’t need to have people up there who don’t want to be.”

Local artist Mattie Leeds books models for a Sunday drawing class as well as for his own stylized ceramics, and has been meeting models and their motivations for around 25 years.

“A lady just called me and said she lost 180 pounds,” Leeds said. “I don’t know how much she weighed before, but it seemed like this person wanted to show off this breakthrough with her body.”

Schoen himself has started down the path, adding “model” to his repertoire when a scheduled nude doesn’t show.

“I always think to myself that I’m really going to give them something to draw,” Schoen said. “One time I stood on one foot and did this crazy twist, and they loved it. I just thought ‘I’m going to concentrate on a point on the wall, and I’m going to do it, to stay still.”

For Kanter the quick poses feel like exercise, and Diaz-Bastin stated that the job may not be for just anyone who knows how to take their clothes off.

“It’s not necessarily an easy job,” Diaz-Bastin said. “It actually takes a lot of strength to hold a pose, and especially for really good models, who can hold a pose for 20 to 30 minutes. You have to be in a place mentally where you won’t get bored, or won’t fall asleep.”

Not all modeling positions require nudity, and costumes represent a portion of faculty requests. In downtown and independent studios the degree of nudity is sometimes negotiable as well, based on the comfort level of the model.

“I keep my thermals on,” Schoen said. “But some days I feel I could do it nude, if I feel like I have something to offer.”

Not everyone sees a distinction between being naked and being nude, but in Kanter’s mind being exposed has little to do with nudity.

“I’m naked [when] I’m with my boyfriend, when I’m emotionally open,” Kanter said. “You know when you run into someone after you’ve been crying? To me that is naked, not when I’m nude.”

After Kanter takes a short break from a 10-minute pose, expectant students and community members flip to a fresh page. Kanter adjusts a space heater, drops her robe again.

With poses lasting from three to 20 minutes, a glance around the room shows images that don’t revolve around capturing true likenesses. These short periods of time place the emphasis on the way a body twists and turns, and there is no time for light strokes or erasing.

“The human body is really dynamic and inspiring,” Hashem said. “It’s a lot of gestural drawing, always quick, always rough. It just has to do with the motion of the nude form.”

A recent classified ad in Santa Cruz’s Good Times put out a request for models — nude or clothed, inexperienced models welcome.

The ad belongs to Mattie Leeds’ perpetual search for inspiration. In his eyes, the value of modeling comes from the process of interacting with a live person, and not just the split-second image that a photograph captures.

“It’s slowing time down to where you’re really looking,” Leeds said. “Even when you’re in a relationship, sometimes people never really slow down enough to really look at each other.”

Kanter had similar opinions, placing live models above still images or statues.

“I’m not a still life,” Kanter said. “I’m not a teapot, or a stool. … If I’m going to stand in this interesting pose, I would hope that the artist is inspired and can feel my energy.”

Highly stylized, Leeds’ art builds on a collaboration between model and artist, and his best energy has come from people who have distinct features he is interested in.

“There was a woman who had a tattoo of a beet on her arm,” Leeds said. “I painted her holding a giant beet, and then drew a heart inside it, like a heart-‘beet.’ It’s kind of like writing little stories about each model.”

Kanter stated that some artists make up their own stories, using the physical body as a template to express what was already in their minds. Often the artists draw their own faces on the model’s body.

“One guy drew me like a manga; gigantic eyes and huge missile boobs,” Kanter said. “It’s interesting to see how people interpret me. … The people who get to know me are the ones who actually get my likeness, and not just a lump of flesh.”

Similar to independent contractors, professional models are self-employed, and at places other than the university are often able to set their own wages. The money is part of the pull for many, and is what initially attracted Lundgren. But nudes do not live on cash alone, and various personal philosophies are also involved with the business.

“It’s an honor and a privilege and a responsibility,” Lundgren said. “It’s very honest work, intimately honest with people in a non-sexual way.”

Nude modeling is a classical approach to drawing that has retained all its allure, teaching the basic structure in the majority of the world’s paintings: the human figure.

“You learn to observe, see how light hits a body and understand the main structures, like spines, shoulders, knees,” Hashem said. “After this I can pretty much envision anyone naked.”


UCSC hosts a free drop-in figure drawing session every Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. in Digital Media room 308. Artists must bring their own supplies.