For Tori Mendoza, it all started with a “now hiring” email for nude models.
The School of Art, Design and Art History offers $12 an hour to anyone interested in posing nude for JMU’s drawing courses. Models are given 10 time slots between Monday and Thursday to choose from, which they can pick up at their leisure.
After a back-and-forth discussion with her roommates, Mendoza’s interest and curiosity was sparked. Mendoza decided to put out an Instagram poll, asking her followers if nude modeling was something she should partake in. The majority of voters told her yes.
“It took two weeks to really convince myself,” Mendoza said. “One of my friends who’s taken the class before told me that old men come in all the time to model. So, I figured if an old man could do it, I could do it.”
The School of Art, Design and Art History accepted her application within a week of submission. Mendoza, filled with nerves, had her roommate walk her to the third floor double doors of the Duke Hall art studio for her first session. She navigated her way through the circle of easels and wooden stools as she headed to a white wooden platform in the center of the room.
“Whenever you’re ready,” figure drawing professor Kenneth Szmagaj said.
Mendoza pulled at the string of her robe and let it slide off her shoulders as she held a pose that “demonstrated movement.” She locked her eyes on a section of the wall as she reminded herself to remain as still as possible for the next 45 minutes.
“When they take their robe off, they basically just become another object,” senior architectural design major and artist Lisa Smith said. “It really isn’t too different from drawing a flower.”
Smith, who’s taken Drawing I and II, noted how artists are challenged to visually analyze shadow and light versus shape and form when drawing nude figures. They must look at the different values presented in front of them, consider how light reflects off the figure and try their best to replicate what they observe.
The hardest part about drawing nude models is learning how to effectively draw the figure when they’re twisted, according to Smith. If artists practice drawing the light and dark areas compellingly, they’ll be able to draw the shape they’re seeing.
Szmagaj says there’s a particular challenge in drawing nude figures, but it’s part of the general practice of training yourself as an artist to see critically. It presents more complex problems, gives you more practice of seeing and makes you more sensitive to form.
“They’re trying to draw the human form, and I’m really happy I get to be a part of it,” Mendoza said. “Anyone who has negative criticism can walk away.”
Szmagaj often challenges his students’ critical thinking by having them run through peculiar exercises, such as drawing with their eyes closed, drawing with three pencils or drawing with their non-dominant hand. He’ll also give “absurd suggestions,” like telling students to crumple up their work before straightening it back out to continue drawing or to walk around the room and draw on other students’ drawings.
When time runs out and students are told to put down their pencils, Szmagaj says that many of the models enjoy walking around the classroom and checking out the artists’ renditions of their bodies.
“The models take a certain element of participation,” Szmagaj said. “Frequently, they’ll photograph the drawings or ask a student if they can take the drawing.”
When Mendoza first saw drawings of herself, she was surprised to see how other people interpreted her figure. She admitted that she hadn’t noticed all the little things about herself that aren’t necessarily “perfect,” but after seeing herself drawn over and over again, she now carries a greater understanding and appreciation of her body.
“I have this mole on my face that I’ve never really cared for,” Mendoza said. “But after seeing it drawn so many times, I actually grew to love it. Now when I look at drawings where it’s missing, I’m like, ‘They didn’t even put my mole! And my head isn’t shaped like that!’”
It’s the sweet smiles on the artist’s faces when Mendoza accidentally locks eyes with them that eases her nerves. She says introductory classes are typically more quiet, but she’ll frequent conversation with the upper level classes who are habitually more relaxed.
“I’ve never had an instance when an artist makes me feel uncomfortable, ever,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza has completed over 10 sessions and says there’s an undeniable sense of fulfillment she receives from standing in nude and observing each rendering of her body. For her, it’s about confidence. It’s a chance to embrace her purest form for 45 minutes.
“It is empowering to look at your body and be like, ‘Yeah, that’s me. I am human. I am very normal,’” Mendoza said.
Contact Jamie Graeff at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.