We’re in the news again! This time an in depth interview with two models for WalesOnline. Well done Megan and Kate for interviewing so well.
Disrobing in front of a room full of other people who are are intently staring at you is way out of most peoples’ comfort zone.
But for Kate, who poses nude for life drawing classes, it’s almost preferable to squeezing into a teeny-tiny bikini on the beach.
And for Meg the taking your clothes off thing has proved an overnight confidence-builder and an enriching life experience that has very little to do with nakedness. As the 22-year-old says: “If you can stand in a room naked in front of people you can do anything.”
Both women have modelled for artists as part of the Cardiff Life Models classes, which were held in the city regularly until the pandemic hit. While Meg, a student from Treforest, is an old hand at the modelling scene having done it for more than a year Kate, 37, is relatively new to it and has posed only a couple of times.
Meg, a confident “typical Cancerian” who exudes kindness both down the phone and through the camera, started posing “on a whim” for a bit of extra cash. The £20 per hour certainly comes in handy while she strives for experiences that are “outside the box” and are “fun and different”.
Kate, who has a quiet confidence in a very different way, can understand the fear that comes with taking your clothes off in a room full of people. “I think that’s a legitimate fear if you haven’t eased yourself in with a bit of skinny-dipping or maybe being in an environment with other naked people, which we don’t get a chance to do as Brits,” she said.
They’ve each got their own reasons for stepping out unclothed but both have the same admirable – enviable, even – take on the naked human form.
Meg started modelling after chatting to a friend who’d also just got involved in posing naked. Saying she wanted a bit of extra cash, the friend suggested she get in touch with Andy Lamb, the man behind Cardiff Life Models.
Th refreshingly open-minded chiropractic student oozes self-confidence and self-awareness, not in a boastful way but in a gently encouraging way that makes you wonder why you have all those body hang-ups in the first place.
“I was bit scared at first,” said Meg. “But once I’d done it I felt great and so confident. This is something that’s an enriching part of my life – it’s like something that makes you scared but times 10.
“For me it accelerated my confidence literally overnight because it’s ridiculously outside my comfort zone.
“A good thing that comes as a side effect of the confidence is not caring what people think. Once you detach from caring – and I still care what people think of me, I’m a typical Cancerian, caring and sensitive – it’s all life experience.”
The first time was nerve-racking, Meg admitted. “I got there really early,” she said.
“I really like to be on time. I found the room where I was going first and then I tried to sit and relax in reception. I went up at an appropriate time with 15 minutes to spare to get changed into my robe.
“The one thing you do in life modelling is you always wear your robe when you’re not in a pose. If there was a golden rule I’d say that’s it.
“Say you go round someone’s table to look at what they’d done so far and you’ve got appendages dangling around, unclothed, then it’s not very nice for someone to try and maintain conversation and you’re just standing there in the buff. It’s not the done thing.”
Over time Meg has evolved not just her confidence but also her ability to hold a room and guide artists.
“You are a bowl of fruit – you’re not a naked person,” she said. “You’re just the human equivalent of a bowl of fruit to draw or sketch – thinking like that helps with any anxiety.”
She sees being naked as “completely natural for something that feels so unnatural”.
“As soon as it began I was a bit robotic because I was doing a moving pose and after about five minutes I was like: ‘This is fine, I can do this’, but initially I did think it was scary,” she added.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Meg is just how in tune she is with her own body and her sense of self.
“I’m very open-minded, I’ll do anything once,” she said. That includes taking cold showers, going running in the hills, and even wild swimming in the Brecon Beacons. Her boyfriend is the same, she added, saying she even dragged him along a couple of times to pose alongside her for classes when Andy couldn’t be there.
Artists can suggest positions such as standing, sitting, or reclining, but it’s up to the model to strike a pose that is both artistically intriguing but comfortable enough to hold for an extended amount of time without cramping or, worst of all, falling out of position.
Meg enjoys seeing the energy and focus in the room as the artists work away. The classes, held in the Little Man coffee shop in Cardiff, have a half-way break where there’s coffee, tea, sometimes wine. She also enjoys posing for students at Merthyr College and immersing herself in the “uniting” learning process.
“The energy in the room is different each time depending on who is modelling and how they hold the space,” said Meg.
“It’s quite nice for people to relax after a long day at work to come and draw. A lot of people who are in non-creative industries still have creativity in them that they need to express even if they’re at an office doing a nine to five every day.”
Meg has her own creative streak and says art and her medical degree go “hand in hand”.
“I’ve got to the point with my anatomy where I’m having a vision of a skeleton there because I’ve looked at it so much, even though I’m seeing someone as a fully-formed human being with skin and muscles,” she explained.
“There’s a nice crossover between the art and my course: life drawing is always going to be the human body and that’s what I know very well.”
Drawing the human form is actually pretty difficult, especially if you’re a creative painter or drawer.
“You look at the model more than the page because if you start looking at the page you go in your own direction – your brain naturally does that. You think you know what goes where but the actual point of life drawing is to look at the model,” Meg said. “I think that makes life drawing more of a discipline.”
She does get different reactions from people when she tells them what she does in her spare time. “Some say it’s quite a brazen thing to do,” she laughed. “But I don’t think of it as being brazen. I’ve never thought about it in a negative way.
“It’s fun and luckily it’s something people pay £20 for. They always think you’re doing them a massive favour and they really respect and appreciate you for that.”
What mostly stops people is fear of the unknown, she said. “It’s not about nakedness. Everybody hones in on the nakedness but that’s not what it’s about.”
Kate already knew Andy through his outdoor walking group and as a fine art graduate and had attended some of the life drawing classes he ran as an artist to “keep her hand in”.
But on one warm summer’s day last year, during an artist retreat on Flatholm Island, she took the plunge and ended up on the other side of the canvas.
“Andy needed a second model and I just thought it was an idyllic setting and it was really warm and outdoors and an escape from reality,” said Kate.
“I didn’t really think too much about it. I don’t think I’m really comfortable in my body but that didn’t really occur to me, more because it’s for an artistic purpose rather than ogling.”
Her second experience – in a classroom setting – was more testing, she said, but she noticed one unexpected side effect. “Everyone becomes more friendly towards you,” she said.
“People are more relaxed in talking to you. I mentioned it to Andy and he said people can feel like they own a bit of you because they’ve captured you in their drawing pads.”
Kate is not a “naked ambassador” by any stretch of the imagination, she said, but she has been known to indulge in an occasional bit of skinny-dipping.
“It’s a good reminder that everyone’s body is totally different and there’s no perfect form,” she said. Kate is not immune to body image and said she definitely has the same concern as any other person worried about showing their tummy in a public setting.
“But also that melts away when you take all your clothes off,” she said.
“I find swimwear so unflattering so I wouldn’t want to go to the leisure centre naked but I would much prefer to be on a nudist beach where no-one’s wearing anything and it’s just so much more comfortable than trying to squeeze yourself into a sexy bikini.
“Maybe it’s because it’s unsexualised, even though you’re completely naked, when it’s art. It’s not necessarily a ‘saucy’ thing but maybe there are types of clothing and situations that make it more sexy or make you more aware of that element.”
Even so, being intently studied with nowhere to hide must seem a bit daunting? “It is funny being a model and watching the people who are drawing you,” admitted Kate.
“They are not averting their eyes – they are looking at every part of your body, it really is a study, which is quite revealing in perhaps a deeper sense than just being naked.
“At no point do you feel sexualised or objectified, it doesn’t even matter about your gender – you’re just there to be drawn and studied for the skin that you’re in.”
Taking all your clothes off, no matter what the setting, must first overcome the part of our socialised brains that screams: “Please don’t look at me, I’m naked.” It’s something we probably all recognise and what stops us ever wandering around in the buff.
Kate explained how she overcomes that. “Like anything else you’re scared of do it step by step, get yourself there. There’s just that moment of reveal, as it were, initially and that’s the biggest hurdle – that bit when you first show everyone your flesh.
“In the toilet you think: ‘Is this something I’m really going to do?’. Then everyone has seen it and no-one has fainted or anything so you just work through it.”
Mentally models have to be able to sit with their own thoughts without fidgeting, talking, or changing their facial expressions too much. Kate’s main concern on Flatholm was about getting really sweaty. But, back in the life drawing room, she is still mastering her technique.
“You just have to focus on a corner and I just let my mind go blank,” she explained. “I’m still a novice so I’m trying my hardest not to move which sounds like it’s the easiest thing in the world but if you’re in a slightly more dramatic pose it’s actually quite tricky.
She aims to get into some sort of state of “serene existence”. “Initially I was nervous and looking to Andy for guidance but after a while you get more confident,” she added.
“Then I start thinking about the best shapes for the artist to draw. Being an artist myself I know what’s more interesting to draw.
“It’s so interesting – you have an image of yourself in your mind and then someone has captured something completely different on paper. It’s really interesting to see yourself. I don’t know if that makes me narcissistic.”
It is certainly refreshing to hear how these two women go into poses thinking not about whether their arm placement will make their stomach look smaller or their breasts seem bigger. Rather they are trying to offer the artists poses that show off the complexities of the human form in all of its unique and wonderful ways.
As Meg said it’s not about nakedness but details such as bone structure, shadowing, and proper limb proportions. The final sketches and paintings are not idealised versions of themselves but rather the works celebrate the human body in all its glory.