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A Post about Life Models

By Paul Watson on .

Life Drawing by Paul Watson, 2010

When I was an art student, and in the years shortly after finishing art school, I was lucky enough to have a number of friends who were happy to life model for me for free, just as well as I was living hand-to-mouth anyway. I remain incredibly grateful to these people who enabled me to continue developing my drawing and photography when I could barely afford paper and pencils.

These days I’m lucky enough to be able to pay people who model for me, but this means that I have to decide what is fair pay for a job that not many people feel able to do.

The Register of Artists’ Models (RAM) reports that the average hourly pay for a life model is £11.11 in London and £10.63 in the rest of England (even less in Scotland and Wales). RAM themselves suggest that the pay should be £12.50 per hour.

Life Drawing by Paul Watson
Life Drawing, October 2014 by Paul Watson

While many of the people who model for me aren’t professional life models, one who is told me that she was being paid only £6.50 per hour (minimum wage) by a local council for life drawing classes it put on. While I’m quick to blame this government’s cuts for many things, I suspect this parsimony has more to do with not valuing the contribution and work of the life model than it does with cuts.

Life models make a huge contribution to an artist’s work (and therefore to the arts in general). The work of a life model can be both physically taxing (have you ever tried holding a standing pose for 2-3 hours with only a couple of breaks to stretch the aching muscles?) and intensely creative (understanding what the artist is trying to convey and thinking up poses that will “work” for it, especially for photography where there may be many poses in a photography session). And let’s not forget the basic requirement to sit/stand/lie nude in front of someone and be scrutinised, which certainly not everyone can do (and that’s got nothing to do with what your build or what you look like).

The other calculation that I took into account when working out what to pay life models is that they don’t usually get a full week of work - it’s more likely to be one or two 3-hour sessions a week to supplement another income such as a student loan, a bar/shop job, etc. Based purely on hearsay, only a very few people take up life modelling as a career - for most it’s a temporary measure to bring in some extra money quickly. It’s neither glamorous nor seedy (although some people will view it as either or both of those), but it does offer the opportunity to be an intrinsic part of something creative and artistic, albeit usually anonymously.

Female Nude Study (20 minutes) by Paul Watson
Female Nude Study (20 minutes) by Paul Watson

I ended up settling on £15.00 per hour as the rate I pay life models who model for drawings, and £45.00 per hour for life-modelling for photography. A typical drawing session lasts 3 hours (plus breaks), and a photography shoot tends to last up to 1 hour. That seemed both fair and affordable to me, and went some way to compensating the life model for their time, skills, and for their considerable contribution to the creative process, especially here in Brighton where the cost of living isn’t cheap.

For those interested in the subject, the Guardian newspaper seems to publish articles on life models every so often - here are a few of them:

And a couple from other sources: