What it’s like to be a local nude

Being naked isn’t the hardest part


Mollie Cronin, a part-time nude model for Draw Nudes with Local Dudes, says it’s important for art students to be able to draw from life. Photo: Keili Bartlett

Standing naked in a room full of strangers may sound like a nightmare, but for Sarah Manchon and Mollie Cronin, it’s a part-time job.

“I showed up and the professor said, ‘Hi, the changing room is there.’ And then you’re naked,” Manchon laughs.

But there’s more to the job than being naked. As part-time nude models for drawing groups in Halifax, Manchon and Cronin are required to hold interesting poses. Depending on the class, the poses can range from 15 seconds for quick sketches to three hours for paintings.

“You have to draw fast and be gestural, especially when something’s breathing and has an itch, or muscles that contract and shift and weight that moves around,” says Cronin. “It’s really good practice, in terms of the immediacy of life drawing, for students.”

Both first heard about nude modelling in Halifax through friends. Manchon’s roommate in her first year at the University of King’s College was a NSCAD student, while Cronin studies art history at NSCAD. Cronin had taken live-drawing classes before, and went to Draw Nudes with Local Dudes with friends before she started modelling for them.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking,” Cronin said. “It’s like when you get up there to do a presentation, except you’re naked.”

Draw Nudes with Local Dudes is held in the Khyber Centre for the Arts and is exactly what it sounds like: drawing female or male nude models with a group of locals. Anyone can join for a $5 entrance fee at the door, and the Khyber sells beer for even less at $3.

“It’s very meditative,” said Cronin. “They play nice music, and you stand still for so long, you pick a spot on the way and you get into this weird zone. It’s really enjoyable, like, I find it really pleasant.”

Draw Nudes with Local Dudes is now held twice as often as it used to be, biweekly instead of monthly. Their growing popularity can be seen on their Facebook page, with often more than 50 people saying they plan to attend the events posted.

NSCAD pays models $17 an hour as a starting rate — $5.60 more per hour than minimum wage in Nova Scotia — to pose nude (and sometimes clothed) for drawing classes. Manchon, who has been modeling for art classes at NSCAD over the past four years, is paid at a slightly higher rate as a returning model.

Meanwhile, Cronin gets a portion of the entrance fee from Drawing Nudes with Local Dudes. For an hour and a half, she could earn about $35, depending on how large the group is that night. For a private drawing group hosted by one of Cronin’s friends, all the artists pitch in some money for her.

“But I wasn’t really doing it for the money, I kind of wanted to see if I could do it,” said Cronin, who has posed for local artists three times.

She says the experience has been empowering, because her nudity wasn’t sexualized.

“This isn’t actually about me, this isn’t about being attractive or people looking at your body in a certain way. It’s kind of offering a kind of service to people.”

Addressing nudity

After the first time Manchon undressed for a class, she told her roommates the hardest part wasn’t being naked.

“I was so embarrassed that the students had seen me move my hands during the pose, I completely forgot about being naked; I was just so embarrassed that I had moved. And that remains to be the most challenging part, to be able to keep a pose that’s interesting for the artists.”

Manchon often looks for new poses to try in kinesiology textbooks, so she won’t repeat the same ones too often.

“When you’re drawing it’s nice to have really fleshy bodies,” Cronin says, “because it gives you more contours and it’s interesting to draw. It sort of allows you to not be so vain, because you’re not worried about looking attractive – you want to make rolls, you want to squish.”

Manchon says it’s the students who are embarrassed, not her. She said the first- and second-year students often draw her in a more flattering way.

“It’s funny, because they’re kind of uncomfortable about it, and they don’t want to be rude, but I’m like, ‘I’m clearly comfortable with this and you hired me to paint what I look like.’ And that’s what I look like. I have more belly there, and that’s fine.”

Unlike Cronin, Manchon only poses for NSCAD drawing classes taken by students or alumni. She’s been asked by Draw Nudes with Local Dudes to pose for them, but Manchon said it seems like some people who attend are in it for an entertaining night, rather than a more serious practice.

“Those kinds of settings, you do get the serious artist types, but you do get people who don’t have an academic commitment.”

Cronin says it’s a good idea to have open classes.

“I think it’s good for young people to be presented with nudity that’s not sensationalized, that it’s not like porn,” said Cronin.

“It’s very different. It’s very comfortable, it’s very safe. It’s about looking at another human body and capturing another body without necessarily objectifying it.”