Would you rather do a naked lap around the Quad or go to class naked? For a select few on campus, the latter is the easy choice. 

Every year, the visual arts department hires Bowdoin students and members of the Brunswick community, both male and female, as nude models for the Drawing I and Drawing II classes. 

“The tradition of using a model in drawing classes goes back hundreds of years and has been a part of every art class that I’ve ever taken or taught,” said Adjunct Lecturer Jessica Gandolf, who teaches Drawing I.

During class, the models will either hold one position for the two-hour class with breaks every 20 minutes, or go through a series of quick poses. The poses can range from sitting to some that involve movement. 

For longer sessions in Drawing II where the model does the same pose for extended periods of time, models are asked to sit or even lay down. 

“It can be a really meditative experience. There was one where I was lying down and I dozed off a couple of times because I was so comfortable,” said nude model Sophie Matuszewicz ’15. 

Models are also asked to think of their own poses as they change positions every minute so that the class can practice gesture drawing. These sessions are more active for the models and at times feel like a performance. 

“For a Drawing I class, the professor wanted me to turn in a circle. I had to rotate 360 degrees and do this kind of dance to I move all my limbs in different directions while completely naked as they tried to capture the gesture of the movement,” Matuszewicz said. 

The different poses are structured to focus the students’ attention on a specific skill or part of the body. Classes with live figures teach contour drawing, gesture drawing and value studies. 

“We’re using the body of the model in the same way we use still life in the beginning of class,” said Gandolf. 

As for the models, they have their own reasons for bearing all in the name of art. For most, it is both a job and an empowering experience. 

Sara Hamilton ’16, who modeled in her first class yesterday, found the job listing on Bowdoin’s student employment website this summer after having difficulty finding a job on campus. 

“I’d heard that with nude modeling, they have a really hard time trying to fill it, so I was like, I’m definitely applying for that one,” said Hamilton. 

While she is excited to have the job, Hamilton is also focused on the personal experience. 

“And I’m a Gender and Women’s Studies major and spend a lot of time thinking about what roles nudity and sexuality play in our society. I just realized how much constructed anxiety there is around it and I just didn’t want to be a victim to that,” she said. 

Sam Caras ’15, another model who began last spring, takes a straightforward approach to nude modeling. 

“It pays well, it’s a job. I don’t see anything wrong with it, so I think it’s just kind of an easy thing to do, and I think it’s liberating,” she said. 

Matuszewicz became a nude model after taking drawing classes throughout high school and Drawing I during her first year at Bowdoin. 

“I’ve always come at it from another angle where I’ve done a lot of drawing live figures. So I was comfortable with the idea of other people drawing me just because I know what perspective they’re coming at it from,” she said. “So it’s really cool actually to be on the opposite end of that.”

And like the other models, the experience and the paycheck were encouraging benefits for Matuszewicz. The job is one of the highest-paying student jobs at Bowdoin with an hourly wage of at least $12.

“It was partially a personal challenge to see if I could do it. There’s this critical moment where, you have on your robe and you get up there and then they’re like, ‘Okay, do it,’ and you just have to go for it. And it was like, Can I actually do it?” she said. “It’s great that it’s so much [money] for such a short time. But the money part was not big because you don’t do it consistently so it’s not an income you depend on.” 

Models’ work schedules are based around the need of the classes.

For Drawing I, nude models are not used until the last third of the semester when students have acquired the necessary skills for life drawing.

 Drawing II classes spend more time with their models. 

Often times a model will work with the same class repeatedly as they hold the same pose for multiple sessions. 

While the models are comfortable with their decisions to pose naked, they have all gotten mixed feedback from friends and family. 

Reactions range from envy and support to horror. 

“A lot of my close friends are pretty liberal people so they’re all like, 'That’s awesome! I want to do it. You get paid how much?' But, on the other hand, my dad doesn’t like to talk about it. And I have a really great boyfriend, but he doesn’t really like to talk about it. I think he feels uncomfortable,” Hamilton said.

She added, “I have definitely gotten some people who are taken aback and look at me a little differently. There’s a lot around the idea of a woman using her body to make money making her less proper.”  

Despite mixed reactions from peers, the models felt uniformly positive about their decision to take this job.

“Why should people care about people seeing their bodies? And I think it’s something that, in an ideal world, everyone would be okay with,” said Caras. 

After classes and during breaks, the models are allowed to walk around the room and look at the student’s work and see their role in class on the page. 

“I think it’s a really cool thing to be the landscape that gets painted,” Matuszewicz said. “You’re physically involved in the art that’s being made because you’re the object of it, but you’re not actually participating in making the art. It’s a really interesting relationship.” 

And she added, “While portrait modeling in drawing can sometimes be the opposite of an ego trip, it’s liberating and it’s challenging. And then you get to be a part of all these people who are making art and learning.”