Nude models, despite initial awkwardness, essential to artist development


Darren McCarty's job is similar to many others in Richards Hall. He walks into a classroom and attentively does the same thing for a period of time.

But there's one big difference - he's naked.

McCarty, a 47-year-old Lincoln resident and personal trainer, is one of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's art class models. McCarty, along with about five other models, spends several hours a week holding poses for a number of art classes for $12 an hour. The goal of modeling is to obtain a better understanding of human anatomy and transferring it to other subjects said Gary Rattigan, a UNL art lecturer.

Rattigan is one of the two faculty members who teaches the art of figure drawing. Both beginning and advanced classes use models.

"Sometimes you need a certain body type so you can see the muscles," Rattigan said.

McCarty's toned figure allows Rattigan to teach the intricacies of the human form by literally copying the muscle structure. Rattigan said that realistic drawing stems from an understanding of anatomy.

"Constructive drawing lets them (students) invent the figure," Rattigan said.

Thus, the knowledge of muscle structure and anatomy can be applied to any creation of the human form. Rattigan said that the rise of animation, including work by Disney, has allowed figure drawing to come back into vogue.

"The human form is the most complex thing to draw," said Audrey Stommes, an art graduate student who also teaches some art classes. Stommes, like Rattigan, takes an anatomical approach to figure drawing. She has her students draw the skeleton, muscles and finally the figure.

McCarty's modeling career was rooted in the arts. McCarty was used for a black and white photo project in 1998, which was featured in a number of galleries. There, a friend encouraged him to try modeling.

"I didn't have a clue what they were getting at," McCarty said.

Initially unaware of the nudity aspect, McCarty was willing to give it a try. In addition to UNL, he now models for Nebraska Wesleyan University, private artists, studios in Omaha.

McCarty starts his typical modeling day by making sure his body is in prime condition. He eats healthy and doesn't work out a few days prior to prevent cramping.

"You don't want to be up there belching," McCarty said.

He said he feels that he has modeling down to a science and always keeps the artists in mind.

"I always ask the instructor: 'Is this a class that has never seen anyone naked before?'" McCarty said.

If he is dealing with people who are new to drawing nude models, he actively lightens the mood by joking with the students and making them feel more relaxed. Sirui Wang, a senior theater major, said her first time drawing a model was awkward but she has become used to it.

"Drawing naked people is easier because you can see their muscles," Wang said.

The conversation allows students to break down the misconception that models are exhibitionists, McCarty said.

"Here you are, the only naked person in the room," McCarty said.

Outside of the art world,  McCarty is a personal trainer and works at a local YMCA. McCarty is willing to talk about his modeling career, even to people who might find it strange, he said. He explained that the majority of his job is simply holding a pose for a period of time - like lying on a couch or driving.

"You never know what is going to fall asleep in 30 minutes," McCarty said.   

Modeling comes with its own humorous anecdotes. While holding a 30-minute pose in mid-fall, McCarty was attacked by flies. They kept buzzing around his head and crotch.

"As a model, you can't move and you can't wave them away," McCarty said.

This continued for about 10 minutes until McCarty finally said something. Until then, the students ignored the flies. Some even incorporated them into their drawing.

McCarty also enjoys how different artists draw him.

"Some people don't like the naked body and will use fig leaves," McCarty said.

Some artists become defensive about their work, but McCarty enjoys seeing how the artists grow during the course of the semester.

"An artist is their own interpreter," McCarty said.

He is always reassuring to students who aren't completely confident in their work.

Andrew Elias, a senior art major, has been drawing off of nude models for several years.

"The first time it was almost distracting," Elias said.

Last year, Elias drew a model that he found to be attractive

"I swear to God - and I could be wrong - that she winked at me," Elias said.

He has developed a friendship with McCarty and has drawn him multiple times. Elias said that he is able to remember McCarty's anatomy and imagine it on other figures.

Some students are also models, Ben Hanig, a junior English and German major, models for Rattigan's Beginning Drawing class.

Hanig's girlfriend thought his body would be good for modeling. So, he agreed to do it. Hanig has worked as a model for two years. Hanig models differently in each class.

Rattigan or another instructor asks him to hold a certain pose for a period of time, and the students copy that exact pose. He recalled a class last semester, where Rattigan had him hold a pose for three hours.

"They aren't looking at who you are, as much as what you are," Hanig said.

Hanig said that the first few modeling sessions were awkward, but he and the students have become more relaxed over time.

"I've even made friends through the classes," Hanig said.

Hanig used to be into art when he was younger and he views modeling as his own contribution to the art world. He enjoys the feeling that his body is being treated like a work of art. Hanig described it as a self-esteem boost.

"I love this job," Hanig said. "It's so laid back."