Edinburgh is home to several life classes, a practice and form of study which has been central to art making throughout many cultures and over several centuries. From the renowned studies of Michelangelo, to modern depictions by artists such as Lucian Freud, to more stylistic work by Egon Schiele; life drawing and the study of the human form has always been central to artmaking. Most people have viewed nude portraits and drawings in various galleries; yet what does it feel like to be on the other side, to be the model posing? What does it feel like to stand in front of a room full of strangers and have them draw you? Here, we talk to British life model, writer and illustrator, Max Scratchmann.
Early Modelling Career
When asked how he got into life modelling, Max laughs and states “it was completely by accident!” He goes on to explain that a life model friend had been double booked for separate classes and therefore urgently needed a replacement for one of the classes. When asked if he would be the substitute model, Max thought ‘why not?’
As a young artist he was always curious about the technical side of life drawing, but as a school boy was prevented from attending evening life classes, given that they were at that point in time viewed as corrupting. Yet when Max turned eighteen he sought a letter from his school headmaster to ensure he could attend the classes and participate in honing his proportion and observational skills for the remainder of his school education.
Life modelling is not simply about composition and learning how to articulate the human form on paper; it is about learning how to look. Often therefore, it is the case that many life models are art practitioners themselves, as Max states “I’m always thinking about composition because I’m an artist”.
Max has been life modelling for over three years now and as a creative practitioner, has a thorough understanding of form which he views as vital to being a life model. “Everyone has their own way of modelling” he explains, yet at the core the model must be aware of everyone in the room. Often life classes are arranged so that the model is at the centre of the room and those drawing form a circle around the model.
The key to being a good life model, is to cater to every corner of the room and ensure poses are varied and interesting regardless of where the artists are sat. As a result, Max stresses it is “important to know how long poses are”. Sessions tend to be composed of anything from short two minute poses, to twenty or forty minute longer ones. Consequently, “muscles you didn’t know you had start to hurt!” laughs Max, explaining that “the human body is not designed to model”. Yet it can be trained to. Most life models attend some form of technical training, which enables them to clear their minds and manipulate their bodies to hold the poses for a set duration.
The Experience of Modelling
I ask Max what goes through his head whilst he poses, and he explains that often finding a focal point to look at is helpful as “there’s a lot of head space in modelling”. In some ways, he feels it can be quite meditative, again emphasising that every model has their own techniques for concentration and pose holding. “I often write in my head” he says; being a poet and illustrator, the pose time allows for him to fuel creative energy into his own work.
According to Max, being an artist is not vital to being a life model, yet it can make a massive difference. He feels lots of models are good for short poses, but it’s the longer poses which pose a far greater challenge. “You can’t be vain”, he states, “as every bump and lump you have is going to be there!” Max also models for photographers, so at this point posing nude or in front of the camera comes quite naturally to him.
When asked what is one of the strangest things about life modelling, Max laughs and says “people don’t recognise you with your clothes on!”. Pausing and considering more seriously as he reflects on his work for college students, he says, “it’s interesting to see yourself portrayed in so many different ways on the wall”. Yet three years in, Max continues to view life modelling as an exploration and creative journey, often collaborating with fellow artists and photographers to create interesting and dynamic compositions. As we conclude our interview, he notes “you’re dead if you stop learning”. A sentiment I couldn’t agree more strongly with!
Portrait of Max Scratchmann by Camilla Irvine-Fortescue