The Collegian

2/02/05 • Vol. 129, No. 50     California State University, Fresno

Home  News  Sports  Features  Opinion  Gallery  Advertise  Archive  About Us


Art in the Nude

'Spring into Words' promises freedom of expression

Dead Days

Art in the Nude

Drawing class celebrates,explores human body through figurative sketching of naked models


On the first day of class, students in the studio art figure drawing class open their notebooks and take out their pens. Instead of sitting through a lecture and taking notes, students in this class deal with sketching models — in the nude.


Nude Model
Using a charcoal pencil, senior art major Alan Pules draws his first live nude model for his figure drawing class. When asked if the nude model was a distraction from concentrating on the assignment, Pules said, “It was no big deal.” Photos by Joseph Hollak

“There’s nothing strange or odd drawing from the nude,” art professor Stephanie Ryan. “It has a long tradition in the history of art and it’s a respectable thing.”

Drawing and painting the human form in its entirety originated from Greek classical art, Ryan said. But during the Middle Ages, people became less interested in the body and its form because it was considered sinful. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that the human body made a comeback.

“There was a renewed interest in the physical form of human beings,” Ryan said. “Artists wanted to learn about the world around them in a scientific way as they tried to look upon the world with fresh eyes. Interest in the human body in art was a celebrated and wonderful thing.”

One might wonder about the requirements to pose nude for a figure drawing class.

Unlike mainstream modeling, a person doesn’t need to fit the measurements of a supermodel or a body builder. The only requirement is that a model must be over the age of 18.

“I want as many different body types as possible,” Ryan said. “A person doesn’t have to be muscular. I accept different weights and heights, both male and female. The more variety, the better.”

Ryan said she has also used models ranging in age from their 20s to early 70s.

A person’s ability to pose nude depends upon their mindset. A model has to be comfortable with his or her body.

“There’s a feeling of vulnerability once you take your clothes off,” Ryan said. “In our society, it’s like taking off a protective layer. But you’ve got to think, ‘this is me’ and accept yourself.”

The job can also be physically challenging. A model may be required to change positions every 30 seconds or hold a pose for as long as a half hour.

“Holding a pose and not changing a pose is demanding,”Ryan said. “I’ve modeled before and I had to be in a meditative state of mind.”


Professor Stephanie Ryan’s students stagger their easels around the center of the room and work with charcoal sticks for their nude model drawings.

Ryan said she would chant a word that she used as a mantra or think about something complicated like visualizing her next art piece.

“It’s like you want to stay completely still,” she said. “You’ve got to make thoughts like, ‘I’ve got an itch or a cough,’ and make them go to the back of your mind or else they’ll drive you crazy.”

For model Randi Keith, she found singing songs in her head helpful when she had to pose on the first day of Ryan’s class.

Even though Keith, 21, has modeled nude before for a photographer in Merced, this was her first time modeling in front of a class full of students.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking to be nude in front of 20 people,” Keith said. “It took me five minutes to drop my robe, but I’m a little more relaxed now after an hour.”

The supportive vibe from the classroom also made Keith feel more comfortable.

“Everybody’s telling me, ‘you’re doing great’ and that helps,” she said. “I don’t feel uncomfortable about anyone thinking bad thoughts or anything.”

The subject of nudity hasn’t always been an easy issue for some people. In 2002, Ryan and several art students volunteered to paint the mural on the southeast side of the Conley Art building. The group decided to have a painting of a nude model represent the studio art aspect of the department.

To her surprise, Ryan has received mixed reviews about the nude painting. She said a woman with a class of young students complained to her that the figure was offensive.

“I don’t know what the issue could be,” Ryan said. “As a university professor, this is one of the ways we learn here and there was no offense meant. The figure isn’t objectified, sexualized or distorted in any way, it’s just a straightforward drawing of the body.”

Drawing from the nude not only teaches artists anatomy and surface forms, but it also teaches them the basic drawing skills for other art class like subject landscape, interiors and objects, Ryan said.

“The class makes the students see on a deeper level and teaches them to not take what they see for granted,” Ryan said. “It forces a student to look more deeply, slowly and observe.”

Pedro Luna, a senior art major, said he’s learning to capture the figure better as the class sharpens his drawing skills.

“The human form is the most dominant form in drawing,” Luna said. “If you could get that down, then you could get anything else down.”

The figure drawing class combines Art 21 and 121, beginning and advanced drawing, into one section.


Because of its popularity, the class fills up quickly every semester, Ryan said.

Aidé Medina, a senior majoring in fine art with a single subject credential, said she wants to teach the concepts of figure drawing at the high school level. She said people should look beyond the nude aspect of the class and learn what figure drawing is really about.

“People would think that it’s dirty or dumb to take a class with nude figures,” Medina said. “It’s actually different than from what people think. Once you get into the classroom and see the figure, you learn about the human anatomy and how to interpret what it means.”