Art in the Nude
Drawing class celebrates,explores human body through figurative sketching
of naked models
By KIMBERLINA ROCHA
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.
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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,
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