Looking, Looking. Reading the Model

Art Studio Reflections
by Susan G Holland

The artist’s model for today’s session:

She seemed down on her luck and it was winter.

No artist could see what this woman stood for, her skin white as a fish’s belly and lank dyed hair, perhaps not altogether clean.

She is not a happy looking person.

But she has lines and forms and that is all we need in the studio. Planes and contours. Lights and darks. Color notes.


The skylights are bringing in good diffused January light and the slight brush noises in the silence might as well be bare branches against a window.

How to paint a woman like this in her own presence?


Bend to the task. Look and look again. Paint it in your head. Look again and then put your mark on the canvas. Tell the truth.


How does she keep her mouth open like that without wetting her lips? Do her teeth stick to the inside of her lips? Maybe she uses lip balm. And what is she thinking and hearing and feeling? Cold, at least. Small heaters don’t fill large rooms.

Where is she numb? Surely numb because all models get numb sitting in one position that long.

She looks unwell. And unhappy. Yes, blue.


What is her real life story? What narratives float in her mind as she stares at nothing in particular..just that place on the floor. What memories flit through her mind and are they only sad memories? Does she have a home?

The clock is silent to the artists but it moves importantly for the model and there is that robe on the hanger. That warm robe that hugs her between timed sittings.

What story can an artist build while painting this woman? She has children perhaps. She is not young now — maybe 35 or so — but surely she was young once.

Her body might be the body of a childless person. Her face is not the face of a carefree woman. There is a weighty tiredness about this thin woman.

Why does she model? Not for the fun of it! Sixty dollars for a four-hour session. Does she do this often enough to pay expenses?

When she drives her car home what will she be thinking of. A side trip to buy groceries? To buy what?

Bills? An empty house? A shelter?

Does she ever wonder about the artists who look and look and look at her for four hours? Who can pay into a pool to hire a model? Is that a frivolous way to spend money — to hire her to sit nude for four hours?

Does she care what our paintings say?

Does she wish she were pretty?


Do we artists make her feel like an object? Does she hate it?

Art and rumination by Susan G Holland ©2017