Shoot the model


Dear Artist,

Toulouse-Lautrec remarked, “A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive.” He was referring to the women in the brothel. He had a point. A pose, while worthwhile for its own sake, is also static.


“Mauri Dance”
by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

I often wonder what Michelangelo would have done with an instrument that froze his models in mid-action and left him to work them up at his leisure. As every artist who has used the method knows, photography’s a loyal slave and a tyrannical master. Here are a few ideas to prevent her from getting the better of you:

Take her seriously. These days, painters of many styles are also excellent photographers. They take pains to condense into the shoot all the potentials they might need. The first thing I do is take control of the light. Dark shadows from bright sunlight are to be avoided. Augmented open shade or indoors with floods permits modelling. Using blue (daylight) bulbs together with normal warmer lights gives subject focus and drama. Chuck the flash. Also, don’t let color confuse things — color is generally arbitrary for everything except skin tones. Shoot a roll or two in black and white. I have a little request of models that works wonders: “Please just be putty for me.” That way I can move in at will, adjusting hands, fingers, chins. Also, get them comfortable so they move around, feel free and loosen up. This way you can shoot fast, and get them in repose and at extensions. Use two cameras or one with a zoom — from about 35mm to 70mm.

A model shoot is a precious event. You can dine out for months on an afternoon’s work. Years later, proper photos become valuable resources which permit golden contemplation and the further injection of imagination that a life-studio cannot always fully support.

Best regards,


PS: “Every time I await a model, even when I am most pressed for time, I am overjoyed when the time comes and I tremble when I hear the key turn in the door.” (Eugene Delacroix)

Esoterica: A celebrated artist-model conspiracy was that of Andrew Wyeth and Helga Testorf, his neighbor in Chadds Ford. They met in secret over a span of seventeen years. Wyeth explored an enigmatic vision that raised the resulting works above photographic naturalism.


Sex, art, and videotape
by Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas, USA

A long time ago I gave up the still camera, but I found a way to overthrow the tyranny of the photograph. I used a camcorder, which gave me the freedom of choosing between and/or combining many frames. The lack of choice makes a still photograph freeze the imagination. The camcorder was especially useful to me because my compositions often include figures in motion — dancing, leaping, running, falling, etc. — and there’s no way to capture a whole spectrum of action with a still camera. And, as with your files of photos, the tapes become an archive that can be drawn on for years, for images unthought of at the time you shot it.

Toulouse-Lautrec was right. A studio pose is fine if you want to paint a nude, but like Toulouse-Lautrec I only paint naked women and for that you need a brothel or, in my case, a strip club. However, even in this environment the model — when she knows she is modeling, for a sketch or video — begins to be a stuffed owl. This is one reason I’ve stopped using even the camcorder — except when necessary for a preconceived composition. The other reason is that when painting or drawing from the taped images the sense of “being there” is lost. What I gain in realism and accuracy I lose in… presence, I guess. So I’ve gone back to fast drawing in the dark. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Art as usual.


by Jeffrey Howard

Brings me back to my 100 ft. daylight loading Canon Scoopic, the supposed replacement for the old hand-wound Bolex 16mm camera. When my Kem flatbed was at work in the cutting room I, like many others I am sure, came to appreciate the rich variety of moods and emotions that can be captured within a mere one-second burst of 24 frames. Watching each frame for as long as you like can teach a great deal about not only physical structure but emotional states as well. I hear you may have used this technique at one time. If so — it worked wonderfully well for you. Video cameras (especially digital) can be used to capture a whole lot of feel but not the wonderful colour saturation of ECO emulsion on film.

(RG note) In my less palmy days I used a Bell and Howell Filmo with a fifty foot cartridge, taking one frame at a time — 2000 pictures on one roll. Little tiny 16mm transparencies all over southern Europe — mounted in standard glass slides eventually — five at a time — not too much detail — which may or may not have been a good thing.


Internet robbery
by Robb Debenport

An artist shooting models for his own reference library is certainly making a legitimate use of photography. Photographers who show their work on the Internet, however, have learned that many painters assume all photographs are theirs for the taking. Sometimes I receive an email from a person who paints, announcing that I will be very pleased to know that he or she has chosen one of my photographs to copy. To have inspired this infringement is supposed to fill me with astonishment and gratitude. Sometimes, they have already done their work, and send a jpeg, expecting my gushing praise and thanks for their having honored one of my images with their brush. Is this becoming a common way of thinking in the world of art? Is carefully copying (every detail, the lighting, the coloring) a finished fine art photograph now considered acceptable? Am I just old fashioned, thinking that artists should create their own work?


Tone value system
by Malcolm W. Sim

I need all reference to be in black and white, though I work in colour. These days it is often more trouble and more expensive to have developing done and printed in B and W, so I get standard color prints and enlarge them on my B and W photocopier. On these I come in with gray opaques and establish better values — as you say, color is arbitrary — tone value is what’s important. This preparation gives me good stuff to work from.


Guilty photos
by Fred Belkin, Nevada, USA

I’ve found one of the most important aspects of building a photo archive as reference material is how to keep proper track. I work mainly from “stolen” images — photos taken, generally by telephoto, of people and kids at event and gatherings. For some reason, perhaps guilt, I don’t always write on the back where the photo was taken. I think we artists ought to learn to get over any guilt we have about using the camera.


Who owns me?
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA

I loved the letter about setting a timer to go off once an hour and forwarded it to all my friends. Today I got a response that shocked me. Alice is a consultant, doing something esoteric with computers, and she called today to tell me how much she enjoyed your letter. She said she actually already makes a note of her activities and thoughts every fifteen minutes, in order to accurately bill her clients for her time. Then she said, “I’m not doing anything creative at all; the question is just ‘who owns me during this hour?'”

Who owns me? Man, that’s a question I’ve never had to ask myself. So today I’ve been practicing gratitude for self-possession.


Golden stations dept.

(RG note) Please be advised that if you submit your “Golden Stations,” or variations, and wish them to be published incognito, your wish will be honoured. Just let us know.

Walking toward beach. Talking to artist who was sleeping on the beach last night. Swimming inside the reef. Having brunch at Federico’s with Diana D. Sitting in shade listening to guitar. Lying down on beach with Ted and Colin. Going to Ted’s place and talking about art. Using Ted’s easel. Alone in Ted’s place listening to reggae and painting. Same. On the phone to see what’s up. In pool. Waiting to meet Colin at Kobe Steak House. (Mary)

On computer. On computer. Going down for mail. Reading Time Magazine. Cleaning up Kitchen. Writing out an idea I had about a website. Transferring idea to computer. Talking to agent. Walking to shops. Drink with C. Dinner with C. On computer, On computer. (Anonymous)

Riding on bus and I saw an accident. Talking with Laurie. Working with Flash. Setting up mailing list for Peter Underwood. Lunch room. Told Veronica I was ill and could do the work at home. On bus. Painting, Painting, On computer doing stats. Stats. Eating, Relaxing with Fred. RwF. (Helene)

Laughing, laughing, storying, laughing, running, eating, exercising, writing, playing, writing, laughing, storying, writing, writing, rewriting, laughing. (Rick)

(Tuesday night) Phoning to see if Janet is ready. Picking up key to Butler antique store and driving with model. Model in negligee on (faux?) Hepplewhite chair. Model in gown against mirror. Model at tea-table setting from stepladder. Snacking. Nude model among draperies. Nude descending a staircase ( ! ) Nude in chaise against floral wall. Model in low light with back-lit profile. Face only with semi-lit pattern of bodies in multiple mirrors. Model on divan in 28 mm lens full lit with bounce flash. Driving Janet home. (4 am) (Linda Calley)

(RG note) I’m sending a free copy of The Painters Keys to the best reported “Golden Stations.” Anonymous ones are in the running too but Linda Calley gets it this time for her creative nightshift.


You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since October 31, 2000.

That includes Mauro Pieroni of Florence, Italy, who has embarked on the project of carving in wood the coats of arms of all the nations of the world “to symbolize the unity and peace among all people.”

And also Aud Grete Mullaard of Tromso, Norway who says, ” the sun now is gone for two months from the northern part of our country, it will not be back before the 24th of January. But we can see the most beautiful color in the sky in the middle of the day for a short time.



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