Originally published on Page A1 of the York Daily Record/Sunday News on Sunday, February 17, 2013.
To read about how this story was reported, click here.
By LAUREN BOYER
Daily Record/Sunday News
A middle-aged man stands naked on a raised platform, his arms positioned mid-throw with an imaginary javelin.
He is frozen in place, basking in rays of light that seem radiant enough to beam him up. Two minutes elapse. John Hammack shifts poses, wrapping his arms around ropes hanging from grappling hooks in the ceiling.
A circle of desks surrounds him. In the seats, art students — many half his age — stare intently, participating in a creative rite of passage that started with ancient Greek artists who celebrated the human body.
“Everything in our world is made around the human form. The chairs, our homes, our clothes …” said Marion Stephenson, who teaches figure and anatomy classes for the York Art Association. “If you can draw the human form, you can draw anything.”
Students in Darren Jordan’s drawing and anatomy class at the Art Institute of York are still honing their craft. Some of their sketches bear resemblance to Hammack. Others, not so much.
“I never assume what’s on the paper is what I actually look like,” Hammack said, in a classroom at the Springettsbury Township school. “That way I don’t get insulted.”
Like other local models, Hammack, 56, travels the circuit, posing for art students across the region, from York College to Millersville University to the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.
To him, this art within an art is much more than stripping down.
Every model has a reason.
For some, it’s extra income. For others, it is camaraderie or a sense of contribution to the creative community. Sarah Grim fell into it by happenstance. For her, it’s liberation.
“I would be naked all the time if I could,” she said. “I’m simply clothed for expression and warmth.”
The 24-year-old, a former Hooters girl, hadn’t done much modeling until a few months ago when a mutual friend put her in touch with Jordan, who was seeking models for his class.She posed first for the school’s open drawing, which allows the public to draw figures every Wednesday night for $5 a person. The job suited her well.
“It’s good for me mentally,” she said. “There’s something about sitting still with no shield — nothing to cover me up — that relates to what I’m going through internally. I just need to accept it, be aware of it and be content with whatever’s going on in my life.”
By day, she works at Bistro 19 and Sweet Melissa’s Dream, both in York. Her newfound hobby, she said, doesn’t come up much.
But when it does, it’s a talker.
“The first question is usually, ‘How much does it pay?'” she said. “The next question is usually, ‘Is it nude?’ Most people say they’d do it if it wasn’t nude.”
But Grim barely notices her lack of clothes. Instead, she challenges herself, attempting yoga poses for students. She passes time through meditation, thinking about her plans for the weekend or later that day.
During one class, she brought a book to read — The Art of Living by Stoic philosopher Epictetus.
“I’m contributing to classes that create beautiful art,” she said. “No one’s going to look at that drawing in a perverse manner. They’re going to appreciate it for what it portrays — the beauty of art and its form.”
Courtney Shumway, 29, isn’t shy. The self-employed artist spends most of her time working on her company, Bad Ferret Films, which produces independent films and commercial projects for clients.
She started art modeling at the Art Institute while studying digital art at the school, where she earned her degree in 2010.
When her full-time job slows down, she fills the gaps by modeling nearly every day in classrooms at HACC’s York and Lancaster campuses, York College, the Art Institute of York and the York Art Association.
While it might not look like it, art modeling is “like any other working environment,” she said.
“I think the students are more uncomfortable,” she said. “We’re modeling with college-aged students. It’s their first time working with a model. It’s important to set the tone for them and make sure it’s a comfortable space. They need to know it’s a working environment.”
There’s no eluding the obvious: Hammack — a politically conservative father, husband and local security guard — takes his clothes off for money.
Twenty dollars an hour, to be exact.
Hammack estimates more than 10,000 people have probably seen his birthday suit.
Still, nothing out of the ordinary has ever happened.
“I’ve been hit on in an elevator in Atlanta more times than I’ve been hit on in an art class,” he said.
More than 20 years ago, Hammack said, he was in a locker room with an art teacher, who later approached him about art modeling. Back then, the job paid $8 per hour.
“I didn’t really take the whole thing as a compliment then,” he said. “Thinking back, it probably was.”
Then a master’s degree student, Hammack took the gig.
“My wife tells me I do it to stay in shape,” he said. “I’m too narcissistic to model if I’m out of shape.”
The night before a class, he starts his routine.
He doesn’t eat beans.
The day of class, he doesn’t exercise, because muscle fatigue could hinder his posing.
Caffeine is out of the question.
He arrives to the job site about 15 minutes early and enters the bathroom, where he does a few push-ups and sit-ups to limber up.
Then, he puts on a white Judo robe and a black belt. It’s art model etiquette, he said.
Something about removing street clothes in the classroom feels too much like stripping.
“Not to cast aspersions on people who find themselves doing that,” he clarified.
For three hours, he strikes poses for lengths of time designated by the instructor.
When time is up, he puts his clothes back on and talks to the students. He asks them about what poses they prefer. Sometimes, he comes in to draw other models.
That’s the side of the canvas where he needs the most work.
“I love art,” Hammack said, “but just about everybody is better at it than me.”
Models help artists render the idea of depth and shading — transferring a three-dimensional object using the constraints of a piece of paper.
“It’s an accepted way of learning art, period,” Jordan said. “It means you have what it takes.”
His class is mandatory for those attending the Art Institute’s programs for graphic design and animation.
For both, students need full comprehension of the body and its movement, even though they may never draw a naked body again.
The knowledge, Jordan said, especially benefits cartoonists.
Even Nickelodeon’s Spongebob — a sponge that walks, talks and flips burgers for a living — must imitate bodily motions.
Spongebob leans forward when he gets out of a chair.
He bends his knees before he jumps.
“Even though he might look different and his expressions are exaggerated, they are all based on things we observe in other people,” Jordan said. “Our eyes don’t bug out of our eye sockets, but they do get wide when we’re surprised … Cartoons need to move in a way that’s believable, not realistic.”
Lance Witmer, 20, hopes to one day become a video game designer.
“I need to know what the body is like,” he said. “You have to know the body itself first, then put clothes on top of a character.”
Witmer, who studies media arts and animation, admits he was startled, initially, by the prospect of a nude model — something he had only seen once when he accidentally walked into an anatomies class.
“It scared me,” he said. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ … Then I realized everybody in the class was doing the same thing, and it’s not really a big deal.”His classmate, Matthew Warren, wasn’t fazed at all.
Warren, 19, of Vermont, aspires to become a forensic reconstructive artist, which involves rendering images and models of people using partially decomposed remains.
“I was actually looking forward to it,” he said. “I love human anatomy. The skin is all one color, but it’s stretched across your body. You’re not looking at shapes, you’re looking at shading.”
The Greeks first caught onto this technique. The tradition of nude modeling continued with the Romans, and sparked controversy during the Renaissance.
“There was a conflict between science and religion,” Jordan said. “Religion says it’s a sin to see the naked form. Science says you need to study anatomy to understand stuff. That conflict actually caused people to lighten up a little bit about nudity.”
Long ago, artists like Sistine Chapel painter Michelangelo even dissected corpses to perfect the craft.
“That, to me, is a little extreme,” said Stephenson, the York Art Association teacher. “But if you really want to know that anatomy, nothing can do it better than seeing exactly how those muscles attach to the bone.”
Stephenson has been teaching art for 20 years.
At MKS Studios in York, Stephenson asks students to draw a posable plastic skeleton named “Artie” before introducing the nude models. It’s less messy.
“Anatomy, to me, is — no pun intended — the bones of everything,” she said. “There is no substitute for a model.”