Letters to DOMAI
Here's a little female perspective.
The story below is true. I know my husband visits your site and occasionally I visit it myself, to study the photography and enjoy reading the newsletters. I find the stories, mostly written by men, give me a peek into "the mind of the male" and their enjoyment of the female form. I found this story, which I think my husband submitted to you, on our computer and I thought I'd give the female perspective of the events, following his version. This is kind of a "he said, she said" which your readers might find intriguing.
He does not know I'm doing this, so if you publish it, it might be another "Birthday Surprise" for him!
My wife, who is a budding photographer, and I are both are art lovers who often attend art openings and shows. I especially enjoy the female form in art and grew up around it, as my mother was an artist and frequently painted abstract nudes, portraits as well as landscapes. I often kidded my wife that she should pose herself. She was very shy, but she did promise that some day when she found the right artist she would have her portrait painted.
A few years ago, she decided to take a few drawing classes at the local art academy to help her train her eye on light and shadow for her photography. While she never really became a very good artist, it did help improve her photo composition and she struck up some friendships with other students and faculty members.
One of her teachers, John, who I had met at a few of the parties and art openings, did very fine portraits and she told me for a birthday present she was going to have him do one of her for over our mantle piece. When I teased her if it was going to be a nude, she made a face and rolled her eyes. "For the living room? I don't think so."
So every Saturday for several weeks she would leave to go to his studio for a few hours, always careful to wear the same outfit, a white sundress that I liked, for her portrait. When she returned I always asked how the painting was coming. As I knew from my mother's work, that paintings often took weeks, if not months, to finish, I knew this was going to take a few sittings. I persisted in asking how the painting was going, so she did bring home a few sketches and preliminary studies but she wanted me to wait to see the final product.
Finally, one day, she told me her painting was almost ready and she was ready to show me the nearly completed work at John's studio. On that Saturday, as I had to do some errands in the area anyway, she asked me to drop her off at the studio ahead of time, but to come on up when I was done, to see her masterpiece. I suggested I pick up a bottle of champagne to celebrate the unveiling. She laughed and thought that would be a good idea.
After doing my shopping I parked the car, and grabbed the champagne from the backseat. I had never been to the studio before but knew it was on the top floor of the building, an old warehouse converted to artists' studios. There was an old, noisy freight elevator, which announced by its clanking , that a visitor was on his way up.
As I entered the studio, a partition blocked a view of the room. The first thing I noticed was what I thought, at first, was my wife's white sundress, draped over a chair in the corner. At first it didn't register what this meant, but as I turned around the partition, there was my wife, casually laying across a couch on a raised platform in the middle of the room, posing nude!
"Surprise!" she said, and laughed. "I guess this wasn't the unveiling you expected!"
Indeed, I was surprised and speechless. Her teacher, John, stood by his easel and chuckled. Finally to break the silence, he said "Your wife told me you always wanted her to pose for a nude painting and here she is!"
All I could do was raise the bottle in my hand and say, "Well indeed, and here's the champagne to celebrate!"
My wife could sense my confusion. "Oh don't worry, nothing happened. Its all innocent, you know. John taught my class in figure drawing, so I knew he knew how to behave himself around a naked woman."
Then she got up from the couch, not even bothering to put on a robe that hung nearby and walked over to another easel, that was covered by a cloth. She pulled the cloth off to reveal a second painting, this one of her in the same pose, but in her white sundress. "This one was just in case the nude one didn't work. What do you think?"
"Well, I like them both! One for the living room and one for the bedroom, I suppose."
"It took me a little while to work up my courage to do it, but once I did, it was kind of fun." She explained.
Then, putting her hands on her hips she said, "So when are you going to open the champagne, you big goof?"
Being a semi-professional photographer, and would-be artist, I have been around nudes, both male and female, since taking a few photography classes in college. I was brought up in the conservative Midwest of the US, and the first few times, I must admit I was a bit embarrassed by it. While I can't say it ever seemed natural, after the first class and a couple of assignments, it stopped being a real big deal. I was always behind the camera, never thinking for a moment I'd ever be a model in front of one.
I worked for a few years after college doing radio advertising sales, and met my husband. I think he was always drawn the to arty types and we always seemed to associate with creative people, going to art openings, enjoying the wine, the art and the witty conversations.
Radio advertising can be quite tedious, and I thought I'd start a side business doing some portrait photography. I did a few friends and family at first to build my skills up. I wasn't pleased with my work, especially comparing it to some of the fantastic stuff I saw at galleries and photography magazines. I'm not sure if it was my idea of not (I think it might have been my husband's, or some suggestion from a photographer friend) but I decided to take a few night and weekend drawing classes to improve my photographic composition and posing.
Oh, I was an awful artist! But I did learn and observe and I think my portrait photography began to improve. I also made some new friends and we would occasionally go out for drinks afterwards.
On one of those occasions, the model, a quite pretty woman about my age, joined us. We all got to talking and someone finally asked her about how it felt to be a model and why she did it. Of course, she said it was for the money, but she also found it to be fun and liked being the center of attention while she posed. She was an art student herself, and never felt any inhibitions. The first time she did it, though, she admitted it was quite nerve racking, but not because she was nude. She was more afraid of not doing a good job posing! She was quite confident and proud of her body. She told us that she thought every young woman ought to get herself immortalized in paint, sculpture or photographically, before the ravages of age set in.
My husband, being the sweatheart he is, always teased me that I should have some one paint my portrait someday. "Oh, nude?" I always teased back.. After my conversation with our model that night, I thought, well, why not? Maybe I was not a great beauty, despite my husband's regular compliments, but I wasn't chopped liver either, as they say.
One of my instructors from one of my first figure drawing classes did portraits. I always liked his work, and had met him socially a few times. So I thought I'd approach him.
Not knowing how to bring up my real plan, I told I was looking for the conventional, clothed portrait as a gift to my husband. He told me how he worked and although his is fee was a little steep, I had some money from by photography work that I had saved up. I set up an appointment with him at his studio for the next weekend.
His studio was in an older part of town, in a converted multi-story warehouse that had been turned into some workspace for artists. His place was large, with abundant natural lighting. The first session he did a few sketches and tried several poses. I picked one that I liked and we agreed this would be the one he would paint.
The following week, I appeared at the appointed time and he began his painting of me. He was a good conversationalist and had a relaxing demeanor and we talked about everything imaginable. Towards the end of the session, I knew I had to bring the conversation around to "the topic".
I noticed a few canvasses of nudes around huis studio and asked, innocently, if he had painted many of them in his career. He said he did, but not many lately because they did not sell well. He would do some sketches when teaching figure classes, as the models were paid by class fees, but most of the time he was too busy working with students to get much done. It was too expensive hiring models for himself.
"I'd like to give my husband a little surprise," I blurted out. "I've never posed nude before, but I'll trade you some modeling time, for a picture if you'd like." I couldnŐt believe I said it. I think the suggestion startled him and he laughed a bit. We were both a bit flustered, and I must have blushed a dozen shades of red. But after recovering, he said "If you are game, I'll give it a tryÉthat is if you promise your husband won't kill me."
So the following Saturday I came prepared for my session. I admit I was nervous all week. That morning, as I drove over, I wondered it I would go through with it. As I arrived at the studio, my heart was in my throat.
As I entered, my artist greeted me. "Are you ready, or do you want to wait a bit?" he asked. I was relieved at the suggestion and appreciated his kindness and consideration and the opportunity for an easy and graceful way out.
Then I thought, if I don't do it now, I never will. "No," I answered, "lets start right now." I stepped behind a partition in the corner and slipped my dress off. "Here I come! No peeking!"
"I have to peek!," he protested, "I'm painting you, remember?" We both laughed and this removed the tension immediately. Out I stepped from behind the partition, and made some vampy poses and twirls before sprawling on the couch. My heart was still pounding, but I had done it.
After a few minutes, I calmed down, and began to forget my nakedness. I suddenly realized how natural it felt and my self-consciousness disappeared. The natural light, being summer, was quite warm and relaxing. I almost felt like I was simply taking a leisurely bath, but without the bubbles.
By my second session, I was completely at ease. Even when I took a break, l remained undressed, and wandered around his studio, discussing his paintings and sculptures. It was the most liberating feeling, and a little exciting for a simple Midwestern girl like me! In fact, I think it began to help my self confidence. Some people might say I felt "empowered" by my nudity.
Over the next few weeks we alternated between by clothed and nude portraits. Finally they were both nearly complete. I decided the unveiling would be at the studio and arranged for my husband to bring me that afternoon.
To buy some time before he came up, I told him there was a few final details that had to be completed on my painting and told him he should go run some errands and get some wine to celebrate. I knew he did not suspect anything, fully expecting to see a sweet demure little painting for over the mantle in our living room.
Up in the studio, I undressed and tossed my dress on the chair by to door. "This is going to be a bit shocking," my artist said. "Are you sure you want your husband to find out like this, or do you think we ought to show him the painting first.?
"Oh I suppose it will be shocking!" I answered, "But my husband always fantasized that I'd do a nude painting someday, so I guess this will be his big birthday surprise." He shrugged his shoulders and I took my usual pose on the couch and my artist finished up his masterpiece.
After a while, I heard the elevator grinding. I surprised myself that I was so calm. A moment later, there was a knock on the door and my husband stepped in. There he stood, speechless for what seemed forever. "Surprise!" I shrieked.
After fumbling around a bit he regained his senses. There I was naked as could be, on a couch in front of my husband and another man. I got up, walked over to him, gave him a peck on the cheek and took the bottle of wine and glasses from him. Still naked, I showed him the two paintings. At first, I think he was mystified, seeing me acting so natural and self confident. I watched him out of the corner of my eye, looking at me and I'd catch him trying to get a discrete glance at my lack of attire and then at my artist.. It took him a bit to conclude there was nothing "going on" between the painter and me. After a while, he gathered himself together and complemented the paintings and finally admitted that he was quite pleased with them.
We popped open the champagne and toasted the work. I'm sure it was quite a sight, with me, there in my altogether, drinking from my glass, while these two men pretended it was a casual conversation! Now I understood what that model had meant, about how fun it was being the center of attention! I have to admit it was quite a thrill.
I certainly would like to see, and I'm sure your readers would enjoy, some letters from some more of your female readers, especially some of the models about their first uninhibited experiences and how they made the leap. I think some more female perspective would be great.