Inside the mind of an art class model

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Learning to draw the human form is an essential skill for all students of art, whether for class credit or for fun. The best way to learn this skill is from a live nude model. Scarlett Vermilion is one of these models for the university and she sat down with Imprint to discuss her work on campus and give the inside story on what goes through the mind of a nude model while being sketched by dozens of strangers.

Vermilion is a 23-year-old transwoman who often is hired by the university to pose for live sketching classes, but don’t call her a model: “The best all-encompassing title that accurately describes my interdisciplinary body of work is: A kinaesthetic artist. ‘Model’ is also a go-to term that I use colloquially,” Vermilion said. “But essentially, I am an artist of movement, of the body.”

Posing for workshops and classes, Vermilion enjoys interacting with the young artists who sketch her as well as professors. “I feel modeling for the fine arts department of any university is prestigious and is, in and of itself, a reward. I really enjoy interacting with the students, thanking them for their time and artistry. I also enjoy speaking with the professor, whether to clarify an instruction or to speak about art, or to ask about the techniques the students are using to draw me. I think ultimately, seeing the students’ varied artworks is the most rewarding part of being a model.”

The work itself, posing for extended periods of time in various positions — sometimes nude — is strenuous enough to frighten even the most yen Yogi. But Vermilion uses these stressful positions to practice her mental fortitude.

“A majority of the poses — especially the ones that are held for longer periods of time — can become very strenuous and painful. I am a bit of a masochist so this suits me well. I focus the most on my breathing when I am physically uncomfortable or in pain, using visual cues to stare at, simultaneously. Other times, I will dissociate as part of the process. I find that I revel in this process, and I enjoy being challenged by the limits of my physical form while being a conduit for the students’ drawings.”

She described the most painful and extreme position she has ever had to hold for a class: the beginning stage of a cartwheel (one leg down, one leg up and both palms planted on the ground) held consecutively for over 20 minutes. Despite it being her most painful pose, it’s also one she enjoys recommending for classes to try sketching as it is so well received by students.

Vermilion said that while the pay for modeling in art classes is fair, the best reward comes from seeing the students’ interpretations of her body. She even posts them online: “I post it to my Instagram with credit, if they desire. I would say the largest effect of seeing the students’ varied interpretations and representations of my trans body is a feeling of gratitude. I am humbled to see the nuances of my figure represented by so many different artists. It is a sacred experience for me.”

But what about student reactions to sketching a trans body? Vermilion explained the UW community has been accepting: “I have generally been embraced within UW, and especially within their niche communities that happen to harbour more queer and neurodivergent folks.”

Her artistic activities on campus don’t end in the art studio. Vermilion has been a dance performer at previous GLOW centre events and has worked with the group for their LGBQT events at the Bombshelter for almost five years. She was also previously employed as a speaker through The Women’s Centre, during the “Love Your Body” campaign.

Students interested in checking out Vermilion’s work can find her performances on Youtube by searching her stage name Jelena Vermilion. The students’ work produced from her modeling can be viewed at the Instagram account                  @Isis_Intrepid.