Guidelines on Working Conditions
RAM The Register of Artists Models

Guidelines - Conditions

Consultative Guidelines

2. CONDITIONS << Guidelines Main Page

i). Facilties

Surprisingly, a lot of organisations offering life classes give not a single thought to where models might leave their clothes when they take them off.  A cubicle should be provided with chair, mirror, coat hooks and hangers, which can be kept cleaner than the surrounding art space.  Some colleges have now installed these facilities to RAM specifications.  A screen is not really satisfactory, though better than nothing.  There are many classes where the model has to dress and undress in front of the students.  Ideally, where a male and a female model are required to pose together, there should be two cubicles.

There should be somewhere in the room where models can wash their feet, having got them coated in a tenacious mixture of paint and charcoal dust.  Sinks intended for washing brushes etc. are usually set too high for any but the most long-legged models, and are often located far from the changing area (when there is one).

ii). Drapes , mattresses, cushions

Where these exist at all, they are more often than not in an abominable state.  In busy studios dedicated to life drawing, dozens of different people may have been sitting on the same piece of material since it was last washed.  If one hesitates to clamber on to a vile-looking mattress, an equally unappealing piece of material is produced, to be placed over it. (It is not unknown for models to be slightly incontinent!).  There are a few tutors who take it upon themselves to wash some of the pieces of material, and some models carry a clean sheet or cushion around with them; but ideally, a wide range of drapes of various colours and textures should be provided and kept clean, together with a decent mattress.  There should also be a gym mat for the more energetic work, but some models provide their own.

iii). Health & safety

a). Props

These can be classified as temporary and permanent.  Permanent props, such as rostra, pedestals and boxes may have been bought as sturdy, purpose-built equipment fifty years ago, but no-one will have thought of examining them since.  We have heard of several examples of models falling through such structures, sometimes tearing their legs on the rusty nails inside.

Perhaps an even worse hazard comes in the form of the temporary props set up by tutors for a particular pose.  The constructional skills of some tutors is seriously deficient, but this does not stop them from building all sorts of weird and wonderful towers or heavy but wobbly background scenery.  We are all for strange and exciting set-ups to pose on or among, but we wish that the skills of tutors in this direction were not so much taken for granted.  We have asked models to report all accidents to us.

b). Easels

Several models have reported being hit, or nearly hit, by falling easels.  The authors of this document have themselves been victims of or witnessed such accidents.  The problem is that nearly all organisations offering life drawing have equipped themselves with the type of folding easel that perches precariously on three small legs.  The attraction of them is that they can be stacked away neatly after use, but in practice they are rarely stacked away at all.

The manufacturers claim that their product is safe in the right hands.  This is true; but they are usually not in the right hands.  They are over-complicated pieces of equipment requiring some instruction in their safe use, and this instruction is rarely forthcoming.  (However, there are certainly tutors who devote part of the first class with a new intake of students to easel safety).  These easels also need regular maintenance to ensure that the wing nuts can be tightened properly, yet there is often no maintenance at all.

Three of the most important points to convey to users of these easels are:

1. Make sure all wing nuts can be securely tightened.  If they cannot be tightened, the easel should not be used.  2. Make sure the drawing board is securely fixed.  3. Never allow a student to move an easel with the drawing board in place.  This is the most common cause of easels toppling over.  As with accidents involving props, we have asked models to report all easel accidents to us.

c). Dust

In sculpture studios, models are often required to lie close to the dust-covered floor on a dust-impregnated mattress.  As people walk past the dust is stirred up.  Some models have, or develop allergies to clay or plaster dust, so that rhinitis or respiratory problems result.  These dusts have also been suspected of being able to cause cancer.  Sometimes the only facilities for refreshment are within the studio so that dust is ingested with food and drink.  This is illegal, but in most cases the rare visit by an inspector only results in a very short-lived ban on food and drink by the employer.

Dust, this time in the form of charcoal, is also a problem in the life drawing studio.  Teachers in schools are very fond of getting their pupils to cover sheets of paper with charcoal so that they can then draw in the charcoal coating with a putty rubber.  As art, the results may be dramatic, but the model's nose can be clogged with charcoal dust by the end of the session, especially as students invariably blow the surplus dust directory towards the model.  This sort of drawing is often done with the paper on the floor, and models should not be posed lying or sitting on the floor on these occasions.

There are regulations regarding dust in the workplace, such as the regular washing of floors, but these are not always complied with.  Occasionally RAM has managed to bring about a temporary improvement, but it rarely lasts.  Dusty floors should NEVER be swept, but regularly washed (every day in sculpture studios).

d). White spirit

Many years ago, it was suggested that white spirit fumes should be regarded as noxious and should not be used in situations where it was not possible to wear a mask, as in the case of a model posing.  RAM obtained an agreement with some colleges that the technique of 'spirit wash', whereby students are required to paint with almost pure white spirit, should be banned.  Unfortunately, some tutors were absolutely determined to carry on with the practice.  Odourless substitutes were not an option, as they were too expensive.  It is clearly not possible to have windows open in the winter when a life model is posing, and expensive ventilation systems have proved almost useless in preventing serious effects in a number of models.  RAM will continue to campaign against the irresponsible use of white spirit in schools and colleges.  Complaints against RAM members who refuse to complete a pose in the presence of strong white spirit fumes will will not be accepted by RAM.

e). Sharp objects on the floor

Students do not always trouble themselves to pick up drawing pins or craft knife blades from the floor when they drop them, and tutors often ignore this fact.  Given the terrible state of a lot of life room floors, this is no laughing matter.  Notices in connection with this should be displayed.

f). Temperature

It does not seem very sensible to fix a minimum temperature for unclothed modelling, as used to be done, since people's tolerance varies so much.  What is important is that employers should provide equipment capable of maintaining any temperature required.  This is understandably difficult in some studios that are not really suitable as life rooms, but it is unacceptable to ignore the problem and leave it to tutors or even models to provide ineffective domestic fan heaters.  We advise models to refuse to undress rather than finish a day-long session with symptoms of mild hypothermia, which is not uncommon.

Old-style electric bar fires are very effective and are still in widespread use, but the wisdom (and legality) of using them where white spirit is being splashed around is questionable, and fire brigades often take a dim view of them them when they visit colleges for safety checks.  Infra-red heaters are even more effective than bar fires, but students and tutors complain that the dramatic red glow is less than ideal for painting.  Large and powerful space heaters are a good, if expensive solution.

g). Fire

Most models will have gone through the experience of having a fire alarm sound, either for a drill or the real thing, while posing.  The tutor, having quickly and efficiently got all of the students out of the room, will then also disappear, not realising that the model is still behind the screen, struggling to pull on a few items of clothing.  Advice you see on notices, such as "Do not stop to collect any of your belongings" tends to be ignored when it is snowing outside and you have not a stitch of clothing on.

A partial solution might be to situate the changing area next to the fire exit, but anyone responsible for checking that the building has been evacuated should be told that models are likely to be left behind, probably out of sight.  It is quite common to be emerging from the studio after a fire drill just as everyone else is returning!  Many models find it preferable to assume it's only a drill, and stay put - not that we recommend it!

h). Injuries caused by poses

A large range of injuries and other health problems can be caused by the actual work of a model.  But most of these are apparently of a very temporary nature.  It has been suggested that certain medical conditions, some serious, can result from spending thousands of hours keeping very still in various contortions, experiencing 'dead' legs and arms, aching back, stiff neck etc, over and over again.  Models sometimes worry about deep vein thrombosis.  It is unlikely that any research has been done on this, with regard to life modelling.  What is certain is that most models have numb patches that last for years.

When a model successfully sued a college over nerve damage caused by a pose, there was a lack of consensus among models as to the justification for this.  Some said that an experienced model should know what sort of things are likely to cause problems; but supporters of the legal action said that this was precisely their point too.  Given, they said, that selection is not always on grounds of skill and experience (indeed, complete beginners are sometimes taken on), an employer should be held to account when an inexperienced person is injured as a result of being given unsuitable work.

Tutors occasionally complain about models who put themselves in danger.  These are often models of considerable experience who have worked up an 'act' over the years (for example, hanging from ropes secured to beams, or performing extraordinary contortions), who arrive at a class with their own ideas about what they are going to do.  Just as models are entitled to refuse instructions that they consider hazardous, so are tutors entitled to forbid poses that they believe could be dangerous, either to the model or to the structure of the building.(See also section 4.iv.  'Unreasonable requests').

i). Breaks

This paragraph is about main breaks, not short 'rests' or 'stretches' between breaks.  That subject is dealt with in Section 6 - Timing & Rests.

Successive RAM discussions about models' entitlement to main breaks have all led to the conclusion that it is for the individual model to negotiate the frequency and length of breaks with tutors.  Unfortunately, this is not so easy for the inexperienced model.  Attempts to secure a vote for a minimum 45-minute lunch break have also failed.  Unfortunately, models remain sharply divided on this issue.  Meanwhile more and more colleges are going over to 30-minute lunch 'hours' as standard.  Some are even deducting pay for mid-morning or afternoon tea breaks of 15 minutes or so.  We find this practice totally unacceptable.

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