A reporter grits his teeth and goes beyond his comfort zone: David Loughrey poses nude - and then speaks to a model and artists.

There are myriad strange and urgent fears that descend in the 10 or so minutes before revealing yourself naked to a room of strangers.

Your heart begins to race.

Your feet sweat and you feel hot and prickly.

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Those symptoms of what is an extremely primal fear - the sort nightmares are made of - exacerbate the situation, because part of the alarm you feel is something to do with a loss of control, that your naked body will act in a way you don't fully intend it to.

At the Otago Polytechnic's Dunedin School of Art life drawing night classes, there is a small dressing - or perhaps undressing - room where the model shakily undoes their shoelaces and changes into a gown.

The sudden thought of hitherto secret places being on display hits hard.

But the time has come, the easels stand in a semicircle blocking any escape and it's time to descend a few steps into the room, take your place and drop the gown.

So you do.

And there you are, ruthlessly exposed under a spotlight, fortunately with not too much time to think about it.

A life drawing class starts off with two-minute warm-up poses, standing with your arms to one side or above your head, your body twisted so the artists have areas of light and shade to work with.

You kneel, you turn your back on the artists, the poses get longer, to five minutes then to 15 in sometimes uncomfortable positions in which muscles cramp and body parts begin to shake unbidden with the exertion.

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In short breaks, the model and the artists circle the easels to look at others' work.

And there you are as a series of lines, of dark and shade, filtered by the mind of the artists and the style of their art, their perceptions of you, and you are looking at those perceptions on paper and weighing them up, layering your own vanities on top of them and liking those that paint you in what you see as a good light, and disliking those that make you seem heavy or that highlight areas of your body for some reason you don't like.

Photo / ODT
Photo / ODT

It feels like you are in a mirror room of endlessly changing and occasionally alarming reflections of yourself.

After a break on the hour, you start to feel more relaxed.

The second half is an hour-long reclining pose in which you are presented on a velvet blanket of sumptuous purple.

The artists peer round their easels, take a couple of steps back, rest their chin on their hands to contemplate you, then return to their work, scratching and scraping their lines on paper.

And finally, on a strange bed in a strange place, naked and surrounded by staring strangers, you feel completely calm, and sitting still for an hour doing nothing - usually a recipe for the worst sort of ennui - develops into a gentle meditative state.

Photo / ODT
Photo / ODT

And then time is up and you're done, and a little like the feeling after public speaking, there is a period of elation having faced such a primal fear and prevailed.

I can - sort of - recommend it.

I'm completely composed, life model confides

Life drawing model Rhia Robb went from being a bundle of nerves as a first-timer to a regular who has become so relaxed she has gone to sleep while posing.

Robb, who has three children and is a master's student studying social policy, has been a regular life drawing model for the past couple of years, modelling while pregnant and breastfeeding.

"After my pregnancy with my second child I thought, 'My body's amazing, I can run, I can have babies, I can do these things'."

She also recognised she was getting closer to 40 (she is 37), and wanted "a story when I'm older".

Of her first time as a model, Robb said she was extremely nervous.

"I knew it was one of those things; I just had to drop my robe and do it.

"I was in the middle of the room, there were about 20 people.

"It was just like 'drop your robe', and I did, and I was naked in front of 20 people."

Life drawing model Rhia Robb. Photo / ODT
Life drawing model Rhia Robb. Photo / ODT

She said during her first stint she perspired a lot, was "quite uptight" and strongly aware of her feelings of modesty in front of younger and older people, and men.

Now, however, it was just a job.

"It doesn't bother me any more.

"I feel capable, confident, they're not there to critique me; more than anything they're concerned about their line or their drawing, they're not there to judge me."

She had modelled right through her youngest son's pregnancy, and taken him to life drawing sessions, allowing the art students to draw while she breastfed.

"It's a good little job.

"I like it; it makes me think about my body in different ways.

"I'm not really concerned at this point in my life about wrinkles or cellulite or things like that, and it's quite nice to just see beauty in the shape and the change."

Life drawing fundamental skill for artists to attain

Drawing the human form is a fundamental skill for many artists.

Otago Polytechnic Dunedin School of Art painting and print technical teacher Steev Peyroux said it was also one of art's more difficult disciplines.

"It's fundamental to every subject in art.

"The reason for that is it's about observational skill.

"The human figure is the most complex thing to draw."

He said artists could not get away with not getting it right.

"You just have to have the knowledge to be able to draw."

Steev Peyroux. Photo / ODT
Steev Peyroux. Photo / ODT

Peyroux, who is also night class co-ordinator, said the polytech ran 21 classes a week with more than 200 students, learning everything from ceramics to jewellery and sculpture in courses that were open to the public.

Over the course of the year, there were about 80 people attending life drawing classes.

He said even abstract representation of the human form could not be done without knowing the fundamentals.

"The classic example everyone uses, Picasso, the founder of abstraction art in many ways, was an incredibly good draughtsman.

"It's that classic thing; you've got to know the rules to break them."

People's observation was how they interpreted the world.

"Drawing is representing that.

"And the thing about drawing the human form is we're drawing our own selves in many ways."

Some of the traps students fell into were getting "zoomed in" to a body part, working in high detail on a shoulder, for instance.

"They'll get round to the rest of the body and the shoulder will be way too small."

Another was "drawing what you think you know".

"We look at humans every day and think you know them."

Some students ended up drawing the body as they thought it was rather than observing what was in front of them.

"You have to go with what you see."

Tutor Madison Kelly said some classes were for beginners, but artists in the class the Otago Daily Times attended were more experienced.

One did engineering and cartooning, and others were from animation and design courses, who found skill in life drawing helpful.

Kelly said the main goal of the tutor was to create an environment in which the model knew what they were doing, and to "focus on different things for different students".

Some students needed to work on the measuring and proportions, while others needed an external eye "not actually tied up in the act of drawing".

"When you're doing the drawing, it can be harder, sometimes, to see what's happening."