How a Stranger Becomes Your Model

Recently on Facebook, a friend asked how he may approach women about posing for him without sounding like a creep. I enjoyed reading the responses, which varied, in the spirit of Facebook, from “I long to have your curves on my canvas” to “Have your business card and smartphone ready with images of your work.” I chimed in at one point. Then I really got to thinking about what I do because I often ask strangers to pose for me. These encounters fall into one of two categories, which I call the post office or café. If it’s the first, then, there’s time only to make small talk like when we’re caught in line waiting to ship a package. In this scenario, I simply state that I’m an artist and that I’m interested in doing a portrait painting of the person. Mentioning the project that I’m developing helps to put my proposal to the model into context. I offer my business card encouraging the person to view my website or to look me up on social media. If he or she finds my work interesting, I assure the person that I’d like to hear from them. I also mention that I’m happy to provide references. I’ve discovered that I get a call or email about 50% of the time via the post office scenario.

Portrait painting of Mr. Oklin Bloodworth, after our first session. I met Oklin at a café in Madera, CA.
Portrait painting of Mr. Oklin Bloodworth, after our first session.
I met Oklin at a café in Madera, CA.

The second approach commonly happens in coffee shops, where I often go when I’m advancing drawings between portraiture sessions with models. Of course, working in a coffee shop, I have to draw on a small scale. As you must know, painting or drawing is great for attracting conversation from strangers. They’re naturally curious about the work and what I do as an artist. If I’m interested in the person posing for me, I make it a point to state that most of my models are people that I meet at random and I mention positive experiences about posing for portraits. Usually, my fellow coffee drinker engages with her own questions about my process. As we develop a rapport, it becomes natural to ask if she would be interested in participating in my project. Sometimes, it’s my new friend who volunteers to pose even before I can put forth the question.

Portrait painting of Tamar. I approached her via direct message on Facebook.
Portrait painting of Tamar. I approached her via
direct message on Facebook.

Social media is another great forum for soliciting models. An easy approach is to post a call for models with a brief description about the planned drawing or portrait painting. I also send direct messages to Facebook friend who interest me for portraiture even if it is a nude portrait. I include links to my website as well as online articles and interviews about my work. The key is to provide the potential model with a thorough but brief portfolio of information about who I am as a professional artist and what I do.

Whichever method is most comfortable for you, the most important quality that you can convey to a stranger is honesty and passion about your work. The two make a great impression upon anyone whom you might consider as a model. Even if you don’t gain a model, these interactions allow you to succeed in presenting yourself as a positive and enthusiastic artist. Perhaps you gain a fan or even a collector of your work. There are many possibilities when introducing yourself in a such a positive spirit.




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About Marcos

I live in central California.  I spend most of my hours in the studio work in graphite on paper.  Drawing has been a love of mine since childhood and now I use it for telling stories.  Each portrait or nude is an account about how I see the model.  Instead of words, I describe the models features and convey his or her character through line and tonality.  Indeed, an artist is a storyteller.

15 thoughts on “How a Stranger Becomes Your Model

  1. Eightball—

    Yes, you too can use the techniques of some of America’s outstanding perverts! Be obnoxious! Invade other people’s privacy! You can do it by simply saying you’re an artist. And remember it’s a great pick up line.

    Nothing like having a little class is there!


  2. Mr. Sullivan,

    I believe that you have misunderstood my article. By standing in line or sitting in a café and developing natural conversation is not an invasion of privacy. When someone says hello to me and asks what I’m drawing, I don’t consider that an invasion of my privacy either. It’s natural to ask what one does for a living and it’s perfectly fine to respond, “I’m a dentist,” or “an artist,” if indeed you’re either one or both. I don’t consider it intrusive when I ask, either.

    Secondly, I have approval to draw each of my models. In fact, models visit my studio to pose for me as apposed to my snooping through their windows as a pervert might do–I suppose. In Tamar’s case, we connected via social media which is already a forum for meeting and exchanging ideas. As I developed her portrait, we exchanged images back and forth as I made adjustments according to her suggestions. We are still friends. So clearly, she does not consider me inappropriate.

    On the other hand, you’re right, anyone can call themselves and artist. Also, anyone can also take the role of an art critic. You may have missed the penultimate paragraph which mentions that I provide various sources that attest to my work and profession. Hence, I assure the potential model that my work is art not perversion as you have suggested.

    I appreciate the issues you proposed and I’m glad to have the opportunity to address them.

    Thank you,


  3. Paul – you are waaay off base here – Marcos is an outstanding artist and is just sharing his process.

    Thanks for the article Marcos – very well stated, very interesting.

  4. I met Marcos at a Starbucks, where we talked about his (then) upcoming art show in New York (as he worked on one of the pieces for that show). It was a great conversation where we shared ideas and philosophy of life. That was in Madera. Then we met by chance again in another Starbucks in Clovis sometime later. We talked more and I posed for his veteran portraits project, which was an incredible experience. I’m over 60, and life has taught me when someone is trying to take advantage of the situation, guess that’s called “common sense” which I see far too little of now a days. If an artist truly loves his profession, as Marcos does, his/her work speaks for it’s self! While I am sure there are artist, and I use the term artist loosely in their cases, that try to use the training for lewd purposes, they are few and far between. The reason being is that their reputation will proceed them, especially in this age of information, and will lead to their down fall!

  5. Be careful Marcos. It sounds like you have the best intentions but there are some really bad people out in the world who would see your offer as an opportunity to rob you. Have you ever seen the movie As Good As It Gets? A young artist brought what looked like the perfect model into his studio and all was fine for a few sessions and then that great model came back with some buddies and proceeded to rob him, beat him up and leave him for dead.

  6. Nice article and thoughtfully presented. I have to point out that your remarks are limited to portraiture. I sometimes see an amazing person I would love to paint in malls or the grocery store but there are less social reasons to approach a stranger in those settings. I find that my camera phone comes in handy at those times. I s ask the person if I can snap a shot because I think their hair or dreads or som part of their outfit is pretty cool & I’m an artist…..blah blah blah… most times people are willing for you to snap a quick photo. If they show any interest in being drawn or painted you can exchange information.

  7. Sounds like Some folks have missed the entire purpose of your article or perhaps they’re not having much luck with their usual “Chloroform/ ruffie/duct tape” approach. (Easy there, J.K.)
    I’ve found that we can, in fact, get away with a very direct approach. Be sure you’re honestly interested in drawing that person, make firm eye contact, and simply inform them, (respectfully and professionally), that you are in fact a professional artist and then ask them if they’d like to be immortalized in one of your drawings or paintings. It also helps, (as mentioned by another post) to have a website or portfolio of your work to show them that you’re “on the level” and nothing fishy’s going on. NOTE: Do not forget to have release statements signed before you begin. It works for me.

  8. I’ll start by saying I have been a ‘life model’ for over 10 yrs. I pose for sketch groups, drawing, painting, sculpting classes both clothed and nude. I’d have to say if someone approached me (not knowing any of my background in this) in a coffee shop, etc., about posing I would be EXTREMELY hesitant to even consider it. Chances are you are close enough to someplace that holds sketch groups and that group should be able to help you find a suitable ‘model’ who is experienced. Your coffee shop ‘find’ my seem like a good idea but can she hold a pose for any length of time? Or is it that you’re hoping she’ll be so flattered that she does it for free? There was a time when a class or sketch group was winding down and participants would ask the model if they could take a picture so they could finish the piece at home and the model had no hesitation. Now, NO! And many groups will now tell the participants up front to not ask this of the models. Most art supply stores or venues that host groups or classes will have bulletin boards with the cards of models and their contact info. or the hosts of the groups/classes will have a list of models that they draw from. Just tapping someone on the shoulder or rooting them out on Facebook may also set you up for a WORLD of legal issues as well. In all my years of modeling I ONE time agreed to a one-on-one. He gave me his website info, card, everything. We agreed on a time, financial arrangements, etc., He arrived at my home but seemed rather surprised when he realized my husband was there. He then half heartedly sketched for an hour or so and said he had to leave. I shudder to think what could have happened had I not had the good sense to 1) Do this at MY home 2) have my husband there. I’ve worked hard over the years to be a good model. I have stood nude in cold studios, watched spiders rappel down in front of me, climb back up without a flinch. I have held poses where at the end of 20-30 min. I could no longer feel most of my appendages. None the less I enjoy it and am pleased when at the end of a session I am thanked and told I am a good model. If you are a professional artist seek a professional model. If you are an amateur artist go with an amateur model in a private one-on-one setting. Just have an attorney on speed dial.

  9. Good article. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with approaching people in public, even if your goal is to set up a date. It’s not creepy or perverse or in anyway unwholesome, so long as you are respectful and can accept “No thank you” with a smile. But in this case you want to make your intentions clear. You don’t want to get turned down for a date when what you are after is just a portrait session. The advice given here is very helpful.

    Sadly, artists are not usually wealthy enough to attract the interest of robbers. Opportunistic theft sure, but the kind of planning and preparation in the example given by one reader seems unlikely. But yeah, strangers can be strange and one definitely should be careful when inviting them into one’s home.

  10. I appreciate everyone’s commentary. I had intended to respond more promptly but I became extremely busy with a deadline in the last two days.

    I’m glad that some have found my article helpful. On the other hand, I understand concerns too, as Alexa brought up today. There is risk on the potential model as well as the artist’s side. C Brown warned about being robbed as in the movie “As Good As It Gets,’ which happens to be one of my all-time favorites. In the film, the model was plucked at random and without any looking-into he was–quite high risk. I recall that the artist even mentioned to the new model that his assistant must have been thorough in selecting him, assuming that the young man was legitimately a model. In my ten years working as an artist, I’ve never had a bad experience. I can’t speak for my models, but I am positive that they had an equally beneficial experience, too. Certainly, Mr. Hiler attested to this in his post on Tuesday.

    Regarding the assertion that if one is professional artist that one should only hire professional models, I’m in disagreement. Sometimes, a project calls for “regular” people. An example is the Veterans Portrait Project that I did last year. How difficult would it be to find professional models who are also veterans of World War 2, Korean War, Vietnam and so on. Mr. Hiler, a Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient proved to be an amazing portrait model. What stories he shared with me. He really enriched my life. These type of experiences cannot be gained in a drawing group, for example, though I value drawing groups and I even attend one is Fresno (at Door Art Gallery).

    I studied at the Art Students League of New York City as well as Grand Central Academy of Art (NYC). So, certainly, I value the professional model. He or she is magnificent at posing in artistic position and has more stamina, for starters. These are valuable assets and they have to be developed. Indeed, there are times when a professional figure model is best. On the other hand, there are also occasions when a person right off of a café makes the perfect model. Keep in mind that this spontaneous approach is not unique to portrait/figure artists. Photographer and film-makers also take advantage of such opportunities but so due business people ei. you meet someone that want to buy a house and you happen to be a real estate agent and you set up a meeting…ta-da!

    Certainly, some people are inclined to feel uncomfortable if someone were to ask them at a the mall if he/she would pose. The same is with dating. Some feel anxious if they’re asked out at a café. They feel more comfortable if they have talked to the person 2 or 7 times or they attend the same church or who know what?. Everyone is different and has a unique philosophy about how they should be approached for a date or conversely, for asking someone out. Just the same, some artist are comfortable with approaching a stranger. Perhaps they’re good readers of people or simply take a wild chance. I have had great success in my approach. By far, most of my models I find are at random. Often, I get emails from people who wish to pose for me. Then, I’m on the other side of the coin. I’m the one who’s propositioned. There has been times, in fact, when I’ve turned down an offer from an eager potential model. This has happened when I perceive that the person is offering out of vanity, for example.

    I don’t want to make this longer, so I’ll end here, but I’m happy to respond to more comments/questions. I thank you, again, and I very much appreciate your words.


  11. As an aspiring artist of 12 years or so I can’t afford a professional model and trying to take a class when you live in a rather small town rural environment leaves fewer choices. I am also a real estate agent and if I didn’t approach people that I happen to over hear conversations about them wanting to buy or someone they know looking for a home I would never sell a home! BUT I understand those that are not comfortable with being approached and she may verywell have had a creep in her midst. I have one question. After an hour of drawing or sketching did he show her what he had gotten on paper or just leave? And while showing my work to a potential “model” I would also offer if it makes them comfortable to bring someone with them. I myself would always have my wife nearby if it is a female model whether it is a clothed pose or nude. Also the release form is a great idea. I would also offer as part of the compensation or total compensation if I can’t pay is a copy of the final work for them to have. I don’t want appear to be cnfrontational with the model and her comment either. I do appreciate a pro in many aspects. But something I learned from a portrait artist. Keep the studio warm or cool depending on the season and while you are setting up or just getting set let the model find a comfy pose. I would offer a loveseat of chair/ chaise and some sort of nice comfy throw or something. I would then limit the time to 20 minutes, break and then back to it. If they don’t have the time I need to get finished I would ask if I could snap a pic at that time to reference the completion and capture the light and shadows. I think if you are genuine in your approach it goes a long way. Something I have done as well is to go set up at the park. Wife sitting on bench by the lake and I paint her in the landscape. People then come up when they see the easel. That will get a model or two if I wanted but often not. I tend to use people I know, past clients in business, family members and the lovely wife. She is getting so busy that she doesn’t have time as often. I nearly have to schedule HER! Great article and conversations…

  12. What about payment? Do you offer to pay the model (and how so? money, a print of the finished piece?) Do most artist pay off-the-street “stranger” models (that are not professional models?)

  13. What about payment? Do you offer to pay the model (and how so? money, a print of the finished piece?) Do most artist pay off-the-street “stranger” models (that are not professional models?)