Tuesday, February 15, 2011


-By Dan dos Santos

Quite a few people expressed envy about having a budget for models in the comments section of my invoice post. Yes, most large Publishers will pay for a professional model. But even if you aren't doing a professional commission, there is no reason you shouldn't hire a model.

Having a good model will greatly improve the quality of your reference, and thusly your painting. Quite often, I have had models come up with poses and ideas that I never would have thought up, and it ends up making the painting for me. Yeah, you could pose for yourself, or have your buddy or girlfriend pose... But having a really beautiful person in front your lens is an incredible inspiration all it's own. Plus, you don't have to spend all that time guessing what it would look like if you actually stuck to that sit-up regiment like you promised you would!

One of my favorite resources for models is a website called Model Mayhem. Unlike a lot of other modeling websites, MM is totally free to join for both models and photographers. The result is a really large pool of talent to pick from.

No matter where you live, there is likely someone who would like to pose for you. Many of the models, being amateurs themselves, are even willing to pose for free. These people will be listed as willing to work for TFP... meaning: Trade For Prints. This means they are willing pose for a reasonable amount of time, and in exchange you provide them with portfolio worthy photos. It's a win-win for all.

Obviously, the pickings will be slimmer the further away from a big city you live. But don't underestimate the talent available. I live in a very small town of just 5000 people in Connecticut, and below are some of the amazing models I have had the great pleasure to work with.

As you find better models, their rates will likely be higher than those just starting out. Typically, a professional model in NYC gets paid about $150/hour for a commercial illustration shoot (If they are doing an advertising campaign, and the final product is a photo where their likeness will be obviously recognizable, it is a totally different thing and I believe they get paid differently). Here in CT, I pay my models anywhere from $50/hour to $100/hour depending on their skill level and how difficult the shoot is. However, if both the artist and the model are amateurs, you could likely spend $25/hour and still find a great model.

Doing a professional quality painting is a major time investment, and you are doing yourself a great injustice if you are not willing to spend a little on good reference. In the end, the time (and frustration) you save yourself by having good reference is well worth the time expended acquiring it.


  1. Every business needs investment, illustration is no exception, I think it rather depends what you decide to invest: time or money?

    With digital cameras, a simple backdrop and the blessings of digital post-processing nowadays I´d say its affordable to anyone, regardless if commercial project or personal/study. Sure if you have budgets like Storm Thorgerson to do props and acquire studio-space like a movie productioner, than this is out of range for us mortals.

    I´d go as far to say that every model is worth their $100-$200, but then I have to ask myself if my equipment is good enough.

    How about you, do you also rent a studio or a photographer too, or do you have some space reserved for that at your studio with the equipment to make "good" use of the outcome?

  2. It's possible to make do in most circumstances - I do photos in my small living room, with a cheap beginner studio lighting setup - often one light works well enough. The lights are practically on top of the model, and I'm using an old camera now, a Canon 350D - and the results are perfectly good both for reference and for material for photo-based artwork. I'm not sure I'd know what to do with a large well-equipped studio. It would almost take some creativity out of the process for me. I think the financial investment was well worth it anyway, you can do a lot with very little.

  3. Thanks for the link to MM, I actually found models in my vincinity, Antwerp Belgium, there.

    I have never worked with models because I find that those who contract me pay way too little for me to be able to afford a model...
    How do you get around this?
    I mean, I get contracts by publishers, but the payment doesnt per illustration doesn't cover a models cost, They tend to use a standard fee when contracting me (and probably everyone else illustrating for them).
    I have a private commission comming up which I might concider using two or three models for, simply because it is a proper painting and actually well paid.
    Are there any tips on using the same model for multiple characters on the painting?

    I'm looking at paintingtwo female characters and 5-6 male characters but I doubt I could afford more then 3 models for this particular painting.

  4. LOVE me some Model Mayhem! If you're in a large city like NYC you can kill hours combing through models that all fit that "look" you're going for.

    God bless the 21st century!

  5. I certainly don't work in a way that warrants models, but if I were someone who's drawing and painting was more apparent in the process, I don't think I could justify the expense of hiring a model at this stage of the career. I'm sure everyone out there has their mega-, if not tetrabites of visual reference photos; why not frankstein together your reference and do a quick and dirty photomontage to inspire your work? Another alternative is to join figure drawing groups if you have them in your area, not only do you work on you drawing chops, but you might find an archive of great poses to refer to.

    I'm not saying that it isn't a great suggestion to seek-out models, but if your like a lot of up and comers, you're working a full-time job, trying to fit in doing illustration work and it seems like it would be difficult syncing your schedule up with another person and possibly cost prohibitive as well.

  6. I've been hoping/trying to use more photo ref - for my bigger pieces at least.
    So far, friends/ co-workers from the day job... I've yet to get any real models.

    But yeah, some deadlines are a bit too tight/pay too low for the regular assignments - not that that is a good excuse, matter of a fact, that's when I SHOULD use them I guess (I still want to work from models more often)...

  7. Thanks for the link, Dan. My kids work for free but have learned to ignore my phone messages that start with, " hey...you have a few minutes to stop by?"

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Dan. I draw comics so I don't need a model for that. However, I want to do some monographs with imagse of pretty women and I've been using mainly my imagination and photo refs.

    I'd been uneasy about hiring any pro models due to the costs involved. Your post though makes me take another look at the issue - I didn't know some might be willing to pose for next to nothing. Thanks for opening up another avenue of reference.

  9. MM has worked out for me as well. The model I used for La in my Tarzan painting was traveling through town from NY. What the pro or even semi pro can offer is understanding you want them to pose. similar to an artist friend who understands they too "get it". She actually came up with quite a few different poses outside the "box".

    If you happen to make great friends with a fashion photographer, like I have (Daniel DuVerney), you can open yourself up to their connections as well. Dan has provided me with almost all of my models. He's such a great guy they can't help but to want to help him by helping me. I can't but help wanting to help him with his computer. So, think about your photographer friends, or joining a club to meet some.

    next up is to not forget making friends with the local costume shop.

    i can't sew so that's my next step is to make friends with a seamstress if i need something custom.

  10. Hi Dan,

    Thanks so much for your insight in this and so many other topics. I have a few doubts about it myself. I'm an illustrator for YA covers, I've been working for some major publishing houses for almost 5 years now. Most of my characters are children and teenagers. For some of my covers I have wanted to use precise photo references but then there is a problem of method:
    When I start working with a client we usually go over a few steps on the sketching stage, I made a basic colour rough based on their descriptions and in the next few steps we adjust the complexion, expression and precise age (must of the publishers are very picky about it due to the rapid change of features over the first years of our lives). At the end we have a very precise sketch (at least on the faces while the rest could remains very rough) that makes it futile to work with a model at this point but at the same time I don't want to hire a model at the beginning of my process whose face is going to change into someone else over the sketching stages.
    I think that what could work best for me is to make a few extensive photo shots covering a variety of ages at least form 8 to 16 years old to have as a reference stock, a massive work to do, I know.

    How is this part of your process? Do you always work with the same models? Does your clients recognize them in your paintings? Has you've been in a position where a previous photo shot for a project was useless later on the process?
    Any thoughts about it? I've seen that many of the incredible team of artists, collaborators band visitors in Muddy Colors work with models so I would love to hear any one who has something to share on this topic.

    Thanks so much!


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