It’s Nice That and Harry’s are partnering to challenge what being “a man” actually means. Last week, we hosted a life drawing event and exhibition that celebrates the diversity of the male form. Makings of a Man saw us bring together top creative talent and the It’s Nice That audience, to champion the qualities that make every man unique.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a life model? To disrobe in front of a room full of strangers and stand naked on a podium as they interpret your body through drawings, paintings and collages? Would it be liberating or mortifying? What if you got sweaty? What if the artists weren’t inspired by you, or worse laughed?
No doubt these questions rolled around the heads of the ten models we cast for Makings of a Man, but instead of running away, they fought off their inner critics and were brave enough to let our creatives capture what makes them, them. And we’re so thankful they did! Each of our models were selected for the various ways they represented the diversity of the male form, not only in the different ways they look, but also their background, interests and reasons for taking part, to build a truly rich portrait of them.
Below each model discusses their thoughts on what being a “man” means to them and how their experience of being drawn nude has changed how they feel about themselves. Alongside their insights, the final artworks from Cynthia Kittler, Fredrik Andersson, Alec Doherty, Juliana Futter and Josh McKenna can also be seen in all of their technicolour glory.
Occupation: Visual artist, photographer and freelance model
Build: “Slim, toned, athletic
Interests: “Exercising, reading, listening to music, going to see exhibitions, going to the cinema, hanging out with friends”
For me being a man, is very much understanding the duality of ourselves. I think it’s good to explore the idea that there’s typically a masculine and feminine principle in all of us. Having that balance within me has made me more comfortable exploring different parts of myself. I’m very grateful to be a man I guess, and able to express myself in various ways, I don’t see myself tied down by society’s view of masculinity. I’m very much an individual when it comes to that.
I thought being a life drawing model was a really unique way of addressing these ideas. Often life drawing is only open to those already in that world so it was refreshing to see people from different backgrounds.
What I’ve learnt from modelling was to be comfortable in my own skin. I wouldn’t say I have self-image issues, but growing up I had a birthmark which takes up half of my leg and it was something I was conscious of. I guess I’m still conscious of it as I never really wear shorts so just being able to be in a space where I can be fully myself and there naked in front of people, has added a bit more to my confidence.
Occupation: Software engineer
Build: “Stocky. Somewhat overweight (but carried well I think!)
Interests: “Photography, writing, performance poetry”
To me Makings of a Man presented the diversity of people and suggested that everybody is worth representing in art, which is a great message. I was in a project last year called Manhood: The Bare Reality, where a female photographer took pictures of 100 genitals and presented the picture alongside each person’s life story. That was just a still image, with me and the photographer, so I thought if I can do that I can do this.
As I’d not done it before, all the worry was about the tension – can I actually stand up for 10 minutes? I don’t do that very often, unless I’m waiting at a bar. But I just put myself into a zone, found a spot on the wall to focus on and looked at it lovingly. I couldn’t wait to look at the drawings of me. I managed get a glimpse of one as it was turned round on the easel. The guy had just done a big face image, which was lovely. I’ve seen quite a few others and to my mind I can see myself in all the pictures people have made of me.
I think the selection of models and the fact there’s been a bit of conversation around each individual was great. Also because it wasn’t professional life models, I liked the way Makings of a Man has taken the trouble of listening to ten other voices. There was so much colour throughout the day, sometimes gender equality campaigns can become very intense, but there was so much joy to the day.
There’s a large part of your life where gender is irrelevant and then there are certain parts where you feel more connected to the fact you’re a man. I suppose a lot of those moments feel quite negative in this modern world. As a man, there’s the idea that you’re supposed to be strong for others, so you hide your own weaknesses, which ends up creating divides. So for me being strong enough to be weak I think is the story I’m walking at the moment.
This project has put a practical real world seal on what can sound like fine philosophy. It’s one thing to say that everybody carries their own beaut but beauty comes from confidence more than anything else. We tell ourselves those kind of tales but who knows? Is it just your mind playing tricks on you? I know it’s not my mind playing tricks on me now because I’ve been a life model for the day.
Occupation: Operations director of a lingerie design and manufacturing company
Build: “I like to work out without being super defined. I have a proper hairy chest, a full beard and a bald head”
Interests: “Father of two girls aged seven and nine, so it’s swimming lessons, National Trust Parks and bike rides. I like to brew beer in my garden shed and am a big music fan”
I saw the campaign online and liked the idea that it was about getting a bunch of different guys together of different shape and sizes and celebrating that. I work in the lingerie industry and everyday we ask female models to take their clothes off for fittings and shoots so I thought I should put my hand up and know how it feels.
I guess I don’t see the difference between the sexes so much. I work in a fairly female-heavy industry, I grew up with my mum and sister, single-parent family. I’ve got two girls so I live in a house full of girls. I don’t think there should be any difference in roles for male and female. I think the term “real man” is bullshit. What is a real man? It can be anything. It’s a stereotypical idea. My advice is to not try to live up to it.
Prior to this, I didn’t have any experience of life drawing classes at all so I didn’t have any expectations, modelling was easier than I thought it would be. The most challenging thing was trying to block out everything around you and focusing on being still.
My takeaway from the event is that you should always challenge yourself and try new things. Life is about not turning down any experiences that are going to enrich it and get a story out of. Hopefully I’ve inspired people to draw something they’re interested in.
Build: “Athletic, muscular.”
Interests: “I love cutting hair to the extent I’d class that as a hobby. I’m also a fitness enthusiast.”
I’m a competitive natural body builder so I compete a lot and I thought would be very similar to life modelling. But it was very different. Oddly enough, when you’re on stage posing in competitions you’re being judged by the judges, spectators, everyone, they’re looking at your physique and you’re getting marked. Whereas being a life model, it felt so different. You’re not being judged – you’re being drawn and painted from different perspectives, which I think is beautiful. Different people view you in a different way, they emphasise different things, the artists were more concerned with the pose, the different angles, the flow, the lines.
If someone had asked me to just be a life model in a regular setting, it wouldn’t necessarily appeal to me. But because I knew the concept behind this project and what Harry’s and It’s Nice That stands for, I thought it was great. I share the same views, I wanted to feel like I could contribute.
I think the traditional image of a man is the strong, takes charge, wear the trousers character. The definition of a man can feel very black and white, but to me, it’s very grey. For example I feel like a man can show emotions, they can cry and should never be ashamed of that – and these sorts of things make a man because he is not scared of another one’s opinion. For me being a man is about making decisions, be accountable and feel comfortable in yourself.
Being a life model in this project has reinforced the idea that men are different. You cannot classify a guy as man because he’s butch, or tall or hairy. The poses I’ve seen have been delicate, classical and shows the range of all men and it’s been cool to see what the artists have focused on and how they see me. I’d 100% do it again.
Occupation: Stage manager at Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party and Buddahfield
Interests: “Writing and performing poetry to share my belief that creativity is a great way to release the pressure of depression and anxiety”
I decided to take part as I want to promote the idea of body positivity. I’m average – average height, average weight, average hair, average everything. I know people who aren’t that confident and they should be naked just as much as I feel comfortable being naked. It’s the only body you’ve got, so what are you gonna do. No one should ever feel ashamed – I think everybody’s body is perfect.
When I was 20, I was a life model for about a year, so I felt okay going into this project and modelling. My first pose was quite open because that’s how I want people to be, I think it’s important to open up conversations about body positivity and masculinity. . I hope through this project, there’ll be a lot of men who realise they don’t have to be a particular way, that they can be a little bit more open. They don’t have to ignore bad behaviour by other men. Being respectful of everyone is what being a man is to me.
I was a man’s man for a long time. I was hedonistic and I wasn’t deliberately being like that but I’m ashamed about a lot of the things I’ve done as a man. During the time I’ve been monogamous, I’ve changed because love has been enough for me.
Occupation: Economist for the Civil Service
Build: “Skinny/chubby body with knobbly knees. Very curly ginger hair, freckles pepper my face, shoulders and arms”
Interests: “I’m an avid film and digital photographer. I enjoy cycling, knitting, classic films and am also a huge fan of Harry Potter”
Being a man is a very nebulous concept. It’s something I’ve never really had ideas about. I think being a man is simply someone who just identifies as a man – there’s no defining features or traits. I think society expects men to be a certain type of person but a man is someone who feels comfortable calling themselves a man.
I decided to take part in Makings of a Man because it’s something very different to what I’d normally do. I’m typically quite shy and usually quite reserved, so going in front of a group of people naked and having them look at you for 20 mins I thought could be really interesting. Finding the nerves to apply and show up and then actually take the robe off was the most challenging part. I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in that environment and it was a welcoming atmosphere. I think next time I might try and practice my poses a bit more to make sure they’re a bit easier!
I saw some of the images drawn of me and I thought it was really interesting what different people focused on, the parts they thought were interesting and how they used their style to interpret that. I think it’s great there was a wide selection of models chosen, many of which aren’t the stereotypical idea of what a model is. I think the fact we got to take props with us, allowed us to show more of a our personality, so on the one hand it was about what we looked like, while also who we are. I like the fact the artists’ knew a bit about me while drawing me.
Occupation: Theatre actor and music producer
Build: “Slim and naturally toned”
Interests: “Japanese language, travelling, buying books that I never read”
First and foremost, life drawing, both clothed and unclothed was completely new to me, so I thought I’d give it a go. When I heard about what the whole project about, it just seemed even more interesting that there was a good reason behind it all. Having a positive self-image is the best thing whether you’re fat, skinny, tall, short, toned, whatever. Loving yourself and being able to be open in an environment is a good thing.
I loved that there was a load of different artists involved, sharing their perspectives on it and doing something completely creative. Actually modelling felt liberating. I found at the beginning I was overthinking things, wondering if they were looking at me, what they were thinking – but after a while it just went away, because you just have to surrender to the fact that this the situation and there’s nothing you can do about it. And really it’s an approach you could take forward in all situations. The most challenging part was I was sweating so much! I felt it drip, which was distracting.
I think it’s important to challenge the traditional idea of a man is, because a lot of the time that’s more harmful than it is good. People will always have an opinion of you and you can consider it, but you can’t do anything about it. So just be yourself.
Build: “Tall and slender”
Interests: “Illustration, drawing, being a barber”
I don’t think you should never abuse your power as a man. You can have certain privilege over people, but I think everyone should have the right to be ok with each other. I can’t stress enough how men should talk to other men about stuff. It’s so bottled up, along with this idea that a man should be this person and not do that. It’s bullshit and it’s why people get ill.
I try and vent and talk to people. I do charity work with the homeless or people suffering from mental illnesses, for me that’s a chance for people to talk and be honest. When cutting hair you’d be surprised at how many people do not want to talk to you when they’re sat in your chair. I’m quite open but it’s taken me a long time to be like this. I used to bottle everything up until it got to a point where I couldn’t cope anymore and using different mechanisms to get out of it stopped working.
Life drawing is something I’ve always been interested in doing, but more on the drawing side than anything. When I found out about the reasons behind Makings of a Man, I felt quite passionate about it and I felt like this would be a good chance for me to get that idea of being open by being involved. The brief is something I identify with and by using illustration as a different outlet for this message really intrigued me.
I thought modelling could’ve been quite awkward, but it wasn’t all – the time went a lot quicker than I thought. I feel a part of me feels a lot more comfortable in myself just from taking part and being a model. Also, seeing everyone else’s work and how it’s all come together was inspiring.
Occupation: Email campaign executive
Build: “Athletic, thick”
Interests: “Football, friendship, dodgy pubs, boxing and bowls”
Being a life model is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. There have been different opportunities to do it in the past but nothing that really aligned with my beliefs. My friend sent the application form for Makings of a Man through to me and the reasonings behind it were something that I’d thought about previously. Body image is also something I’ve struggled with in the past. I’ve done a course with The Great Initiative, a gender equality charity. It really helped me with myself and this idea of toxic masculinity and not loving myself. It also opened me up to a world of things I’ve thought about what wanted to know more in-depth like gender equality.
I had no expectations but that’s because I’d never done it before. I really enjoyed modelling, everyone was really warm and welcoming. It feels ingrained in you that you think everyone is looking at you and you’re doing something wrong or you look silly but while I was standing up there, really the artists were only doing what they were supposed to do. I’m very fortunate in that I’m pretty happy in my body now, I wouldn’t say it’s perfect – whatever that word means – so I wasn’t nervous about getting naked.
You don’t have to be perfect or a massive hunk of a man to be happy in your life. I think you will find happiness if you look at what you are and enjoy it. I don’t really think of myself as a man. I just think I’m a person and I try to be kind and friendly to everyone I meet.
This whole experience has been a breeze and it was nice to be in an environment with like minded people I’ve never met before. Everyone was just so open and it’s a good vibe to go away with.
Occupation: art director and artist
Build: “A little on the stocky side. Not fat not thin”
Interests: “Making art, skating, cycling, video games, hanging out, fashion and creative stuff in general”
The main reason for doing this is slightly selfish, I kind of wanted to understand of what it would be like to be on the other side of the lens so to speak. A lot of the work that I want to do in the future might involve another person, and it’s really difficult to empathise if you’ve never been in their position. So I wanted to swap places and be the subject.
Outside of that I think the ideals in the project really struck a chord with me. I’ve had so many conversations with friends, some of whom are cis, who don’t really understand what it is to be a guy these days and don’t really question themselves, and think about who they are or what they are underneath. It felt really interesting to unpack this macho imagery that is traditionally associated with being a man and completely squash it.
There was a certain element of fear of being nude in a room full of strangers, but I think that’s natural. Once the robe was off, I totally forgot there were other people in the room. The only time I broke that was when I heard someone say my name and it sort of re-personalised me in a way, as I then felt like a statue for ten minutes. Keeping still really was the most challenging part of it. That first pose where I held my arms above my head, I lost all feeling my left arm. Maintaining focus can be hard sometimes but in the session environment it felt really meditative.
I think a man is as simple as being who you are. I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that. The idea of being a man socially is being seen as a breadwinner, masculine, a big macho character. I think the modern man is just OK with who he is and is OK to be vulnerable sometimes and is ok to step aside. I feel this project has been a platform for diversity. Even if you look through the statements we’ve all written about ourselves, there’s no archetypal guy. There is no Greek god which every man should aspire to, every man is different. It’s a pure celebration of that.
From taking part and being a model, I’ve realised how comfortable I feel in my skin right now. It’s given me the feeling that nothing can phase me, I’ve been my most vulnerable person and now I’ve done it, it’s fine. I’d like to do it again.
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