Featured image by Miguel Ayuso of me modeling at his studio, La Bodega Studios, one of my favorites in Brooklyn
After so many years of modeling, I think I’ve perfected the art model go-bag. Whether your a first-time model looking for tips, a seasoned model comparing favorites, or a person who likes go-bags for speedy and well-stocked escapes, I think you’ll find some lovely gems here.
First, the bag
I suggest wearing a backpack for the sake of your spine health, and so you can fit all your essentials in. You can use any backpack you have, including your sharpied-up bag from high school. I’ve been using a canvas black and white striped bag for a while that I found at a thrift store, and this Guess Factory Take a Dive Backpack ($49.00 at Guess Factory) is pretty great too.
Maybe this goes without saying, but every art model needs a good robe to wear on breaks. It’s tasteful, professional, and comfy. I find inexpensive, mid-length, cotton robes are the best. You don’t want your elegant, floor-length, velvet dressing gown picking up all the charcoal dust, paint, and goodness knows what else on the studio floor. And too short of a robe won’t do either; you won’t be able to stretch comfortably on breaks, and breaks really are for stretching. Plus, you don’t want to look like 30 Rock’s Devon Banks trying to seduce Kenneth in his hotel room. That’s a very hard-to-pull-off look.
Slip on shoes
For the same reason that you don’t want to wear a floor length silk robe, maybe you don’t want to wear your very best shoes. They’ll get dusty, painty, inky, etc over time. Since I don’t believe in voluntarily wearing ugly things, I tend to wear slip-on flats that have seen better days but I love them too much to let them go. You could wear sandals, I suppose, but you want to keep your flippers clean, so flats are the way to go. I really love wearing comfy, worn-out moccasins, too. It’s not cultural appropriation to wear moccasins because they’re just shoes– it’s simply cultural exchange. It’s nothing like wearing a headdress, or another sacred article of clothing, or dressing up as Native American for Halloween, which absolutely is cultural appropriation. I recommend supporting a Native American artisan by buying from sources like Beyond Buckskin rather than supporting corporations that rip-off and denigrate Native American designs, like Urban Outfitters.
Lately I’ve been wearing these cuties by T.U.K. from back when ModCloth was adorable (before the Wal*Mart buy-out).
My absolute favorite is Tiger Balm Ultra Strength ($5.69 at Target) It’s a tiny tiger miracle– rub a little in to any places that feel sore, stressed, or seized up. It soothes and increases circulation with powerful tingles that feel so damn good (to me, anyway). You can rub some on your neck and temples if you’re getting a headache, too. It is also strongly scented with camphor (the active ingredient), however, so maybe ask the people in the studio if it’s cool with them before applying. Personally I love the scent, but it’s not for everyone.
You can also apply muscle rubs to sore muscles before you leave for your modeling gig (or muscles that you anticipate being sore) so that by the time you get to the job, the smell has dissipated and the tigers are doing their balmy magic.
Some alternatives to Tiger Balm that are also good–
The classic, tingly, wintergreen-scented Bengay Ultra Strength ($6.97 at Target)
The natural pain reliever capsaicin stars in scentless Capzasin ($9.99 at Target)
Spring Chicken Muscle Rub ($12. 99 on Amazon), which smells faintly of cloves and works well without the tingling sensation other products have.
A luxe natural option is Young Living Panaway ($47.70 retail from Young Living), which requires a carrier oil. It’s more holistic, and the smell and sensation is also gentler than Tiger Balm
If you’re curious, you can check out this study on natural pain relievers
This is totally up to you, but if I’m feeling sore, inflamed, or otherwise in pain, I don’t like to suffer. I don’t recommend taking a pain reliever for every gig or anything like that, but if I have minor aches, I’d rather take something and do a good job than arrive not at my best. I usually have Excedrin Migraine in my bag because I’m prone to migraines, as well as Naproxen for muscle pain. (Never take them at the same time.) I’m not making any recommendations, nor am I qualified to give medical advice, but if there’s a pain reliever you already use, you may want to take it with you in case you need it.
When I have a headache on the job, I like to roll some Aveda Cooling Balancing Concentrate ($22 at Aveda) on my temples and neck for some pleasant-smelling relief, too.
Natural pain relievers
Some people incorporate fish oil, magnesium, and turmeric into their diet/supplement regimen for joint and muscle health. Although studies are inconclusive about the efficacy of magnesium in reducing muscle cramps, I take a magnesium supplement daily alongside fish oil and turmeric. I think it helps…. But as always, consult a physician before taking any new supplement.
Mini massage ball
I freaking love this thing. I got it at Flying Tiger for $2, and I roll my foot over it, working out all the crunchy bits and sore spots. My feet are a little finicky after years of dancing, gymnastics, posing, sky-high stilettos… they need extra love. These tiny, spiky massage balls are a great way to do that for cheap. I bring it in my bag so I can use it on breaks. It’s especially great after standing poses.
Sometimes you might need a touch up. I don’t have brand loyalty to any particular powder at the moment (ugh, millenials, right?) but I am really enjoying this one from Korea! (I’m obsessed with K-beauty)
Innisfree No-Sebum Mineral Powder ($9.00 on Amazon)
Because it’s translucent, you don’t have to worry about shade-matching. I like it because it’s super light, matte, and quite affordable.
It may seem high maintenance, but I recommend a good facial mist especially for your art model bag. Studios are filled with all kinds of dust, chemicals, and whatever else, and I really do feel like my skin dries out while I’m posing, which in turn, makes my prominent Italian/Romani nose shine like a beacon and the rest of my face feel tight, or even itchy. A facial mist creates a protective barrier between your skin and whatever chemicals are in the studio air.
Neogen H2 Dermadeca Spray ($19 on Soko Glam) This is technically a bomb serum, but it works as a slightly heavier, super hydrating facial mist over makeup too for a flawless look.
Goodal Moisture Barrier Rich Mist ($20 on Soko Glam) With milk lipids and mistletoe, this spritz keeps my skin dewy and protected. We’re on the way to honey skin!
Caudalie Beauty Elixir ($18/$49 at Sephora) This refreshing, pore-tightening, make-up setting spray is a cult favorite that lightly moisturizes as it tones. I use it to set my makeup in the winter before leaving the house, and then I follow with a heavier facial mist throughout the day as needed. In the summer though, this is generally all I need for a spritz and a pick-me-up.
You can use any blotting papers really, but aren’t these Dinoplatz Dear Brachiasaurus Blotting Papers from TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL ($8 from Sephora) so adorable? I like that they come with a dino-mirror and a little sticky sponge for the papers. They’re great for keeping the shine off my face, which quells my concern that the artists will paint it in.
Lunchbox with snacks
Keep some fruit or veggies, and maybe some nuts (or another form of protein) handy fora little pick-me-up. Heavy things, like bread, meat, or cheese, tend to bloat and might cause a little stomach upset, so keep it light before you model and while you’re snacking on your breaks. I’ve been really into dried mango, diced red peppers, and a handful of cashews. Bonus if your lunchbox makes you smile.
Speaking of model health, here are my three best tips for not fainting while posing: 1. Breathe and don’t lock your knees, 2. Eat a snack, 3. Stay hydrated.
Of course you can use any water bottle you want, glass or stainless steel being the best for your health. I really love my Swell bottle. It keeps hot drinks piping hot for 12 hours, and cold drinks nice and icy for 24 hours. Also, it’s made of steel, and I can drop it on the cement studio floors to my heart’s content with no consequences (other than spooking the artists). I also love the color, Milky Way, which reminds me of the holographic 90’s trend of my youth.
Also, on a serious note, a Swell water bottle is heavy enough to use as self-defense if you’re walking home after a job. For more on self-defense, see my note on embassy pens below.
Keep your lips supple and happy with a good lip balm. If you’re wearing lipstick, of course bring that too so you can touch-up. But if you’re going for the natural lip, it helps to keep your pout moisturized.
Here are some of my favorite balms and glosses
This Tatcha Camellia Gold Spun Lip Balm ($30 at Sephora) is the real deal. My lips never felt softer, and the ACTUAL GOLD FLAKES add a very subtle shimmer.
Sugar Lip Treatment SPF 15 in Rose ($24 at Sephora) adds a light pink sheen and silky smooth sun protection
Soap and Glory Sexy Mother Plumper XXL Lip Plumping Gloss ($14 at Ulta Beauty) plumps those babies up and comes in pretty neutral colors. I also love the smooth, tingly formula.
Burt’s Bees Coconut and Pear Moisturizing Lip Balm ($3.29 at Ulta) is tried and true, and smells delicious.
If you use eye drops, it’s a good idea to bring them along. Sometimes the fixatives, mediums, paint fumes, and other chemicals in the studio can feel a little much. To keep my peepers happy, I like Rohto Cool . It reduces redness and keeps my eyes feeling fresh.
Sometimes the artists might ask you to do something with your hair. My hair is very long, in step with traditional Romani custom and style, so to make sure artists can draw my back and collar bones, I often wear my hair in two braids (been rockin’ that look since kindergarten). Keep some hair ties, and maybe a comb, in case you need to change your hairdo.
Invisibobble ($7 at Sephora) are great because they don’t leave an imprint on your hair and they rarely tangle.
I also love the Sephora Cellection Quick Fix Hair Ties ($6 at Sephora) because they are very resilient despite my ridiculously big, thick hair, they’re mostly tangle-free, and they’re lovely.
Someone in the session might want your business card to hire you for something else or refer you to a friend, and you want to be ready, professional, and memorable. I suggest designing your own business cards and using an image of yourself on the back (preferably a professional shot, not a selfie), so the person with your card remembers who you are. I used www.moo.com to print mine, and I’ve loved the results, and there are a lot of other great sites out there. Take the time to design yours to be clean, easy to read, direct, and reflective of your aesthetic, talents, and skills. Include your name, phone number, email, website, and/or social media page/s. Don’t forget to store them in something protective. I use a vintage silver cigarette case, but you can use any number of things!
I’m a not-so-secret writer, and I tend to get my best ideas while I’m modeling because the work allows me to meditate and focus for 20 minutes at a time over 3 hours. On my 5 minutes breaks, I jot down my thoughts and ideas while I stretch. Even if you’re not a writer, chances are when your brain is quiet, you’ll get some great ideas. Writing them down on paper keeps you off your phone, which is full of distractions, so it’s worth taking a journal with you.
Embassy pens– what can I say! They are great pens, and they double as a weapon. Sometimes my modeling jobs let out late, and I get nervous walking home. The pointed end of the embassy pen breaks glass if your cab ride goes wrong, and if you use it to strike someone’s temple or eye, it can stun and allow you to get away. Or if someone grabs your wrist, striking the thumb can break the attacker’s grip. If you want to carry any kind of weapon, it’s best that you know how to use it. Check out self defense classes near you. In New York, there are a number of free women’s self-defense classes, and you can ask the instructor to teach you how to best use the pen if you want to carry it.
Embassy pen ($9.95 on Amazon)
Keep a good read with you if things are slow on your breaks. You can think about the story or poetry while you’re modeling and do some deep analysis. “20 Gypsy Women You Should Be Reading” in The VIDA Review has some great books by Romani women, and R. O. Kwon of Electric Lit suggests “46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018” for your reading pleasure. I also love this list by Lisa Marie Basile, founder of Luna Luna Magazine and fabulous witch, “8 Books Perfect for Summertime Fever Dreaming.” I don’t know about you, but ideally I’d like to be in that state of mind all the time. It’s also a good excuse to check something classy and strange off your reading list, like The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, Madame Blavatsky’s spiritual texts, or The White Goddess by Robert Graves.
I hope that this list helps you life models, or those living the model life (whatever that is), build up your arsenal of beauty, comfort, and creativity. If you like, you can follow the art model bag list I created on Pinterest to stay abreast of any new discoveries I make along the way. Happy modeling! (Or modeling your way through normal life!)