The Guardian has a very interesting essay by figure modeller Yvonne Eller about her work:

But what kind of person becomes a figure model? Must there be some underlying exhibitionism in desperate need of expression? Ian Leake is a fine art photographer, who uses an increasingly rare process of platinum printing to create simple nude compositions that “celebrate beauty”. He believes there are three main reasons to become a figure model: “For some models it’s a rite of passage into adulthood and control of their lives; others do it for the money; and a few do it because they love creating art.”

Often, and certainly in my case, it is all three. Working with passionate, creative artists can be very exciting. [Figure model Ivory] Flame agrees: “There is one photographer I know who is so ardent about every line, cove and crevice in the body. The way he compares them to things is hilarious … he will get so enthusiastic about the light hitting my big toe. He’s really fun. And an artist I worked with recently was so inspired by the light and textures captured on my skin. It is so energizing to be part of that vision that is created. It’s such a joy working with people like that.”…

So what do artists look for in a life model? The ability to hold a pose, clearly. Flexibility, perhaps. But there is far, far more to the role. Photographer Allan Jenkins says: “It’s not about size zero, that’s for sure. It’s about shapes, angles, light, shadows, style and movement. It’s the model’s ability to create a rapport with the photographer – to be able to take direction well, the ability to feel comfortable in front of the lens, act like a muse … be inspired and inspire.”

Modelling is a collaborative process. It’s not about being a blank canvas for an artist to manipulate into art; it’s not passive. It’s about bringing something to the table. The Figure Model’s Guild declares modelling to be “an art form in itself”.

I tease [artist Robbie] Wraith by occasionally asking, “Does it look like me yet?” a few minutes into a new sketch or painting. It inevitably does – to an astonishing degree and in a matter of seconds – but Wraith wouldn’t say so. He once told me that he wasn’t really painting me at all. He was painting his reaction to me – a mixture of himself and myself.