The Care and Keeping of Models and Other Creative Professionals

Last week’s post spawned an interesting question.  If you’re working with a model or other type of creative, what can you do to help them avoid burnout and get better results?

Most of the discussions I see about working with creative professionals centers around artists deserving pay for their work. While money is an important factor, there’s so much more you can do to foster a good working relationship when hiring an artist.  These are a few concepts that I’ve noticed and valued while working as a freelance model.

Written Communication Is Key.

A lot of models that I know (myself included) prefer email or even texting to talking on the phone.  There are several reasons for this:

—Email and text allow asynchronous communication.  We can respond when we have a gap in our schedules, rather than needing to make sure we have a break at the same time.  Models usually work very odd hours.  It’s easy for us to write you back an email when we get off a gig at midnight or before we leave for a dawn shoot.  But a phone call then?  Not so much.

—A surprisingly large percentage of models have hearing loss or impairment of some sort.  Although I personally don’t, I’ve still had a bad connection make countless phone conversations needlessly difficult.  

—Text and email give us written confirmation of what we are being hired for.  Occasionally, a photographer will say something over the phone, and then change their mind.  This can cause a small problem (like packing the wrong wardrobe), or a big one (like trying to change the amount of compensation agreed upon).  Most photographers are completely reliable, but it’s still a nice safety net to have against the one or two bad apples.

If you can communicate primarily by email, this will often go a long way with a model.  And if a concept really must be hashed out over the phone, then a follow-up email containing everything discussed in writing is always appreciated.

Be Reliable.  

Describing models as flaky happens so often that it’s practically cliché.  But sometimes, photographers flake on models too.  And it doesn’t just happen in modeling: when I taught piano lessons, students would cancel the day of without a second thought.  

Flakiness seems to happen when one person—be it photographer, model, or student—is there primarily to have fun.  Sure, sometimes life happens: your grandmother really does die, or you get horribly sick or injured.  But sometimes art is just hard work, and not terribly fun.  If you’re making art mostly for enjoyment, then it makes personal sense to cancel.

But when you’re employed as an artist (or you’re really dedicated to your art), you have to work through those not-so-fun days.  It’s the only way to improve your craft and keep a roof over your head.

If you keep all your scheduled commitments with a model, we will adore working with you.  I know that photographers feel the same way about models, too: just showing up, as a photographer or a model, puts you at the top of the market.  It shows respect and professionalism. 

Remember that Creative Work Is Still a Business.

In an average week, somewhere around fifty people see me model. If I book more life drawing sessions, that number can easily reach over one hundred.  It’s very easy for everyone in a drawing group to remember me—after all, I’m the naked person in the center of the room that everybody is staring at.  It’s much more difficult for me to remember everyone else, if we’re even introduced in the first place.  

It’s a similar problem of scale with photographic work.  I want to be able to call and chat with every potential photographer, or grab coffee for a pre-shoot meet up, or commiserate with every last minute cancellation.  I want to make each of my photographers feel valued and special, because they are to me.  But I also need to protect enough time to actually make art—not just respond to phone calls and emails and rescheduling requests.  

So if you’re working with a model or other professional artist, I think you’ll get the happiest models—and the best results—by concentrating on the actual work: the process of creating art.  Don’t get too caught up in the ancillary parts.  Don’t worry if a model requires all communication to be written, or if they have a cancellation policy. 

I’ve written this from a model’s perspective, but all of these points apply to photographers and other creatives as well—they’re professionals too.  It might be useful to consider these points from their perspective if you’re a model working for them.  Either way, I think that treating the artists you work with like the professionals they are, on either side of the lens, ultimately creates the best possible art.