Do You Want a Mentor?

There must be something in the water: in both photography and life drawing, lots of people seem to be trying out modeling for the first time.  I’m seeing more new models this year than I can remember in any other.

I’m really excited to help them in any way that I can.  But I’ve hesitated when a few of them have called me a mentor, because I’ve previously had such bad experiences with the term.  

When I started out as a life drawing model, I had a self-described mentor. He was a model director for a drawing group.  I was very new to posing when I began modeling for his class, and he gave me some very helpful advice starting out.  But once I was established, I remained the “new model” for years after.  Even when I started working full-time as a model, I was still treated as a beginner.  I was never allowed to grow out of the role of newbie.  

He would always look for something I could improve, no matter how small.  He would nitpick my poses--criticize my neck angle, my hand placement, and even how I wore my hair.  Nothing was ever good enough to leave alone.  I’m sure it was meant to help, but I already had a handle on these things.  The constant criticism made me doubt myself: it shook my confidence in what I had learned, and ultimately did more harm than good.  The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth when it came to “mentors.”

Fellow models, photographers, and artists have all helped me grow and learn.

But I recently realized that, although I’ve been studiously avoiding the term, I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing mentor figures in my modeling journey.  Fellow models, photographers, and artists have all helped me grow and learn.  For example, Keira Grant (who I’ve talked about at length) has taught me more about modeling than I can ever thank her for.  Yet I never really thought of her as a mentor; she’s my best friend.

So it got me thinking: what actually makes a good mentor?  What can I do to help out new models?  

The first thing I thought of was the most straightforward.  Good mentors provide value.  Whether that’s information, connections, or recommendations, what they give is useful.  This may sound shallow, but I think that every good modeling mentor I’ve had has increased the amount of money I’ve made modeling.  I can literally measure in increased bookings the advice that I’ve been given.  

My experience with my first mentor taught me a second thing: good mentors don’t micromanage.  They give you valuable advice, but then they let you try it out for yourself.  They let you fall on your face if you do it wrong.  They let you pick that pose with the improper neck angle, so that you learn through your own discomfort not to do it again.  

I’ve also noticed that good mentors talk.  A lot.  Listening to other people is the best way to glean information from them—how else will you know what worked for your mentor if they won’t share it? Specifically, I’ve noticed my favorite mentors talk more about failures than I expected.  And not just other people’s failures.  They talk openly and frankly about their own so that other people can learn from their mistakes.  

But most importantly, good mentors often don’t call themselves mentors.  They call themselves colleagues, students, and friends.  These are the people that will share valuable information with you, talk your ear off, and let you experiment for yourself to find your own outcomes.  

So for new models—or new anything really—don’t make my mistake and look for a mentor.  Instead, make contacts and build friendships.  Don’t listen to people just because they call themselves a mentor.  Look for the people that will really help you, no matter what they call themselves.