Most models start young - tellingly, the average age of the models I interview for this story is 13. But the majority, myself included, developed a passion for art at a much earlier age than that. I asked three of my model/artist friends to share their thoughts on the creative process and life as a 'slashie': Rose Ashton, 32, who was born into a family of artists (her great grandfather is the founder of the prestigious Julian Ashton Art School (JAAS)); Myf Shepherd, 24, who, like me, has always been passionate about art; and Gemma Ward, 28, who explored her creative talents a little later, beginning at 21. "Before that I had a problem with perfectionism which hindered my love for the process," Ward tells me.
The difficulty we all experienced was branching out from a career in front of the camera to one behind the scenes, and the struggle to get people to take you seriously when they don't realise you have actually been prepping for this moment your whole life. We've all had to juggle both art and modelling - I would sit in hair and make-up reading my art history notes from Curtin University (which I did via correspondence), Shepherd studied at COFA while modeling in Sydney before moving to NYC, Ashton juggled modeling and her studies at JAAS and Ward studied photography at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney.
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Once our education was complete, our styles started to emerge, each differing greatly from the other yet all deeply influenced by our lives in front of the camera. My work deals with fashion and the female form intensively, as does Ashton's, however Ward looks elsewhere. "I focus on landscapes, streetscapes, nature and my personal life," she says. "I also focus on spiritual forms and iconography." Shepherd's works, on the other hand, are both intricate and meditative, and deal with non-traditional aspects of the human form.
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Ashton describes her work as both "fluid and dark," but also "erotic, emotive and experimental." Personally, I find using my own body sends a message about reclaiming the power I have over my own creations. Instead of being the subject, with other people's visions projected onto my body, I am in control of my image and my vision.
Ashton also uses her work as a vessel for expressing feelings without words, something all artists have in common. For Ward, it's about the freedom to "expand my mind and self to achieve oneness," she says, before adding, "I would like then to extend my meditations and processes with others who are also interested in this search."
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Perhaps again due to the fact we grew up in front of the camera, photography is a vital part of our creations. Maybe our exposure to the changing world of photography allows models to subconsciously learn about photographic processes and compositions from a unique angle? Shepherd certainly feels she gained her sense of composition from being in front of the camera, while for Ward: "My technical work in photography is one of my primary art forms. Even now that I have moved on from film into digital photography, I still use all of the same skills to make my photographs and films more technically perfect."
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On the subject of the stigma models can face when trying new endeavours - let's call it 'slashie' syndrome - Ashton explains: "there are stigmas placed on people of all walks trying to be anything, but to 'try' and to 'be' are two very different things," she says. "Deep down, we know what we are. The proof is in the pudding. And who cares what people think, really? If you know and trust yourself, then I think you're doing well."
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I also asked the girls about how travel has affected their work and the response was unanimous - modeling certainly helped open our eyes to the rich and vast world around us, but it was the personal journey that has truly shaped our art. "[Modelling] has shown me a world I would not have seen elsewhere, which of course influences my work through its visual aspect," says Ward. "But apart from that I believe my work sits strongly opposite fashion, as it is more introspective and also a study in meditational spiritual practice."
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The ultimate goal here? To communicate a sense of introspection and "studying images that bring you peace and serenity can calm the mind and expand your being," says Ward. Contrary to popular opinion, models aren't the vacuous stick figures they are sometimes portrayed to be. We have a message, and as strong females we hope to not only spread our passions and desires and solidify ourselves as serious artists, but to transcend the glass ceiling that is still so apparent in many careers today.
As for concrete evidence of our creative curiosities, you will (hopefully) be happy to know Ward is undertaking a picture book of watercolours, as I write this Shepherd is holding an exhibition in New York, Ashton is setting up a new studio and I am working towards my first solo show. You can check out our art via the links below.