"I said to myself ‘Just give it a shot!’ Once I stepped on the platform and started posing, the nervousness just disappeared."
Sarah Malik

30 Jun 2020 - 8:44 AM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2020 - 11:16 AM

When Kam Wong posed nude for a life art drawing class for the first time, his hands were shaking and his heart was racing.

“Then I said to myself ‘Just give it a shot!’ Once I stepped on the platform and started posing, the nervousness just disappeared. Then it turned out fine. I was so excited I could do it. It was an amazing experience,” Wong told SBS Voices.

The artist who spent a year studying and drawing life models at Sydney's Julian Ashton art school was in awe of the confidence and ease of the models he drew and wanted to channel that body confidence for himself. It took him a year to build up the courage to make his debut as a life model at the school. 

"I wanted to be like them, to be confident (like they were) with their own body. They just amazed me. I was amazed by them.”

Wong is now a life model veteran, having posed over 100 times at art schools across Sydney. He will be participating in the SBS show Life Drawing Live on July 4 and admits that even he feels a little nervous at his television debut.

“I’m excited and little bit nervous. In art school you get a platform and there is not filming or photographing, this is another way to show you to the public.”

“The more time you practice in the platform, you get more confident. I didn’t feel any embarrassment with myself. I’m comfortable with my body (now) and being in the nude in front of the students. It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.

Chinese-born Wong moved to Hong Kong with his family as a child. His favourite subjects were English and Art,  but he found his passions were not encouraged at school and the business-focused climate of the big city. He worked as a personal trainer and pool guard before migrating to Australia in 2010 and immediately fell in love with the country.  

He admits his family would not approve of his nude modelling, but says they operate on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ philosophy.

Wong works out regularly but says nude modelling helped him become more accepting of his body and develop the confidence to follow his passion, despite the protesting opinions and taboos of others.

“In the beginning it was quite difficult but if you treat it like an art, the body as an art form, you can get rid of that dirty thought about the body.”

"Sometimes on the platform I feel like I wasn’t existing. I wasn’t there. I reached the stage, I wasn’t there. It’s quite strange. I don’t care anymore, it's just me or just a body. I try to challenge myself to do what I can’t do and not be nervous about it. If I can do it and be true to myself, I can do anything I want to do."

What many didn’t know, Wong says, was how physically demanding life modelling is. Contrary to being passive, life modelling was a full body workout, requiring up to five hours of posing with gruelling periods of holding limbs steady in various positions for long intervals.  

“The muscle is burning and it’s crying for mercy. It’s in pain. You have to endure the pain and fight for it and when you conquer the pain and win you feel a sense of achievement."

Wong says the most oft-repeated question he gets as a male life model is what happens when he gets a, shall we say,  'biological reaction' while posing, a problem he himself was initially worried about.

“I find some ways to deal with it – in the mind I control myself, if I get that feeling, the rush feeling. I just think of something else, like cooling myself in ice. Don’t look at the people, don’t make eye contact,” he laughs.  

“The artist or student all they care about is the process of drawing and painting. They don’t care about your body shape or what you look like, if you are fat or slim. It’s good they have that kind of opinion in my mind. They are just interested in the art form, not the body.”

Life Drawing Live premieres Saturday 4 July, 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. It streams live across Australia on SBS On Demand and live on SBS at 8.30pm AEST with a delay in WA, NT and SA. A Pose Cam will be available as a separate stream, for those drawing along at home. Join the conversation and share your artwork on the night #SBSLifeDrawingLive.

Full details at www.sbs.com.au/lifedrawinglive