Dave Moran stepped on a platform in a classroom full of students at Washtenaw Community College and dropped his robe.
His heart was pounding. He began sweating. And he was nearly overwhelmed by the intense desire to run away.
But about 30 seconds in, Moran’s nerves started to calm. By the end of that first session as a nude model for a figure drawing class back in 2010, he was completely comfortable — and a new pastime was born.
“I find it extremely relaxing, and it’s really satisfying to see talented people draw me. After that, I decided I was going to keep doing it,” said Moran, a clinical professor of law who has taught at U-M since 2008 and is co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
Moran has modeled nude an estimated 150 times at two dozen different places, from art centers and clubs to community colleges.
It all started when he enrolled in a drawing class at the Ann Arbor Art Center during what he calls “a little midlife crisis.” He has always been an analytical person, having earned degrees in law and advanced mathematics. But he wanted to see if he could succeed at a creative pursuit.
A few classes in, Moran and his fellow students were tasked with drawing a nude person.
“I was impressed by how not creepy or sexual it was,” Moran said.
During the next class, the instructor asked if anyone wanted to pose fully clothed while the nude model took a break. Moran volunteered.
“Trying to be still is something I haven’t done in my entire life. For 15 minutes, my mind went blank. It was a great feeling,” Moran said.
When he emailed the instructor afterward and asked if there would be other opportunities to pose, she asked him if he would be willing to model without any clothes.
“I had a conversation with my wife about it. I said, ‘I will do it if there’s no chance any of my law students will be there,’” Moran said.
Moran said his first time as a nude model ranks among the three scariest experiences of his life, along with skydiving and the first time he argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Now a seasoned pro, he no longer gets nervous when it’s time to disrobe.
Each modeling session usually lasts three hours and pays about $15 an hour. Sessions are broken into 20-minute blocks with breaks in between. Classrooms often have space heaters for the model’s comfort and soft music playing.
Moran tries hard to come up with unique poses. He often cycles through gestures that an athlete would make during a decathlon, such as preparing to throw a discus or a shot put. His first pose was an imitation of the classic Greek sculpture Discobolus.
“The art of modeling is not only holding still but being aware of where you are in the room,” he said. “You have people all around. How do you give people who are drawing your back an interesting pose? Just hands-on-the-hips is a boring pose.”
Moran said his own experience drawing nude people made him realize there’s no need to be self-conscious.
“I think of myself as odd looking,” he said. “I have a large nose and freckly skin. I’m kind of gangly. But figure drawing is drawing real people of all body types, genders, ages and ethnicities. Figure drawing is not drawing fashion models. Teachers try to get people of all body types.”
Moran gets a kick out of seeing the drawings of himself, even if they aren’t always very flattering. He said students who like their drawings often post them on social media. “There are hundreds and hundreds of drawings of me on the internet. They like what they drew, and they put it on Instagram. I love it,” Moran said.
He talked about his first modeling experience in 2018 at a Moth StorySLAM, an open-mic storytelling competition that takes place at locations across the country. The night’s theme was “fear.”
In May, a recording of his tale was broadcast nationwide as part of the Moth Radio Hour series. Moran got calls and emails from people he hadn’t seen in decades — and discovered that a few of his friends have done nude modeling themselves.
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Only once has Moran been recognized in a class — when he was filling in for a model who canceled at the last minute. During a break, a woman came up to him and said she knew him from the annual talks he gives to lawyers in Detroit about criminal law developments at the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It actually wasn’t awkward at all,” he said. “We had a nice chat during the break about what the U.S. Supreme Court was up to, and then carried on.”
Moran said the peaceful, meditative feeling he experiences when posing is one of the main reasons he enjoys doing it. He often leaves sessions feeling like he just had a massage.
“Every model I ever talk to agrees that the first time is terrifying,” he said. “Once you do it and you see no one is going to laugh at you and nothing humiliating is going to happen, it becomes very relaxing.”
What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?
We’ve had 26 exonerations in the Innocence Clinic, and they’re all extremely memorable. But the release and exoneration of Richard Phillips, who served 46 years after being framed for a murder, was really special. Richard is a gifted artist, and he and I go figure drawing together from time to time.
What can’t you live without?
Indian food. It kept me alive when I was a graduate student at Cambridge because the food served by my college was truly terrible.
Name your favorite spot on campus.
What inspires you?
My clients who have been treated horribly by the justice system but who still somehow manage to keep a positive outlook.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished “The Plague Year”by Lawrence Wright. I haven’t picked up a new book yet.
Who had the greatest influence on your career path?
My wife, Kris Olsson, who saw that I was unhappy trying to finish my Ph.D. in physics and encouraged me to think about other possibilities.