My Story

When people ask me what I do, I say “I am an artist and I focus on nude portraiture for women”. When they ask me what type of art, I say “lyrical and expressive linework”. But the full story of why I chose to pursue a career based on nude art and how it helped me overcome my physical insecurities is told less often. 

All my life I knew I wanted to be an artist, but I did not know what that meant or how it would look in practice. In my preschool years, my dad would laminate artwork I created in his classroom before school started (he taught at the same school) and when I got home, I felt my artwork had become ‘professional’. Both of my parents encouraged my art practice, and even after they separated, my mother made sure I enrolled in all art classes within the school system and through extracurricular programs.

My grandfather was an amateur artist who focused not only on watercolor landscapes but also figurative art, with the subject matter being primarily nude females. Growing up in a catholic and conservative home, I'm surprised my mother didn’t hide his nude paintings from me during our visits. She embraced them with a level of respect that I adopted, as they were artistic, tasteful nudes, and were meant to be given such admiration.

I didn’t develop a personal affinity for figurative art until high school when I enrolled in a weekly late-night figure drawing class to boost my portfolio for art school applications. I was the youngest student in class by at least 15 years and was stunned to learn that the first model I would be instructed to draw was an older man. As expected, I was extremely nervous because of his nudity. Yet, after my initial shock, I realized that no one else in the room seemed worried or frantic with his nudity. True, it was something that was happening in our midst, but it was respected and stripped of its taboo or sexuality. I observed the space around me transform into an artful space, filled with the same respect I saw my mother have for my grandfather’s art. Suddenly, the model’s nudity became my muse for interpretation.

I participated in these weekly figure drawing classes until I graduated high school and continued with my practice of figurative art throughout college. By my senior year, I had developed a very strong portfolio of nude art, but I wasn’t sure how to apply it in my next chapter of young adulthood. When I moved to Houston after college, I landed in the warm embrace of the yoga and nutrition world, and my art became a side project/passion, yet not my main priority.

While paying bills, I couldn’t afford model labs as regularly, so to continue my figurative art practice, I began to paint portraits of myself. From reference photos to drawings and paintings, time after time, I became the muse I had once studied so attentively. After many drawing sessions from my past, I often wondered why I felt like I knew the muse, even if no words had been spoken between us. When studying a muse, one becomes curious about their passions, hopes, trials, preferences, and who the person is before them willing to be so vulnerable to a complete stranger. Using myself as a model and muse, I also realized how healing the practice of self-portraiture was for me after the rough patches of my young adulthood and perpetual disdain for parts of my body. 

I remember a portrait I created of myself with a magenta-colored pencil on drawing paper. I was trying to challenge myself with not only unique angles and proportions but also how to create motion in seemingly static poses. This particular nude drawing showcased me in a normal, static pose I take in my day-to-day life and one in which no part of me could hide. I couldn't hide the area on the side of my thighs, the area around my navel, or the area behind my bicep. Every part of me was there because that was myself fully transcribed from real life to a two-dimensional surface.

After stepping back and looking at this nude drawing of myself, I felt something unusual. I wasn’t so caught off guard or horrified with my nudity. I was overall content with how I looked. I realized that maybe this comfort in my body came from looking at it in a whole new way, as an art piece, and ultimately, all the pieces and parts of me made sense.

I became empowered in my nude self because of my artful practice of portraiture. I continued to dive into self-portraiture, creating multiple portraits of myself in different styles, poses, and paint applications to communicate with the world around me. I wanted to utilize nude art to find communion with an audience, whoever they might be. As an artist, art was my portal to express a human experience, and I was the subject. As a result, I watched an audience grow. When viewing my figurative art, strangers became emotional, held their partners closer, teared up, laughed, and smiled.

I realized that nude art is so much more than a body. Nude art is narrative, for we all hold a story.

I took on my first custom nude portrait commission shortly after I opened my studio, Haley Bowen Fine Art. In my early studio days, I only had a simple cushioned armchair and a wooden bench with pillows for my models. Even with such a minimal setup, I watched the same experience I had with my portraits take place with these women who were disrobed before me. Through their vulnerability, they gained courage. They were empowered to acknowledge who they were at that exact moment in time and could unabashedly share and memorialize themselves within an art piece.

The Empowered Portrait Experience was born.

Since opening my studio in 2017, I have worked with hundreds of women to be a vessel for their stories through figurative art. I am incredibly passionate about my work and I am fully living out my vocation and purpose in life. I observe one woman after another come through my studio door, nervous at first, then through the art of sitting with her nude self in a respectful and honorable way, become empowered and uplifted.

It is a moving experience every single time I have the honor to witness it.

I want women to feel empowered, first and foremost. I want women to feel empowered in their nudity, and I want this to happen through art. There is so much taboo with our nude female bodies, so much we have to apologize for, cover up, fight for ownership of, and disrespect, hide, and belittle in doing so. Through the art of nude portraiture, women fully reclaim their bodies. Period. They can tell their story and shatter the taboo.

More often than not, a woman comes into my studio and apologizes for something about her body: her hair, her weight, her sweat, her insecurity, etc. When placed on a platform, this woman and I speak about life, family, work, and relationships. We share stories and connect on living life as a woman. Toward the end of her session, she realizes that no part of her experience of being drawn and transcribed into an art piece had anything to do with what she walked in apologizing for or being ashamed of.

Ultimately, those pieces and parts are all additions to the story of her entire figure and without them, her composition wouldn’t be authentic. What matters is her story. My lines come from her magnitude, her spirit in my studio. Moving side to side and up and down, the pencil transcribes her story, her desires, and aspects of her life that create the chaos of lines that will always inevitably settle down and generate her whole figure on the page, bringing forth her nude portrait. That’s the magic that happens in my studio.

That is The Empowered Portrait.