Tab Tries: Stripping Off for Cash
“It looks a bit like a scene from Antiques Roadshow, except I appear on half the antiques.” ALASDAIR PAL goes life modelling.
Remember that nightmare? Everyone’s had it: you’re in an exam, finishing off a Maths/English/Rural and Agricultural Science GCSE, and something doesn’t feel right. You look down, and realise you’ve forgotten your uniform. Everyone laughs, and then all your teeth fall out.
Today, minus the gummy mouth, I am literally living the dream. The features team suggest I become a life model for the day – and like a fool, I say yes.
Reactions are mixed when I tell people I’m taking my clothes off for money.
“Have you waxed?”, said my dad, thinking he was being tremendously funny.
“You’re mad!”, said a friend, who has appeared naked in The Mail.
“Can I come?”, said my girlfriend, failing to suppress a smirk.
My handler for this experiment, so to speak, is Derek Batty. He studied art at Edinburgh, and runs a wildly successful – dare I say lucrative – series of classes at Buchan Street Neighbourhood Centre. I submit an application form, and a week later, I am booked.
“Looking forward to drawing you!”, says Derek in his final email. I feel very pleased with myself, until he later tells me one of the most important criteria is ‘owns a bike’.
The big day dawns, and I arrive to a packed hall. The other model, Claire, is early and naked. We shake hands: me awkwardly, her with a hint of amusement. She reclines on a chair, and I go to get changed.
Today’s class is entitled ‘With a Background’; the pupils (about 30-strong) are seated around the edge of the room, with a dividing wall, draped in cloth, down the centre. Thankfully, I have missed ‘Artistic Anatomy’, ‘Degas Dance Class’ and the jaunty-sounding ‘Proportion!’.
The initial plunge isn’t actually that bad. The class, all female save for a few guys, are mainly in their fifties, and entirely disinterested at my stripping off. We start with a few introductory poses, each about five minutes long. Some are seated, others standing; in all of them, I look at the ceiling or the floor. I quickly realise that making eye contact with someone as they size you up with the end of a pencil is very odd. For variety, Claire and I bounce between the two halves like a couple of quivering beach balls, while Derek offers advice.
“That’s very Damien Hirst, Miriam”, he says. I’m not sure whether this is a compliment or not. Miriam looks nonplussed.
We break for tea and coffee, and everyone traipses out into the foyer. I put on a dressing gown, and get a look at some of the portraits. One mimics Cubism, another is a close-up study in charcoal of my face. All of them are surprisingly flattering – perhaps everyone is drunk.
I struggle with small-talk even when fully clothed, but Claire is a natural, sitting amongst the group in a leopard-print robe and yattering away. She’s been at it since October, and gets booked twice a week.
“I do it to see the end result”, she explains. “It’s fascinating to see how other people perceive you”. She also has some useful advice.
“Make sure you don’t think about sex; you might think you can get away with it, but they can read it on your face. Just don’t, OK?”. And with that, she punches my arm and laughs like a drain.
The second half consists of one long portrait. I choose a position, and then chalk round my outline like a well-posed crime scene, in case I decide to move. With all the worry over getting naked, I have forgotten two important things: life modelling is tedious. And painful. A woman in front of me takes a pastel, and hammers the canvas with such ferocity that I fear for my own safety. Someone mutters something about hair. I count the wall tiles until Derek calls an end to the class. I try to get up, but it appears my left leg has entirely vanished.
We all huddle in for Derek’s post-match analysis. It looks a bit like a scene from Antiques Roadshow, except I appear on half the antiques. So how did I do? I get a smattering of applause (a bit disconcerting), and £7.10 in tips (unsure who gave the 10p). Best of all, I earn nearly £50, cash in hand, for well under three hours’ work.
“Would you like another date?”, he says, taking out his diary after the class have left, and the spotlights and heaters, still searing, have been packed into crates. And without even thinking, I nod enthusiastically.