This class was held at a private residence in Perth. It took me a little while to find it, but a couple of the locals in a small town in Meigle assured me it was just ten minutes out of town. I was going to get a taxi, for the last little bit of distance, but they were scathing about that plan. It wasn't worth the price of a taxi.
So I set out walking, instead. And half an hour later, I arrived - tired and straining from the effort of dragging the case with all the sketchpads. Thankfully, it was on wheels, but when some of the journey is through gravel, the wheels are only minimally effective.
Once I got there, the mood - as usual - completely changed, though. I was shown to the room and I set down the bags. Then it was suggested that we might do the class outside. I've always wanted to do that, so was pretty eager. Some gathering clouds made me wonder whether it was a good idea, but I was certainly up for trying. So we agreed that if it started raining, then every girl would get her sketchpad inside quickly and I could collect the rest of the supplies and take them inside.
We managed to get two full poses done, before I felt a couple of stray drops - and then a few more. To be honest, we could have probably persevered and carried on with the class, but I was pretty concerned about the pages in the sketchpads and how drops of rain could ruin some of the pictures. So I was pretty conscious of the fact that a few drops could quickly turn into full rain, and we abandoned the outdoor element.
The first of my favourite pictures was done outside. The "zombie" picture. The jaw and the cold, dead eyes looked really cool and I couldn't help falling in love with it right away.
While we were outside, I spotted a couple of Space Hoppers off to the side and immediately pegged them as potential props for a later drawing challenge. Then I forgot all about them. One of the girls had the same thought as me, though, and brought one of them inside for one of the last drawings.
One of the girls quickly endeared herself to me. Her constant, shameless stream of innuendo was absolutely terrible - and completely relentless. I told her that her comments didn't even qualify as double entendres, because that implied that the suggestive nature of them was a secondary interpretation. These were barely even single entendres. These lines would have been rejected by the writers of the Carry On films for their lack of subtlety.
We relaxed a lot into this class and a couple of times, I probably allowed it to stray just a little too far from the central concept. The poses became so laid back and the conversations so rambling, that I think there was more than once where I almost forgot what I was supposed to be doing and relaxed into it just a bit too much. I had to occasionally remind myself that there was a job to be done, then forcibly return to the basic concept and start judging pictures, or winding up drawing challenges.
I was asked to guess everybody's careers. So I looked round the room - from left to right - and start assigning jobs to everyone. I can't remember all of them, but lollipop lady and traffic warden were among them. One of the girls had tried to argue that my logic was flawed (or simply wrong) when I judged one picture as the winner of a competition, rather than a different one. I announced that she was a lawyer. But not a very good one, since she failed to persuade me.
In fact, I think that was the point where I was trying to decide between three separate pictures - all of which had different merits and all of which had various girls picking their own favourites from the nominations and getting a bit animated with their reasoning. After a few minutes of that, I pointed at a fourth picture - one I hadn't even seen yet - and randomly announced that one to be the winner, instead. Not exactly fair. Not even particularly sound logic. But definitely fun. Especially considering that the ultimate winner was a pretty good picture, anyway.
One of the winning pictures was a bit suggestive. I was standing in a dramatic pose, holding my hat out ahead of me. I think the theme was meant to be "Singing in the rain". I had to modify it slightly, because there was no way I could keep my balance with - as was requested - one leg wound round the other.
My co-model had to get down on her knees, next to me. There was a bit of a modest distance, but the winning picture suggested that the results were a lot more intimate than that. It wasn't deliberate (I think), but it was enough to make me announce it as the winner of that challenge.
The Space Hopper - when it was finally brought in - was a great prop. I couldn't resist it and made a comment about using it to develop my core muscles. It was round about then that one of the girls asked me if I'd ever considered doing stand-up comedy. I admitted that it had crossed my mind a couple of times. She told me that it probably wasn't an idea I should take too seriously. And considering that some of my jokes that weekend were exceptionally lame, there was nothing I could do but hang my head in shame and agree.
The girls got surprisingly co-ordinated during the Make-A-Giant-Man pose. Suddenly, they started allocating body parts to each other, so the results were pretty consistent. This meant that in the end, I only had one opportunity to indulge my usual trademark move of posing with a strategically positioned penis picture.
Finally - an extra challenge was introduced and I was invited to participate. Some bananas were produced and we were all invited to shape them into a replica of my penis, using only our teeth. Surprisingly difficult. It's fair to say that I'm more familiar with it than any of the girls there - intimately familiar, in fact - but I still made the glans far too small.
My memory must be slightly flawed here, by the way. Because although I feel sure that this banana challenge was the very last one before I got dressed, I can see that there's a banana theme to the penis part of one of the Space Hopper pictures. So unless that's a huge coincidence, it must have happened afterward.
After the class, I got dressed and was given a sandwich and a beer, so I sat down with a couple of the girls for a little while. I've been asked a couple of times, whether there's a different personality in charge when I'm doing the classes. It's a good question, but I don't think that's the case. It's more like an extension of the more outgoing and confident parts of me. Still completely natural, but some elements are brought forward. After the class ends, if I'm still talking to people, I can be a bit less confident and a bit more shy. I'm not performing so much, which means I'm aware that it's more realistically "me" that's present at those points.
At the same time, I'm still a bit high from the show. Which means I can be pretty animated. And I know from experience that when I'm animated like that, I can also be a bit irritating to be around. And that - in turn - makes me slightly self-conscious. Combine all that with the fact that, when I'm not performing, I'm not sure if there's a reason for me to be around any more and perhaps I'm just getting in the way a bit.
A week earlier, I'd done another class in a private venue and I'd been welcomed to sit and talk with some of the girls while I'd waited for my taxi. So all of this had been going through my mind since then. I'd enjoyed the irony of it all - the fact that I can suddenly feel a little shy, after spending an hour naked.
It was still fun, though. We spoke about a few things and I found out that one of the girls had applied for a job with Fixers. It's still a bit early to discuss that here, but if all goes well, there will be a future blog posting all about that.
Beer finished, sandwich eaten, bags packed and I headed back to Meigle. I thought about taking a taxi, but preferred to walk back because it was a nice day and I felt like slowing down a bit. The girls had a murder/mystery theme planned for the rest of the night. That sounded cool, too. I bet they've got a lot more props and a lot more stuff to co-ordinate than I have.
Makes me glad that my own job is so flexible on the details.
In which I get glitter thrown at me, moustaches drawn on me
and hashtags written on my chest
I left Karin cleaning up after the second class and took off for the third one on my own. It was going to be held at a private residence near Gorebridge and I had timed it very carefully. I knew that I could get there by car in about half an hour, so I'd booked a taxi.
I was paranoid about the details, though. Earlier that day, I called up the firm to make sure that they knew all the details. The person I spoke to rattled them off to me over the 'phone - pickup time, pickup point, destination, the whole lot. That sort of efficiency can really calm the nerves. When I stepped out of the City Cafe, the driver was already there, waiting for me.
It worried me slightly that he was using a 'phone as a satnav, although I figured he knew what he was doing. But I still dug out my own 'phone and used the satnav on that one too, so I could follow the route. Just in case.
And I'm glad I did. Twice, the driver took a wrong turn and then seemed to quietly freeze up. Like he couldn't figure out how to cope when his technology failed him. Both times, I got him to back up and take an alternative route. The second time that happened, I could see his panic was fading and he was getting a bit irritated instead. He drove straight past the entrance to Kirkhill Mansion, we went under a bridge and ended up in a dead end. I looked at my satnav again, then made him turn round, retrace the route and take a sharp left. In fairness to him, it was a very small road and easily missed. But just for a moment, I thought he was going to refuse to attempt the turn.
We still got to Kirkhill Mansion with nearly ten minutes to spare, though. That's not quite enough for my own peace of mind; I prefer a bit longer than that to set everything up. But I was running on adrenaline by then and sailed through the whole process. I kicked over a tub of charcoal in my haste, but still managed to get everything ready in record time.
A lot of the girls knew what was going on, but some were still in the dark. When I announced that the room was ready, they took a few minutes to filter through. But finally, all the worries about timing and schedules were completely taken care of. I was doing the final class of the day and had no need to keep an eye on the clock any more. I was able to just relax and enjoy myself. I made sure that the girls had no time restrictions going on, then I told them that we would just settle in and have fun without worrying about the time.
It seems that summer is definitely the theme this weekend. This is the second group to have flowers in their hair. They all had headbands that they'd each individually created. They also had identical shoes with pompoms on them and little cards hanging round their necks.
I asked about the cards and was told they were dares. I was going to ask about the dares, but one of the girls beat me to it, by trying to fulfil one of hers. I posed for a picture with her, then as she was sitting down I noticed that she'd put a sticker on my side. It was a failed dare, though, because I wasn't supposed to notice it was there.
I've had groups with dares before, though. And I always think it's fun to offer bonus points to any girl who will carry her dare out during the class. And I wasn't about to break that pattern, today.
So three more dares were fulfilled...
One of the girls put glue on me, then threw glitter onto the glue. It was a lot harder to get rid of that glitter than I anticipated. But even despite that, I think that it might be a fun extra element to future classes. I should add some glue and glitter to my bag of props.
Another girl wrote a hashtag on my chest. She was really worried that she might hurt me with the charcoal and was afraid to press too hard.
Another one drew a moustache on my face. And that contributed to some really cool pictures. If I thought I could genuinely look that good with a real moustache, I'd probably grow one.
The Make-A-Giant-Man pose resulted in four penises, this time. And they were great penises. Beautifully drawn. None of them won that challenge, though. Because one of the girls also drew my right hand. I announced that one to be the winner, though, because - and my logic was sound - what good is having four penises if I don't also have one good hand?
I loved that hand, though. In the entire history of these classes, only two people have drawn my right hand with enough detail to include the damaged little finger - and both those pictures have happened within weeks of each other. The previous one was almost exactly one month ago. I wrote about it in a posting called Punk cock cake.
Once the class was finished, I called for a taxi to take me home again, then I was invited to sit in the kitchen and wait for it. I was given a beer and sat at the kitchen table, while some of the girls cleaned up around me. It suddenly occurred to me that for the entire duration of the art class, I was completely comfortable standing naked in a room full of strangers - chatting, flirting, posing, setting up challenges, deducting points, letting them draw on me and throw glitter at me. And then, when it was all over, I felt self-conscious and shy. All my charm (such as it is) had deserted me and I'd completely run out of things to say.
I found that quietly amusing, though. I appreciated the irony of it.
and make full use of some strategically positioned props
After the first group left, Karin and I moved quickly to get everything set up for the second class of the day. And we soon found out that we'd been much more efficient than I'd anticipated. I think a large bit of the preparation involves getting stuff out of the bags, but that clearly wasn't necessary.
After that, we had a few minutes to relax. But, as usual, relaxation isn't something I'm good at while I'm waiting for a class to start. I told Karin that some of the tweaks I add to the layout of the environment almost had some obsessive compulsive elements going on. Then I saw that three chairs with red trim were next to two darker chairs, so I switched them round a bit to stagger the colours. She laughed at me and agreed with the OCD comparison.
She had a tweak of her own that she wanted to implement and asked if I would move a chair out of one corner of the room so she could have space to stand without looming over people. It made sense and also gave her freedom to move towards the bar and get some water for me if I needed it. We were both feeling very thirsty.
This second group had a flowery theme going on. It took me a while to notice it that they were all wearing little hair bands with flowers in them. One of them called it "Summer lovin'". I thought it was meant to be a 1960s vibe.
As usual, the penis cake went down a storm. One of the girls asked me to hold it strategically, which was a little worrying. I was nervous that it would slip off the tray and spoil all Karin's work. It's better to sit on the floor to do that, where it can be held flat. But standing up provided for a better photo opportunity, even if I'm a bit hunched over, protecting the cake.
During the final group photo sessions, one of the girls asked if I would lie across some of the chairs with a strategically positioned prop - an Austin Powers kind of moment - while some of them stood behind me and looked shocked. That was my favourite picture of this class. I was right under the spotlight, and they were standing back in the shadows a bit, so not a perfect picture. But the lighting did give it a bit of drama.
While this was going on, Karin was gathering up the chalks and sketchpads for me. I went to get dressed quickly, then stepped back into the room and said goodbye to all the girls. I told them they had the room for another half hour, so they could relax and enjoy themselves a bit longer, then went upstairs.
My taxi was waiting for me and I was off to the third class of the day - in Gorebridge.
This is my fifth summer with this business and it's become clear that June is the busiest month of the year. This is, in fact, the busiest weekend of the year. Four hen parties. It would be my favourite weekend, if I wasn't stressed about schedules and times. And it would be a lot easier, if I wasn't also very motivated to making sure that the girls who book me are getting the best event possible. So I find myself finding the best ways to balance two elements that don't go well together.
So I was keeping an eye on the time to make sure that we kept to a decent schedule. I wanted to make sure the girls got enough time to relax into their drawings, and that - once the class was concluded - there was also enough time to take pictures, say our goodbyes and wind everything down gradually. While still making sure there was also enough time to tidy up and get ready for the next class.
I scheduled an hour between each one. Which left half an hour for winding down and half an hour for preparation. I had a system.
Today was my second and third use of the City Cafe. And thankfully, there was a giant fan on the bar, this time. It took me a few minutes to work out how to turn it on, but I figured it out and turned it towards the main area I was going to set in. The fire escape door was opened up again, so we had some decent air circulation going on. Which was lucky, because both today's classes were bigger than last night's ones.
As usual, I couldn't get a 'phone signal in the Cafe. It seems that every single venue I ever use in Edinburgh is a black hole for 'phone reception. So once I'd prepared the room, I stepped outside and sent a text the girl who had booked me, then went back inside and found Karin waiting for me. I didn't see her at first, so when she spoke, she genuinely startled me.
This weekend also marked Karin's second and third classes. And the second and third appearances of the penis cake. We met up for a coffee a couple of weeks ago, had a conversation about what worked and didn't work about the cake and agreed on a new plan. The money I was paying her for the cake just wasn't worth the time and ingredients, and I couldn't afford to pay her any more. So we decided to make the cakes smaller and award them as prizes, once we counted up all the points.
Karin also made the icing pink, this time. I preferred that. The last cake was great, but I think pink icing looks nicer and more cartoonish. The shape of it was better, too. I liked the cleaner lines and the better details. And it was eleven inches long, so still a decent sized cake even if it was smaller.
The initial plan for this class was for Karin to sit the girls down and introduce the concept to them. I was hiding behind the door to the bar, crouched down and trying to watch everybody arrive through a crack in the door. When I got my cue, I was going to stand up and walk into the room. I think I missed the cue slightly, but I breezed on through and kept going. I was also a little surprised that the girls weren't sitting where I expected them to be. They had already taken up position with the sketchpads. I wasn't keen on this twist, because some of the girls were seated with their backs to me and I wasn't sure how they'd respond to having a naked man walking up behind them. But they seemed to take it in their stride, so I relaxed pretty quickly, stepped past them and took up position in the room.
I asked Karin about that later, and she said that the girl who was arranging everything had told her that only the bride needed to be surprised and asked for a change to the intro. So there had been a last-minute tweak to the arrangements. Karin had thought I could hear them being discussed and was prepared for the new layout. I was completely cool with it, though. I had been confident that there was a good reason for the change in routine; I was just curious about what it was.
The Make-A-Giant-Man challenge had some interesting results. There have been times when I've allocated body parts to people in the group, which has provided some fairly coherent results. But when there are more than eight people, it's harder to do that, because there just aren't enough body parts to go round; so we get the girls to go with whichever parts they prefer.
This time - for probably the first time ever - the final result only had one penis. There were two bums, though. And two great ears. There was no way we could pass up that particular photo opportunity. It was just too good.
Apart from the fact that I had somehow - stupidly - left my feedback book on the bus going home yesterday, the class went well. I had the opportunity to fill up the last couple of pages in that book in just one single afternoon, but I didn't have it with me. I was gutted when I realised what I'd done. I hope it's been handed in to the Lost Property office. If not, I've just lost five years worth of ego-stroking.
But one of the girls congratulated me, just as everything was winding down. She said "You kept it going very well." I'm not sure if she realised just how much of a compliment that was. It's one of the other big balancing acts in these events. Keep the momentum going, without getting too manic and acting like a 1970s Butlins "entertainer". Compliments like that make me realise that I must have a pretty good balance going on.
due to the wilful disregard of "the rules" by a misbehaving artist.
I can't believe I've never used the City Cafe, before. It's a great venue. Brightly lit, spacious, ideal for the art classes.
I was a bit concerned when I first arrived for today's class. It was a bit dark and a bit warm. In fact, it was very warm. I was about to get naked, and I already knew it was too warm for me. So I got someone to come down, turn on a spotlight and open a fire door. The spotlight fixed one problem and added to the other, but the fire door made all the difference.
The girl who booked me arrived, while I was just putting the finishing touches to the room and I think I spent a moment or two being a bit flustered and trying to get my head together. Having just fixed the heating and lighting - which could have been serious issues - I was still dealing with the fact that I'd fixed everything and only needed to take care of the usual stuff. So I wasn't my usual smooth, professional self quite yet.
(Not that I ever get too professional - that would be boring.)
I recovered, though, and we agreed on the basic format of the class. Everybody knew what to expect except the bride. My first thought was that I could wait until everyone got seated, then I could step into the room, but the bride's sister had a better thought. I could just stand in the middle of the room and wait, so I would be the first person the bride saw when she entered.
I used to do that, way back at the beginning. But it wasn't always the best plan, because when the first girls entered the room, their reactions would filter back and spoil the surprise for everyone else. But that's only an issue when there's a surprise to be spoiled. These girls were already fully aware of what was happening, so everything was cool.
It was a great response. Everybody was enthusiastic, and the bride seemed to be really into the idea, right away. Sometimes people take a while to warm up to the idea of a naked man being part of the entertainment. In a very recent class, the bride was definitely not cool with it at first, although she got happier as the class went on and she realised it wasn't going to get particularly wild.
I did the usual first pose, then asked for suggestions for the second. I was initially asked to thrust towards the bride, but this got amended to me leaning - almost looming - over her, while she drew. Then I noticed that the pose was a bit camp, so I told her that she could pretend I was a gay man, if that made it feel a bit less threatening. But by then, she seemed to have relaxed into it completely and was having a great time.
The willy warmer was popular, once again. It's a cheeky prop and I think part of the comedy value with it is that it's just too small. So any time I'm asked to use it, it barely fits at all. There's more skin revealed than covered.
One of the girls - the bride's sister - set a precedent for herself pretty early on, by somehow making her own score completely incomprehensible. I gave her minus three points almost immediately. Then I awarded her some and put her back into plus figures - then subtracted more. Then I lost count and drew a line through her score, tried to recalculate it, gave up and eventually told her that her score was a sort of messy, surreal scribble. As the class went on, she lost more and more points for various reasons, but I'd long since given up on keeping track of them. And after a while, I admitted to her that she was so consistent with her disregard for the rules - any rules at all - that I had started thinking of awarding her points for rebellion. That made me tempted to award her just enough extra points to put her in the lead by one single digit. In the end, though, I didn't do any of that. Her ultimate score remained as a surreal scribble.
It was a relatively small class, so when we got to the Make-A-Giant-Man pose, I could probably have taken a bit more control and allocated body parts to the girls. That's an easier job when there are fewer people, because it's not too difficult to find ten different anatomical features to draw. I always think it's more fun, though, to leave it completely random and find out how many penises I end up with. It's a lot of fun to pose with them, too.
I got three of them, this time.
When the class was finished, I gave my feedback book and a tin of coloured chalks to the girls and said I would come up to join them, after I'd tidied up. There are another two classes in the City Cafe tomorrow and a third in Gorebridge, so I took all the sketchpads and asked to store them behind the bar.
I got that taken care of, got dressed and went upstairs. Collected the feedback book, pointed out the infamous "grower not a shower" page, chatted for a couple of minutes and headed home. I'd had a really great time with this group and if I hadn't forced myself to leave, I'd have probably hung around with them for ages. It's going to be a busy weekend, so I'm definitely hoping they've set the tone for the rest of it.
For future classes here, I should probably try to find a way of incorporating the Trainspotting connection. This is where Spud and Renton meet before they go for their job interview and it's a location that features in a couple of Irvine Welsh's novels. It's a touch of notoriety that adds an extra bit of coolness to the venue.
I made up a book of some of my pictures. Just in case anyone's interested. It's very expensive, but you can see and buy it at the Blurb website and you can get a preview of it here. Just the first fifteen pages, though. Consider it a teaser.