Sprawled out on a bed in a black bra and matching knickers, stockings and a pair of stilettos, I shut my eyes and tried to ignore the hand gently resting on my knee. My own hand was sitting motionless, loosely grasping the flesh of a warm thigh. I’d been lying like this, next to and facing a semi-clad Swedish woman, for the past fifty minutes. ‘It’s just like being backstage at the Moulin Rouge, isn’t it?’ the director said waving his arms around excitedly. I thought this somewhat hopeful but I appreciated his enthusiasm. ‘Peter,’ a Norwegian woman hollered at him from behind her canvas, ‘she look like a man. She has a man face.’ Ingrid and I looked at each other with concern, unsure which of us she was referring to. ‘It’s because her face is too fat, isn’t it?’ she continued and pointed her paintbrush at me. The director looked between the painting and me and nodded. ‘And it’s too red and her breasts are too massive.’ She folded her arms in resignation. It was a struggle not to leap up and see what she’d done; I was beginning to imagine something along the lines of a WWF wrestler. A small smirk escaped from Ingrid and within seconds the two of us had collapsed into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. ‘Seriously,’ the guy directly in front of me held his charcoal up and sighed, ‘I’m trying to draw your face.’ ‘Sorry,’ I managed breathlessly before realizing that, to wipe away the tears, I was going to have to move my arm.
After one week on the retreat, this was our last foray into the dark and twisty world of erotica and this was about as steamy as things had got. Since the opening session, I’d had no further opportunity to work on my stripping technique and at no time had I been required to harness my inner Von Teese. It turns out that, from a model’s point of view, erotic art is not so very different to normal art: take clothes off, find position, hold position for a very long time. And, quite frankly, it is hard to convey sexuality and sensuality when a) your muscles are twitching b) you are trying not to flinch c) you have no feeling left in your arms and legs. ‘You do tend to look annoyed,’ one of the male students noted during a mid-morning coffee break, ‘and you can definitely tell when you’ve had enough.’ Bloody Ingrid, I thought, if she wasn't so amenable I wouldn't look half as bad. It was hardly my fault that the statuesque blond had an unnerving ability to hold contorted positions for extreme periods of time. Of course, in comparison I was going to be the short, bossy one who seemed unable to sit still and refused to do anything uncomfortable.
At least modeling for three hours a day, six days in a row, gave me plenty of time to improve my technique. And although it did little to expand my "horizons", I did get the chance to think about my body in new and unexpected ways every day. 'It might be interesting if I twisted this way,' I'd think to myself as I'd try out a new pose, 'and if I let the light fall across me here it will cast beautiful shadows.' As the week went on I found myself getting increasingly creative. I painted my nails siren red, draped oriental fabric behind me, wrapped a white turban around my head and posed flapping a fan of green feathers (one prop too many according to Peter, who promptly told me to put it back in my suitcase). ‘Perhaps,' I suggested on the fifth day, 'we should try doing an Yves Klein?’ One of the guys raised his eyebrows at me, ‘You want us to paint you blue and watch you roll around on a giant canvas?’ I nodded; I couldn't think of anything I'd like better.