The left brain, Lindsay reminded us, is not some evil dictator; we need both modes to function fully and well. So after the initial play period, she brought orderly, analytic elements back into the process ("But no right or wrong, good or bad!") through charts that let us explore the gradations from one color to the next. I'd known forever that blue + yellow = green, but I was unprepared for the infinite and gorgeous variety I could produce with merely three primaries. Mixing colors is power of a deep, soul-satisfying sort. (Maybe the urge to make pictures is equally primal: Think of cave paintings.)

Why did this stir me so? Probably because left-brain logic (the charts) was converging with right-brain joy (the colors). The same thing happens when I see a rainbow: I know the event is scientifically explicable, yet it is still magical—an arc of light and color appearing out of nowhere. Something emerging out of nothing might be as close to a definition of creativity as we're going to get.


So far the class had remained in the sphere of the private self: Our pictures, in the best tradition of abstract expressionism, were pure invention. In the next phase we confronted an object—a piece of fruit, a flower—and reached the scary and electric point at which, as Lindsay put it, "outer and inner worlds come together."

I stared at my pear, sitting innocently on the table, and felt sick at the prospect of trying—and failing—to reproduce it. I had to remind myself that this class wasn't about being gifted or trained; it was about honesty—painting from the inside out. Don't get hung up on details, Lindsay told us; squint at those pears so that you see the underlying form, where it's light and where it's dark. My first effort was a conventional brownish yellow; with each succeeding attempt (four in all), I got more daring. The last, knocked out in a speedy 15 minutes, was an audacious yellow-orange, botanically incorrect but full of gusto.

Even more interesting was an exercise called blind contour drawing: For five minutes we gazed at an object—I did a stalk of foxglove—and drew without looking at what we were doing. Once I got past the urge to peek, the need to rush, and the fear that the drawing would be a big mess (these messages courtesy of the left side of the brain—thanks a lot!), the process was mesmerizing and meditative, truly an altered state. And my sketch, while not a faithful rendition of the foxglove, was strangely beautiful and pure. It got the essence of the flower.

The more I drew and painted, the more I felt this stillness, this out-of-timeness. Other people faded and so did noises—it was just me, the paper, the moving pencil, the ever mutating colors. It's odd that such a mental state is described as a "trance" or "reverie." It was more like the awakening of a part of me that had been dozing for years.

You know the line from "Amazing Grace"—"Was blind, but now I see?" That's how I felt as the days went by. I looked at things around me not only with greater attention but also with a sense of being able to reflect and refract the natural world through my own lens. In my mind I painted and repainted everything from a pinecone to a cloud. By the next-to-last day, I was aching to take my art outside.