It had rained in the morning, but now the sky was hot and blue, the hills were green—or rather, greens, a million of them—and the lake brimmed with bright ripples and mirrored trees. Our class sat (damply) on the grass, laid out our things, and squinted at the horizon. Then it struck me: Beyond a few ideas about doing a sky, Lindsay hadn't demonstrated anything about landscapes. This was the Outward Bound of painting. We were on our own.
It was surprising how little I panicked, how quickly I became absorbed. A friendly, slobbering dog joined me for a while, adding serendipitous water spots. And then I stopped and looked at my picture. I hated it. Now what?
"Process, not product" is a creativity cliché that can be blamed for a lot of macramé plant holders and bad pottery, but it is also a great truth. Lindsay: "You think a painting is awful when it's simply not finished yet. You're in the middle. You have to go through the dark wood, the mucky place, to get somewhere—you have to keep going back to intuition."
When I showed Lindsay the landscape, trying my hardest not to be negative, she asked what I thought it needed. "It's bland," I said.
"More definition?" she said, and, yes, I could see that the trees on the near side of the lake could be delineated more sharply. But I also saw that my sky was good and my greens were deep, and I realized that I was happy wandering in the dark wood. I wasn't lost; I was found. I stopped hating the picture and went to work.
Katherine Weissman writes essays and fiction and is an ardent student of piano, ballet, and painting. She lives in New York.
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