At art workshops, creativity flourishes on vacation

Students straggle into the sunlit studio, pour fresh-brewed coffee into white mugs, don Artista-issued aprons and choose places at long tables in front of square glass palettes surrounded by a container of brushes, 20 squeeze bottles of acrylic paint and a bucket of water. Artista can enroll a dozen students: This March week, there are six.

"Anyone care for a mimosa?" asks Sanders, who resembles the boyish fashion-magazine magnate on TV's Ugly Betty. He brandishes a pitcher of orange juice and bottle of Champagne, but no one bites.

Unlike the rest of adult life, there are few rules in an Artista art safari.

On the blackboard, instructor Taylor — in paint-spattered apron and Ugg boots she and her young son decorated with splashes and squiggles — has scrawled: "1) Try all your tools 2) Make lots of paintings 3) Play! Have fun."

She explains the curriculum: Intuitive painting means portraying what you feel without over-thinking. "Don't feel you have to be perfect," she says. "Take risks." The class starts off experimenting with brushes, sponges and steel wool on small pieces of paper, working in black and white so as not to have to make decisions about color.

"You have permission to do what you want," Taylor says. "I want you all to go back to kindergarten."

Noon

Typically, students are ready for their lunch break. Here, most want to keep working, carefully setting creation after creation to dry on wire racks. Taylor brings around small black frames to show how parts of an otherwise unremarkable work can look fabulous when singled out. Even the clumsiest student has something eye-catching.

Kierstead is surprised when what she thought was a throwaway looks like a Michelangelo-sculpted male backside. Everyone laughs and encourages her to frame it.

3:10 p.m.

Studio manager Jessica Wishard brings in favorite cheeses fetched from a local shop: brie, Stilton, aged Gouda. Then it's time to discover color — Aztec gold, red oxide, raw umber, phthalo blue.

"Evolve your own style," Taylor encourages. Easy to say. But faced with an empty canvas and told to paint anything, the mind numbs.

Pick a few colors and start, Taylor suggests. Again, unlike adult life, if you make a mistake with the water-soluble acrylics, you can just wipe out errors.

6 p.m.

Work stops for a stroll to the Provence-style garden of Casanova restaurant, where the amiable owner pours wines his brother makes and a local oncologist reads his poetry to the safaristas.

Sanders explains how Bev's getaways evolved. They started with her idea for women to gain confidence by surfing. Her Las Olas surf camps in Mexico became popular — Oprah Winfrey even wanted to bring two dozen friends to one. They couldn't accommodate her, he says, because the group was too big and "the idea was to make new friends," not just hang with women you already know.

The concept clearly works: This class of very different women already is bonding. Five decide to try to track down Eastwood, whom Sanders says often can be spotted at the bar of The Mission Ranch, which the star owns.

8:10 p.m.

Sanders drops the five at the Ranch, warning his enthusiastic passengers that the star's car isn't in its usual spot, so he's probably not here. Drat. The consolation prize is watching an impromptu American Idol session: sitting in the piano bar as regulars belt out — or butcher — pop and jazz oldies.

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