I went to Homer a few weeks ago to find blue.
For weeks I had wanted to paint nothing but blues and purples, but I had single-handedly depleted blue acrylic paint supply on the central peninsula.
Paint stores and nonessential businesses were still open then, but I guessed any day a mandate would prevent me from restocking. So I got up at the crack of 2 p.m. on my day off and headed south to visit the Homer art store.
I started painting a year ago, almost exactly.
My very old, very smelly dog had died, so day-off jaunts to the dog park and landfill were no more. I had finished my “color your own tarot deck” — a set mom bought from Barnes & Noble for $5 and sent to me on a whim.
Left over were small tubes of acrylic paint from a kiddie colored pencil kit I bought from Walmart for my tarot enterprise.
I started on loose pieces of paper, then on pages of the half-filled journals I had lying around. I moved to bigger pieces of paper, discovered paint doesn’t do too well on drawing pads, and started using acrylic sheets.
First I drew swirls. Then lines, then circles. And then all shapes started disappearing, and my paintings just became color. Textured, mixed, contrasting and running together, layer after layer.
I started thinning paint and letting it run across canvases to create chaotic rivers of color. Most of those I painted over, as the rivers often bled into lakes of indeterminate shade.
The ripples left in their wake make a good surface for thick coats, the jagged surface producing unpredictable textures — ghosts of my unsuccessful effort.
Some nights I had no plan, but stumbled onto the right combination of color and texture.
Other nights I had a plan — a color I want to use, a canvas I was determined to salvage. Occasionally it worked. Often my plans turned to messes.
But I try again. Mess over mess until the right color appears.
Since I started painting, colors have begun taking an outsized role in my life. I see in my paintings the colors outside. And outside the colors I paint.
At sunset, dusky oranges cast shadows of pink and purple on white mountain peaks — colors in the painting hanging above my office computer — a piece I made early on, when I hadn’t quite decided what I wanted so I just went with something pretty.
In the midafternoon, when the sun hasn’t set but is thinking about it, it’s all gold. Later, as the day fades, gold shadows give off blue, casting a pall across snow — a painting I made accidentally, and will likely never make again.
On cold nights, the skies are black and clear, with the yellow moon and white stars vying for attention, like one of my black paintings, speckled white underneath.
As we head into spring, snow has turned into mud piles, an unsatisfying brown — a color I achieve some nights when layer after layer of color has just turned into a muddy stew.
The flats are brown, a tan that still has the underneath of sludge — made on nights when I am too distracted to do more than throw paint haphazardly on canvas.
Greens outside are still dull — the sleepy cedars guarded, unwilling to flourish in the cold. On canvas, greens are particularly difficult, and more often turn into camo than forest, so I have few of those.
The bogs standing along the roadside — puddles of snow melt with nowhere to go — aren’t so much a color, all of them polluted and running together.
I make those paintings on nights when I have given up and find my canvas unsalvageable, scraping all the paint into a pile. In the worst case my canvas ends in the bathtub, hosed down under the shower in an effort to disappear the ugly.
There are colors that hurt — the colors whose true horror can’t be seen until they dry. The overpowering spotlight of midafternoon sun through windows, rainbow strings of Christmas lights interrupting office fluorescents — overbright and yet still thin. My computer screen pulsing white — inescapable and necessary. The weak yellow of street lights that let us see but don’t illuminate.
On the beach at night, light pollution hanging fuzzily along cliffs like a half-hearted fog and the unsettling orange spotlights from water treatment plant resemble the afterthought canvases — not paintings but just depositories for colors I am putting somewhere else.
And then there’s blue.
The day I headed to Homer, the sky was a cobalt blue, but the sun blazed orange to my right all the way down. The ocean at Kachemak Bay was an aquamarine hue, pulled from gray and green waters. From the beach I watched the dark waves come in, over and over, and thought of all my blue paintings — the ones sitting in stacks in a corner, a few on my wall, and the ones I haven’t made yet.
I bought as much blue as seemed reasonable. The next day, the pandemic shut down the paint stores.
I ran out of blue soon after. But my brain still craves it.