The First Stroke of Paint

SPRING 2016 — An Expository Writing assignment

The first stroke is always the brightest. The teacher tells me to start with the purest colors before laying on the grays and darks, so with a flick of my wrist, the solid red streak burns uncontested and incorruptible against the stark whiteness, a violent aberration in the uniformity of its surroundings. The blank ocean of canvas, menacing in its vastness and seemingly untouchable by the bloody carnage of the paintbrush, seems to swallow my vision, taunting the success of my piece—but my eyes dart back to the red streak.

It could have been a tiny fishing boat, aimlessly lost, despairingly alone, at the mercy of the waves. But I decide that it’s a blue whale, still relatively insignificant in the endless waters but commanding in its presence all the same, each swish of its tail sending ripples in every direction. Akin to a protesting university student, small in the face of adversaries yet animated with the vigor of idealism, the red streak challenges the ocean of potential failure around it and reassures me with its emboldening scarlet hue as I dive head first into the immensity of the canvas. The first stroke has power in its purity. No painting, the teacher says, can see its completion without the initial layer of the purest, most vivid colors.

The first stroke is always the brightest, but it doesn’t stay that way. Each subsequent streak diminishes in vibrancy and integrity as I warily add browns and grays into the mix. The red streak no longer belts its song with confidence and tenacity, but its muffled screams can be heard beneath the murky tides of its tainted brethren. I’m overwhelmed in a different way, by the silencing of a color so red and so pure and so alive in the indifferent sea of dusty blues and grays and browns. The teacher assures me that it still serves a purpose in the greater picture, that its muted pigments enhance the undertones of the piece. But the red trailblazing streak remains scarred on my mind, all of its passion and heart intensely and beautifully at war with the oppressive white of the canvas. I can only lament its former glory, for it’s buried under layers upon layers of paint now.