The Smell of Paint / by Alice Absolutely

It probably seems a little cliched for an artist to say they love the smell of paint, but really I think it is more a case of what came first, the chicken or the egg?  As far back as I can remember, I have loved the smell of paint: tempera, finger, latex house, craft acrylic, acrylic....PAINT!  Every one of those smells: similar, unique, nostalgic, creative, comfortable, and completely ME!

Tempera paint smells like high school to me.  It was the go-to paint for whipping out posters to get votes for student council elections, homecoming parade floats, and prom decorations.  Somehow I let my friend Pennie talk me into being on the Dance Committee my Junior year.  We painted dozens of Mardi Gras masks in the most obnoxious colors of purple, gold, and green tempera paint we could find.  The art teacher ordered tempera paint for us by the gallons.  By the time prom rolled around, we switched our art factory over to jungle animals: ocelots, chameleons, and macaws.  With tempera staining all the concrete around my house, we slung paint as quickly as our arms could manage so we might find time to buy our dresses and have our hair and nails done.  Even after the acrylic manicure, you could see the pigment stains and smell the tempera chalkiness on my hands.

Maybe the love for paint started for me with finger paints as a toddler, those magical little tubs of primary colors my mom purchased for me from the Dollar Store.  I remember smearing those bright reds, blues, and yellows across the pages of coloring books, notebook paper, and construction paper.  I learned to mix those colors into the secondary and tertiary colors I wanted but that did not exist in finger paints.  Those thick gelatinous colors taught me patience to let them dry and how using too much wrinkled and ruined the paper.  The smell of water, pigment, and slimy wet construction paper faded quickly in a day giving the opportunity to start fresh each day.

My world was so often drenched in the perfume of latex house paint.  My childhood homes were often painted and re-painted.  I was never allowed to use a roller, but as soon as my balance was solid enough to be on a ladder, I was responsible for painting my own room--white at first, until I graduated to rose pink walls with taped-off, paint splattered borders, eventually growing out of my "girly phase," and into powder blue walls with deep blue and cream sponge-painted borders and trim.  My arms, wrists, and hands learned to work a brush and I reeled in the strong scent of the plastic paint for weeks after as I fell asleep in my bed.

My mom always planned some sort of craft project for us over the summers to keep me busy.  One summer, she spent way too much money on all of these little wooden cutouts of farm animals for us to paint.  Bottles of Apple Barrel craft acrylic paint covered our dinning room table.  I did the base coats and she added the details for pigs, horses, cows, dogs, chickens etc.  The project was too quickly finished and I found myself painting Christmas ornaments in July for the school's upcoming craft fair.  Weeks went by with that beautiful pigmented plastic, chalky musk swirling through our dinning room.  That was a good summer (much better than the summer when mom decided to sew our own curtains).

The summer before I left for college, I spent two weeks as a summer camp counselor.  One of the other counselors brought these little pots of pink Liquitex soft body acrylic paint out to decorate the binders for her camp kids.  Of all the paint I smelled growing up, this smell was the keys to the kingdom of all paint in my world.  It looked so PROFESSIONAL!  I painted all 12 of the binders for her just so I could play with that perfect pink paint.  That summer overall was a turning point for me in my life and it was punctuated by the smell of that paint.  Liquitex acrylic is the smell of independence, emotional maturity, responsibility, and the promise of the future for me--all of the things that summer meant.   It is my favorite smell and it takes me back every time to one of my most favorite summers.


Perfume for the perfect summer