The painter sighed as he surveyed his newest project through the dusty windshield of his battered truck. This job, he thought, was going to take a lot longer than his original estimate. He reminded himself to never take another commission without first walking the ground. The area was mostly rolling hills etched with dry gullies. The plot he was to paint was a low rise of smooth bedrock with an artful pile of boulders assembled near the highest point. He recognized the brushwork of the stones.
“No time like now,” he said to himself, and crammed his battered straw fedora onto his head, “I’m going to have to renegotiate my fee for this one.”
He stepped down from the cab and walked to the rear of the truck. After lowering the tailgate, he began choosing the paints, brushes, and other tools he would need to lay in the base paint. As the ground was glassy-smooth, the painter chose a hand-pumped garden sprayer mounted on a pack-frame to paint the granular soil required for the desert motif upon which his client had decided. The painter poured a combination of fast-drying paints—yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and cadmium red being careful to layer the colors in the sprayer’s tank. Atomized in different colors, the paint would dry into multi-colored sand. The vegetation would come later.
The artist shrugged into the pack frames’ shoulder straps and bounced on his toes to settle the weight before walking to the top of the hill. He began spraying, and was careful to avoid getting paint on the boulders; marring a colleague’s work was poor form. While he painted, he spiraled outward from the central boulder. The sprayer’s tank was soon empty, and the paint dried quickly on the smooth, sunbaked bedrock.
When he stepped back to assess his work, the painter decided to finish the job in sections, rather than layers. He dropped the sprayer on the truck’s tailgate and began assembling his vegetation palette. The rains had ended a few days before, so he chose brilliant greens and yellows for spring. He would add flowers, insects, seeds, even small mammals, after the basic vegetation in the first section was completed.
The painter crunched across the newly painted desert floor and his mood improved.
“Not so bad, and it beats painting houses,” he mused. He used a three-haired brush to paint tender spring grass in the shadow of a boulder and took care to draw each blade out to a fine tip.
As the paint dried, the new grass stirred in the light breeze brushing the hilltop.
S.T. Otlowski is retired and has been writing Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror (and sometimes a combination thereof) for not quite twenty years. He is a landscape painter, musician, and chorister. In addition, he is an avid outdoorsman in New York’s Hudson Valley. His work has appeared in Flora Fiction (Summer 2020), Chronogram Magazine (Summer 2019), and Anglers Journal (Fall 2019).