A Watercolor in the Rain

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 60

Photo by Tina Kuper on UNSPLASH 

For his entire artistic career, he had rendered his works with the precision of an engineer. His art, even the abstract pieces, was always rendered more like a photograph than something from a poet. He had preferred pencil, graphite, and oils because they enabled him the tightest control over his creations.

His skill impressed his friends. Artists, however, were not. They encouraged him to loosen up, to bring some ambiguity and personality to his work, let the mistakes happen they suggested.

That was heresy. Cliff wanted to render what he saw before him, whether that was a landscape, a still life, or some patient model standing for hours with only the hourly break, as realistically as possible.

Lynn, the first artist he studied with, saw how he was too controlled. She had asked him to draw several things for her during their initial meeting. Per his custom, he did so using his trusted 2B lead pencil.

He drew a line, erased the line, then redrew the same line, erased it yet again.

She saw this and took pity on him. She took his pencil and asked that he do the sketches with a pen.

The difference was immediately noticeable.

He and his pencil were seeking perfection. No one draws or expects to draw anything perfect with a pen. Since perfection was clearly no longer ‘achievable’ with the new implement, he felt liberated. With the pencil, he was trying to run with a heavy backpack. With the pen, he felt like he was running on the breezes.

But old habits die hard. Cliff still longed for the photo-realistic accuracy. His father had admired that kind of art and mocked anything abstract, modern, or non-realistic. His father’s bias had, through nature or nurture, become his bias. So his tightness returned. Even when he saw it happening, even when he put the pencil down and returned to his beloved pens, his hesitancy returned, and he drew everything slowly.

His boldness and confidence had again receded into the background chaos of his neurosis. He longed to get them back.

“It has to be watercolors,” he says as he stands in the crafts store, studying the shelves of paint options.

He remembers how Lynn had praised the beauty and spontaneity of the controlled accident. Cliff understood her meaning. Yes, you strove for accuracy, but it did not disturb you when the wetter techniques added the occasional surprise to the work.

With watercolors, you could work ‘dry’ and with the same obsessive clinging to realism that had brought him to where he was. Or you could work ‘wet.’ With the latter, you used more water, so the paint tended to shift and flow to places you might not have planned. Hence, the ‘controlled accident.’

Watercolors, he decides, are the next chapter for his artistic development.


He considers the panoply of paints and brushes before him. He wants to try items from different companies so that he could compare the benefits of each.

He’s been standing there for five minutes; his basket is still empty.

“I’m doing it again,” he says to himself.

A woman on his left, of whom he was unaware, overhears Cliff talking to himself.

She understands.

“Trying to loosen up?” she says kindly.

“Something like that,” he says, embarrassed.

“You’re a boomer, I’m guessing? I am one as well.”

It was true, and they talked and realized that a lot of what they felt were their hangups was something which most artists they knew born in the late 1950s and 1960s wrestled.

“May I make a suggestion, Cliff?” Alice says.

“By all means,” he says. They’ve only been talking a few minutes, but he senses in Alice a kindred spirit. Not necessarily a romantic entanglement, but an alliance of artists who consult together, help nurture each other through the boundaryless terrain of artistic creativity. In a world with very few edges, it is helpful to have a guide and a friend.

Alice sets her basket down. She takes Cliff’s basket from him and begins randomly brushing tubes and pans of paint into his empty basket. There is no order to her madness. When she feels some pattern emerge, she moves the basket to a different section and restarts her chaotic collection of supplies for Cliff.

When she finishes, the basket is full of paints, brushes, and other supplies. There are certainly some duplicates and missing colors in the desired palette of colors, but it stunned Cliff by how liberating it was to watch this woman wildly gathering supplies.

She hands the full basket back to him.

“Now, go paint,” she says, smiling at him warmly.

She picks up her basket and walks away.

He understands.

Perfection isn’t the goal. Perfection was never the point. The entire point of painting is to paint, period.

If someone dropped him on a desert island, and this basket of supplies was all he had, then he would make due.

He turns to go but stops himself. Part of him wants to dump everything on the floor, organize the randomly selected paints by color. Instead, he picks up a pad of watercolor papers – the only thing Alice had forgotten to sweep into his basket.

He stops at the end of the aisle, glances affectionately if wistfully at the 2B pencils before making his way to the checkout.

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