27 08, 2017

On Being Accountable in the Eye of a Storm


Back in the 1980s, I thought a lot about my dream house. I had a vision of a Key West-style white clapboard house with a giant porch that wraps all the way around. Because I love the sound of rain and thunder, I dreamed of sitting on that porch during massive rainstorms. The idea of a porch on each side of the house was to get out of the blowing rain so I could sit outside during a storm and stay dry.

“Soggy” might best describe today. But it’s beyond that. Imagine giant industrial-size fans like the ones they use on movie sets. Now imagine a firehose of water gushing out in front of those fans, which are grinding as fast as they possibly can and pointing toward the windows. Today, the rain is blowing sideways and the noise on the metal roof is almost deafening from inside the house.

I never built that dream house, but I do have that big long wraparound porch. I’m sitting here on my little red wicker couch in the corner of the porch. How that couch has not blown away is a mystery. All the other lawn furniture is in the garage because forecasters told us to store any objects that can fly away.

I’m wearing my bright red raincoat, which is making lots of noise in the strong wind, and though I’m dry in this little corner, I’m feeling a light mist from the blowing rain.

During the peak of the storm, which started on Thursday night, the house was shaking like a martini. We wondered if at any moment our metal roof would fly off and we would have rain on the inside.

We left Florida to escape hurricanes. Though Austin is inland and Hurricane Harvey was downgraded, it was a whopper of a storm.

One thing most people don’t know is that the barometric pressure of hurricanes puts many nearly-due pregnant moms into labor. In fact, some friends came up to our house during a storm and ended up going into labor; their daughter was born in a hospital that was using a generator to keep the lights on — and at the same time, in the delivery room next door, Marla Maples was giving birth to Tiffany, the daughter of our President. (Please no e-mails because I used the “p-word.”)

Unrelated to the storm, we’re celebrating three new babies.

Dean Pickering, who edits our art instruction videos, has just informed us of the birth of his new grandson, Ryan.

Allison Affourtit, who puts together the e-mails and e-mail graphics for our marketing lab, has just come back to work after the birth of her daughter, Sloane.

Turner Vinson, who works on our videos and photography and audio at our Plein Air Convention & Expo and Figurative Art Convention & Expo, is due to have his second child at any minute. He is out of the storm zone, but so far I’ve heard nothing. I’ve managed to get this e-mail out, despite power outages — somehow the cell towers are still operational nearby.

It’s fun to see more babies added to the family.

Over the years I’ve watched young people I’ve hired grow up, blossom into fine adults, get married, have kids, raise their kids, put their kids into college, and watch their kids get married and continue the amazing cycle of life.

Though I cannot claim to be the world’s best boss, I do try to keep up on the families, the pictures, and the things family members are experiencing. It’s one of the joys of my business life.

I’m reminded of this quote…

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” — Luke 12:48

When I was younger, I didn’t think much about the responsibility to care for what I’ve been blessed with. Yet today, as the family of co-workers grows, I realize I have accountability to these people. If I mess up, these kids don’t eat.

I think the same thing is true for those of us who are artists…

We have a responsibility to our “art family”… the people who buy our artwork and the people who help us sell it. We are a unified family.

When someone is paying me for my artwork, I feel an obligation to be the very best I can be. Not so that I look good, though that’s nice, but so my galleries are offering the very best of me.

For me that means…

  • Don’t be in a hurry.
  • Don’t cut corners.
  • Don’t settle for just getting it done. Only settle when it’s done well.
  • Provide the absolute finest work you can produce.
  • Be mindful of the long term, so your painting lives on for generations.
  • Be in a constant state of growth by learning from others.
  • Be responsible about quality preparation and materials to prevent cracking and to make sure the painting lasts for many, many years.
  • Picture the painting in a home as a portal, taking viewers to another place.

I was horrified when an artist friend told me he prepares his canvas with house paint in order to save money. When I told him that house paint peels over time and that his paintings won’t last, he said, “Who cares? I’ll be dead by then.”

Sadly, that’s not providing accountability to your buyer, who has trusted you to give them the very best.

No matter what you do … accountability and trust come with the territory.

I think most of us strive to live up to the expectations of others and understand that there is satisfaction in living up to the responsibilities we’ve been given.

I’d love to hear from you, and hear about the ways that you provide accountability in your daily life, whether it’s family, employees, students, work, or artwork. I’ve come to look forward to spending part of my morning listening to your stories. I hope you’ll take time to share yours with me.

Have a great week, and join me in celebrating new babies in the Streamline family. Oh, and I love seeing your families on Facebook and Instagram. Though I’m told I’ve reached my limit on “friends” on Facebook, you can still follow. That would be cool so I can see what you’re up to.

On Being Accountable in the Eye of a Storm2017-11-17T15:18:01-05:00
20 08, 2017

Pigs, Emotions, and Art


I never thought of myself as a Texan after we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Austin, Texas.

Austin, after all, isn’t completely “Texas.” It’s San Francisco inside of Texas, it’s Silicon Valley inside Texas, and even a little slice of Manhattan. Not a lot of cowboy hats and horses visible in this booming metro area.

Yet this morning on the deck feels very Texas.

Life in Texas

The buzzing sound of cicadas in the sage-colored live oak trees around me is almost deafening this morning as I sit on my long wooden back deck, which runs the entire length of the house. It’s almost as if these singing cicadas are trying to harmonize with the whining of the air conditioner unit, which is barely able to keep up with the heat.

The early morning sun is beating hard on the deck, and I’ve moved to a chair in the one small corner of shade that is allowing me to stay outside and bear the heat. I’m wearing my PleinAir baseball cap, and shades to cope with the glare of the sun blasting down at me.

I just got shivers sitting here in the oppressive heat.

A Frightening Sight

The shivers are not from wishful thinking about cool breezes, but from the sudden shock of looking up from my chair and seeing two mangy coyotes running along the fence in my yard, just a few feet away. I’m just happy they didn’t spot me, and that I didn’t come face-to-face with them by accident. Now I understand why some Texans wear six-shooters on their hip.

Somewhat like the eerie cries of the loons on the lake in the summer, we hear coyotes cry out in song and harmony on nights when the moon is full. A choir of yips is often their celebration of a newfound meal, and a good indicator not to put the dog out.

Disappearing Pigs

Small dogs and guinea pigs tend to disappear around these parts; we know that from personal experience. Though we romanticized that maybe our fuzzball pig just decided to escape her little outdoor pen for a better life elsewhere, or perhaps a college education, she probably was a tasty meal for a raptor or a coyote.

We’ve been home a full week now, but our return was met with a somewhat sad moment when we learned from the pig sitter that our remaining guinea pig, Susan, had graduated to that great pigpen in the sky. She’d lived to about double the predicted age because of good food and a pampered existence. No guinea pig ever had a better life.

Puppy Pressure

Pressure is now upon us for a dog, but with college for triplets looming in just three years, a new puppy isn’t terribly practical. We’ve resisted so far, but my guess is the tug of some big brown eyes will one day soon win our hearts.

Last time around, a box of puppies in a two-minute encounter resulted in almost two decades of puppy love, along with some hard times.

Like puppies … all decisions are emotional.

Emotions drive everything. It’s something I talk about from time to time on my marketing blog. People may rationalize the purchase of a painting with practicalities about how it’s a perfect match to the couch, or explain why that shiny red sports car is more practical because it gets better gas mileage. But the reality is that emotion is running our lives and decisions.

We Owe It All to Emotions

If rational decisions ruled our lives, there would be no art, no paintings, no galleries, no giant overbuilt houses, and no sports cars. Instead we would all live in small brick bunkers with no decorations. Thankfully, most of us prefer something that scratches our emotional itch.

Art may be one of the most emotional of all decisions. Yet its power to trigger emotions is also healing.

Ever look at a painting and take a deep sigh, as if you’d just entered paradise? I have, many times.

The emotion of art transforms us to other places in our minds. Hospitals have discovered this, which is why many have giant art budgets and hundreds of paintings.

Who Needs Star Trek?

The pain of being ill or visiting a loved one in a hospital can be relieved for a brief moment because a painting teleports us to a different place. Who needs Star Trek? Just go to a museum.

Speaking of museums…

If you stop and think about the institutions in our lives, most are based on the healing power of art or the arts.

Big Giant Museums

Some of the world’s biggest, most impressive public buildings are dedicated to the arts … painting, music, dance. The biggest ones house paintings and sculpture: The Louvre. The Hermitage. The Prado. The Met.

If that doesn’t convince you of the lasting power of art, nothing will.

An Artist’s Big Dream

Those of us who make art dream that one day our art will end up on the walls of a museum, which hopefully will secure us a place in history forever.

Artists have a special gift. They see the world differently. And people look at artists and their gift as something they wish they could have. My hope is that you and I can help many of those people find it for themselves, that we can convince them that they too can have that gift.

And imagine how healing it would be if everyone everywhere would stop, study nature or the human figure, and slow down enough to paint it.

Artists are a small part of the overall population, yet their influence is commanding and deeply felt.

The Artist Inside Each of Us

I believe there is an artist inside each of us waiting to be pulled out and put to good use. Some of you are already artists, others discovering it. Still others may need a nudge, or just a little encouragement.

The more of us there are, the more giant museums we’ll need. And that can’t be a bad thing.

Take some time and make some art today. It will make today that much better.

Pigs, Emotions, and Art2017-11-17T15:21:04-05:00
6 08, 2017

The Long Game


Fog is covering the lake this early Sunday morning. The rays of the sun are working hard to burn it off. The effects of the warm rays against cool light purple and bluish-white colors of fog are illuminating the air with a golden glow that creates a heavenly effect.

The peak of the distant mountain reaches out above the fog, as if signaling “All is well, I’m still here.”

The loons on the lake quietly drift by with their babies on their backs as they call out their looney-tunes, which reflect off the lake’s edges and echo from one side to the other.

As I sit in my bright red Adirondack chair on the dock, my Dunkin Donuts coffee is rapidly losing its warmth in my old green cup because the air is a chilly 58 degrees. But the cup still warms my hands, and as I sip it, the coffee slides like lava through my body.

A scratchy old hunter green-and-red-checked blanket is wrapped around my goosebump-covered legs, tucked underneath so no cold sneaks in. Warmth comes from my old green oversized sweater, which I keep in a drawer at the cabin year round because moths too need food and entertainment. Plus, the best day to wear a “holey” sweater is on Sunday.

In an hour or so I’ll leave the dock, walk over to the cabin, and pick up my father, my wife, and the kids to make the short four-minute drive through the woods, passing beaver dams and fallen trees, over to the the quaint little stone church nestled in the wilderness among giant pines. It was built by the families on our lake 140 years ago this summer.

The Old Chapel in the Wilderness

In the old days before the church was built, the lake residents would put on their finest clothes and row their wooden guideboats out to the halfway point of our lake. The local preacher would speak from Pulpit Rock, which still stands there today. Today, since almost all the old cabins are accessible only by water, the first part of those residents’ journey to church is still by boat.

At this summer wilderness chapel, open only in July and August, we continue the tradition of 140 years in the same uncomfortable old wooden pews built for the chapel’s founders. The stunningly beautiful stained glass windows create a dancing light show of color across the sanctuary as the old pipe organ rattles the wooden rafters with deep bass vibrations that give me chills.

Generations of children have looked forward to dangling from the hard-to-pull rope on the old bell above the church as the bell rings out to toll the start of worship. Lighting the candles is the only time their parents approve of their playing with fire. The choir is made up of a small group whose ancestors sang back in 1877, when the church was dedicated. I love tradition.

Following the service, we share stories of our week on the lake, eating overcooked brownies with crusty edges and gooey centers, like communion wafers (with oversweetened Kool-Aid for the wine). After community time, we often walk through the old cemetery on the church grounds, where markers of previous lives reinforce family traditions.

140-Year Tradition

Somehow, in an odd sort of way, I love being a part of something that I know has been going on for 140 years, knowing I’ve been there for 30 of those, and knowing that it’s my generation’s responsibility to see that returning each year remains interesting and relevant, to carry it forward. It’s not easy to get my kids interested, and it was difficult for my parents to get me interested. It’s probably always been the same, over generations.

I feel the same way about painting. I love being linked to the past through artists who passed their craft from one generation to the next. That’s why I love being a part of the Salmagundi Club and the National Arts Club in New York; their traditions are important to link past generations to the present and pass along the wisdom of ages of painters.

In our fast-paced, screen-saturated lives, there is deep value in being a part of something bigger than ourselves and carrying a vision forward for future generations. It’s what I hope to do with plein air painting and classical realism painting so that future generations of collectors and artists will know them and consider them part of their world.

An Important Realization

One of the most important realizations of my life has been that the long game matters more than the short game, and that short-term gains rarely matter when you’re thinking beyond your own lifetime. It’s why our decades of wisdom should be put to work for something bigger than ourselves.

As I made my way through the grave markers this week, I wondered who all of these people were and what they did with the gift of life. Hopefully their families remember and continue to honor them so many years later.

A few graves stood out, some with descriptions of the lives of the individuals. One was a local trapper who built an empire that made the Adirondacks known, and resulted in the preservation of 100 square miles of beautiful wilderness. Another came up with a treatment for tuberculosis, another wrote a book whose stories inspired conservation in the region, and another was the father of reforestation. I’m sure dozens of others did equally amazing things.

It’s Inside You and Me

I don’t believe these were necessarily special people with special gifts; they were like you and me. Most of these people did not start out to change the world, they just focused on something they thought was important and their passion spread. It was their efforts that make us look back on them as special.

What passion do you possess that will make a difference in the world?

What are you a part of that will live on for generations? What can you create now that will live on?

What role can you play to pass on your wisdom and create value that goes beyond your lifetime?

For me, it’s a lofty goal of teaching 1 million people to paint, because painting changed my life and I think painting will make their lives better.

What about you?

The Long Game2017-11-17T15:31:53-05:00
6 08, 2017

Life Without Screens


As sunlight kissed my eyelids, my eyes sluggishly fluttered open, only for me to be jolted into a state of awareness. For the past three months I have awakened to a wall of rich green Adirondack pines and woods filled with crafty little creatures. This morning my pines have been replaced by sage-colored cedars, live oaks, and dry grass.

My red Adirondack rocker on the dock by the lake has been hijacked by my brown wicker couch on the long, covered back porch of our Austin home.

The cool mountain breezes have been substituted with heat so intense it blasts you in the face like opening the door of an oven.

Last week I was wrapped in a fuzzy old blanket, today an old T-shirt and shorts are too oppressive and my coffee is begging for ice.

My fellow weary travelers are sleeping in after last night’s long trip home. Monday, the “s-word” (“school”) is about to begin again. This is the final day awakening naturally can occur.

For now, the house is so quiet that the only sound is the flutter of cool air fluffing out of vents, overcoming the warmth.

Birds are chirping morning songs that beg for cooler weather, and the little long-tailed squirrel that lives under my studio deck keeps peeking his head out because no human has intruded on his space for most of the summer.

I’m reminded that the mountains were to get away from the summer heat, which we’ll be putting up with through October. Though our summer cabin time has ended, it’s always good to be home.

While most live their year from January to January, I look at my year as the start of the school year till its end.

For 15 cycles of the seasons, since the triplets were hatched into our care, this heavy traveler takes no trips in the summer months, which are sacred family times to reconnect with one another and family members we see too little of otherwise.

My Grand Experiment

Each summer, the last week at the lake is my vacation time, but this year the need to disconnect drove me to two full weeks off, with a different goal … to relax fully.

You see, vacations for everyone used to be a week or two away from work, until some sage and sadistic person invented e-mail and social media. Now, for most, vacations simply mean working from a different place in between moments of joy. I needed a vacation with no connectivity.

I went off the grid. No screen time whatsoever. No phone, no computer, no iPad, no television, not even a car radio because I wanted to avoid the news.

I disconnected completely: no e-mail, texts, Facebook, or Instagram. Not so much as a weather check on a screen.

The first few days I would reach for my smartphone about every two minutes for a fix, to find out who was e-mailing, texting, or messaging me. But then I’d catch myself and put it back in my pocket, where it stayed unless a Kodak moment arose and I had to take a picture.

Frustratingly, before the urge to look at screens began to go away, the little notifications that intrude on to the screen would pop up with a news story, an e-mail, or a Facebook post. I had to train myself not to even look at them because they instantly caused stress.

In fact, I finally locked my phone because it kept vibrating away while I tried to ignore it. My office knew not to phone me, but someone kept calling, again and again and again. Did someone die? Was it an emergency? I picked up my phone and glanced at it and found it was a very important person who was trying to reach me. Though I stressed about what they wanted for about three hours, I decided that the rule of “no screen time, no work, no texting” applied to everyone, no exceptions. So I never called that person back, never checked for a text or e-mail. It could wait.

It felt great.

But learning to live without screen time was almost impossible. Next time I’ll use a real camera and just lock my phone in a drawer.

In fact, one day I wanted to call to make an appointment at the local chiropractor, and my first impulse was to go find the smartphone, look up the number, and call for an appointment. Instead, I went to the phone book, looked him up, and called on the landline. It was very old school and something I had not done in many years.

A Serious Addiction

My realization was that I have a serious addiction, as do all of my family and probably most of the people reading this.

Though I was off my phone and forced to try to actually talk to people over dinner, I was pretty much ignored by everyone else, who were feeding their addictions on their smartphones. During dinner out, every table in every restaurant was the same. No more talking to one another.

I had never noticed before because every brief moment of boredom was met with an app to play with or an e-mail to check.

My addiction is the need for constant stimulation. No moment of boredom.

Did you know that every time you get a text or e-mail or Facebook message, some dopamine is released in your system?

Being disconnected was almost impossible. When I got bored, I took walks, I did some painting, I went out on my kayak, I spent time with the kids boating and waterskiing, and at night I avoided all screens. I actually found myself reading some antique books and reconnected with paper and ink, and my eyes were not burning from a bright screen in a dark room.

If you were at Disneyland and a character took off his or her mask (or head), the fantasy would be instantly blown. The same holds true for escape time. I found that, during the first couple of days, just about the time I would get relaxed, if I slipped and fed my addiction for even just a minute, my relaxation was over, my mind started racing, and my stress and anxiety levels went up.

Frankly, if you were to ask me a month ago if I had stress in my life, I’d have said no. Yet once I conducted this little experiment, I realized how much stress I carry and how much something as simple as a Facebook post can bring it all back.

My new rule? “Screenfast” whenever possible. I intend to screenfast on my upcoming fine art trip to Russia for two weeks, screenfast during my Fall Color Week painters’ retreat in Maine, and screenfast at every possible holiday and break. I have also decided to screenfast after dinner. No more screen time from dinner till morning.

The world is faster than ever and we can get more done in a day than we used to get done in a week, all because of screen time. But our brains need rest, and screen addiction feeds stress.

To every younger reader, I’m sure I sound like a neanderthal. But I can now appreciate that I have control; my screen does not control me. I think eight or 10 hours a day is enough. So, if you e-mail me at night, you’ll get a response the next day … unless, of course, I’m on screenfast.

I’ll be recommending screenfasting to my team members. Stay off screens at night, on weekends, and completely off 24 hours a day on vacations. Don’t even go to screens for personal use. Avoiding them completely will make your stress melt away and allow you to fully relax.

Avoiding screen time for two weeks resulted in better dreams, stress-free days, more creativity, and more pure relaxation. I’m enjoying reading actual books again and finding things to fill my moments of boredom.

Now, instead of being totally addicted to my screens, I’m addicted to screenfasting and I feel more refreshed than I’ve felt in years.

Will you do a screenfast?

Here’s to a great Sunday and a wonderful week. Thanks for reading this on your screen. Now shut it off and take a day of relaxation for yourself … and more if you can get it.

Life Without Screens2017-11-17T15:23:00-05:00