Trading cool lake breezes on the dock in my favorite red Adirondack chair for Texas heat in my wicker chair on the house-length back porch of the old Rhoads Texas ranch house is a signal that summer for our family has ended. It was hard to leave the Adirondack lakes because I never want summer to end, yet it’s always nice to be in the cuddle of our home here in Austin. Plus, if I had summer all the time, I’d never appreciate it like I do.
This morning the heat is intense, and the natural grasses in our little slice of heaven are parched, begging for water, and looking a little shriveled up. Yet the scrub oaks offer rich sage greens and the deep green cedars seem to thrive in the dry climate and oven-like heat, which will last through mid-October. This spot, in spite of the arid climate, offers its own form of beauty — a place I’m grateful to call home.
Though dead silent this morning as everyone catches up on lost sleep, our house has been a flurry of activity as the kids return home to their friends, who have all been visiting to tell their stories of summer. Boxes have to be opened and suitcases of clothes never used have to be unpacked to restore order to our routines.
Summer was a time to slow down, and soon my life of intense business travel begins.
Slowing down isn’t something I ever considered very important because I tend to be a high-speed, “on to the next task” kind of guy. I walk fast, I work fast, and I’m highly productive because life has so many things that need to get done.
Rushing Through My Art
When photography was my hobby, I’d rush to great locations, take a quick shot, then move on to the next potential photo. But painting helped me see the value of slowing down, enjoying a spot, and becoming a part of nature. Slowing down and painting is just what my soul needed. In fact, my friend the great Russian painter Nikolai Dubovik taught me that he, and many others in his country, use painting as an act of meditation and prayer. I find that when I paint, I’m having a continual dialogue with God. I find myself in a meditative state, lost in the rich greens, the crashing ocean waves, or the distant mountains. It simply doesn’t get much better.
One of my dear readers in England, Kate Edge, wrote me this week to say this:
“By far the hardest thing to be today is to be at peace, to be centered in the place of stillness where the Spirit of God resides as it clearly does in Creation. The miraculous sunset which you witnessed is without limit, it is just simply a total flow of joyfulness in the creation of colour which all of us register with our retinas too.”
She goes on to write,
“Painting is a response to the pure beauty we are blessed to witness and which we honour by the desire to wish to capture, which is also the desire to remember that moment when we were present in mind with the eternal. When you let go of all techniques and must try to do this or that, there is another, deeper painter within which does not have an agenda. It flows its wisdom over the canvas, and if it is given the space before the busy mind engages what it wants to do in the extraction process from nature, into a rectangle, someone else flows through the heart and mind, and it registers a different feel altogether in the brush, and the result.
“When Turner exhibited the painting The Fighting Temeraire at the Royal Academy in 1839, it created an enormous response from the public. But the history of the painting included his seeing the ship being tugged just outside Margate behind a blazing sunset, and given his tremendous memory and note-taking, the emotion it evoked in him remained. He would never part with the painting despite numerous offers, and he came to refer to it as his ‘Darling.’
“The point of this is, I am sure, Eric, you have paintings that you have really loved to paint and you would be reluctant to part with. The evolving process of painting is being compassionate towards our attempts to realize that love, and when we do make progress, it also signals an inner change in us.
“It’s good to compare our efforts with others, see masterworks, but it is more important to quietly recognize how we see nature and communicate that experience. All of us have perfection in our DNA, and one of the great ways to get in touch with that is to sit quietly with Nature and allow ourselves to truthfully respond, and accept the response too!!!! But know that in our re-creations we are on an unfolding path of happiness, as you say, which links us firmly with the Creator.”
It’s About Us
Kate opened my eyes in new ways with this lovely note, but it isn’t about me, it’s about us. You and me, and those you love. What would happen if we all spent more time in touch with nature?
My morning walk in the deep woods, down the dirt path to the lake where we have spent our summers for decades, is something I look forward to each morning, and something I miss when I’m not there. It’s time in nature, time with the Creator, and it impacts my response to everything throughout the day.
Touching Base with Creation
This reflects the reason I’m so insistent on finding ways to reach millions of people and help them discover painting. Though I know painting will give them rich challenges, wonderful experiences, and a creative outlet, it’s being outdoors, losing yourself, and touching base with Creation that makes the experience so important.
Remarkably, it’s rare to meet an outdoor painter who is angry, unhappy, or carrying an ego the size of Texas, and I think it’s because they are in nature, still, looking at one spot, and taking it in. It’s the stillness that makes this special and gives them peace.
It’s also why we are teaching veterans how to paint, and why I’ve enlisted thousands of painters across the U.S. to go to schools, play my documentary on plein air painting, and invite others to learn to paint. It’s why I have free lessons online, because I believe painting outdoors opens hearts and calms us inwardly. And I’m hearing from people all over the world who have tried it and found this same peace.
Though this little weekly missive started out reaching just painters, the 100,000-plus readers now come from all walks of life. If you’re one of them, please know this message isn’t about painting, though you might have fun trying it. It’s about stillness in nature.
We’re all living very busy lives. We’re not communicating with our families when we’re all on our phones around the dinner table. We’re in a world of constant stimulation, feeling the need to not let a second pass us by without a new e-mail or social media post. Though it’s a wonderful time to be alive and to gather information, it’s also a dangerous time of addiction when our phones and social media posts become more important than love, human interaction, and communication with our Creator, however you define that.
On occasion I take one of my 16-year-old triplets out painting with me. Often it’s a battle to get them to come because their phones tend to rule their attention, but this summer at my Adirondack painting event my son Brady spent the week with me painting, off his phone, and told me he had so much fun he did not miss it. Every minute was occupied not with a small screen, but with a big canvas.
Without sounding like an old school fuddy-duddy, our families need leadership away from their addictions, so they can realize what else is out there — so they don’t grow up and only visit places on their phones or in virtual reality. We need experiences in nature, and we all need, somehow, to plant ourselves in one place to take it in. That’s why I find painting so appealing; it satisfies my busy mind’s need to be doing something, yet it offers me peace and meditation.
Soon your summer will come to an end. Schools are starting, vacations are ending, and time alone with nature often becomes less easy to find. If there is time, give yourself this gift of one spot, breathing the air, smelling the scent of pines, and staring into the rich colors of nature. It will feed your soul.
PS: Because of my podcast and this blog, lots of people have decided to believe me when I tell them no special talent is required to learn painting, it just takes following a process and the courage to try. The result is that a couple of hundred people have shown up at our Plein Air Convention & Expo to learn to paint for the first time and started their path toward a lifetime of painting. Many have also shown up at my Publisher’s Invitational retreats. If you want to come hang out with us in Banff, Lake Louise, and the Canadian Rockies this coming October, we welcome painters at all levels, including beginners. We’re just out to have fun, connect with nature, and hang out with other painters.
PPS: I’m thankful for all the people who have reached out about our cool new FACE conference, and I want to use this opportunity to say thanks for signing up. I’m told we’re making art history by the fact that so many amazing top tier instructors will be teaching in the same place. If you’ve not signed up yet, you can save $400 if you sign up before Labor Day Sept. 3.