22 09, 2019

Are You a Waterfall?

2019-09-21T10:00:02-04:00

Flipping my eyes open, I was briefly disoriented. Where am I? Instead of the old oak trees behind my porch or the lake from my deck, the view is a hotel room. Nothing special. But the view out the window is illuminated with pink-orange light against tall blue mountains. I’m in Taos, New Mexico.Dinner with Legends

Last night I had dinner with Cherie McGraw and David Leffel, two world-famous artists who are dear friends and live locally. Though my intent was to drive back to Ghost Ranch, an hour and a half from here, I didn’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere in the deep dark desert. So I stayed here for the night.

A Week with Friends

Today about noon I begin to “check in” 100 of my closest friends. We will paint together in the land of Georgia O’Keeffe for a week. It will be invigorating and exhausting and worth every minute.

Over dinner part of our discussion was the necessary transition from artist to become an artist-businessperson. I told them the story of transformation I’m about to tell you.

A Transformation

Once a quarter I sit in a group that is my board of directors, made up of 13 business owners. We all sit on each others’ boards. They help me, I help them, we all help one another. Last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I attended these meetings.

One of the members, a man I’ll call Al, made a statement to the group about a year ago in our first meeting together.

“I’m an artist, I’m not a businessman. I don’t want to become a businessman.” Yet in the same statement he talked about this little business he had started that was billing over a million dollars a year. But it was starting to decline. When we asked why, he said it was probably because he spent eight months away surfing that year and was letting his employees run the business, which is often a bad idea.

I’ll never forget what one of the board members said that got his attention…

“Instead of looking at paying attention to your business as bad, look at it as a means of buying your freedom so you don’t have to go back to work for someone else. If you’ll look at business differently, you’ll develop the skills needed so you can buy your freedom on your own terms.”

When I met with the group last week, Al was a changed man. He had his business under control, he had made a lot of changes, and from the looks of it, he will make almost double this year.

When we talked at lunch, he told me this: “I realized that business does not define me. Art defines me. I was resistant because I did not see myself as a business guy, but now I still see myself as an artist who simply had to develop some muscles in other areas so I could continue to be an artist.”

Standing Ovation

The board stood up and applauded because after a year, he had accepted his role, embraced it, and was doing a great job. It was a total transformation.

Our lives are dominated by the stories we tell ourselves. Our stories are rooted in our past, our pain, our pleasure, and the way we live. But our stories can change.

The Truth You Need to Hear

By having a caring board of friends who told him the truth he did not want to hear, Al faced his reality. Frankly, we all expected him to choose surfing, let his business continue to decline, and drop off our board. Instead, he faced the music and stepped up.

Perspective is a wonderful gift. If you’re willing to gather the thoughts of others, find people you can trust and who have experience and have accomplished things in areas where you need help, you can find the truth if you listen carefully.

They say the truth will set you free.

But the truth in this case would have been nothing without Al making the decision to change himself and his self-perception.

Life without challenges is not life well lived. It’s the challenges that create the contrast. The bad makes the good so much sweeter.

Being Defensive

For most … the truth sets off a series of defense reactions. “They don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t you think I know what I’m doing? I’ve got it under control.” If you catch yourself saying those things, perhaps you should listen carefully and pay attention to those who are trying to get through to you.

Once you accept the feedback, the next step is to take action by finding out what needs to change and then finding ways to change it. Usually we can’t do it on our own, which is why learning from the mistakes of others is important. And if you can, don’t learn from just anyone’s mistakes. Learn from the best of the best who can take you to the highest possible level.

Couch Potato

If you want to get in shape, you can’t sit on the couch and eat bon bons and expect something to change. Though I don’t want to go to the gym, when I don’t I get fat and lazy and my brain doesn’t work as well.

Life is about developing new muscles. After hearing the truth, Al needed to develop his business muscles, his discipline muscles. He had us to help him.

I’m Delusional

After a lot of years of making stupid decisions and not having much growth, I had to face my own truth. I was not as good as I told myself I was. (We’re all delusional at times.) I had to learn new things from new people who were the best, and then I had to develop muscles by learning and practice.

When I wanted to improve my skills in portraits, I went to one of the best, Joshua LaRock. And when I wanted to improve my landscape painting, I went to Joseph McGurl.

What are you not seeing that you need to see?
What are others trying to tell you?
What’s not going well because you’re not accepting that you need to deal with it?
In what areas are you telling yourself a story?

The Value of Perspective

There is wisdom in many counselors. Surround yourself with others you respect, who have done things you’ve been unable to do, and listen for their truth. Don’t take advice from people who do not have a great track record.

Then accept your challenge, make the change in your mindset, and start developing the muscles you need to develop.

A perfect game is not possible. A game with no curveballs is uninteresting. Embrace change and an opportunity to grow.

Do you know how to spell growth? L-E-A-R-N

Life can be exhilarating and exciting with lifelong learning, developing new muscles.

Waterfall or Pool?

You can choose to be a gushing waterfall or a smelly, algae-filled pool of stagnant water. Which will you be?

Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake I did…

I started my business and ran it for 20 years and made about the same low amount of money every year. I got sick of it.

Repeating Mistakes

Then a friend woke me up by saying, “You’ve repeated the same year 20 times. The only way to make things better is to get better. The only way to get better is to learn from others who are better. Otherwise you’ll remain stuck forever.”

He was right … and though I did not have any extra money, I made some sacrifices and I started going to events to make myself better. The things I learned helped instantly.

My thinking shifted, I started doing things differently, and I got unstuck.

What about you?

Are you happy with where you are?
Are you happy with your progress?
Are you willing to stay exactly where you are for the rest of your life?

If you want to get unstuck … all you have to do is start investing in yourself.

It won’t be easy. It will require some work. It won’t happen overnight. But it will work. And you’ll be happier and more successful — and have freedom.

Eric Rhoads

PS: After this week at Ghost Ranch I’m heading home, and then off to the South of France and Scotland on our annual fine art trip. Unusually this year, we actually have a couple of seats left due to weddings and illnesses. It’s usually hard to get into this group. If you are adventurous, have a passport, and are willing to make a last-minute trip, you should join us! 

I’m sure I’ve already told you about the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) and how you can see a personal transformation. But don’t listen to me. Listen to these people. Maybe you should join us in November. 

“It is one of the most informative and worthwhile experiences for anyone who is an artist in training or an emerging artist. You learn so much and get to interact with like-minded people.” — Khann Mai

“It’s mind-expanding and inspirational to see top artists creating work and hear what they’re thinking.” — Margerett McDermott

“If you are interested in elevating your work, or breaking past a rut, you have to surround yourself with professionals who can elevate you. Be around the next level up, and aspire to inspire. FACE is a stepping stone to better.” — Jessica D. Perez

“The value surpasses the price to attend. The fact that I could greet supporters and collectors of my work and thank them with a handshake and develop those friendships with other artists makes the event immeasurably valuable. If I have to save all year, I’m going to attend next year.”— Brianna Lee

Are You a Waterfall?2019-09-21T10:00:02-04:00
15 09, 2019

Setting Higher Standards

2019-09-13T13:47:23-04:00

Streaming through the leaves of the ancient twisted oak trees, orange morning light kisses the tall grasses below and illuminates my little brown-wood clapboard art studio in the distance. The string of party lights that trim the porch are glowing as if turned on.

The tops of the oaks sway gently with the welcome breeze on this otherwise oppressively hot morning. The dogs sit atop the deck, at high alert for chasable squirrels. And I’m blinded as the sun blasts my eyes, and ready to let the screen door slam behind me as I escape to the cooler air-conditioned indoors.

Avoiding Reality

Now home for a week after my summer escape from reality, I’m still working hard to avoid it. The mere sight of a TV in a restaurant makes me walk out the door as I try to continue my vacation from news media. I suppose I have to ease into it slowly. 

Tuning Out TV

Remarkably, the temptation is always there. I’m so used to turning the TV on when cooking dinner or sitting around at night that it’s a battle not to succumb, yet my stress melted away so much when I took TV out of my summer that I’m trying to keep it away as long as possible.

Reading Old Books

Since I have no TV in my studio, I make my way out there to start reading a pile of new art books I’ve recently acquired. I’ve also been reading Elbert Hubbard, a philosopher from the late 1800s. I discovered him through my friend Roy WIlliams, who told me Hubbard had created Roycroft, a commune for artists, writers, and musicians in East Aurora, New York. So Brady and I stopped there for a night and had dinner with artist Thomas Kegler, who lives minutes away (and who graciously kept the dogs, since the hotel wouldn’t).

Ahead of His Time

Hubbard, as it turns out, was the biggest-selling author and largest publisher of the time, yet few know of him today. His most famous book was A Message to Garcia, and he is known for starting the Arts & Crafts movement in America after a visit with designer William Morris in England. The campus at Roycroft is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Small, but quality — just as everything Hubbard published was done with elegance, high design, and quality paper. Though I did not know of him at the time I started publishing magazines, we appear to have shared that interest in quality.

Don’t Cheap Out

I’ve taken many a lesson from my parents, especially my dad, whose steps I followed into being an entrepreneur. He used to tell me how much quality mattered and to never give in to the temptation to go cheap if it affects the quality or appearance of your brand. It was one of the most important lessons I ever learned — because it matters. Even this week, a woman I met with picked up Fine Art Connoisseur for the first time and said, “This is one of the most beautiful magazines I’ve ever seen.” She even hugged it! You simply can’t get that impact with cheap paper and weak designers.

What if everything you and I do is done with the highest-quality aesthetics in mind?

What if everything you touch is done with excellence?

A Giant Turnoff

Someone once approached me about buying my magazines. Curious, I asked what immediate changes they would make, to which they said they would save by cutting paper quality and doing away with the thick paper covers and high gloss (all of which are expensive). It was then that I knew I’d never sell, and my instruction to my heirs is to never follow the temptation to save money when it comes to appearance. 

Pondering Excellence

I’ve been thinking about excellence a lot lately, and I’m trying to up my own game. How can I take what’s good and make it better? How can I improve on our publications, trips, retreats, conventions, and video products? Though people tend to say good enough is good enough, raising the bar makes you better. And others can tell the difference.

We need to always be asking ourselves the question … do I want to be good enough, or do I want to be better than good enough?

Done Well Isn’t Enough

I tell my kids that getting things done isn’t enough, and getting them done well isn’t enough. Getting things done to the highest possible standard is where you need to be with everything. 

Deep Quality

In my books by Elbert Hubbard, the quality of printing and design is impeccable. These things were clearly the best on the market at the time, and to this day few books approach his standards. Publishers over time have told themselves that cheap paper and poor design are OK. They’re not OK in my book.

What has this got to do with you if you’re not publishing anything? What’s it got to do with your family?

Challenge Yourself

Striving for better is always a great challenge. I’m not suggesting buying better, though that’s OK if it’s meaningful to you, but making better. Taking the extra time to do things with excellence.

Replace or Repair

Our little summer cabin was built in 1898, and this summer, when an old fixture broke, I could have gone to Home Depot and bought a new, modern fixture that faked being old. But I wanted to keep the vibe, so I spent several hours over two days, with lots of trips to the hardware store, to repair the old fixture that dated back to the early 1900s. I felt gratified in taking the time to do something right. In the case of that old camp, new isn’t better. Original is better.

Pride Matters

Take pride in doing things well. Take time to get them right. Go out of your way to make sure the design is excellent so others have a wonderful experience. Even if you’re doing something for yourself, make it the best it can be. Whether that’s a house you’re building, a report you’re making, the presentation of a meal on a plate — anything. 

Our world is focused on cheap. They bark about high quality, but it’s rarely found. I’m not suggesting you do things expensively — quality is often unrelated to price. 

Excellence matters. It makes others feel as though you care. Though some will balk and say it doesn’t matter, you can balk back and say, “It matters to me.” 

Eric Rhoads

PS: I just wrote a piece about the 10th-anniversary art trip we’ve created. It is truly a quality experience that is un-duplicatable. This year will top them all. (Read a letter I just sent out about it here).

We tend to believe that success is a signal that change isn’t needed. Though our November Figurative Art Convention & Expo is only three years old, we’re making some changes this year to make it better, just as we’re doing with the Plein Air Convention & Expo, even though it’s almost sold out and we don’t need to make changes. It’s just the right thing to do. Let’s all be the best we can be by pushing ourselves to be better than yesterday.

Setting Higher Standards2019-09-13T13:47:23-04:00
8 09, 2019

The Laws of Contrast

2019-09-06T11:18:18-04:00

“Scratchy” best describes the antique Pendleton blanket draped across my pajama-clad  legs.

The caw caw caw of crows echoes in the distance, and there is hovering lake fog where cool air marries warm lake water.  

My hot mug of coffee in hand, on the old lake porch for the last time. It was sweet sorrow as I sat nestled in the womb of quiet as the distant loons and the jumping fish performed one last time to say farewell for the season … not “goodbye,” but “see you next year” … if it’s God’s will.

In stark, face-slapping contrast, my blanket is replaced by the thumping of a ceiling fan on the back porch, trying to stay cool in the oven they call Austin, where we returned last night after a drawn-out drive seeing Niagara Falls, the cornfields of Indiana, and the friendships of a life well lived.

“Contrast” best describes this Sunday versus the last. Cool versus hot, rich pine greens versus dry scrub oaks. Each beautiful in its own unique way.

A Gift

Contrast, as it turns out, is another gift of life. My quiet summers on an Adirondack lake would be less sweet without the contrast of my insanely busy life managing kids, schedules, travel, and business.

Why Do We Suffer?

People often ponder the question of why we have to suffer or struggle. Contrast provides the answer. How else can we appreciate what we had before the hard moments, or what we have when the hard times are over?

Moments of joy are amplified and more spectacular when they are appreciated in contrast with the struggles of life.

Though no one seeks or wants trouble, embracing it for the contrast it provides somehow makes struggle easier.

Instant Success

When I teach painting, people naturally want the fastest solutions and instant ability …  yet my own success is sweeter knowing I’ve overcome many of the struggles after two decades of learning and more to come. For my artist friends, it’s the struggle that creates the breakthroughs.

Russian Influence

After going on one of our art trips to Russia, my friend artist Scott Christensen told me he was not sure he could ever paint again after seeing the great Russian masterworks in person. He struggled for months, unsure he could ever be satisfied again. In spite of wanting to give in and give up, he powered through, only to have the biggest breakthrough in his painting career. 

Sticky Food

Contrast is a powerful motivator. As a young man struggling to make a living, I had to get sick of only being able to afford to eat peanut butter sandwiches to become motivated and figure out how to solve my financial crisis. 

Sweet Paycheck

When I started my business, I had gone without a paycheck for seven years and come moments away from losing my car, my business, and my house. The contrast with the sweet moment of that first small paycheck made me appreciate that milestone more.

The tragic loss of a marriage made me appreciate love once I found it.

My friends who have lost everything in a fire or a hurricane eventually appreciate little things more once they’ve come back from having nothing.

With so much focus on what we want or what we don’t have, looking back at where we once were provides contrast to appreciate where we are. 

The Cycle of Growth 

Contrast is why it’s important to embrace change and avoid being stagnant. Change provides discomfort, and discomfort provides growth — while offering contrast.

Four seasons provide contrast. It’s hard to appreciate spring without winter. 

Aging helps us appreciate wisdom, in contrast to the inexperience of youth. 

If you pause for a moment and ponder your toughest moments, can you see the contrast?

If you are living through tough moments right now, you have my sympathy, yet contrast will come and sweetness will return.

A Sad Day

Last week I experienced my first birthday without the phone calls and cards from my mother. It was my saddest birthday ever, yet the contrast it provided made my time with my dad and family members on my birthday so much sweeter, reminding me how precious these times are.

And being at the lake alone, just me and my son Brady, made me miss the joyful energy of having my wife and the other kids around. Yet that same contrast gave me precious time one-on-one with Brady, including a road trip halfway across America, creating a lifetime memory for us both.

Two Sides 

In Chinese culture, they speak of the yin and the yang, while for us it’s the positive and the negative. It’s heaven versus hell. Dark versus light. Sad versus happy. Tears versus smiles. Hot versus cold. Love versus hate. Sunrises versus sunsets. Success versus failures. One cannot exist without the other.

The world is filled with victims. “Why is this happening to me?” they say. Yet there would be no more victims if they would understand that the brightest light comes after the darkest hours. That the cycle of life requires dark and light. That you can’t enjoy sweet success without hard times.

Embrace the contrast.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Scott Christensen will share his breakthroughs at the 2020 Plein Air Convention & Expo next May in Denver. We’ve sold out two hotels and exceeded the last convention’s registration significantly, and are likely to sell out soon. I hope you’ll join us.

The Laws of Contrast2019-09-06T11:18:18-04:00
1 09, 2019

Never Be Overwhelmed Again

2019-08-30T16:18:38-04:00

Red-colored pine needles have fallen and now cover the old green hammock hanging between two majestic pines in front of the porch to my cabin. The ground below is cushioned with a pillow of needles, and the scent of pine is glorious. Walking on the soft needles in bare feet is one of my favorite experiences.

Years of Laughter

Sitting here in the 120-year-old octagon-shaped screened porch overlooking the lake, the porch filled with wicker and cane chairs now empty, reminds me of the laughter, the music, the discussions and debates that took place here all summer. Our first week here we had about 86 artists in the house, celebrating our week of painting together. Of course, there is a rich history of voices in this place, every summer for 12 decades.

The rest of the summer was filled with visiting childhood friends talking of old times, artists talking art history, family friends discussing trips together, kids talking about their lake friends, neighbors getting to know us, and Laurie and I pondering our future when the kids enter college.

The Sounds of Silence

The porch is silent now. An occasional boat goes by, but this weekend was the last hurrah for most on the lake, which will be empty tomorrow. My family is already gone, two kids in school while one son remains here with me, ready for our big drive back to Austin starting tomorrow morning. I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with Brady and the dogs, and stopping to see some friends and museum shows along the way.

Gratitude

Each summer here in this special place has been the best summer ever, and this is no exception. Yet tears well up, knowing I’ll be saying goodbye to my favorite place on earth tomorrow. My heart is filled with a spirit of gratitude for the ability to be so happy here. But if I lived here year-round it would not be as special, so goodbye is necessary.

Overwhelmed?

Most of last week I had my executive team here with me, and I laid out some giant goals and initiatives for 2020. Though everyone was enthusiastic, there were concerns about how we can accomplish such big goals. Frankly, I hear the same thing from friends, readers, artists … how do you accomplish something that seems overwhelming?

Kick the Can

Our tendency is to look at something big as overwhelming. Yet big, overwhelming tasks are accomplished by doing small tasks. My friend Keith Cunningham calls it kicking the can down the road, just a few feet at a time. A small kick, then another, then another…

Small progress is the way to accomplish big goals. 

The Tipping Point

Writer Malcom Gladwell said that mass movements don’t begin with a mass, they begin with a few. If you want to create a movement, all you need are the right 10 percent of the people to join your movement and you’ll tip things in your favor. He calls it “the tipping point.”

The same concept applies to goals. If you determine the very few things that will move you most toward your goal, you’ll begin creating momentum. Then focus on the next 10 percent that will take you closer. 

Look at something you want to accomplish and ask yourself, “What’s the tipping point?” You don’t have to get everyone on board, just 10 percent. You don’t have to accomplish the goal … just kick the can a little further in the right direction.

Don’t Trim Back Goals 

Most of the people I know are big thinkers, but they allow the size of their ideas to overwhelm them. Next thing you know they are reducing their big ideas to small ones because the smaller goals feel more within reach. Yet if you hang on to your big ideas and break them into small pieces, you’ll hit big goals instead of small goals.

Be Audacious

No matter what you want to accomplish in life, set the biggest most exciting, most life-changing goal you can imagine. Don’t let anyone tell you why it can’t be done. Don’t let others rain on your parade. Dream it, believe it, and then start to execute it … one tiny step at a time. As long as you keep an eye on the goal, figure out the small steps, and kick the can in the right direction, anything is possible.

Do you have big goals? Big dreams that overwhelm you?

That’s not unusual.

But now you know the secret. Big things happen with tiny steps.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Birthday wishes to my friend Alan Harvy, Jr., my friend Guy Kawasaki, my friend and travel partner Gabriel Hagazian (come with us on our France trip this fall), and to my Aunt Marylin, who turned 90 this week. And thanks to all the hundreds of e-mails and social media birthday greetings. I was sad not being with my kids and my wife, but I was blessed to have a wonderful party thrown by my dad, with my brother, my sister-in-law, and my nieces and nephews. It was the best birthday yet.

To my friends in the hurricane zone: You’re in our thoughts.

Never Be Overwhelmed Again2019-08-30T16:18:38-04:00