29 05, 2022

Finding Joy in Dark Times


The best night’s sleep ever occurred last night, with all the windows open, the curtains blowing along with the cool breeze, and a wonderful 65 degrees. This morning I peeked out the bathroom window to see a red cardinal perched on a branch singing its heart out. I feel like I’m in a Disney movie, living in a perfect world. Of course, after a cup of coffee and a check on social media, reality strikes. Perfection isn’t possible. At least I had a great night of sleep to improve my focus and attitude, letting problems bounce off my chest like projectiles bouncing off Superman. 

Walking on Air

I have to admit I’m still on a high from our big artists’ convention in Santa Fe last week. It was the first time in almost three years that our family of artists has been together, with the surprise of hundreds of new people joining for the first time, and hundreds of others joining online. I knew I missed it but did not realize just how much it was missed, because my energy comes from being with other people. I had not realized how low my batteries were and how being with hundreds of others who share the same passions would give me a much-needed full charge that can last me another couple of years. Hopefully, we’ll all be together at this time next year in Denver. 

Cutting Loose

My wife and kids went with me for the first time to the convention. I wanted the kids to see what dad does for a living. They worked, helped out where possible, and found out about my 5 a.m. alarm so I can teach marketing at 6:30, and my midnight bedtime after entertaining people in my suite till the last person leaves. It’s a full day, it’s exhausting, and I would not change a thing.

But it was especially eye-opening for the kids, age 20, who maybe have never seen someone work so hard. And it was not just me — my amazing team worked from early morning to late night as well. They all deserved a chance to cut loose in our closing party. We were all dancing fools. It felt good.

Different Batteries

Arriving home, I was energized, but my wife and my daughter needed some extra sleep, because, unlike me, this activity drains their batteries and their only hope of a recharge is a quiet room, sleeping in or reading a good book. I’m told different personality types have different ways to charge their batteries. It’s evident in my own life and the differences between us.

How do you recharge? 

It’s All About Joy

For me, joy recharges my batteries. It may be the joy of being with people I love, maybe the joy of a party or dancing, the joy of being in my studio or being outdoors painting, the joy of travel to exotic places and seeing beautiful scenery, the joy of hanging on the couch with my kids doing nothing together, or even the joy of a great phone call connecting with an old friend. I also get lots of joy out of taking a creative idea and turning it into a product or a business, and at the convention I got a lot of joy out of coaching artists on their marketing and showing some of the vendors some things that were obvious to me that could improve their products or businesses. Sometimes my joy comes in the form of a special passage in my morning devotional time or a special moment in prayer.

Being Deliberate

Joy can be accidental, or it can be deliberate. But I’ve found that most of my joy is deliberate, seeking it by following certain routines or orchestrating special moments. It can come if we wait for it, but why wait if you can feed your soul deliberately? Some of my best moments of joy came from things my parents did to create memories.

The hard part is finding joy during the most difficult times. How do we find joy at times when we’re suffering and hurting? The answer lies in seeking it, looking for it.

Finding Joy in Pain

When my dad died last year, it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever faced. Yet, in spite of being sad and depressed, my nature is to seek out the positive side of things, to look back on the memories, or to understand that he is now in a place with nothing but joy, where no pain or depression exist.

One of My Worst Moments

As a young man, I can remember being devastated over the loss of the love of my life. I could not get out of bed, I laid in a fetal position, I cried for days, I was not sure I wanted to live. I knew I was the most depressed I’d ever been, and I was not sure how I’d pull myself out of it. And I could not imagine not seeing her again. It was horrifying, and once I pulled myself out, which took over a year, I swore I’d never go through that again. It crossed my mind to avoid falling in love again so I’d never have the pain of loss. In that situation I got on my knees, prayed, and asked, “Why me?” And the thoughts I had made me understand that there was a plan for me, and that I’d not appreciate it without experiencing pain. It made a huge difference in my outlook. Years later, knowing what I know now, I’m so happy I did not stay in that relationship. I’m so much happier now, and I’d not have my incredible wife and kids had I been stuck in that relationship mud.

At the convention I was speaking with a friend who told me about a devastating year of pain and business problems. When I started to console him, he stopped me and said, “No, Eric, you don’t understand. This resulted in the most important lesson I may ever have learned.”

Outlook changes everything. It seems overly simplified, but it has a huge impact. There are lessons in every moment of pain. Seek them and you’ll find joy.

What’s going on in your life at this moment that is causing you pain?

What is happening when you’re asking, “Why me?”


Tough Love


As a child I used to wonder why my parents were so hard on me at times, why they made me suffer without the things I thought they should give me, why they disciplined me. It was because they cared deeply, and they knew I needed to learn lessons that I was too blind to see for myself.


Instead of “Why me?” ask, “Why not me?” and, “What can I learn from this?” 


Whatever you’re going through now, no matter how hard, how devastating, it has another side. Seek it. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: I want to thank all the people who showed up for the Plein Air Convention for the joy you brought me with your presence. We had some people cancel at the last minute because of the news of fires in the area. Yet we had mostly clear skies and incredible painting every day during the convention, and we had what some say was the best convention yet. It sure felt that way to me.

PSII: At the convention we revealed that we’re going to Colorado next year. We’re painting in some amazing places like the Garden of the Gods and the Rocky Mountain National Park, plus some other places nearer to Denver, where we’re holding the event. 

Because I always offer attendees a chance to get our best price ever if they get their ticket during the Plein Air Convention, we have 58% of the seats already sold. And before COVID, our Denver convention had 1,000 seats sold. Our limit is only 1,200 seats. That means there are only about 500 seats left, and I suspect they will go fast, especially with what we’re going to announce in the next week or two. If you’re thinking of going, book it now to make sure you have a seat. It’s our 10-year birthday bash, which means there are lots of things we’re going to do to celebrate. It’s not the one you want to miss. 

PSIII: Next week I’m going to take a few days off and drive to the Adirondacks. My big artist retreat is June 11-18. It’s a week of painting together with about a hundred others. We paint all day, play at night (music, cocktails, and more painting), and we stay on campus on a beautiful lake. There are about nine seats left. I’d love to see you there. I think this is the 12th year. I’m not sure how many more years I’ll do it. If you’ve always wanted to come, I hope you’ll do it. Upstate New York is stunning, the Adirondack Park is protected and about the size of three National Parks, and the beauty is unexpected and stunning. I’m especially fond of painting waterfalls, and there are lots of them we paint every year.

PSIV: Our next online virtual conference, Pastel Live, is coming in August. It’s all about pastel painting. I’m really getting into pastel lately, and I’m doubling down on pastel at Streamline. We’re going to make a major announcement about pastel this week (that is not about the conference). If you want to attend, we have a free webinar called The Future of Pastel with me and Gail Sibley. I think you’ll be pleased. 

PSV: I’m told this week is the last week to register for Paint New Zealand, my private painting trip to see and paint the sights of that amazing country. I’m guessing this will be the only time we do it because there are so many other places I want to take people. I think there are about eight seats left (of the 50-seat limit). It’s the trip of a lifetime, and I think you need to get signed up ASAP. 

PSVI: People have been begging me to return Fall Color Week to Maine one more time. This is our fourth time there, and we’re staying inside Acadia National Park. We always pick the peak of fall color, and the scenery is amazing. In fact, most of the Hudson River School painters painted there too. Join me. I think there are 12 seats left. 

Finding Joy in Dark Times2022-05-26T19:39:09-04:00
13 05, 2022

Two Paths to Choose


Massive winds bend the thick trunks of scrub oak trees until it seems the roots will soon rip out of the ground. Birds fly against the wind, working extra hard to move from branch to branch, and the heat would be overbearing if not for the winds.

I love nature, I love lightning, thunder and storms, even high winds … up to a point, until it becomes unsafe. In fact, I once rode out a hurricane in my car, stuck bumper-to-bumper in Central Florida as me and millions of others were trying to escape to safety up North. No cars flipped, but they were all rocking back and forth, bounding on their tires. It was more intense than any Six Flags ride and lasted for a few hours. Other than cowering in a basement corner waiting for an oncoming tornado, I think that is the most frightened I’ve ever been.

The Struggle

Looking back on childhood, I’m grateful for experiences that made my brothers and I stronger. I’m grateful my parents let us struggle and did not solve every problem for us.

As a parent, my temptation has been to tell my kids what to do at every turn, trying to keep them from pain. But pain is healthy, and we should save our controlling nature for those times when their lives or safety are actually at risk. Otherwise, skinned knees and wounded hearts are part of growing up. 

Our job as parents isn’t to clear the path for our kids but to get the kids ready for the path. Letting go is probably more important than control.

Go Ahead and Sleep Late

I want my kids to learn to be independent. For instance, one of my sons has a full-time job, and, like many, has not learned to manage his time. Plus he loves to stay up late, sometimes till the wee hours. Knowing he has to be at work at 6 a.m., I could call him and suggest he come home. And in the morning, I could go upstairs and wake him. But unless he experiences the pain of an unhappy boss because he is late or misses work, he won’t learn. So, in spite of my temptation to help make things smoother, I let him fail.

Do Your Own Laundry!

When I was a kid, my mom did our laundry and cooked our food, but she made me cook every week or two, choosing the menu for the family. We had lots of fried bologna and mashed potatoes. But at least I could survive if I had to (which came in handy once I left home.)

Laurie made our kids start doing their own laundry at about 7 years old. My daughter told me many kids come to college having never done their own laundry. She’s been doing it for more than half her life.

My natural instinct is to answer questions, step in and control situations, and blather on about lessons that need to be learned. But I have to fight my instincts.

What about you?

How were you raised?

Did your parents allow you to make mistakes, or did they control every outcome?

When my boys were in Cub Scouts I read a book called The Dangerous Book for Boys, which emphasized the importance of danger and adventure. Too many of us won’t let kids climb trees because we fear broken arms, but the book says that we need a sense of danger, we need to do things to help us build our confidence. (My daughter was as much about danger as my boys.) So while other moms and dads were preventing danger at the park, I was encouraging it. Though it was against my instinct, it’s important.

We’re not perfect. We paved too many paths and spoiled our kids in some ways. Thankfully, we didn’t try to control every moment. As a result we have confident, independent kids (sometimes too independent).

Are you paving a path or letting them make their own path?

The most important lesson for me as a parent is to let go. 

Step in only when it’s a matter of life or death. If they screw up and get arrested, I won’t bail them out. They need to learn. If we solve every problem, they’ll be looking to our solutions into adulthood.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Winds are pushing wildfires in New Mexico, which has discouraged a few people from attending our Plein Air Convention, which starts on Tuesday the 17th. Thankfully, I’m told that things are fairly clear in Santa Fe and our group is in no danger. If we do get an especially smoky day, we’ll simply paint together inside if we can’t go outside (unlikely). I’m bringing my entire family (triplets and their mom) to the convention this week to work. I hope you’ll come, or at least watch online.

This September it will be springtime in New Zealand (sounds like the name of a movie). I’m taking a group of 50 to the most amazing scenery on earth for painting. (Some come and don’t paint, they just tour or take photos.) I have a few seats left. www.paintingnewzealand.com

This June I’ll be painting with about a hundred friends at my 11th Publisher’s Invitational artists’ retreat in the Adirondacks. We’re going to some of the EXACT spots painted by the Hudson River School painters. In fact, we’re staying and painting in the exact location frequented by Winslow Homer. One price includes room and meals (yep, a week where you don’t have to cook or clean!!). www.paintadirondacks.com

Two Paths to Choose2022-05-13T15:20:56-04:00
6 05, 2022

Your Favorite Lifetime Memories


The sun is streaming painfully into my eyes. It’s bright and brilliant orange, kissing tree limbs and the tops of grasses as it makes its way to me. I tip my new 10-gallon straw cowboy hat down over my eyes to find shade.

This morning’s heat is intense. Today will be a candle-melter, and not good for the chocolate bar tucked between the seats in my car. I may come back to a bowl of soup.

Walking on the deck in my pointy-toed boots, I hear the sound of cowboys about to go head-to-head in a quick draw. The only things missing are spurs and a six-shooter. I’m not normally a cowboy kind of guy, but I love watching it on Yellowstone. It makes me want to pretend.

Finding the Impossible

In 1980, two days before my first wedding, which was to occur in my parents’ backyard on a lake, I decided it would be cool to surprise the bride with a ride down the aisle in a horse and buggy. “But where can I possibly find a horse and buggy?” I wondered. Nothing was in the phone book, and the Internet did not exist. So I started thinking about where there might be an abundance of buggies. I got in the car, drove out to Amish country, and started looking for farms with buggies. I’d stop, knock on the door, and tell them what I was looking for. Though people were friendly every time, these were tools they needed for their farms or to conduct their lives. And the more doors that shut, the more determined I was to find a horse and buggy. I had set my mind on it, and I was not going to stop looking. 

Down the Road

The next stop, a nice farmer told me that a cousin down the road had just taken delivery on a new buggy that had never been used. Soon I showed up at his door and explained my desire to make the wedding special. I told him I wanted to decorate the buggy with flowers and bring my bride down the aisle with her father. I offered to pay him, though I did not have much money to offer. He started thinking, and I felt a rejection coming, but instead he said, “I have a friend with a truck. I’ll deliver the truck with the buggy and my finest Tennessee Walker to you two hours before the wedding on Saturday. The only payment I want is a photo of the bride in the buggy.” We shook on it. 

A Liquid Chuckle

No one knew about this surprise, so we unloaded the horse and buggy, I decorated it with flowers, and right before going down the aisle, it was sprung on my wife-to-be. Soon, as I was standing at the front, “Here Comes the Bride” was played on an accordion. Next, the carriage with the bride slowly trotted to the side of the crowd, who gasped in awe. She walked up, and we were married by a minister who was an old family friend. After the ceremony, we sawed a log together, an old German tradition to signify working on life’s struggles together. One of the most memorable moments was when the horse took a leak in the middle of the ceremony. Everyone chuckled.

I can remember that day in great detail. 

Dueling ’Vettes

Just this past week, two friends of mine flew from their home in California to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where they picked up two amazing new Corvettes. They then drove them across the country side by side, stopping at all the fun tourist attractions along the way. Not only was it a lifetime dream to own a couple of cool cars like that, they ended up making a memory that they say is one of their best lifetime memories ever. They could have easily bought the cars at a local dealer, but instead they built a memory.

Though memories are often accidental, life is about orchestrating memories. Where would we be without family vacations, celebrations, and special moments?

Thumbs Up

My dad taught me about memory-making by example. My head is filled with childhood memories of camping in our Airstream; getting stranded on a narrow mountain pass to Vail, Colorado, and hitchhiking into town; and having the convertible top slashed and all of our things stolen. We camped along Lake Erie across from Cedar Point, we boated and skied, we learned to sail, we even did Power Squadron courses in severe weather, and we often went to the amusement park. But memories did not stop there.

Sitting in a Circle

Many years later Dad built a tepee on his property, and we would have dessert there when guests were in town visiting the Adirondacks. We would sing around the campfire, bang drums, and tell ghost stories. That tradition will continue now that Dad is gone.

Ring the Breakfast Triangle

My father also built a tiny cabin with a wood stove and nothing inside but a table and chairs. It was called the Trapper Cabin, was decorated with antiques and old animal skins, and the first or last morning when visiting his house (called a camp), he would put on his chef’s hat and cook eggs, bacon, and pancakes for visiting guests. It was a tradition that lasted 30 years and made lots of memories.

Traditions and memory-making are hard work. Looking back, I realize just how hard my parents worked to create memories for us. It was worth it. So many people don’t have a lot of memories.

The Most Important Yet

Consider that this may be the most special summer ever. Many of us have been distanced from our families, unable to travel, and now that we are free and can see them, it’s a time to make special memories. Especially knowing things could change without notice and we might not have a chance to make more memories.

What memories will you make for yourself and your family this spring and summer?
Where can you go? 

What can you do?
What new traditions can you create?

It’s worth the effort. When everything else is gone, our memories last forever. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Last weekend I made memories with a dozen or so painters, painting together in Utopia, Texas. We painted on private farms and saw some stunning scenery! Thanks to Guy Morrow for organizing it. We’re keeping you in our prayers.

Some of my best memories have taken place at the painters’ events I’ve created. I’ve made hundreds of friends and a handful of best friends at events like the Plein Air Convention, which is a gathering of hundreds of artists who come to learn, paint together in a beautiful spot, and play (May 17-21 in Santa Fe). I have memories of painting in amazing places with them, and memories of silly stage moments like Plein Air Wars, the game show we’re doing on stage this year. We still have seats (highly unusual because normal years were sold out at this point), and for this year, we are providing an opportunity for online attendance since some cannot make it to Santa Fe. www.pleinairconvention.com

When I was in my early 30s I went to the Adirondacks for the first time. The area became my photography muse, and later my muse for painting. Its beauty is unique, unlike any other place in America. There are 6 million protected acres of stunning scenery. I’ll be making memories and friendships there in June when I hold my annual spring artist retreat. There are no lessons, just painting and play with old and new friends all day for a week. We have lots of fun, and at this point we have a handful of seats left. It’s all-inclusive, one price for lodging, meals, and the event. www.paintadirondacks.com

Memories will also occur painting in New Zealand this September. I have a few seats left. www.paintingnewzealand.com

Your Favorite Lifetime Memories2022-05-06T17:48:16-04:00
1 05, 2022

An Out-of-Body Experience


Buckets of BBs fall over my head onto the tin metal roof. The sound is deafening as gushes of water drop from the sky and make the roof vibrate with energy. The building shakes as monumental thunder roars overhead, the kind that is so deep that the sky rumbles and the earth moves as if a missile slammed into the ground nearby. Yet I sit here on the porch, covered and dry, feeling secure in my old Texas country ranch house where I can step back and observe the storm from safety.  

Watching a storm from afar, or from a place of safety, gives you a much better perspective and state of mind than being pelted with wind-driven raindrops. If only we could look at our personal storms with the same perspective.

Recently I heard someone say the difference between successful people and those who are not so successful is how they perceive and deal with their problems. 

Have you ever had problems so big, so thunderous, that they become all-consuming?

I can remember problems that were so big that I could not sleep, that I was pacing the floor, all my muscles were tense and I felt pressure in my chest, and my eyes were tear-filled because of my fear. 

Stress Is Death

Any doctor will tell you that stress like that is a killer. And if I had continued on the same track, it might have taken me early. But once I discovered how to deal with problems, my life changed. 

One word or sentence can trigger major stress, so whoever wrote “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was a well-meaning liar.  

Dreams Destroyed

I can remember a few choice words from my partner decades ago that threw me into a tizzy. The news completely defeated me and instantly destroyed my dreams. I had big dreams, and a big plan to achieve them, and suddenly a few words pulled the rug from under me. My hopes were gone, and there was nothing I could do. Everything suddenly changed. I thought my world had come to an end. I was depressed for weeks and fully consumed by my stress and angst. Today as I look backward, I realize it was the best thing that ever happened to me in business. But I could not see it at the time.

If you look backward, do those giant all-consuming problems still feel as big, now that they have passed?

Was all the worry and stress helpful?

Can You Read the Label?

Perspective is a wonderful thing. My close friend author Roy Williams often talks about the view from “inside the bottle” versus the view from outside. When you’re inside, you can’t see what others see. You can’t read the label.

I’ve since discovered that one key to problem-solving is to step outside the bottle. If you can gain perspective and distance yourself from the problem, you gain clarity of thought instead of confused, cloudy, frantic, “my world is ending” panic.

Our Worst Day Ever

When my son Brady had a heart attack at age 17 and nearly died, we were frantic, helpless, and of course our minds were taking us to dark places because we were given information that led us to believe he might not live through the night, and because we overheard the paramedics say, “He’s gone” (listening by phone as they tried to revive him). You can imagine our horror. 

During that time, while speeding to the hospital, I remember telling myself, “Remain calm somehow.” It was clear that this was the worst that could ever happen as parents. 

“Remain clear-headed,” I told myself, assuming we might have to make some very tough decisions. Knowing everyone else around me was screaming out in pain, I felt as though I could actually make things worse if I had to make rash emotional decisions. Thankfully he lived and has the prospect of a long, healthy life. 

“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”  — Robert Schuller

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

After a lifetime of business and problems, I look back on my prayers for help, and I’m grateful that most of those prayers were not answered. Thankfully, God’s wisdom for what we need is better than our own. People ask why bad things happen to good people, and the answer is that sometimes He needs to get our attention, help us trust more in him, and help us understand that what we think is good for us isn’t.

I’ve come to look at problems as gifts, as lessons, as challenges, and in many cases as opportunities. 

How are you looking at problems?

What is your biggest problem?

Take a moment to think about it.

Write it down. 

How you think about problems will define how you arrive at solutions. But also, how long you think about problems is important.

Thinking Time

My mentor Keith Cunningham has taught me to take “thinking time” on every problem, to write down a hundred solutions to every problem — and also write down what I’m doing to cause the problem. Problems are often symptoms of a bigger issue.

It’s easy to come up with five solutions to a problem. But the first five or 10 are usually the easy answers. When you dig deep and force the discipline of a longer list, that’s where major solutions are discovered.

A woman I recently met told me about coming close to death and having an out-of-body experience, looking down on her surgeons. What if you could look at problems like an out-of-body experience, where you’re looking at a problem from the outside?

Try it. It changes everything.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Not only does May bring showers and flowers, it’s bringing the entire plein air painting community together for a much-needed reunion. Now that COVID has been declared officially over in the U.S., join me in Santa Fe for the Plein Air Convention & Expo, May 17-22  (or starting May 16 for those coming to the Kevin Macpherson pre-convention workshop). Can’t make it? We just added online attendance, and we have brand-new details here.

PS 2: As soon as the convention is over, Laurie and I will drive to the Adirondacks to get ready for the Publisher’s Invitational painters’ retreat. This is my 11th, and it’s loads of fun to treat yourself to someone else doing cooking and to go painting every day. Learn more here. 

PS 3: If you’re looking for something really exceptional, join me on a painting trip to New Zealand in September. I’m very excited. So far, we’re a little more than half sold out. It’s limited to 50 people. Here are the details.

PS 4: Pastel Live, our online pastel conference featuring the top pastel artists in the world, is coming in August. I’ve been doing lots of pastel painting lately and I really love the gift of learning something new. Being self-taught isn’t what it’s cracked up to be — learning from top pros is such a time-saver. www.pastellive.com.

PS 5: I hope that someday people look back and say, “Eric and his team are known for providing access to the very top artists in the world and creating high-quality training with them.” The latest is a new video from the legend Michael Coleman. Check it out. It’s soon to be our best seller for the year.

An Out-of-Body Experience2022-04-29T12:03:41-04:00