19 05, 2024

How to Make a Spectacular Life


I’m yawning. I’m groggy. It’s very early, the sun is not up, and the house is shaking from a thunderstorm overhead. I made my way out to the coffee machine, and here we are together this morning, warm cup in my hands, trying to wake up.  

When I was a child, I would sit in the garage with the door open, watching the rain and the thunderstorms. I felt safe inside, but I loved the sound of rain and storms. When I was a young adult, I used to dream of one day sitting on my porch with a tin roof, listening to the rain. Today, I’m sitting safely on that porch, watching the rain come in sheets, feeling the ground shake with the thunder, and listening to the pellets of water hitting the tin roof. Sheets of water are pouring down the hill toward the river in the gully. Yet I’m dry, safe, and happy as a clam. At least till I have to load up the car and head to the airport. 

Lightning Strike

One time I went to Tennessee to see my grandfather’s sister Aunt Maxine, who lived on a farm in Armathwaite. I sat in the front room of this tiny 1800s white Victorian house, looking out over the storm. “It’s too dangerous to sit on the porch,” I was told, because the lightning could be so bad. Though I still thought I’d rather be on the porch, I changed my mind when a bolt struck the giant hickory tree I was looking at. SLAM!!!! CRACK!!! It cracked so loudly — I’ve never heard such a noise. The light flashed so brightly my eyes were burning. I could feel the heat inside the house even though it was a cool summer night. The tree was split in half and then started smoking, though I don’t think it caught on fire. It was a good lesson in the force of nature. 

I was blessed with a great childhood, a great upbringing, and people who cared deeply. And I have wonderful memories, along with some moments I did not fully understand at the time.

Wear a Mental Helmet

“Be careful what you put inside your head,” my grandma used to tell me. “Once it’s there, it never goes away.” And I used to think she was wrong when she would suggest we not go to the movies, or listen to the radio to hear “the devil’s music,” because it was going to influence us. In fact, listening to that music may have played a role in pushing me to become a rock ’n’ roll DJ. I used to think what she was saying was utter nonsense, and I spent over a decade on the radio playing the hits.

Now I’m not going to rant about rock music, which I happen to love. I typically don’t rant about anything. But I have discovered that she was right about one thing … what enters your head never leaves. And with enough repetition, you might start becoming what you see or hear.

You Can’t Unsee Things

Last year at the Plein Air Convention a man asked what my daughter was studying at Baylor, and I mentioned her interest in psychology and forensics. He told me, “I did forensics at crime scenes, and I don’t recommend it. You can’t unsee the things I’ve seen, and they haunt me. They never leave you.” He said, “In that job you realize how much evil there really is. If I had my life to do over, I would not do that part. You really lose faith in mankind when you see the things I saw.”

My Love for Cowboys

I never really wanted to believe the narrative about what you put in your head, but I was really getting into the show Yellowstone. I loved it. I fantasized about being a cowboy. I bought some boots and a hat. And the more I watched it, the more I loved it. I wanted to visit the area, buy a ranch, and live the rest of my life on a horse. That is, until one day when I encountered a problem with someone, and my first instinct was to react violently. Fortunately, I caught myself before my reaction got me in trouble. And I started thinking, “That’s not me. I don’t ever react with violence.” But the more I started thinking about it, I realized that watching all the violence had played a role in my reaction. So I gave up the show cold turkey and never watched it again.

Maybe people will say that I’m weak if I’m that suggestible. I’m OK with that. 

Avoiding What I Don’t Want to Become

I’ve made the realization that the negative things and the positive things we input all play a role in our subconscious mind. Though I’ll sound old school, I even realize that if I watch movies where every other word is an F-bomb, I’ll catch myself almost using such language, even though I’ve made a commitment to myself not to swear. I don’t feel the need to stay current with the culture, so if I’m watching something that is heavily f-bombing, I’ll turn it off. The same is true with things that have lots of sexual scenes. I’ll turn it off because I want to be respectful to my commitment to my family and my wife. I know, sounds very old-fashioned. Right? 

What You Think About Matters

No matter what you imagine, there is a very strong likelihood your subconscious or unconscious mind could find a way to make it happen. For years I dreamed about the house with the tin roof and the big porch, and it eventually came true. I never set it as a goal, and I did not even consciously think about it when looking for a house, but I ended up with it somehow. Is there a possibility that where you see yourself is where you’ll end up? There are lots of scientific debates, and you can find people supporting both sides of the argument.

What Some Believe

According to author and speaker Vishen Lakhiani, the key to getting what you want, to controlling your outcomes, is a step-by-step process of entering a theta state (the state you’re in when you first awaken), looking upward at an imagined screen and seeing what you don’t want. For instance, seeing what you hate about your circumstances or situation. Then you switch to a middle “screen,” showing yourself taking action to find a solution, without thinking about what that solution might be. Then you switch to a screen to your far left (the position of the eyes matters, according to Lakhiani) and imagine yourself in the place or situation you want to be in, living the life. I don’t have any evidence that this is true, but I like to think it could be. 

Other “experts” have also suggested imagining yourself in the situation you’d like to be in. They say that telling yourself, “I’m gonna be a millionaire,” won’t work, but telling yourself, “I am a millionaire,” will work. It’s hard to know if any of this is right.

Here’s what I do know. What I think about, what I see myself doing, tends to come true. What I pray about tends to come true. The more specific my prayer, the more effective. As a result, I’m very intentional about what I’m thinking or praying about and what I need to avoid thinking about. What about you?

What has worked for you? What have you thought about so much that it came to pass?

What negative things have you imagined that came true?

Would they come true if you had not imagined them?

Scientists know if you’re speeding down the road at 70 mph and you tell yourself, “Don’t hit that tree!” you’re much more likely to hit the tree. So they suggest you tell yourself, “Go through that opening,” rather than, “Don’t hit that tree.” You have a better chance of survival. Where you focus matters.

Is there evidence? I’d love to see more science on what really happens. Others claim there is ample evidence. I’m still skeptical. But I do have anecdotal evidence from the small circle of people I surround myself with. The negative thinkers tend to get negative results. The positive thinkers tend to get positive results. 

One day I may look back and say it’s all hocus-pocus, but I don’t think so. It seems there is something to it. I don’t think it’s about luck, it’s about being deliberate. Being deliberate is a conscious decision, versus allowing things to float in and find a home. When I’m traveling to a meeting or event, I imagine a positive outcome, and things usually go as I imagine them. I often rehearse a meeting, imagining what they say and what I say, and I see things going well. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and how positives or negatives have impacted your life and your relationships.

Eric Rhoads

For a year I’ve been envisioning the largest Plein Air Convention in history. And when I board the plane today, I’m going to imagine a successful convention with a lot of very happy customers who have had their lives changed for the better. I will think through every detail and imagine a positive outcome, including how my team will perform and how the faculty will perform. Will it happen? I expect it to. I’ll let you know. The convention starts tomorrow.

Soon after the convention I’ll be hosting 100 artists for my 12th annual artists’ retreat, the Publisher’s Invitational in the Adirondacks. I’m looking forward to seeing you there. I fully expect the last few available seats to be sold.

When Covid hit and we were flooded with cancellations, we reinvented and launched virtual art conferences online. When Covid was over, it would have been easy to tell myself they would soon fail, but I envisioned them being as strong as ever and even growing. The result was positive, and these online events have continued successfully after lockdowns ended. I think the expectation matters. The next online event is in September, Pastel Live, then Realism Live in November, and Watercolor Live in January.

How to Make a Spectacular Life2024-05-19T07:17:22-04:00
12 05, 2024

Being the Glue


Slam! Crunch! A 1950s-style ceramic bowl went crashing to the floor, spreading milk and Cheerios all over the red-and-white speckled linoleum. Suddenly laughter broke out.

It’s hard to know if I really recall my first memories, or if they come from family stories or old photos. My first memory of my mom has me sitting in a high chair as an infant, grabbing my bowl of cereal and putting it on my head like a hat. I can still remember my mom laughing. 

My second memory is of us standing in front of our house, me being held in my mom’s arms, and watching our garage burn to the ground. I can still feel Mom’s tears.

Life is about the dash. In my mom’s case, the dash came between 1927 and 2019. My mom passed five years ago this past week, on May 7. I miss her every day.

What you do with the dash is what matters.

The dash is all about moments and memories.

Last week, I attended the funeral of my Aunt Phyllis, my dad’s sister and my last aunt, and though it was somber, the memories that flooded back with the stories told by my cousins were priceless. She lived her dash well.

A friend, Richard Saul Wurman, the founder of the TED conferences, always says, “I live my life by the number of summers I have left.” Summers being a metaphor for those special times when we go out of our way to do special things.

He, too, is thinking about the dash.  Making sure the remaining summers are special.

More Funerals?

After the funeral, one of my cousins said… “We need to do this more often.” She did not mean a funeral, but having all her brothers and sisters and cousins and friends together. 

Family reunions serve an important purpose, but as families become more spread across a small world, reunions don’t come as frequently as when they are at the farm down the road. 

Oftentimes our parents are family glue. 

We gathered at my dad’s place every summer with most of the family. We showed up at his place at Christmas, and when we lived nearby, it was chicken dinner every Sunday night. All were invited.  

My dad learned that from his parents, who learned it from his grandparents. 

When the glue wears out, it can no longer hold a family together, and that responsibility falls on another family member. All too often I hear tragic stories of families no longer getting together. That’s been the case in our family since my dad passed. He would be heartbroken, as am I. But people have busy lives and live in faraway places.

The True Meaning?

I can’t answer all the questions about the meaning of life in this brief note, but as I look back on my own life, only a few work-related memories matter, and all of those are about the people I worked with or met, or an occasional business trip. 

But family memories, travel with friends and family, and time with friends or family are all that matter to me, other than my relationship with God. 

Put the Fun Back in Funerals

Funerals are the kick in the butt we need to realize that time is short and that if we’re not deliberate about a well-designed life, and going out of our way to create memories, we’ll one day look back and say… “I spent my life in my La-Z-Boy watching TV” — or surfing social media, or playing video games. That’s not life, that’s merely existence. 

Today, as we honor our moms, the best way to honor them is to keep family coming together and creating memories, and spending time with our moms if they are living. Being with family is what they would want.

Are you a pinball, or a car following a roadmap? Make a plan for the life you want to live, and make it happen. Only you can do it.

Eric Rhoads

PS: This is special for me today because we are expecting all three of our kids home to celebrate their mother, my bride, the love of my life. The thing we want most is that warm blanket of family around us, wishing it would last longer. This week is a double celebration — my wife and I will celebrate 27 years of marriage tomorrow. 

Once our moms leave us, Mother’s Day is hard, but the first one without her is the hardest. I just learned this will be the first motherless Mother’s Day for a friend who recently lost his mom. And it will be the first for my cousins. I feel your pain, your emptiness. Moms have always been there for us, and we don’t fully appreciate them till they are gone. Today, if you have your mom, give her a giant hug and just hold on and don’t let go. It’s a gift to both of you.

PS 2: The biggest event of my year starts on May 20 outside of Asheville, North Carolina, where we will hold our annual Plein Air Convention, a gathering of over 1,000 painters from all over the world. This is my other family. We all become very close, and this event is not just about learning and growing from top master artists, it’s our Thanksgiving, a chance to break bread and be with old and new friends. I don’t think there are any seats left, but if you go to the website, try joining the waitlist, something may have opened up. It would be fun to have you there.

Being the Glue2024-05-19T07:10:17-04:00
1 05, 2024

Take a Bow


Fields of trees filled with pink and white blossoms lined the walkways through Sakuragaoka Park, which is like Central Park for Tokyo. Massive crowds of people treated blossoming cherry trees like movie stars, flooding around to take photos and selfies. Women were wearing colorful spring kimonos; it’s a tradition around graduation time to be photographed with the legendary blossoms, and in some areas men too were dressed in traditional robes. It was like a scene out of a movie.

Unfortunately, the blossoms had not reached their peak, and our group of 35 artists hit them a little early, so the trees that were in blossom got more attention than those that were still bare. A return to the same park on our last day was a different story. Everything was in full bloom, and the scene was one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered. It was what I imagine a walk through heaven to be … walls of color against flowing streams and beautiful temples. 


We went to see Japan to visit its temples, see its iconic sign-filled streets, and experience the colorful scenery, but we left transformed, and mesmerized by the culture.

Before going, everyone I met who had been there before said, “It’s indescribable, but I’d live there if I could.” It seemed odd to me, but now I understand.

I’ll not tell the story of our trip now (you can read it here), but I fell in love with the culture and the people.

But why? What was it that was so different from other beautiful places I’ve visited?

Big and Clean

The metropolitan area of Tokyo is home to 41 million people, larger than the population of the entire state of California, yet there are no visible social problems. Most big cities struggle with the sheer size of the population and are prone to chaos and filth. Yet during my visit, I did not see a single piece of trash, nor did I see a beggar or a homeless person. We ended up in some areas and neighborhoods one might think could be dangerous, yet not once did we feel unsafe. Though I suppose dangerous areas exist, I never saw evidence, even outside the tourism bubble.

Though I’ve not researched this, I’m told there is simply almost no crime. And that is rooted in how the Japanese raise their young, and in their immigration policies, which make it difficult and sometimes impossible for non-Japanese to move there. 


The first thing I noticed is that there are no trash cans. We went to a local food market, filled with thousands of hungry people, yet when I had a paper plate left over, I walked up and down the street to find a trash can. There was none. When I asked, I learned that everyone is responsible for their own trash. You stick it in your pocket and take it home to throw it away. 

Though rooted in a 1995 incident when a terrorist hid a bomb in a trash can, resulting in a new policy on trash management, most of the cleanliness is based on societal responsibility. It would simply be rude to ask someone else to deal with your trash problem. 

What I loved most about Japan was its respectful culture. 


I’m walking down the hall in my hotel when the maid at her cart stops, steps out, and fully bows to me. I in turn stopped and bowed to her. After picking something up in my room, when I encountered her a few minutes later, we both bowed again. And subsequently dozens of times over the course of our stay.

Everyone bows to everyone. Everyone is respectful to everyone, to the point that you actually look forward to encountering someone you can help.

And there is no tipping in Japan. The one time we attempted to tip someone for helping us in a difficult situation, that person refused to accept it.


Precision is another part of the culture. It’s not enough to put things away; the people focus on doing things properly. For instance, lining up all the shoes on the floor so they look perfect. If giving a gift (a major part of the culture), they are interested in the aesthetic of precision and beautiful wrapping. Every shelf in every store is pristine and perfect, and the package design of most products is done with excellence. People in our group were taking pictures of candy and cake boxes because they were so beautiful.

I’ve come to understand that Japan’s lack of crime or dirt comes from the idea of honoring others, feeling the need to be obligated and responsible to others, and going out of one’s way to be helpful. 

What if we were more like that?

What if we took more personal responsibility to go out of our way to help others? 

What if we showed our respect for others?

What if we made sure everything was pristine because we wanted to please others?

During part of our tour we visited the Holbein paint company factory where they make all their water-based products like watercolor, gouache, acrylic, and water-soluble oil paints. They took us through the entire factory, showed us how the paint was made, and even ran a line of paint for us to experience it firsthand. Not only was the experience eye-opening, the experience was about precision and cleanliness. In other factories I’ve visited I’ve seen rusty old machinery and trash on the floor, but at Holbein things were perfectly maintained, well painted, clean, and operated with perfection. 

Can You Say Kodawari?

Steve Jobs used to talk about a Japanese term that was about making things beautiful and perfect, inside and out, even the inside of the machine that no one ever sees.

I’ve since learned there is a concept called kodawari, which sums up Japanese culture. I found this definition online.

Kodawari ( こだわり in Japanese) means the pursuit of perfection. It is passion, persistence, commitment, and attention to detail. It is so beautiful because, once you have truly connected to it, one word can be a placeholder for an entire world view.

The key to kodawari is that it is personal in nature. It is partially rooted in pride, but not the petty kind. It is the kind of personal pride that you feel when you are alone and you know that you did your best. It comes from that deeper presence inside your head that watches you and knows when you are cutting corners. Whenever you ignore this discipline, you feel weaker, and when you engage with it, you feel stronger.

Such discipline is not rooted in some grandiose scheme to impress others or to achieve external validation. It is your personal standard, and it is how you foster self-respect. While you appreciate the beauty it creates along the way, you also realize that you never fully arrive anywhere. You can always be better. 

I’m sure there are lots of invisible problems or issues I did not see in Japan, but I love this idea of doing things well, being the best you can be …  just because. Knowing perfection isn’t possible, but striving for it in everything you do brings you closer to it.

I experienced this everywhere in Japan. Even public restrooms had automated electric heated toilet seats, and the stores had more variety and excellence than any stores I’ve ever experienced. 

From what I can tell, it starts with respect for others, which drives us to do the best possible for everyone we encounter. Not because they can do something for us, not because they are more important than we are, but because all humans deserve our respect and our best.

That’s why I encourage you to take a bow.

Eric Rhoads

PS: One my first day back doing my daily YouTube show, Art School Live, someone wrote in the comments, “You look 10 years younger.” I joked that I’d really slipped away for plastic surgery, but my more youthful look was rooted in getting away from stress and gaining a new perspective by visiting a new place. I recommend it.

At the end of our trip, I asked our attendees to tell me the best part, and everyone said it was the people they met on the trip and spent the time with. I love seeing people connecting and making friends through the things we offer. I agree that the people were the best part.

I love meeting new people and being thrown into a situation where we are together 12 hours a day for a week and a half. You can’t help but make friends. And I love when artists meet artists. I live to help others make these kinds of connections. The next chance to experience this is at our Plein Air Convention this May, which is down to less than 40 seats left.

My next international trip with a group is the Fine Art Connoisseur Behind the Scenes art collector trip this fall to Venice and Verona, but I’ve not yet decided where my next international painting trip will be.

Another place to get to know people is at Paint the Adirondacks (17 seats left), my spring painting retreat this June, and at Fall Color Week (27 seats left) this September.

You deserve to reward yourself with something to look forward to … a trip, a workshop, or an event!

Take a Bow2024-05-01T19:28:50-04:00