A deep breath fills my lungs with the smell of pine. As I sit on the dock in a bright red Adirondack chair, the water is perfectly still and reflecting the puffy pink clouds above, the distant purple mountain, and the rich greens.
The water acts like a giant reflector; sounds from across the lake are amplified perfectly. Silence is supplemented by the splash of canoe paddles from a distant couple having a morning chat as they cut across the water in the distance.
This is the moment I look forward to all year. A lake I’ve called home for summers past. And it brings instant stress reduction and recharges my batteries to 100 percent.
Red Letter Days
My grandmother Luella used to call these “red letter days.” Something to celebrate, a day packed with memories. Not only is it my first Sunday here since we left in August last, today begins one of my favorite weeks of my insanely busy year.
Play Time With Friends
Listening started this special week. My ears perked up when painter friends lamented their busy lives on the painters’ event circuit, unable to spend time with their friends at events, unable to paint side by side, because they were in competition to sell paintings. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once a year, we could paint with friends without the pressures of an event? Nothing to sell, no banquets to attend, just play, just painting, just fellowship.
Best Week of My Life
“I could arrange that,” I thought, and a year later, we held the first “Publisher’s Invitational” (so called because I make my living as a publisher and because attendance was by invitation only). Ten were invited, but 17 appeared when requests from the 10 came in to bring their friends. We painted all day, cooked our meals together, sat up late at night laughing, storytelling, and sipping adult beverages. “The best week of my life” was the common thread heard at the end of the week we did not want to end.
A Thousand Paintings
Though exclusivity is nice, so is inclusion, and in following years I removed the invitational aspect. Anyone who wants to come can come, and it was invitational in name only. The event grew from 10 to about 125, and evolved to a campus just a few minutes from here in the Adirondacks where we painted amazing waterfalls, stunning lakes, majestic mountains, and over a hundred shades of green. Attendees created their own traditions, including music and portraits in the evenings and bringing our paintings into a giant room for all to see — we end up with over 1,000 paintings by the end of each week.
Over time I decided more than 100 people was too many and trimmed it back to keep it manageable at about 80, because it’s an event I do all by myself, with only the help of a local painter, Sandra Hildreth, who takes half the group to different paint spots than my group.
There are reasons this is a favorite week. First, I get to be with old and new friends. I love being with other people. Second, my busy life rarely lets me find time for outdoor painting, and when I do, it’s random and last-minute. But this event allows me to do two or three paintings a day every day for a week. Not only am I painting with friends, I’m painting a lot, and the result is growth as a painter. I usually start the week with my worst work and end the week with my best. Everyone seems to experience the same thing because it’s rare anyone, even pros, gets to do a week of painting all day every day.
I also pride myself on doing the entire week by myself. Most of my other events, like the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) in April (next year it’s in San Francisco) or the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) in Miami in November require lots of my team members to be around me. Though I love them, when they are there I’m in the role of leader or boss, and it’s hard for them or me to relax. At this event, though the workload of hosting 80 painters, feeding them three meals a day, dealing with the issues on campus and their needs can have its stress-filled moments, I still love that it’s just me.
Well, it’s not really just me, because my kids come in the day before, stuff the bags with goodies, brochures, magazines, art samples, etc., and they help with registration when people show up. Usually one of them will come along and paint with us, which makes the event friends and family. It does not get any better than that.
Now you can understand why today is a red letter day. After I leave the dock, possibly take a quick dip in the lake, today at noon I’ll greet my guests, and give them orientation tonight, dinner and drinks, and a week of 6 a.m. to midnight.
When you become a painter, like I did, painting is like oxygen. You have to paint to survive. Plus, there is magic in looking forward to something all year. Because I need to paint, I need to do this a few times a year in some form or another. So I’ll have an event again this fall in the Canadian Rockies, and I’ll do an international trip to Africa this fall, and I have my art collectors’ trip to Italy in autumn as well. It’s a busy time, especially because the FACE convention is also this fall, as is my radio Forecast event.
Reflecting on life as it used to be makes me realize how important it is for all of us to have things we can look forward to, something to allow us to get through stress-filled weeks and life’s issues and challenges. Too many years were spent jamming so hard that there was no time for myself or my wife. Years without vacations, summers when I could not get even a week off for a lake visit. Looking back, I probably spent my 30s and most of my 40s working 15-hour days. My life was filled with stress, I was driven to make money, and I had nothing other than work in my life. Though I’ve always loved my work, it was not till my 40th birthday that I discovered painting, and it changed the way I look at life. It’s one of the reasons I’m so driven to teach a million people to paint in the next 10 years, and it’s one of the reasons I offer free lessons to anyone who wants to try it.
Looking back, I realize King David was right (as was Pete Seeger) when he wrote “to everything there is a season.” A time to sow, a time to reap. Life has perfect design, and there is perfect timing for everything, if we’re just willing to listen for that timing.
Had I discovered painting earlier, I may not have been ready, and I certainly would not have had the experience of starting magazines under my belt, so these events probably would never have occurred.
I used to put myself under tremendous pressure to achieve things, to make money, and to work like crazy. Though I’m busier than ever, it’s more balanced. I don’t work 15-hour days and work for years without vacations. I’m more disciplined, more measured, more patient. This is a different season.
Though there is nothing wrong with putting yourself under pressure and working like a dog to make certain things happen, there is also nothing wrong with allowing God’s perfect timing to work its way in your life. That does not mean drifting, because activity is as important as quiet time. We just have to understand that if we’re frustrated or if things are not going as we wish, we’re each in a season, and there is a purpose, a lesson in it. And if we listen, and ask for help, a new season will emerge and everything will make perfect sense.
Someone recently said to me, “Eric, I want your life.” But be careful what you ask for, or you might end up with two decades of toil to prepare the soil for the harvest.
Be thankful for the life you have been given, the lessons you have had to learn, and the lessons to come. Be thankful for the hard times, which give contrast to the good times and make appreciation sweeter.
The Time to Understand
Be patient, because the less than perfect, whatever seems less than ideal, is indeed as it should be and will lead you to perfect if you listen. If you allow God’s plan to flow over you, it will prepare your mind for the steps you won’t understand until you’re ready to understand them.
When Your Seeds Grow
No matter what you are going through at this moment, be patient and know that even the most horrific and difficult time has a sunrise to follow. Look for it, listen for it, and know that each life has a grand plan you may not grasp right now. And understand that the grand plan is probably not something you’ve ever imagined, and may, at the moment, seem like something you don’t want. If you had asked me 25 years ago if I’d be publishing art magazines, doing events for artists and collectors and being a painter, I’d have told you it was insane and could never happen, yet I finally found my purpose and home. You will too.
I’m not sure there is any way to speed up the necessary process. I used to believe in shortcuts, but there are times your food needs to have nutrients of disaster added, much as a forest fire can make the soil stronger.
Silence Is Golden
Perhaps there is one thing I’ve discovered that I never took time for before, and that is quiet time. Prayer, meditation, sitting quietly on the dock or the porch just one hour a week (and more if you can), eyes closed, allowing your mind to wander. Don’t spend it asking, spend it listening. It brings peace, clarity, and sometimes ideas creep in that don’t seem to fit. Listen, take action, and don’t just follow what you want, but listen for the universal call toward something that does not seem like it fits.
Being a control freak, I believe I can control the outcome of anything. It’s taken me a lot of years to understand that I can’t control plans for my life that I don’t know exist. Finally understanding this has given me peace. Now I try to listen more, wait more, and have patience. That does not mean we stop taking action — we need movement as much as we need stillness.
Your angst and frustration may seem difficult, your pain may seem unbearable. Your worry about others is natural. It may seem endless, and it may have been going on for years, but there is strength in knowing there is a season ahead that’s different from the season you’re in now. Fall and winter are always followed by spring and summer.
Somehow knowing this makes it easier. And though it’s hard to understand sometimes why bad or difficult things happen to good people, have confidence that there is a grand plan, and that fire hardens steel. It may seem overwhelming at the moment, but asking why won’t have as much impact as asking what you are supposed to learn, knowing the soil is being prepared for a bountiful harvest.