I must be dreaming. I awoke thinking I was in the beautiful countryside, surrounded by old wooden dachas (country cabins), fields of ancient windmills, and onion-domed churches. The wind is blowing briskly, and I’m awakened to the sound of someone throwing logs into the wood-burning stove. I get out from under the thick down comforter and walk out into the kitchen, which is over 120 years old and as primitive as when it was built, to have my first cup… Russian coffee as strong as its people. But I’m not dreaming, I’m in the dacha of a friend, master artist Nikolai Dubovik, in a small Russian village. A village so small we had to drive 40 minutes to a town where a mobile connection was available so I could send this to you. It’s Sunday morning here, and nine hours ahead of my home in Austin.

Pinch Me

I’ve had an amazing first week in Saint Petersburg, living a dream life. Not only was I in what is arguably the most beautiful city in the world, I was in the presence of people who are icons in the Russian art world, and who have influence over the entire art world. DIrectors of top museums, and the director of the Repin Academy, the world’s largest and most important art school, whose massive building houses three museums larger than most museums in the U.S. And I’ve spent most of the week with an amazing video crew, shooting documentary footage, interviews, interiors of museums, and two art instruction videos with one of the world’s top artists, who happens to be a Russian master. One of the museum directors told me this artist, Nikolai Blohkin, may be the only living artist whose work could hang next to Ilya Repin’s and hold its own. That very director then slipped me into a sold-out show, a 175-year celebration of the life of Repin, the largest show ever mounted of his work. Oh, and I managed to fit in three paintings in Saint Petersburg, though it was unbelievably cold.

Russian Countryside

From Saint Petersburg, I flew here Saturday, picked up by Nikolai Dubovik and his son Kolya. Nikolai is a master artist and an instructor at Russia’s other great art academy. We were reuniting after a couple of years, and after hugs and family updates, he drove me around the area to show me how it’s changed since we last saw one another. It’s like we started up exactly where we’d left off.

Old Villages

My other purpose, other than seeing a dear old friend, is to find locations for when I bring painters to Russia for a couple of weeks of amazing painting. I’m instantly hooked. The area’s old villages are very charming, and I’m hopeful I’ll get to paint today before driving back to Moscow, where I’ll have four more days of interviews with the art world.

A Lifetime Moment

If it sounds like I’m bragging, please know I don’t intend to. While I was doing an interview, the director of the Repin Academy started talking about how important my magazine had become and said the mere fact that we’ve survived when others have not is, in his words, remarkable. He went on to tell me how influential my work is in the art world. I had to hold back tears. I could not believe what I was hearing. That one moment made decades of work and preparation worth doing.

How Did This Happen?

As I sat in this interview, I thought, “Why do I deserve this? How did I even get here?” I thought, “I can’t believe this is happening to me, where major museums are giving me access to their directors, with a film crew, disrupting their busy lives.” But I realized there’s an important principal I wanted to share: Have vision, and pursue that vision no matter what, no matter the resistance, no matter what others say, no matter the roadblocks. If your dream is big enough, if it carries the weight of important purpose (in my case it’s about changing people’s lives by exposing them to art, art training, and art experiences), then it will happen. But you can never give up or give in.

Looking Back

If someone had told me it was going to take 15 years to get to this place, I probably would never have begun. But looking back, it seems like a small price to pay to be able to make a difference. And yet the mission is just building momentum, just getting started. You have to keep moving the goalposts further and further out. When you achieve one goal, you need to immediately move to the next. It’s best to set big goals, then set up small, obtainable, bite-size goals to make your big goal seem reachable.

Bask, But Only for a Moment

I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant or self-important — that’s not me, and not my intent. But there is value in basking, briefly, in a moment of glory to look at your accomplishments. The key is to not believe your own press clippings and remain grateful and humble. And in my case, to pass the glory on to my Maker. None of this would happen for me without that.

A Random Encounter

Speaking of a moment when it was hard to be humble, imagine this. I’m walking through the back door of an art school in Russia and a young lady, probably 20, is walking by me. She stops, turns around, and says, “Are you Eric Rhoads?” I’m stunned, but she tells me she follows me on Instagram and recognized my face. The world really is small, and our reach and opportunity today are bigger than ever for anyone who chooses to use them. I’m so grateful for tools like this to expand our efforts.

Your Big Dream

What about you? What vision and dream are you telling yourself is not possible? If you had ever told me I’d be in Russia and have meetings with people like this, I would not have believed it was possible. Yet because I had big vision with purpose attached, unexpected things like this will happen.

A Wild Ride

Grab hold of your dreams and hold them tightly, because when you do, you will take a wild ride that you will one day look back on and say, “I can’t believe I made it this far.” Keep that vision in your mind for those moments when you face challenges and you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not sure I can do it.” But you can do it. You can’t allow big dreams to overwhelm you. Just step out, one small step at a time, and you can do it. And life is richer when you have tried. Yes, you will have failures. I can’t count how many I’ve had, yet I pick myself up, dust off, and go forward. Sometimes those failures wound us deeply, hold us back for a while. That’s OK. But fighters keep getting up. You need to be a fighter to see dreams realized because you are fighting for a purpose bigger than yourself. You’re fighting for your dream, your vision, your big purpose, and for your family.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to share my experiences with you.

Eric Rhoads

PS: The director of the Repin Academy, the largest art school in the world, which has students from 60 countries, has agreed to come to the Figurative Art Convention & Expo to speak. When I heard his vision and his words about the future of contemporary realism, I realized they needed to be shared in person. If we can work out the details, he will be there. The invitation went out and was accepted on Thursday. This convention is an important place to be for your big vision and dreams if you’re a realist artist or want to be.

God willing, I’ll be back home next week from my porch in Austin.