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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eric, I just received your letter which says…please find the world…luggage tag. I was disappointed to find no luggage tag enclosed. I guess someone slipped up. Would love to have one since I’m going to the convention.
Loved this, Eric. Very inspirational! Thank you for these insights.
A relentless series of small steps resulting in a long journey. that is what it takes to realise goals. The seemingly impossible becomes everyday. that is how i at one time built a global art business from absolutely nothing. i do not remember much of it now but what eric is saying actually works.
P.S…Nicholai Fechin my all time favorite master artist to copy and learn from….🤪
Eric, love your newsletter and so appreciate the knowledge you so generously share. This letter really hit home with my. I too, think St.Petersburg is the most beautiful city…there is something magical about it…we took a private tour with ‘Dancing Bear’ tours..really wonderful..visited the Hermitage, but did not know about the academy…Next time for sure! Travel safe, Meredith
Ask your friend about painter Bato Dhufarzhapov! Wow, A master!
I had a stroke during surgery in 2012 for a benign brain tumor . I walk with a walker , I see double , I am deaf in one ear and my hands shake . My husband who did a great job taking care of me has been diagnosed with early on set dementia. My kids (4) hardly talk to me. That’s the bad news. We have great friends and I love art. I am trying to figure out where I fit I c hope you can help
What a dream, so exciting and thanks for taking us along. I can feel your excitement and passion for your mission. Thanks for taking that giant step. It’s so meaningful.
Yes, I too have visions to help those that haven’t experienced the love of art through my emails, Instagram, Facebook and painting on location. Sharing my creative process, and sometimes letting folks paint on my painting while on location is such a joy. It’s been especially rewarding with children.
Thanks Eric for sharing your Joy. Blessings my friend.
Even though I had to cancel my PACE trip ( sooo disappointed – due to unexpected surgery) I’ll be with you all in spirit. Warmest Regards
Now I’m wanting to do it more often and who knows, perhaps create a spark in someone else whom would have never thought of painting before.
How exciting to be there and experiencing the artists and art world of Russia. It is so nice to hear real things about a strong and resilient people first hand by someone experiencing their qualities in real time. All the propaganda that is and has been so prevelent for so many years does not describe a whole people, culture or attitude.
Thanks for doing what you are doing and offering all these opportunities to the artists of the world.
Eric, you are the farthest thing from arrogant or self-absorbed. You are a giving person. That always comes through. That’s why you have people who respect you, and are on the receiving end – ready to soak up your descriptions and stories every Sunday! I, myself, especially love how you speak of God and give Him the Glory!! You are grounded in faith and that also comes through, loud and clear. Bless your work, and May God keep you safe in your travels.
Eric I wake up excited to hear your Sunday Coffee pep talks. I love the descriptive words you use to begin each of your messages. I live in a small town in South East Idaho. The town was settled in 1863 and has 91 homes on the National Historic Register and if we were to up date the list their would be more. The name of the town is Paris. Ten miles from this town is a like often described as the Caribbean of the West. Ten miles to the West you are surrounded by pines and woodland animals. I started a non-profit organization called Friends United for Bear Lake three years ago. The purpose was to preserve our historic structures and promote the local artist. During the summer I stated an event called “Meet Me In Paris” on July 18, 2020. Where artist can sell and demonstrate what they do and how they do it. I have activities for youth to encourage art in our youth. This summer we are adding a new event from July 15 to the 18 that we are calling Paint In Paris. Going with your message for today on vision. I have a vision of painters of all skill levels coming to paint in our town and other small communities. Paris is one mile by one mile and has a population of 500 which doubles in the summer because of summer residences. We have nine month of winter one month of Spring and Fall if we are luck and one month of Summer. I was wondering if you could help me to find a way of seeing my vision come to be. Do you have any suggestions of where I can get ideas and artist to make this vision come to life. I know that by small and simple things great things can come about. Thank you for your time.
Oh my dear Eric, These are the words I use for my students, and to know all you do and are doing and have done that parallels what I so deeply believe about the purpose of art, and of passing on as much excellence as is possible WARMS my heart! I am 81. I have had setbacks that threatened to kill my art dream, but that just made me mad and I did whatever I could at the time to NEVER give up. What we do to forward the goals and purposes of the artist (ourselves included) is of more value to this world than can ever be put in words.
Thank you for what you continue to do for us all. Good health always and LONG life to you and your family!
With deep admiration,
What you’ve done and continue to do is amazing. You are truly a man of vision and tremendous drive with a passion for fine art and compassion for people. God bless you Eric!
Wow! Way to go! Dream big and then, dream bigger. . Thanks for making a difference.
Your words of wisdom from the Art Schools of Russia inspire me to work harder for my dream. Reading your Sunday Coffee is something I look forward to weekly. I followed the tragedy of your son’s illness and was concerned until your next coffee. Now your experience in Russia has made up for such a time of fear and sadness. Safe trip home!
Thanks for the memories Eric. I saw Doctor Zhivago 36 times. I have always been in love with Lara, Julie Christy. The Russian winter, the dacha in the countryside were amazing. I like what you write but more importantly is your writing about imagination. We, as artists, are constantly worrying about our talent when there is no such thing. It is about imagination, the questioning” what if”. When this question is asked, and acted upon, there you will find talent. God bless and thanks for sharing.
Very inspiring artical Eric! An accomplishment many dream of but few achieve! You inspire me and many other artist to keep reaching for the stars!