A few years ago, during one of our legendary Fine Art Trips to Europe for art lovers and collectors, we were in Scotland visiting art museums and private collections — including the second-largest private art collection in Europe, housed in a castle that made Highclere Castle or Downton Abbey look like guest houses. When we arrived at the castle and the footman opened the massive doors, a bagpiper in full regalia played as we entered and walked up the curved marble stairways for a group photo. For an hour or so, we were able to walk into every room and view the extensive artwork collection including rare works by Da Vinci, Raphael, Rubens, Constable, and just about everyone you could imagine, including a “modern” artist, John Singer Sargent, who was commissioned to paint the owner’s portrait  a hundred years ago.

Dinner Is Served

About an hour into our visit, chimes rang out, inviting us into a dining room with a 40-foot-long table, elegantly decorated. A huge fireplace at the end of the hallway warmed the room, which was lit by candlelight chandeliers overhead. Soon the butler and his uniformed footmen served our seven-course meal. Midway through dinner, I clinked my glass and said a few welcoming words to our guests, as did Fine Art Connoisseur editor Peter Trippi, followed by an opera tune sung by tenor David Orkuit. 

Drumbeats in the Distance

Following dessert, we gathered at the rear entrance to meet our bus, but were surprised to hear a drum corps emerging from the distant fog. As they got close, the 12-man drum and bagpipe troupe played a couple of Scottish tunes, then disappeared into the mist, playing as they marched away. Everyone was surprised, and all had tears streaming down their faces. I knew it was coming, and still had tears; it was one of the most beautiful and memorable moments of my life. My goal was to create a moment my guests would never forget, knowing some may never return to Scotland, and also knowing this one moment would be locked in their memories for the rest of their lives. We’ve done 11 of these art trips, and each has had a few equally powerful memories.

Life is about memorable moments. It’s about experiencing them, and it’s about creating them. 

Impossible Is Best

I was reminiscing about my career and some of the memorable moments I’ve been able to create for my family and for my friends and customers over the years. There are too many to mention here, but they’ve always involved an element of the impossible. I always wanted to give people an experience that was beyond expectation. Usually such experiences weren’t affordable and I’d have to find ways to make them happen without money, making the success even sweeter. 

A Bag of Tricks

I’ve brought tanks and elephants into buildings, and jugglers and fife-and-drum corps to stages I was speaking on. I’ve worn a spacesuit and a Revolutionary War uniform, had circus performers and people on stilts, mounted cars to billboards, driven a mini electric car onto the stage, and dozens of other things I was told were impossible to arrange. Last year at the Plein Air Convention I brought a gospel choir on stage for two songs.

I’m sure I got this from my dad. I can remember him holding a customer party at our house and bringing in a professional fireworks display. I took his idea and did the same at our lake house to celebrate the 10th Publisher’s Invitational in the Adirondacks.

Do It Right

My dad used to say, “Son, always do everything in four-color even though it’s more expensive.” What he meant was that, back in the day, it was a lot of extra money to print brochures in color. At the time, most of his competitors did things in black and white. Four-color was a metaphor for doing everything with excellence. Do the unexpected. Stand out. Don’t be the same as everyone else.

Extra Effort Is Worth It

Sometimes the most memorable family events are when something occurs that no one expects. Maybe it’s game night, maybe it’s dinner in the backyard in a tent. My dad used to do dessert in his teepee at his lake place, and he would do a trappers’ cabin breakfast for guests in a little cabin on his property. When the lake kids were at our home for Junior Yacht Club, we would put out a hundred whipped cream cans and do whipped cream fights. Other parents were mortified, but those kids will remember that for their entire lives, along with everyone jumping in the lake to get the sticky off. 

Everyone does the expected. Only a few do the unexpected, because it takes extra effort. But what if every experience people had with you was memorable? What if every touchpoint was memorable? 

What can you do to stand out? Not just so you stand out, but so you’re making people feel alive, giving them an experience they will never forget?

What if your co-workers saw you as the person who always makes the extra effort, who does things that no one else is willing to do? I’ve worked with hundreds of people over my career, but only a few stand out in my memory as the crazy ones that went the extra mile.

People want to be entertained. They want to feel alive. They want to have memorable experiences. 

Expectations should always be met, but whenever possible, they should be exceeded. Why be boring? Why not stand out by doing excellent graphics, using exciting words, by taking the routine and making it exceptional?

There Will Be Naysayers

Warning: When you stand out, some will call you a clown, a showman, a P.T. Barnum. You will always have someone who gives you negative feedback. They won’t like the music, or the dancing, or the theatrics. When you go to a Tony Robbins event, it’s loud, it’s musical, there is dancing, and for some, it’s off-putting. It was for me, and I understand his intent. I had to tell myself, “You won’t get anything out of this unless you get into it and participate.” My colleague went and could not stand the music and drama and left, and missed out. Don’t miss out. Don’t be the person who rains on the parade. Jump in, have fun, and get into it. And don’t let the naysayers get you down.

Clothes Removed

One year I was invited to speak at the regional convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. As I stood on stage in front of a few hundred broadcasters, all wearing suits on a Saturday, I started my speech, then stopped and said, “It’s Saturday. Would you mind if I loosen my tie?” They nodded. A little later, I paused again and took my tie off. Then I asked if they would mind if I took my suit coat off. They nodded, and I asked them to do that, too, so they were more comfortable. Some did. Then, a few minutes later, I took off my shirt and my pants behind the lectern. I could hear some gasps.

Of course I had a T-shirt and jeans on underneath. But the point I wanted to leave them with is that you can’t reach people if you are stiff and formal. Paul said to relate to man “in his times.” I suggested that they needed to be more appealing to people who were turned off by their approach. The point was made, and guaranteed, they not only remember it to this day, they still talk about it. 

Ask yourself: What can I do to make my point remembered?

What can I do to stand out?

How can I make an experience more memorable? 

To celebrate our 10-year anniversary, my wife asked me to take a few days off, drove me to the airport, and, once we were past security, blindfolded me and took me to the gate. I did not know where we were going. Soon we boarded the Concorde for a three-hour flight to London. We spent a couple of days there and came back. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

Where is the element of surprise in your life, with your family, with your friends, with your customers? It’s never too late. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: This morning, when I prayed as I first got out of bed, I asked God to help me bring back this element of my life, to help me step out and work harder to create more memorable experiences for my people. I know it’s a weird prayer, but I know I used to do those things more. As life gets busy, as business gets more complicated, it’s easy to forget to do it. Yet it’s important to me.  Only time will tell what He puts into my brain.

PS 2: On Friday I wrapped up our fourth Watercolor Live online conference. We had a massive number of people attending from all over the world. I think it changed a lot of lives and helped a lot of people discover something that will give them joy for their entire lives. Several people told me this was their fourth Watercolor Live in a row; others were first-timers and said they will be back. Pretty much everyone said it was a life-changing experience — especially those who did not think they could paint and who have now progressed further than they could have imagined in a few days’ time. I’m thrilled that a large percentage have already signed up for next year.

PS 3: It’s about to become busy again. PleinAir Live, an online training event with mostly outdoor painting demos from top artists, is taking place in March. Then, in late March and early April, I take a group to paint cherry blossoms in Japan at PleinAir Japan, which is sold out. In May we hold our Plein Air Convention & Expo, which has only 61 seats left, and then it’s on to my Publisher’s Invitational painters’ retreat in the Adirondacks, which is already 70 percent sold out. Then summer begins! And when it’s over, I do Fall Color Week, in Carmel and Monterey this year and already 50 percent sold out. Then it’s Pas