Paradise isn’t hard to take. I’m squinting my eyes as the bright morning light reflects intensely on the water. Two loons are silhouetted near the dock in front of me. I’m comfortably sitting in an old olive green original Adirondack Westport chair — the engraving on the back says 1904. It’s cool, slightly breezy, and the coffee warms me before the day grows a little warmer. If it gets too hot (unlikely), I may jump in for a swim, and later today I’ll go paint in my little wooden electric boat.

I have lots of summer memories, but one moment was especially unnerving. 

Panic Time

When I was a kid, my dad woke us from a sound sleep early one Saturday morning. “Get up. Pack a bag for a week. Be ready in two minutes. This is an emergency.” Of course, I rolled over until he woke me again.

“What’s going on?” I grumbled in my most sleepy, not-awake voice. “There’s no time for that, but this is life or death. I’ll tell you in the car.”

Nuke Threats

In the 1960s we were all on high nuclear alert. In school we had drills where we had to get under our desks in the event of a nuke. (My best guess is that it might have prevented flying glass from blinding us before the nuke killed us all two seconds later.) 

We had air raid sirens that went off every day at noon, but if they went off any other time, we had to be ready for attack.

And there was the Emergency Broadcast System alert. If it went off any time other than test time, we had to be ready.

This Never Happens!

That morning the EBS had gone off, and our local announcer, Bob Sievers on WOWO, was telling us, “This is an actual emergency, but we know nothing more than that.” It was frightening. Had the Russians invaded? Would a nuke be hitting our little town?

So, we were off in our car, driving somewhere, I’m not sure where. But soon they announced it was a false alarm and we headed home. We had all been kind of coached about what might happen someday, and if it did, on what we were going to do. 

The Ultimate Boy Scout

Being a pilot, my dad was rehearsed for every possible disaster. In learning to fly, the first thing they do is take you up, cut the engine, and tell you to find a place to land. Then they tell you all the reasons the spot you picked won’t work and tell you to find another place. Right before you land in a cornfield, they start the engine and say, “That was a drill. For the next 40 hours we’re going to do drills, so when it actually happens, you’re ready for anything.”

My dad had two near-death experiences when flying, where his instincts told him to do one thing but his training told him to do another. He followed the training and escaped death from a spiral dive with about 40 seconds to spare after he emerged from a cloud only to realize the plane was careening toward the ground. Letting go of the controls was the only option. The plane corrected itself, and he was saved. It had all been in the training. When you’re panicked, you don’t have time to think clearly, and you might choose the logical (but wrong) path.

At age 11 I joined the Boy Scouts, whose motto was “Be prepared.” They really did help us be ready for anything.

It Was Ingrained in Us…

Growing up as Rhoads kids, we had to think about every possible scenario and be ready to take immediate action. Being rehearsed was the key.

When Captain “Sully” Sullenberger saved 155 lives on his aircraft after a bird strike killed his engines on takeoff, instinct kicked in. He credits years of flying, training, and practice for that one in a million chance that something could go wrong. 

Though some accuse me of being a negative thinker when I think through worst case scenarios, my upbringing has taught me to play the negative “What if?” game… Things like…

What if we’re in a crowd and someone starts shooting. What will you do? What will everyone else do? Should you follow everyone else? 

What if the building I’m in catches on fire? What will you do? What will everyone else do? Should you follow everyone else?  (Note: Experts say that following everyone else usually does not end well.)

What if someone pulls a gun on you? You’ve only got a split second to use your special rehearsed moves. No time to invent something. 

What will I do if the waters come up and fill the house and we find ourselves trapped?

What if there are fires that get out of control and we can’t escape the neighborhood?

What if an expected hurricane is worse than predicted, the power, phones, and Internet are down, and I have to save my family?

The key to playing “What if?” is to build confidence and to create an instinctive response. In an emergency, it’s too late to think through what you might do when a split second could save your life. Having confidence at crucial moments is critical. 


In one of the office buildings we were in, I can remember three different times the fire alarm went off, but everyone was standing around, asking questions, not moving. Meanwhile, I ran out of the building, down the stairwell, and outside as fast as I could. I was downstairs in 30 seconds. The others in the building did nothing because they didn’t believe the fire was real, because the alarm had gone off so many times before. Yet the last time it happened, it was a real fire and people could have been trapped. Thankfully, everyone got out and the fire was out quickly. But in emergencies, things change in an instant. Did I feel foolish for overreacting and not waiting to see? Not for a moment. In fact, I increased my odds of survival by having a plan.

Not Just Emergencies

Being prepared isn’t just about emergencies, nuclear attacks, food shortages, etc. It’s also about being ready for the worst in life, work, or business. A few weeks ago I got the worst business call I could imagine getting. Ten years ago I’d have been freaking out after what I heard, but because I knew that call would someday come, because I had thought it through and rehearsed it, I knew how I would react, exactly what I would do, and how I’d keep things moving forward no matter what. My preparation served me, and the issue became a non-issue. Best of all, I was calm the entire time.


In the book Greatness by David L. Cook, Ph.D., he writes, “Performing to the top of our capabilities while adapting to imperfections [emergencies] in the environment, in ourselves, and in the people with whom we interact is a champion’s blueprint for success and a cornerstone to mental toughness.”

Some worry about what might happen. Others don’t worry, because they have a plan and have rehearsed that plan. Some live in hope that bad things won’t happen, while others hope they don’t happen but are prepared. Hope rarely solves problems.

Social networks are filled with a constant flow of information about every possible coming disaster, every asteroid headed our way, predictions of war, of revolution, of financial crashes, of blackouts, of Internet outages, even end-times predictions. Some take it seriously, some worry about it, and some are champions and know exactly what they would do, where they would go, what they would take, or how they would react in every scenario.

Which are you?

What do you think about that worries you?

Would you be more confident and less worried if you had thought out a plan and rehearsed it in your mind?

Eric Rhoads

PS: OK, now someone will e-mail me and say, “What are you trying to get us ready for? Do you know something we don’t know?” No.

When we hold our annual Plein Air Convention, my staff can tell you that we go through every possible scenario. “What would happen if…?”  Sometimes it’s not just a disaster, but preparation for success. What would happen if an extra hundred people show up? What do we do? Can we accommodate them? We try to be ready for everything.

Adult Crayons

For decades I’ve been a diehard oil painter. That’s about all I did for almost 25 years, until I started launching our online conferences about specific art techniques. Last August I held our first Pastel Live online event for hundreds of people worldwide. As host, I watched as much of the instruction from top masters as I could. When I decided to pick up pastels this summer, I knew how to do things I didn’t know I knew. It was almost like osmosis.

But I Don’t Have Any Talent

Lots of people tell me, “I don’t have any talent. I can’t draw a stick figure.” Then I tell them that I can teach anyone to paint. And though it’s true, it’s even more true with pastel. You won’t know till you try. And if you fail and want your money back, I’ll give it to you.

Instant Success

Most of us used crayons when we were little. Most of us colored within the lines, and some of us made drawings of things we were into. What I love about pastels is that you can draw or color, just like with crayons. The big difference is that your box has even more colors, and pastels are a respected professional art medium that will last hundreds of years. Pastel is not nearly as hard to learn as other mediums.

Though there are all kinds of techniques and approaches to make your pastel paintings better, I’ve watched people pick them up and do decent work right away. Imagine what they could do with some coaching from top pastel artists!

Feel Better About Yourself With 3 Life-Changing Days

I’m not exaggerating when I say life-changing. When you learn a skill like painting, you gain new confidence, you enjoy the experience, and you’ll feel better about yourself. I’d like to encourage you to come to my 3-day pastel conference. You don’t need to get on an airplane, you can watch from home or work on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. And you will gain tremendous confidence and walk away feeling that you too can become an artist. 

You Become an Artist or Your Money Back

My guarantee is that you’ll get so much value out of this event that if you don’t get your investment in value on day one, let me know by the end of the day and I’ll refund 100 percent of your money. If after watching you don’t feel you learned anything or don’t feel you can be an artist, I’ll refund your investment. 

We have hundreds of people from around the world attending to see three or four days of the top pastel artists in the world teaching. You can register at

I’ve had a lot of questions about our virtual Pastel Live conference, so I thought I’d answer them here:

Q: How does Pastel Live this year differ from last year’s event?
A: No two conferences are alike. We rarely repeat any of the faculty members, and if we do on occasion, they don’t repeat what they taught before. This year only two are repeated. First, Albert Handell, because he is THE top pastel master in the world. We have him back every year, but each year he teaches something different. We’re repeating Vera Kavura, a flower painter from Ukraine, because we wanted to support her. Every instructor is new this year, doing new and different approaches and techniques. Not all pastel approaches are alike.

Q: I haven’t used all the information I learned last year, so I think I’ll wait.
A: If you have a passion to learn or grow as a pastel artist, attending will inform you and teach you things you didn’t know you didn’t know. Chances are you have used more of what you learned last year than you’re aware of, because things tend to sink in over time. And what if this one event has a few sessions that change how you paint forever? Is it worth the risk of missing it?

Plus, it’s not just about the instruction, it’s about the interaction with other artists worldwide. You learn from others and their experiences as well. You’re part of the family.

Q: I’ve never done an online conference, and I’m a little intimidated by it.

A: Online conferences are all the rage because people can get great education without the expense of travel. This is NOT a Zoom call; we produce a very entertaining show from a state-of-the-art soundstage so you get the best possible experience.

Many people are unable to travel due to family, health, or work. When you register for the event, we will send you a link to click on that will take you right to the program. All you have to do is click. We do ask you to create an account, which takes about one minute. If you’re not accustomed to it, we can walk you through it.

You can simply watch, much like you might on YouTube. You can use your tablet, smartphone, computer, or laptop, and in some cases you’ll be able to connect to watch on your television if you have a connected smart TV. You simply tune in to watch. If you have questions, you ask them in the chat bar beside your screen, and if you want to participate in our online community so you can meet with other artists, you simply click a button that will connect you. You will want a camera on your computer to take part in the online breakout rooms, which we do twice daily.

Q: I only attend in-person workshops so I can get personal attention and get my questions answered.

A: In-person is great if you’re in the front row, and if you can hear everything. At an online event, you can see clearly, see closeups better than in person, and you get to ask questions of the instructors during their presentations. And, unlike a workshop, with the replays you can rewatch the things you want to see again. Some will tell you they think this can be better than in person, plus you can sit in your pajamas, you can paint along, you can watch over again, you can grab a snack when you want it, and there is no airplane, rental car, or hotel. And in this workshop you get three days (four if you do Beginner’s Day) and 30 top pastel instructors who are hard to get access to (we get them because of our affiliation with PleinAir and Fine Art Connoisseur magazines).

Q: I’m a beginner. This might be way over my head.
A: That’s why we offer a Beginner’s Day. It’s a separate price, and you don’t have to attend the three-day event after (but you can). We’ve selected people who can teach at a beginner level to really make it understandable. Not only will this help you grasp important basics of pastel, it will help you as you watch more in-depth presentations the rest of the week, should you decide to. And if you’re at all worried about being embarrassed, no one will see your work unless you decide to show it in the breakout rooms.

Q: I’m not a pastel painter. Why should I even consider it?
A: During the pandemic, many painters in other mediums attended Pastel Live, just because they thought they could learn something that would apply to the medium they use, since all mediums inform other mediums. Many decided they loved it so much they took up pastel. Some think it’s like a sophisticated adult crayon. There are times when you don’t want to drag out your paints, you just want to pick up some colors and start creating. Pastel is perfect for that, and it’s great for lots of effects you cannot get with other mediums. And many master artists try to master all mediums so they can be strong in every medium, because there is a time when pastel may be easier or better than other mediums.

Q: Money is tight, with gas, inflation, and all and not knowing what happens next.
A: We get it too. In fact, our expenses went up considerably this year, but we decided not to raise the price. There is a chance the cost will be higher next year, so this is the best time to attend.

We don’t want you to take food off the table or spend what isn’t available. But we also know that the best thing each of us can do is invest in ourselves, our joy, and our growth as an artist. And the better we get, the more chances we have of selling better paintings. In reality, depending on the price at which you might sell your work, you can get this event for less than what you would sell one painting for. And since the cost might go up next year, and because we don’t know what lies ahead, this is probably the best possible time to invest in yourself while you have the ability to do so.

Q: Last year we were still in quarantine. I don’t have as much time now.

A: We all face this issue. We’re busier, and life is back to normal. But remember the benefits of the pandemic? More time for yourself and the things you want to do, more joy by focusing on what you love. Returning to the rat race is hard, but we need to invest in our joy and our personal growth. And with rumors of more lockdowns, you’ll wish you had learned pastel.

Q: I never got around to watching the replays, and now that they have expired, I’m not sure I’ll watch this event.

A: Don’t come if you won’t watch. But if you want to grow, to bring yourself to a higher level of ability and confidence, this is important to attend.

Q: I can’t attend because we have plans during the dates. 

A: Good news: Every registration level includes replays with it. You can choose short-term replays so you can watch right after the event to see what you missed, or you can get up to a year of replays.

Q Three or four days is a giant commitment … I’m busier now with work, kids or grandkids, etc.
A: Are you worth the investment in time if it eliminates your frustration and makes you a better painter, or if it teaches you something new? You’ll feel better about yourself. If you can’t watch live because of work or other responsibilities, there are replays. Or you can watch some live, and watch the rest in replays. 

How much time do you spend in a month on social media or watching TV? What if that time was devoted to watching live instruction or replays so you can experience growth?

Q: School has started, and I’ll be teaching at the time.

A: We love teachers. And we have lots of teachers who attend and watch when they can, and then watch replays. Check with your school — they might pay for it, and if not, it’s a deductible professional expense if you’re an art teacher or a professional artist (double-check with your accountant). In the past several art teachers played the event for their art classes all week. It was less preparation for the teachers, let them watch it too, and they could lead a discussion with the class after. Plus, kids need to be exposed to professionals and learn from the best.

Q: I can’t afford it.

A: That might be true. Or maybe you’re choosing not to afford it? Can you afford to make your paintings better? Can you afford to sell more paintings if they are better? Can you put a price on increased confidence? Is it worth giving up Starbucks every day for a while? How would your life be better if you got better as an artist? This isn’t like spending money to watch movies on Amazon Prime, it’s an investment in your career.

Q: I attended last year and decided not to attend this year. There is only so much info I can take in.

A: You obviously have a passion. If you didn’t sign up this year, we’ve found only three primary reasons people don’t come back. 1) They hated it; 2) they didn’t get enough out of it; or 3) they feel like they’ve reached their maximum input level for the time being. Sounds like it was No. 3. Just know that a year has passed, you’ve had a lot of time to process what you saw, and chances are what you see this year will come together with more clarity. Our brains can take in more than we understand. You will get value, and if you don’t, I’ll give your money back.