There is magic in mornings like this. The house is still and quiet as I walk barefooted on the old wooden floors to the porch that surrounds this Texas ranch house. The sky right before sunrise is misty, and filled with pastel-colored light. Soft purples and blues can be seen in the distant hills, which have lost all detail as they stand silhouetted against the pink and yellow sky. Moments later, the top of the mountain is a glowing yellow, and gradually, the entire mountain is engulfed in light. I love the moment where the light meets the shadow and the tip of the mountain glows, creating a middle color between the bright sky and the dark shadow. To me, as a painter, it’s one of the hardest things to capture, but so pleasing when I get it right.
Dreams and Ideas
Though I cannot tell you the cause exactly, vivid dreams have been filling my head since the week of Christmas to today. Each day I awaken energized with new ideas, new concepts, and new ways to change the world … or at least my little world. I’m recalling experiences with others that never occurred, and recognizing the people in my dreams. And when I awaken, I have a sense of clarity, a new hope, so much so that I’m more enthusiastic about my days than I can remember. There is no better feeling.
Nothing has changed in my diet or my regimen of vitamins and supplements, though I suspect my recent increased level of exercise has something to do with it. I had been going to the gym daily, five days a week, but that stopped with COVID quarantines. As I gained my “COVID 10,” it was clear I needed to take action, but unfortunately, a gym environment wasn’t making me feel secure. So I splurged for a machine, which so far is getting almost daily use. I’m hopeful it won’t become a coat rack like others in the past.
Though I believe the exercise contributes, I think it’s the peace of mind that everything is going to be OK. In spite of the turmoil, the news, the insanity of 2020 and all that has come with it — including a clear understanding that no one source can be relied upon for accurate information, and that will create confusion — it ultimately comes down to one thing. God is in control. There is that old saying, “Let go and let God.” I think I finally got there. There is something very freeing about letting go and holding perfect balance.
A Clean Slate
After a couple of days of celebration, the whiteboard of 2020 has been wiped clean. Standing before us is an empty slate, and we have the gift of a new year, knowing that we get to start over. I’m going to draw a big smiley face on the board, based on my expectations.
As a child of the ’60s, I can remember when the smiley face came out. It was everywhere — on stickers, on patches, on black light posters with psychedelic fluorescent colors. I wore an old army jacket with a giant smiley face patch on the back, about the size of a dinner plate. Unlike so many of my friends who were protesting everything, like the Vietnam War and other social issues (which I too felt were problems, though I think I was too young to understand just how much), I was making a statement, and it was, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Like most, I’ve had moments in my life where things seemed pretty overwhelming —
moments of depression over lost loves, lost businesses, and sad situations. Yet that patch on my back has always been there, long after the old army jacket was lost. And this idea of trusting that everything is going to be OK, that there is a silver lining to all those dark clouds, and of seeking the good in the midst of all evil has worked. It’s like the line from some past presidential speech about the shining city on a hill. Darkness may be consuming, but as long as there is a light of hope, that light will always prevail.
I’ve spent a good bit of my life being criticized for that patch on my back. And it’s hard to explain why hope prevails in certain dire situations when others are hurting. But I know we all need the hope that that light, that smiley face, will return.
Maybe I’m a little too glib for some. Frankly, it just makes some people mad. There are people who, like me, have decided to wear a patch on their back, but instead of seeking light, they are seeking darkness. I don’t think it’s intentional; it just happens to them. Or so they would say.
If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that we have a choice on the processing we use, the filter through which we look. You and I cannot control the horrific things that get laid upon our shoulders, often so heavy a burden that it feels like it’s going to crush us. I’ve had so many of those moments when I felt there was no way out, and many times it consumed me. Yet I would always somehow find that one tiny spot of light, and soon it would get bigger and bigger. I think the difference is that I’m looking for it.
A Mentor Walking with You
I read something in a book called Jesus Calling, which is a daily devotional Laurie reads out loud most mornings. It says that problems are there to teach us important lessons, like a mentor who walks side by side with us through life. And that as soon as we stop looking at problems as problems and look at them as lessons, that mentor can walk peacefully with us through our lives, and those problems won’t drag us down.
Knowing that problems are lessons we can embrace somehow makes them easier to bear. And when I’m looking through problems, I’m seeking the light. What am I supposed to learn from this?
This all boils down to the lens, the filter, the attitude we select. You can reach up to the shelf and grab a dark filter or a light filter.
Which will you choose for 2021?
We are a country that has been divided. There are those who are wondering why we’re having the outcomes we’re having. Why would God let this happen? Why can’t I get my way? I wonder the same things, and often allow myself to get worked up and manipulated by the news. But once I let go, understand that there is a reason I may not understand, and seek the light, I am given peace to trust the plan.
What about you? Can you trust the plan?
What is the symbol you’ll wear on your jacket? You have a choice.
PS: I don’t ask much, but there is someone in your life who needs to read this. Pass it on.
Briefly, I want to tell you something that made a change in my heart. A brief story. I was a pretty hard-driving business guy, pushing for meaning through my business, trying hard to make money. But, for some reason I cannot explain, it never was a suit that fully fit. Something was missing.
When I was about 39, I wandered into an art store while waiting for my wife to complete an appointment. Remembering fun at the table with my mom growing up, painting side by side, I walked out with a bag of art supplies and a little tabletop easel.
I came home and set up a studio in a little space at the very top of the stairs, and I tried to copy photographs. But it was not going well. I could not get the globby paint to perform, and I was unable to make what was in my head show up on the canvas. I tried for weeks, but nothing was working. So I did what any self-respecting person does when they hit the wall of frustration in art.
I told myself I did not have any talent. And I gave up. I put everything in a box in the closet and resigned myself to the fact that I did not get the gene for painting.
Soon thereafter, on my 40th, Laurie bought me an art lesson at the Armory in West Palm Beach. I showed up all enthusiastic, but when I got in the class, the instructor told me to express myself and throw the paint on the canvas. My heart wasn’t in it, so I told him I wanted to learn how to paint real things, like flowers or a bottle, a face, or people (I didn’t even know the terms for still life or portrait).
He discouraged me, saying, “No one does that anymore. That’s old school.”
Heartbroken, I tried to like what he was teaching, but after three Saturdays, I gave up again.
Soon after, I was in Miami visiting a friend. We had been to lunch in his car. He dropped me at my own car and took off. When I reached in my pocket for my keys, I realized they had fallen out in his car. I couldn’t reach him, and I didn’t think to call a locksmith, so I called a cab. This turned out to be the cab ride that changed my life forever.
With an hour and a half drive, I struck up a conversation with the driver, who turned out to be an artist supplementing his income. I told him my story, and he told me about a fellow in West Palm Beach, at the same art center, who taught classical painting. He was in the lineage of the Old Masters (he’d studied with people who studied with people, all the way back to the masters).
It took me a year to get up the courage to visit, because I had that thought rattling around in my head: that I lacked talent.
The day I arrived, I sat in the car in the parking lot for a while. I got in and out of the car. Should I go in or not? My palms were sweating. But finally, I went in.
As I entered, I could see several people painting, and their paintings, all copies of Old Masters, were way beyond anything I could see myself doing. So I did an about face and started to leave.
Thankfully this little man, Jack Jackson, called me back and asked if he could help me. Little did I know he was an angel sent from God to change my life that day.
I told him my story, and he told me I could do it, no talent required, because he taught a system. “If you can type,” he said, “you can do this.” It didn’t even require drawing skill (though it’s a good idea to learn it, he said).
He said to give him 18 months and I could be doing work like the paintings I saw. Then he pulled me in and gave me a small project that taught me something right away. I worked on that project for a couple of hours while listening to him with the others. Then I came back again and again, and soon, I was painting at the level of the others. It did not even take 18 months.
One day, after a year or more, I was on a business trip and visited the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, a museum at the top of the hill by the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s where I saw my first Bouguereau painting. I stood in front of it and could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. It was the first time I teared up over a painting, but it was because the artist had accomplished such mastery. I teared up because I now understood what he must have gone through to reach such a high level. I can remember seeing the veins under the skin, strands of hair, and toenails that looked perfectly real.
At that moment I declared that I was going to spend the rest of my life in art.
I did not know what I was going to do, or how, but it was because of Jack Jackson and how he opened my eyes.
That was over 20 years ago. Since then I’ve been driven to help others who, just like me, believed they could not do it because they had self-doubt and the belief that talent was required.
A couple of years ago I set a goal of teaching a million people to paint. My belief is that learning art changes your heart. I thought this would be the best way I could make an impact on the world. There are not many unhappy painters. And though there is constant frustration because we all want faster growth to the next level, we’re having fun and growing while doing it.
Since that “Bouguereau moment,” my life has been mostly devoted to art. We’ve reached a lot of people, taught tens of thousands of people to paint, and given encouragement to thousands more.
I want you to know I believe in you, and I believe you can do it, even though you don’t believe you can. I guarantee you can become an artist who is accomplished enough to be happy with your artwork.
I know this is hard for you to believe. I was that way, the guy who could not draw a stick figure. Yet today, I’m in three galleries. Am I the best painter in the world? Far from it. But I’m living a dream, and you can too. It can be a dream of painting for pleasure, or taking it further to income. We teach it all.
Where do you start?
I’d start at PaintByNote.com. I decided that painting is like music. If you can learn a few music notes, you can play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Chopsticks.” Then, those same notes eventually lead you to Beethoven. A few simple notes, ranging from black to white, can teach you. It’s the system my mentor taught me, and it will help you learn painting foundations before you ever try color. And if you follow it, you can do it without learning to draw (which you eventually will want to do). There is a guidebook with free lessons in it, and if you want, there are some other things you could buy, but you don’t need to.
The key to learning is just jumping in and putting your negative filters aside.
Next I want to tell you we have a watercolor event online later this month. Already over 1,300 people from around the world are coming. It’s inexpensive and has the world’s best watercolor artists teaching, and we even have a Beginner’s Day you can attend without registering for the whole thing. WatercolorLive.com
We do so much, I can’t list it all here, but it’s all available at StreamlinePublishing.com/Everything.
You can do this. You can make a resolution that you’ll give it a year. It could be the best, most satisfying thing you’ve ever done.