Long Shadows


Nestled in my cozy covers, I’m awakened by a blinding light penetrating my closed eyelids. Opening my heavy lids, I leap out of bed, wanting to capture a photo of the light streaming through the back lot, where a row of trees are in shadow, with golden rims of light around their tops, highlighting their unique shapes. Below them, a field of intense burning light with the silhouettes of dozens of twisted, gnarly tree trunks, and from them long shadows are cast.

Long Shadows

Perhaps it’s the time of year combined with the position of the sun, but these shadows are so long they reach across a couple of acres as they do a lanky dance over the property, highlighted by the intense light of blades of grass, bushes, and weeds.

Depth in Shadows

To those of us who consider ourselves artists, shadows are the foundation of all painting and one of the more difficult things to master, because they are not just dark blobs; they are alive with warm and cool color variations. Since painting, with the limitations of color and paint, cannot possibly replicate the intensity of light, it is the shadow that creates contrast. A light looks lighter when surrounded by the dark of a shadow. A color looks warmer against a cool shadow.

The Halo Effect

If you study shadows as I have, you learn that shadows can have sharp edges when close to the object blocking the light, and they soften with distance. Often the edges of a shadow, if you look closely, create a halo effect, and there can be intense color at that magical spot between dark and light. My mentor used to call it a “bedbug line,” though I’ve never known why.

The Eye Path

Shadows in paintings, and often in photographs, are also a tool to move the eye to the places you want the eye to go. Yes, a little secret is that great artists tend to create a path for the eye to follow through an experience, with little surprises until you get to the point they most want your eye to go. Kind of like a curvy board game where you stop, roll the dice, then go on to the next block until you’ve hit the jackpot.

Dark Shadows

As a kid I would come home from school every day and turn on the TV at 4 o’clock to watch a show called Dark Shadows, which was essentially a vampire soap opera. Hitchcock made shadows into symbols of evil. Even the 1930s radio show The Shadow had men learning in the shadows. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”

The Earth Shadow

Shadows cannot be avoided. If you and I stand out in the sun, there is a shadow behind us. Sometimes it’s short, especially if the sun is directly overhead, but in the early morning or late afternoon, shadows are long. There is a shadow most people don’t know exists: the shadow of the earth, which you can see just as the sun goes down behind the horizon. Cat Stevens even sang about moon shadows.

Lasting Shadows

But what about the shadows we cast as humans? These shadows are more like those in a painting: Once they are laid down, they are a permanent record of that moment in time. The shadows we cast can be dark and evil or filled with light and color, and they can be short or long, meaning they can have a short-term impact or a more lasting effect.

Two Kinds of Shadow

There are accidental shadows and intentional shadows. For instance, years ago I ran into a former employee at a radio convention who said to me, “You probably don’t even remember this, but I was over at your house one day looking for some advice. Though you could have given me advice to stick with my job, which would have been to your benefit, you told me you saw something in me and that I needed to take advantage of it. You told me I should start my own business, tap the dreams living inside of me, and go for those dreams. I left there with a clear mission, and immediately started working on that dream, and today I own a bunch of my own radio stations.”

That, my friends, is a long intentional shadow because I saw something in someone they did not see in themselves and tried to set them on a path to consider. Though I had no idea what the outcome would be and how long that shadow would last, it was very intentional.

Accidental Shadows

My mother (happy Mother’s Day, Mom, I love you) left a lot of important lessons with me and my two brothers that were accidental shadows. Though I’m sure there were many lessons she wanted us to learn, it was her consistent loving demeanor that affected me most. That was a long shadow that not only has impacted my entire life, it hopefully will impact the lives of others beyond me, especially my own kids. And knowing my grandparents and great-grandparents and their loving nature, I suspect my mother’s love came from being in the accidental long shadow of generations before her.

What kind of shadow are you leaving? Is it long and lasting, or short and fleeting? Is it dark and evil, or is it filled with rich, subtle colors?

Our time here is brief. No matter how much time God gives us, to us it never seems like enough. To Him, it’s perfect timing.


As a kid who hated school, I could not wait till the day I graduated from school, so I never had to return. In spite of being anxious, I also knew I was getting what I needed to help me get ready for life. Though there were still important lessons to learn, I knew graduation would be a new life, a new level. I look at life in a similar way: There is a time to learn, to grow, to guide others, and then suddenly we graduate to what lies ahead, which is where these lessons can be put to real use.

Stress Cracks

You can I cannot control our accidental shadows much. Like it or not, we will cast shadows on those we encounter, and that shadow will have an effect. I’ve cast a lot of bad shadows accidentally because of a rotten mood, or my out-of-control ego. I look back on my early years in business and cringe. I used to think a manager was the boss and was supposed to push all the time, but the problem is that when you push all the time, stress cracks develop and you can destroy people. It took a lot of years to understand that it’s more productive to pull, to make people want to do something. Though there are always times when a little nudge or push may be needed, less push and more pull brings better results and joy-filled people.

Feeling Awful

Throughout life I’ve encountered stories from others who have shared the impact I’ve made on their life. Sadly, not all of them are good stories. Recently I received a call from someone who told me he felt I had bullied him. I had never realized it, yet when he pointed out why, I could see how he felt that way. I was mortified, apologized profusely, felt awful, and pondered how I can change my behavior so I never do that again.

Touching Millions

We all have our perfect timing. We all go at our own pace and realize things we need to do when the time is right for us. I burned through a lot of life trying to grow my business, trying to make money, but my happiest times and the most gratification have been since I’ve lowered the money priority and elevated the priority or helping others. Now my goal is to leave a long intentional shadow by using the gifts I’ve been given to enrich the lives of others in some way. That’s why I’m driven to teach so many people to paint and to amplify that effort to touch millions, because I know painting changes lives. (If you’re not a painter but want to be, I’m convinced anyone can. You can start here.) It’s also why I started teaching marketing so that artists could truly live their dreams and why I recently wrote a book. It’s why I write.

Shadow Impacts

I’m trying to make my own long shadow list. What impact do I want to leave on others before I’m called off this earth? But I’m also trying to listen and observe carefully and be willing to make a quick left or right turn so accidental shadows can occur. Of course, we really never know the impact of the accidental shadows we leave, which is why I try to manage my anger, keep my spirit happy and loving, and try not to be a jerk. Sadly, it still happens from time to time. Hopefully, I learn from it.

Motherly Shadows

Today, since it’s Mother’s Day, we can reflect on the shadows left by our mothers. For some those shadows are long, loving, and fruitful. For others, we must be careful to escape those shadows and not carry them forward so we don’t destroy lives or create hurt or angst in others.

(Just as I wrote this, I glanced up from my keyboard and a mother and baby deer were about 40 feet away, grazing on my weed, the baby staying close to mom’s side. Talk about perfect timing!)

Unknown Shadow Casters

Our shadows are how we will be remembered. But in most cases, the shadows can last and impact future generations without you and I being known or remembered. My dad talks a lot about the impact his grandfather had on him, how it molded who he is, and the lives he touched as a result of his grandfather’s shadow. And though he is known and remembered with a couple of generations, the person who cast a shadow on him is unknown to me and will someday be forgotten. Yet the shadow lives on.

Unknown Shadows

Each of us has a gift, some have several gifts. In many cases we don’t yet know what they are, in some cases the gift is not ready to be used, but there lies within each of us something so powerful that it will have a lasting effect on generations. The same is true with whatever darkness lies within us, which is why we want to be conscious about what shadows we leave behind. We can cast a shadow so long that it impacts people for generations. Think, for instance about the shadow cast by one man born in Galilee over 2,000 years ago. Whether or not you personally buy in, there is no denying that shadow touched lives for generations.

Your Impact

In what ways are your shadows affecting others? What is it about you that will live on that perhaps should not? What shadow can you cast that will impact the world and its inhabitants forever? You may not think that big, yet your shadow may touch someone who becomes an author, a world leader, or a great orator. A woman who comes to my June Adirondacks paint camp each year raised a son who became a world-famous author who is touching the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Her shadow had a big influence on his success.Though we’ve not spoken about it, I’m sure some was intentional and some accidental.

Environmental Shadows

The shadow of my own parents is long. Brief moments at the dining room table painting with my mom led me to my passion for art. Listening in to my dad conducting business on the phone at home trained me for business. Who knows the impact those long shadows will have? I’m sure they never envisioned a kid who became a publisher, a radio broadcaster, an artist, a blogger, a podcaster, and an author. Yet they formed my shadows with their shadows.

Today, as we celebrate and honor our moms, or the woman who raised or is raising our kids, let’s give some thought to the impact of our shadows and the impact of their shadows.

What can you do to leave a long intentional shadow on the world?

What you can do to make sure that even your accidental shadows have a positive short- or long -term impact?

You have it inside of you to cast a long shadow on the earth, on the world, no matter your state of life at the moment.

Happy Mother’s Day.


Eric Rhoads

PS: Today in our house we not only celebrate Mom, but the date of our wedding, 23 years ago. The long shadow cast by my wife, Laurie, has impacted my life and my kids’ lives in so many wonderful ways. It was she who bought me my first art lesson at age 40, which resulted in my passion for art, resulting in our art magazines, art conferences, art instruction videos, and so much more. Happy anniversary and happy Mother’s Day.


  1. Sue May 13, 2018 at 5:08 am - Reply

    I look forward to every Sunday Coffee. And when it comes to casting shadows, what really resonated for me was a passage in yesterday’s email Wise Advice from the Top, about what happens inside our brains when we step out on the court against the best.

    See, I started painting on January 4th, 2017, and 2 months later I entered the Quick Draw at the Lighthouse Plein Air Festival.

    How did I, a baby painter who had switched to oil paints just the week before, justify setting up my easel next to the likes of Jim McVicker and Michele Byrne? Well, I wanted to experience what it was like to paint along the best, because some day in the future, in my heart I believed I would be in a position to vy for awards in an art competition, and I wanted to gain an understanding of what competing in a Quick Draw paint out would feel like. I even went to the site a few days early to make a practice painting, because I had previously never finished a painting in two hours.

    So although I had no business painting alongside the top painters on that day, the very act of entering the Quick Draw gave me confidence and pulled my self-esteem up a notch. And a year later, when I entered the Lighthouse Quick Draw as an unjuried interloper for the second time, one of the collectors in attendance bought my painting right off the easel. What a thrill, and evidence that growth had occurred over the year.

    Mr. Rhoads will not remember meeting me at my very first paint out last year. He probably will not remember offering me a few helpful tips about tweaking a composition en plein air. However, I already knew his voice from the Plein Air podcast, so this brief interaction made a big impact on me. So many of his emails and podcasts have little gems in them (bedbug line!) that provide weekly inspiration.

  2. Marsha Hamby Savage May 13, 2018 at 5:10 am - Reply

    Wonderful post. It is important to think about how we affect the lives of others. It is something I have been pondering myself because of my parents and having to help them move into assisted living and rehab for my Dad. Being the best person one can be is a good thought for each day… and your analogy of the “accidental long shadow” has spoken to me this morning also. Thanks Eric for your Sunday Coffee posts as they are wonderful though provoking ones.

  3. Carolyn Zbavitel May 13, 2018 at 6:34 am - Reply

    Eric, I haven’t met you yet but I hope one day to stand in your shadow and paint! Thank you for this ‘Sunday Coffee’, it perked me up on Mother’s Day. I forwarded this message to my son, I hope he reads it!!

  4. Karen March May 13, 2018 at 7:29 am - Reply

    Eric, I enjoyed your article very much and the lovely analogies. I took that exciting leap to see if I could make a living as an artist when I was 50. I “ran away from home”, went to California and started a most wonderful adventure. Now, 30 years later, I’ve retired to a unexpected “Artist Colony”, St George, Utah.
    I was able to support myself with my paintings. I’m still painting and learning. I do love to teach, when I feel well enough these days. (By the way, bedbugs hide right on the very edge of a shadow. Heard that from one of my teachers.)

  5. Mary Lois Brown May 13, 2018 at 8:03 am - Reply

    I have no children but my mom’s( who has been gone for many years) shadow of love and life have helped cast a shadow that continues to influence my whole being. Hopefully I can share that love to all that I meet. I felt that love from you at my first Pace conference this year. .
    Thanks for sharing the shadow cast by the man from Galilee born over 2,000 years ago. I personally think of Him as the Light but that is what causes the shadows!

    Happy Anniversary and Mothers Day!

  6. Sally LaBore May 13, 2018 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I really enjoy these Sunday Coffee thoughts you are sharing. Thank You.

  7. Will Gullette May 13, 2018 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    Just beautiful and thought provoking Eric. But among the things you mentioned never envisioning what you would become you forgot to add 3 ring circus “Master”!

    Happy Mother’s Day to Laurie and very best to you, Will

  8. Judith Slawter May 13, 2018 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    As usual Eric, well done!

  9. Elaine May 13, 2018 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article! So organized and easy to mark for future reference and use.
    Thank you.

  10. Lorraine Cross May 13, 2018 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    That is truly a wonderful and beautiful article. I am going to print it and keep it for the rest of my years so that hopefully my son will pass it on years later to the next generation. It really touched me. Thank you.

  11. Celeste M Mycoskie May 13, 2018 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Eric, you left a very poignent question with me after reading Sunday Coffee today. What length of shadows am i leaving? My believe is we are put on this earth for a reason. We keep trying until we suceed at the purpose God put us here for. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Frances E Pampeyan May 13, 2018 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    Dear Eric,
    I so enjoy these letters. Thanks for being so honest and open about yourself, and your faith in God, and for challenging us to influence others for good. Happy Anniversary, and many blessings to you and your family.

  13. Rita Curtis May 14, 2018 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Eric, for a really fine essay.

    I love your shadows metaphor. More gentle than the notion of legacies, shadows are ephemeral like fine filaments connecting us to those who came before us and to those who come after us.

    I sometimes paint little portrait studies of my ancestors from 19th century photos or tintypes. With each brushstroke I feel like I’m searching their souls to find out who they are. Now I can think of them in terms of the shadows they passed my way.

    See you June.

  14. Schlesier Grace May 15, 2018 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Another amazing awesome message. Thanks Eric. Now several of my children are reading Sunday Coffee. We sometimes share and discuss your messages.
    Lots of wisdom shared with my family and I thank you.

  15. Vicki Wenz May 16, 2018 at 8:13 am - Reply

    Nice message Eric! Well written too. And the thought is well taken for my grandkids! Your reflections tie together nicely. I am in awe! I listened to the pod casts and read your blog all the time! It gives me courage to continue painting and at 60 took my first painting class with Kathleen Hudson! Thanks for all you do and are!

  16. Cam Kirkwood May 16, 2018 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Please give me a call when you have time from your busy schedule.
    Cam Kirkwood

  17. Linda S. McRay May 17, 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Hi Eric,
    I greatly appreciate your Sunday Blogs! I always forward them to my husband and 2 grown sons and they enjoy them, too!

    We are wishing you and your wife, Laurie, a Blessed and Happy 23rd Anniversary!

    God Bless You,

  18. MARYANN MCNAMARA May 19, 2018 at 5:26 am - Reply

    Great, inspiring writing, Mr Rhoads

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