Early signs of spring give hope that a long winter will soon melt away. Bluebonnets have begun to spring up and will soon paint fields of blue carpet in the rolling hills surrounding us — motivation to stock up on shades of blues and purples and throw my backpack of painting gear in the back of my old Honda Element, the best painting car ever made.
A Sea of Blue
In a moment of brilliance, the First Lady of Texas, Lady Bird Johnson, was driven to beautify the state by arranging for free packets of seeds to be handed out at the license bureau, and encouraging Texans to scatter the seeds along the highways. Later, when she became First Lady of the United States, she fought to beautify highways by removing billboards, and her initiative stands to this day, as billboards are permitted only close to exits, and are not allowed on certain roads at all. She was in a position to make a difference. Yet you don’t have to be the First Lady, or hold a prominent position, to make a difference.
All Dressed in Green
Dressed up in my green Boy Scout uniform, with my red sash of merit badges, I asked my mom to drive me to the Glenbrook shopping mall. When she asked why, I said, “I have to meet with the people there for a project I came up with.” “Do you have an appointment?” she asked. Making an appointment hadn’t crossed my mind, but we went anyway, I talked my way in to see the manager of the mall, and I suggested a big idea. I told him I had recently received my fingerprinting merit badge, and that I got a fingerprinting set for Christmas. And when I was meeting with the local police to get my badge, one of the officers mentioned that they didn’t have any fingerprinting records for kids, which made things more difficult in certain investigations.
So I wanted to set up a fingerprinting booth at the mall, fingerprint kids, and give the prints to the local police department. They agreed, and I did it for several weekends in a row, fingerprinting hundreds of kids. Though this was probably a couple of decades before fingerprinting kids caught on, it was an idea that would help, and it needed to be done. I’ll never really know if it ever helped the police department, or if that seed of an idea somehow spread because one cop told another. Yet what matters is that something was tried.
Though I like to think big and find ways to make helpful ideas spread wide and fast, what matters is helping a single individual in need, because that one person might become the seed that spreads.
A Change in Attitude
A few years ago I felt as though there was something missing in my business life. I realized that I was building a business for myself and for my family, but it somehow felt empty. So I declared that I would take at least 10 percent of the company profits and give it to my employees, and I’d take at least 10 percent of profits and give it to a charity. Because I’ve always been bothered by homelessness, and because much of my business is based on plein air (outdoor) painting, it made sense to do something for the homeless outdoors. Though I rarely talk openly about this, we give to an organization that helps people get back on their feet, provides meals daily in several cities across the U.S., and builds villages to help rehabilitate people in their own tiny houses. Each year since we’ve started doing it, we’ve provided enough to fund a new tiny house. We’re not a big company, so our impact is small, yet if it helps one person, it’s worth it.
Last year at the Plein Air Convention, we announced our initiative called the PleinAir Force Veterans Squad, and, upon my call for help, 200 people rose who said they were willing to teach painting in their towns to help veterans with PTSD. In the last year I’ve watched reports coming in from those teaching, sending photos of groups of veterans painting with smiles on their faces over their accomplishments. And I’ve watched people who are teaching enriching lives because they are helping. I’m thankful to Dennis Yost, a veteran and painter who is heading up this initiative, and people like Roger Rossi, a painter who is over 80 and who is teaching veterans each week in New York as part of an initiative he created for the Salmagundi Club.
Where Seldom Is Heard…
The spirit of giving does not have to be about charity work, church work, or helping people with a visible need. It can also manifest itself in other ways. Sometimes giving is about encouragement and helping others believe in themselves. And sometimes we never know the impact. A few years ago I got a call from a man I’d known briefly 30 years before. He worked for me as a weekend disc jockey back then, and when he called he reminded me that he’d asked me for some advice on how to be more successful as a disc jockey, and I told him that maybe he should aim higher, and he should try to become a station owner so he would have financial freedom. At the time that was a wall so high he never believed he could climb it, but because someone believed in him, that made him believe he could do it. His call was to thank me for the encouragement and to let me know he went out and found a way and now owns many radio stations.
Of course, the opposite is true, too. Our words can cut like a hot knife in butter and can stick in people’s minds for decades. Small things said in a moment of frustration or anger can destroy confidence. Though no one should let that happen to themselves, sadly, it happens too frequently.
Words stick. They ring in your head. When I was probably 14, I told my aunt I was interested in radio and she told me, “You don’t want to do that. Radio people are sleazy.” That little phrase is with me to this day, and I almost let it change my direction, but instead I used it as motivation. “I’ll show her,” I thought. Not only did I build a career in radio that continues to this day, 50 years later, I soon realized she was right; there were a lot of sleazy business practices, especially by salespeople, back in the ’50s and ’60s. So I made it my career goal to help raise the level of professionalism in radio by starting a radio industry publication that trained managers and salespeople. I think it’s had a big impact.
On the Lookout
In every situation in our lives, our minds have to be scanning, looking for opportunities to help others, looking for opportunities to encourage others, and looking for people who need a break. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Let’s help veterans or homeless people,” I encountered something that triggered it and responded with action at that moment. Opportunities come in a split second, and we’re only able to grab them if we’re watching for them and willing to just say “what the heck” and jump in.
Problems? No Problem.
The other important thing I discovered is that we’re never fully ready. We have our own challenges and problems. We can’t let those get in our way. Some of the most giving people I know are people who go feed homeless people after their chemo treatments. Giving and helping is self-healing.
Giving comes in a lot of ways. Two very generous women funded about 10 scholarships so young students could attend my Figurative Art Convention & Expo, coming this November (FACE). Then, at the last convention, Casey Baugh donated half the proceeds of a painting of his that we auctioned to the scholarship fund. In another instance, a woman from the North had some friends who had always wanted to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo but didn’t have the means, so she funded tickets for three of her friends. That may change the lives of those students or the people now attending PACE.
We don’t have to have money to give. We just need big, open hearts. And there is a side benefit. Giving fuels growth. It’s something I never understood, but when you give, much is given back to you, which of course allows you to give more. Giving can be about time, about encouragement, about advice, about listening, or, yes, about money. I missed a lot of years of giving and can tell you that it was the one missing element in my life that makes me feel better about myself.
Who needs your encouragement or help?
How can you step up and give a little?
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).
Enjoy your day. It’s almost spring, and seeds need to be planted.
PS: You’ve probably heard me talk about my love for art and painting, and for outdoor painting, which is called “plein air.” Art historian Jean Stern of the Irvine Museum at the University of California says the plein air movement is the largest art movement in history. It’s my goal to help people find painting and experience the plein air lifestyle, which is about being creative, being outdoors, and traveling the world. And it’s very social; we all make a lot of friends and go painting together. If that sounds appealing to you, I’d encourage you to experience it firsthand at the Plein Air Convention this April in San Francisco. We even have a pre-convention Basics Course for new painters that helps you feel comfortable being there and teaches you what you need to know to start, and you have coaches who work with you the entire week. But if you can’t come or don’t have interest, maybe you would consider funding a scholarship so I can bring in some young people and art teachers so this movement has a future. If that’s of interest, drop me a note, or use this link to donate any amount of money to help fund a scholarship.
PPS: Today I’m driving to San Antonio to a giant conference of art materials makers — people who make paint, easels, panels, etc. I will probably do a live broadcast from there on Facebook. I‘ve been once before, and it’s a sight to see. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, that’s where you’ll find my broadcast if it’s of interest to you. I’m there to work on a huge project that will bring plein air painting to more people. I’ll tell you more at the convention.