From our Publisher > > > Eric Rhoads shares a deeply emotional experience about art, painting, and a mission that is for all of us.
Recently on stage, I broke down.
Embarrassing as it was, I was in tears, unable to finish my sentence.
But there are certain topics that push my buttons and turn me into a crybaby.
I get deeply emotional about painting and my mission to teach others to paint … and those who had the patience to pull me in. I’ll share the story I shared on stage.
At age 39, I bought some art supplies and tried to paint, but I was getting very frustrated. I was unable to accomplish on canvas what was in my head.
Seeing my frustration, my wife bought me an art lesson for my 40th birthday, and, though well-intended, the lessons turned out to be in abstract painting, where I was told to use big, sweeping motions to express myself.
When I asked the instructor if he could teach me to paint an object, like a bottle (I did not know the term still life at the time), he told me, “No one does that kind of painting anymore.”
So I quit the class, went home, packed up all my art supplies and threw them in the basement closet.
I was discouraged and done with painting. A year passed.
One day I accidentally locked my keys in my car in Miami and had to take a cab home, an hour and a half away. The cab driver was an artist, so I told him the story. He then told me there was a painter in my area, in the lineage of some of the greats from history. He taught the kind of painting I wanted, the driver said.
I waited another year because what he had told me about that artist was intimidating.
But one Saturday I showed up at the class, walked in the door, and saw a room full of painters doing master copies of the greats …. Rembrandt, Bouguereau, and others.
I took a deep breath … sighed, then turned around to walk out.
I was about to leave when the instructor, a tiny gray-haired man, said, “Yoohoo, can I help you?”
I almost kept going, but instead I went back in to talk to him.
I shared the story of the cab driver, and told him that when I walked in and saw the level of work these people were doing, I turned around to leave because I knew it was more sophisticated and complicated than I was capable of doing. “I don’t have this kind of talent,” I told him.
Immediately he engaged me.
“Come over here, I want to show you something.” He said, “I studied in all the great schools in the U.S. and Europe, and they insisted you spend five years minimum learning to draw. Though that’s the way it should be done, most of the people here simply can’t take that time, so this class is about shortcuts. I will have you doing a painting you’ll be proud of right away, and if you stick with me for 18 months, every Saturday and Tuesday, you’ll be painting like them.”
Though I did not know it, this man changed my life at that moment. (This is the point where I started to cry.)
I did what he said, and my first painting was pretty amazing. It was a value study, and I learned about values, underpainting, and brushwork from that first piece. It still hangs in my office.
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After a year, I was doing master copies. No, they were not perfect, but I gained a new understanding and appreciation.
On a business trip I visited the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where I saw Bouguereau’s painting “The Broken Pitcher.” As I looked up at this giant painting, I stood there below it and wept. I wept because of the depth of brushwork, the layers of skin over the girl’s veins, the delicate skin tones, the amazing folds in the clothes.
That was a life-changing moment, and the day I decided I was going to devote the rest of my life to art.
As I was on stage telling this story, trying to compose myself, I became very emotional when I said this…
“Had that man not instantly recognized my fear, my reluctance, my insecurity … I would not have become the artist I am today.”
As instructors, as artists, we will encounter people in unexpected moments when they are telling themselves they can’t do it. They think talent is required, when only a system is required (talent is often a result of practice).
When people walk up to me when I am plein air painting, I often hear … “I wish I could do that. I wish I had talent. I can’t even draw a stick figure.”
I immediately drop everything, encourage them, and, if possible, give them a little lesson. I always direct them to a site that offers free lessons, like paintbynote.com.
Then I encourage them that they can do it, can learn it, and that if they find a good instructor in their town, they can be happy with their paintings and have a life filled with painting.
You and I have a responsibility … no matter our level of accomplishment. Our responsibility is to understand that people have fear, that people lack confidence, and that people think talent is required.
We need to recognize their fear and insecurity and pull them in, engage them, and try to get them immediately involved in learning. Then we need to get them into a class.
I’ve heard horror stories from people who started painting classes and gave up forever because of the instructor being too tough on them too soon, not being encouraging, or being of big ego and arrogance, thus holding back knowledge.
You, me, all of us, need to overcome this fear by helping them understand that they can learn it — even though they won’t believe you. We need them to know it’s a process, a recipe, and that by following it, they can learn.
And we need to be continually pulling them in deeper, encouraging them along the way (not by telling them their painting is good if it’s not, but by helping them see light at the end of the tunnel, and finding something encouraging to say).
People are delicate, especially when it comes to painting or drawing, and we need to help them believe in themselves.
And, if you’re reading this and you’re early in your path, don’t give up. Painting changed my life, brought me new joy, brought me the ability to express myself, and gave me a life that is like a dream. You can do this.
If you have an instructor who isn’t helping you, isn’t helping you believe in yourself, or isn’t giving you what you want (like the abstract guy wasn’t giving me what I wanted), don’t give up like I did. Find another. They are out there. Keep changing till you find one that works for you … but also understand there are no secrets, really, it’s just about easel time, practice, and good instruction.
I know there are millions of people who could have been artists, but gave up because of a bad instructor or lack of belief in themselves. It’s a darned shame. It’s not the fault of the artist, it’s the fault of the people who failed to recognize their fear or reluctance.
I am here today because of a lot of people who saw something in me that I did not believe in myself. Those people ended up encouraging me, engaging me, and getting me to the point where I could succeed. As a result, they gave me a new passion and a new love, which resulted in a new career.
Today, because of those people, I publish magazines, videos, and conferences, and try to create things that teach, inspire, educate, and pull people in. Because I’m so driven to help people find painting and get to higher levels, I keep adding new things, new ideas, new options for you … and I know you get a lot of stuff in your in-box, but it’s because there is so much to talk about. It’s not all for you, but the one time you don’t open an e-mail might be the time something is perfect for you.
Recently at FACE (Figurative Art Convention & Expo) people told me they got an e-mail that had convinced them, even though they were suspicious and reluctant because they did not know me or my company. And yet, because they took a step, their lives changed forever.
We don’t know which person we help will become the next great artist, the next art publisher, the next art gallery owner. They certainly don’t know.
My responsibility is to pull people in, encourage them, and help them believe in themselves. I’d like to think it’s all of our responsibility, and if we can just be tuned in to those moments of self-doubt and help others overcome those doubts, we will change a life. There were people who did it for me, who changed my life, and I’m guessing the same will be true for you.
I mentioned that we do a lot of different things. I usually have most of them (not all) listed at ericrhoads.com.
From time to time I write e-mails like this that are very art-specific. I also do a lot about my thoughts on life, which I call Sunday Coffee — those are not usually art-specific, but often include art in my thoughts (because it’s my life). I’d be honored if you would look at it, and if you like it, subscribe for free. You can find it at www.coffeewitheric.com.
And between new conferences, new training videos, new painting events, new books, new blogs, four weekly art newsletters, etc., we send a lot of e-mails. But it’s because we’re trying to come up with things people can benefit from. I appreciate your patience.