Eric Rhoads, Plein Air magazine
B. Eric Rhoads, Chairman and Publisher, Plein Air magazine

I’m not sure if I’ve ever told this story.

Life in elementary school was tough. I was the school fat kid, and never one of the “in” kids.

Looking back, I realize I was socially awkward, not at all outgoing, and not at all athletic.

Ulcers from Fear

In fact, I had ulcers in the fifth grade because I was bullied so much, and because the kids would mock me in gym class — I was too fat to climb the rope and not able to do many push-ups. I dreaded gym class and was always looking for an excuse to get out of it.

To top it off, I worked in the school cafeteria, which got me free meals, a pretty good benefit for a big eater. But little did I know that kids who worked in the school cafeteria, or who worked on the audiovisual team, were considered losers. I did both.

Craving Friendship

I desperately wanted to be popular. I craved getting invited to birthday parties. I spent most of my recess time with the other loser kids, looking over at the cool kids and wishing I could belong. And yes, they would come over once in a while and beat us up. One time, I was so desperate to be liked by them that I stuck my tongue on a frozen metal fence post because they told me I could play with them if I did. Then when my tongue was stuck, they laughed, mocked me, and ran away, leaving me stuck. I tried very hard to hold back the tears.

The Artist Who Was Kind

One of the cool kids was secretly nice to me, though he made sure he was never seen talking to me. His name was Ricky, and his superpower was that he was an artist. I remember sitting next to him in class, at those old wooden desks, glancing over at him drawing faces and cartoon characters. I was amazed, and I later learned it was his art skill that made him one of the cool kids. I always wished I could do art, but I had this belief that you had to be born with it.

I managed to get through elementary school, ulcers, bruises and all, and then I discovered when I went to high school that nothing had changed. They were still bullies, and I still felt like a loser. One of the only things that got me through it was sitting at the dining room table painting alongside my mom. I felt happy when I was painting.

Yay, We’re Moving

One of the happiest days of my life was when my parents told me we were moving and I was able to start fresh at a new school. So I lost my extra weight, improved my hygiene, got rid of my nerd wardrobe, and worked hard to rebrand myself. It worked, and I became fairly popular (not as popular as the muscle heads), and eliminated all that unnecessary stress.

My art had become radio. The nerd in me was attracted to all those dials and knobs, and I learned to become a radio DJ on a college station that was so awful the college kids wouldn’t work there. But it was my training ground and launched a career.

I did the DJ thing for about 10 years, then worked in other parts of radio, and eventually started my own consulting business, then became a station owner, then moved on to lots of other things, including what I’m doing today.

Art Stayed Close By

Art was always with me, though I wasn’t good at it. I never got to the point where I was as good as the kid next to me, and because I seemed to have a natural talent in business, art took a back seat, then got forgotten. But alas, my wife bought me lessons on my 40th, and the rest, as they say, is history. I won’t get into the whole story here.

Transformation

It’s almost impossible for me to believe the transformation that occurred in my life. Today, I can paint landscapes and portraits, and I can even stand in front of a few thousand people on a stage and make a complete fool of myself without too much fear.

That’s why, when my wife asks me if I worry about my kids, who have gone through some of the same horrific things in their school, I have confidence that they will be OK. You see, when the pain gets bad enough, you are motivated to transformation.

Today, my entire life is devoted to helping others find their transformation.

How Art Changes Lives

Art changed my life, gave me confidence, helped me get rid of stress, and allowed me to live on the creative side of my brain most of the time. Though I’m good at business, I’m mostly a creative who had to learn to wear the business hat to survive.

I’m driven to help people discover art inside themselves, help artists find ways they can grow and get to the highest possible level, and help artists have a way to sell their art if that is important to them.

I love art — I love most kinds of art, though some I love more and others I don’t claim to understand. But I respect anyone who is making art.

Getting Outside

Plein air painting, painting outside, was another transformation for me, because I’ve never been athletic, but I love being outdoors. I love painting and creating, I love the challenge, I’m constantly learning and growing, and I can see light, color, and form in new ways I could never have seen painting in the back bedroom studio from photos.

Finally, Friends!

Best of all, I get to paint with friends. Because of plein air painting, I’ve made more friends in the past 15 years than all the years before combined. And as you can imagine, after having zero friends in school, it’s pretty important to me now.

Frankly, I may still be a nerd and may not be a “cool kid,” but I feel like I’ve found where I belong.

Finding Where You Belong

I’d like you to find where you belong. That’s why I’d like to invite you to the Plein Air Convention & Expo this month. This year is “Homecoming,” since San Francisco is where I started PleinAir Magazine. Lots of people who have attended before are coming back, and people who want to find themselves part of the community are coming as well.

Like Thanksgiving for Plein Air Painters

Chances are you hear the word “convention” and it gives you images of a political convention with a huge arena full of people. Perhaps I should have used a different word, but you have my word that it’s not at all hard to manage. And people have told me that though there were a lot of things to choose from, they instantly felt like they belonged. In fact, we work hard at that. If we see someone standing alone, we approach them and introduce them to friends. And we even put willing people together with new friends in our orientation. It’s almost like a family Thanksgiving.

You Won’t Be Judged

And if the idea of painting with a lot of other painters is intimidating, you don’t have to paint with us in the afternoons. In fact, it’s fun to walk around and just watch all the painters at work. Most of the convention is indoors and is teaching. But we’re not here to judge you, and we’ve had hundreds of people who did their first plein air painting ever at the convention, people who did their first painting ever at the convention, and we’ve had people who felt they would be uncomfortable painting alongside others find out they got comfortable fast. And because they tried it, they got help from others, including our field mentors, and they are glad they did it.

A Life Changed

Here’s what artist Barbara Tapp told me on this recent PleinAir Podcast after saying she had felt reluctant and intimidated about the convention:

“Anyone who’s thinking about going to the convention, honestly, it changed my life. In four days you are exposed to the most extraordinary things. You have to go with a grain of adventure. You have to say, ‘I’m actually going to do something,’ and you have no idea what effect this is going to have on you, and you go with trepidation. It’s like a smorgasbord.”

She continued, “That first year, I will never forget, I just walked around like a deer in headlights, but I took away such a desire to learn more. That then propelled me to be like, ‘I can’t wait till the next one.’ And then the next one, you come in as quite a different person, you’re able to choose more carefully because you learn from the first time. Then you pull back a little bit, then the third time, you get it down. The fourth time, you’re an addict, and the fifth time, you’re so disappointed when it’s over you can’t wait for the next year to come. After being that little person that walked in there with that trepidation, I ended up being on the faculty six years later. That’s extraordinary in itself.”

Homecoming for Plein Air Painters

I’d like you to consider attending this year. If you’ve been in the past, come back to Homecoming. Come back for the amazing scenery and the world-class faculty. Come back to reconnect with old friends and to make new ones. Come back, where the community gathers annually to reconnect.

If you’ve painted for years but have never been to the convention, San Francisco is going to be amazing. And if you’re new to painting, you’ll find you’re right at home. (We also offer a newly redesigned painting and plein air Basics Course for beginners as an option before the convention.)

You deserve a transformation.

You deserve a week of painting in an amazing place, with old and new friends, and in a place where you’re safe and with people who do what you do. You’ll feel right at home.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

8 COMMENTS

  1. OH Eric, I sooo loved what you wrote re finding your place. I joined a local Plein air painting group several years ago. After painting with them for awhile I felt compelled to make an announcement during our critique period. I told them I felt I had finally found “MY TRIBE”. I am coming to the convention in SF, a first time attendee. Barbara Tapp’s words were also helpful as even though I am excited, I am also a bit terrified. Big city, no one I know. I live in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, isolated from the big world of ART on the mainland, fewer resources, learning, and marketing opportunities. Now I feel more eager and confident, ready for this new experience. Mahalo ❤️

  2. I always think that the convention is like Disneyland for artists. Each demo and plein air trip is an E-ticket ride. Only people my age will understand. I told someone once, “Imagine going to a place where everyone walks around with a smile on their face. A place where you go alone, but come home with 30 new friends, and a smile on your face. We truly are a tribe, and you are our leader.
    Thank you Eric.

  3. I share part of your story. I was an overweight kid who was picked on and made fun of by other kids in school. In sixth grade a classmate told me about an art class given by a neighbor after school and since I was spending a lot of time in my parents’ basement drawing and painting, I signed up. I loved it and my teacher. She was a little person with a big heart and a great sense of humor. As for myself, I lost weight the following year, and now I teach a pastel class to children trying to share the joy (and therapeutic qualities) of drawing and painting. So glad your life has been transformed by art and that you are now bringing that gift of art toso many others.

  4. Dear Eric -One Of My Dearest Friends I Have Not Met Yet!! Discovered your magazine a while ago when it was Outdoor Painter..LOVED it! Fascinated by this whole plein air thing…still have my day job- but through raising our three daughters and some of their friends my husband and family have always supported my painting- I am growing by leaps and bounds by reading and trying out some things I have learned!! My deepest gratitude to you and the artists in the articles each month- for their generosity in sharing what they know, what works and what does not. Participating in my first Paint Out in June here in Oregon-and my first show! Here I go!!
    Praying for safe travels, good health and great times for my tribe at Convention this year!! Blessings!

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