PleinAir Podcast - John Hughes artist
Outdoor painter John Hughes, featured in the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads, Episode 159

Welcome to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads. In this episode Eric interviews John Hughes, who is a painter, teacher, and a guest writer for Plein Air Magazine and Plein Air Today.

Listen as John Hughes also shares the following:
• How he gained an appreciation for the city while painting in New York en plein air, and how it almost “feels like nature”
• How painters can deal with the idea of painting in a public place
• Common mistakes painters make with using color, including using green in a landscape, and his approach to painting shades of blue
• And much more!

Bonus: This week’s PleinAir Podcast includes a Marketing Minute!
Eric Rhoads, author of Make More Money Selling Your Art, explains the best way to know your buyer / market / target audience, and how to stay motivated to focus on both painting and the business side of art.

Listen to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads and John Hughes here:


Landscape painting by John Hughes
Landscape painting by John Hughes

Related Links:
– John Hughes:
– Plein Air Convention & Expo:
– Plein Air Salon:
– Ask your art marketing questions: [email protected]
– Marketing Minute Podcast:
– Sunday Coffee:

FULL TRANSCRIPT of PleinAir Podcast 159:
DISCLAIMER: The following is the output of a transcription from an audio recording of the PleinAir Podcast. Although the transcription is mostly correct, in some cases it is slightly inaccurate due to the recording and/or software transcription.

Eric Rhoads 00:00
This is episode number 159. Today we’re featuring artist John Hughes and you’re going to learn something new about color.

Announcer 00:21
This is the plein air podcast with Eric Rhoads, publisher and founder of plein air magazine. In the plein air podcast we cover the world of outdoor painting called plein air. The French coined the term, which means open air or outdoors. The French pronounce it plenn air. Others say plein air, no matter how you say it. There is a huge movement of artists around the world who are going outdoors to paint. And this show is about that movement. Now, here’s your host, author, publisher and painter, Eric Rhoads.

Eric Rhoads 00:59
Thank you, Jim. And welcome to the plein air podcast. I hope you’ve been trying to figure out how to get some painting done. The weather here has been kind of warm and then cold kind of a strange winter Anyway, I’ve managed to sneak out a couple of times get some planner works done, but I am finding myself in the studio just a little bit more. By the way, I don’t mind either way. I like being outdoors, but I also like being in the studio. That’s a beautiful thing. There’s some looming deadlines you need to be aware of just today I talked to two different people who happened to tell me they’re planning on going to the plein air convention this may in Denver, but they haven’t yet booked. And I said well, you know, maybe you want to get that done because first the hotel sold out. I think we’ve sold out two hotels now. Secondly, this is the biggest plein air convention in history. As a result, we’re way ahead of last year sales by this time, and we don’t have a lot of seats left the third. We always have to raise the price on Valentine’s Day as we get closer to all those financial obligations that we’ve encountered. So that’s just right around the corner. So there’s a possibility, there won’t be a single seat left. After February 14, we always on that deadline day, we always get a huge number of people who are signing on board. So we don’t have a lot of seats left. So you want to get this done. We cannot expand, we cannot expand by adding more seats. And word is just getting out that Michael Lynch, the guy who taught most of the great painters live today like Bill Clinton and Bill Davidson and Matt Smith and others. Well, he’s coming to the convention. So that’s something brand new. Anyway. This is a monumental moment in plein air painting, especially this convention because when you think about it, you got Scott Christiansen Quang Ho Jill Carver Dawn Whitelaw Thomas Schaller Peggy Roberts as well as Albert Handell and about 80 instructors and all by the time and all is said and Done. And so you need to get the registration done, which you can do now at Also at the convention. Every year we award about $30,000 in cash prizes for the winners of the Plein Air salon and there are only about two bimonthly competitions left. So you can win in any category and be entered into the final judging. So there’s about 20 categories, enter any of them some of them get a lot of entries, some of them don’t get a lot. And of course, if you win one of the bigger slots, you’re also entered. And there’s some other prizes that come with that but also there’s a $15,000 cash prize in the cover of plein air magazine. If you are the grand prize winner and of course you get a lot of publicity out of that. Tom Hughes he was one last year and it’s been good for him. So anyway get that done at also, well little tip, the average person enters four different paintings each time each of the their six by monthly competition. And they average several categories I think it’s three categories and so the and some of the categories don’t get a lot of entries and so look for some that also you might be able to thrive in but of course the judges are different every time so what one judge pics or rejects one month another judge might fall in love with so editor at Coming up after the interview, I’m going to be answering some art marketing questions in the marketing minute, including how to motivate yourself. But right now let’s get right to the interview with john Hughes. JOHN Hughes, welcome to the plein air podcast.

John Hughes 04:40
Hello, Eric. Good to hear from you.

Eric Rhoads 04:42
Nice to hear from you, too. We should tell everybody that we tried to record this once before. And yeah,

John Hughes 04:50
we had a hard time with myself service at that time.

Eric Rhoads 04:53
Yeah. And what was funny about is you were driving around trying to find a better signal and sitting in your Car

John Hughes 05:02
Remember that? It was frustrating for both of us. But here we are.

Eric Rhoads 05:10
Well, john, for the people who may not yet be familiar with you, and I’m sure that’s not very many, but talk a little bit about what it is you do and what’s your, your kind of your secret sauce or your superpower.

John Hughes 05:25
Oh well, superpower. I think well what I do is I am a landscape painter. And but I also paint other things. I do like to paint occasional still life. I include people sometimes in my work. I know not only paint landscapes, but I do enjoy going into the city and painting took a trip out to New York City about a year ago and did a series of paintings out on the street there and that was a lot of fun.

Eric Rhoads 05:56
I bet that was I’m curious about that because I’ve never Done that I’ve, I’ve painted in big cities like Paris, but never a big city in America. What was that experience? Like?

John Hughes 06:09
You know, the thing about paint? Well, I grew up in New York. That was the one thing that really drew me back there. And I’ve got family back there. So my dad was a New York City policeman. Oh, wow. Yeah. So I spent a little bit of time down in the city. And I learned to get an appreciation for the the buildings down there. There’s something about the city that almost feels like nature to me. So about a year ago, I decided I’m going to go back and I’m just going to go out and just paint every day and had an opportunity to stay with my cousins, Adam city Island, and then we would my son and I would take the train into the city each day and just set up just about anywhere. That Something caught my eye might have been under the L in the Bronx. Or it could, you know, we were down in Central Park and Washington Square. And the interesting thing about the city though, is like I always thought the painting in the city would be tough with all the people because, you know, drawing a crowd and all that kind of stuff. And occasionally I would get a crowd watching from behind, but not very often actually. Most of the time people just pass you by they acknowledge you with errors, sometimes they wouldn’t even act like they saw an artist set on the street, you know, and it was just interesting that way that I was not bothered very much at all by passers by nothing fazes anybody in New York.

Eric Rhoads 07:50
That’s true. So, while we’re talking about that, I think it might be good to just discuss the whole idea of how painters can deal with With the idea of painting in a public place, you know, I’ve heard a lot of stories from a lot of painters who have things that they try to do like some painters are really bothered by the fact that other people are watching them. Some people, some people don’t want to be interrupted, some people love to talk to people. What’s your take on all this?

John Hughes 08:21
Yeah, I, when I when I first started going up doing outdoor work. This was when I was an adult. I actually started when I was a kid, but when I got more serious, I started going out and I had a, an old Volkswagen at the time and I pulled out the front seat on the passenger side. And I was so shy about going out and painting in front of people that I would set up inside the car. And I did that for a couple of times until my backache and then I figured, you know, I’ve got to get up and start standing, you know, so I forced myself to get up And start painting in front of people. And I think you know, just after a while you just get used to it. I mean, you just have to put yourself in an uncomfortable position, you know, and just make the make the growth, the emotional growth inside just by doing that, you know, let me ask you,

Eric Rhoads 09:19
Oh, go ahead. So, let me put you in a different scenario and tell me how you handle this. Okay, so your setup painting, and an artist walks up next to you and starts painting. And it’s Richard Schmid. Or clyde Aspevig. what are you doing there?

John Hughes 09:44
I’ve never had that happen. But I think what I would do then is I would take it my gear and watch.

Eric Rhoads 09:51
I had I had that happen. I was really yeah, I well, it didn’t quite happen like that. I was visiting with Richard Schmidt. He said, Let’s go painting. And we went out into the garden and set up and he pulled up a lawn chair and I wanted to sit there and watch him. He says, No, you’re going to paint and, and I felt the pressure. And you know, he’s he’s looking at looking at over me. He’s not giving me any feedback. He’s just looking out over me. And I think my hands were probably shaking.

John Hughes 10:25
That would be intimidating. Yes, I could see that happening. You know, amazing artist.

Eric Rhoads 10:30
I think that to some extent, you know, this idea of painting with other people is, is such a positive, there’s so many positive things, but do you ever find that you kind of lose your way because of the influences of those other people? You know, either because you’re, you’re nervous about them, seeing what you’re doing, or maybe you peek at what they’ve done and it gives you a new idea and you start changing things.

John Hughes 10:57
You know, I I get in trouble. judgment from watching what other people are doing sometimes. But the truthfully when I do go out and paint with other artists, it’s usually one of two scenarios. Either we walk away for far enough from each other to where we’re not even, you almost start wondering, why am I painting with other people when we don’t paint together, you know? So the last time I went out with a few of my friends, we actually set up next to each other, we were painting. And it was great because you know, the whole time we’re just carrying on conversations about art and stuff like that. But as far as being influenced while I’m painting in that situation, usually we’re too engrossed in our conversations. And every once in a while, somebody will stop and they’ll come around the look, you know, and make a comment. But usually, it’s, you know, it’s something that it’s more of a positive thing than a negative thing.

Eric Rhoads 11:56
I’ve had people who have told me that they didn’t come to plein air convention because they were intimidated by painting in front of other people. Because they’re not yet very accomplished, or they don’t feel as though they are, what would you say to people like that?

John Hughes 12:13
You know, I think the waiting to get over that. I mean, at least in my own experience is getting into the moment, you know, and getting into the process of painting. I think sometimes we all get this thing where we have to have this finished product, you know, and what is this painting going to look like when it’s done? And instead of thinking that way, just think about the problems in front of us, you know, like, what’s the value what’s, what’s the coloration or the temperature of something I’m painting and really get into that and just, just sort of get into that Zen moment. You know, that’s something that’s really important to me. I think if you get into the process and quit worrying about what it’s going to turn out, like, it’s like the pressure goes away.

Eric Rhoads 13:09
Yeah. Also, if you just kind of focus on the idea that I’m not necessarily trying to make a masterpiece here, I’m trying to learn something, or I’m trying to, you know, get some experience on a particular like you say, process. I think that yeah, that’s valuable. I also, I also say, you know, we’ve all been there. I mean, how many times in your life before you got to a point where you were happy with your work? How many hundreds of paintings have you done that? You would not want to show anybody?

John Hughes 13:44
Oh, gosh, you know, I mean, there’s paintings out there that sold maybe 30 years ago that I wouldn’t want to show. You know, seriously, I mean, we all have to grow We have to start somewhere. And, you know, you look back at your past paintings and I mean, I, I had stacks and stacks of them in the studio and there came a time where I either had to reprime them, you know, and paint over them or I would take him in and cut them up on the table son make coasters out of them. So yeah, there’s a lot of failures, I guess you could say, maybe not failures, but a lot of, you know, experiences like that, that, you know, you don’t want to, you don’t want to show anybody but it’s part of your part of your process. You know, nobody starts out doing great work.

Eric Rhoads 14:42
So, you know, that’s it’s an interesting dilemma. Because, you know, once in a while you’ll, you’ll all go to a collectors house. I get to do that a lot because of my job. And you’ll see, you know, they’ll say, hey, I want you to see my, you know, my Monet or My God, whatever. I actually went to a guy’s house the other day, pretty significant collector, and, and he had a painting that he really, really wanted me to see. And it was awful. And I thought, you know, this is exactly what happens if you got a stack of paintings that you don’t ever want to show anybody and then you keel over and die. And somebody comes to you know, a family member comes along, puts them all out into the market. And you know, that was never your intention.

John Hughes 15:29
Yeah, exactly. But yeah, but it is great.

Eric Rhoads 15:33
It is nice to look backwards. Because, you know, you need to keep a couple of them. Because no, yeah, because otherwise you won’t see how far you’ve come.

John Hughes 15:46
That’s true. And sometimes even when you go back and you look at some of those ones that were maybe not the best, you know, and maybe they were, what you would consider a complete failure. Sometimes there’s things that you’re doing, you were doing back Then that can inspire you. Even now, you know, maybe you’ve changed quite a bit. And there were things that you were doing in your early stages that are maybe maybe even better in some ways in what you’re doing now and kind of reconnect with that.

Eric Rhoads 16:16
Well, you can also use those as studies, even though they may not be what you would do today. You can still you can kind of remember the spot, use that as stimulation and do a painting from

John Hughes 16:27
Oh, yeah, that’s for sure. Everything, everything we’ve done goes into what we are now I’m looking at a painting right now. It’s an old field study of mine that I’m over at a friend’s house because I don’t have a landline. So he’s got one of my studies here, and I haven’t seen it in years. And I’m just going wow, you know, that wasn’t too bad.

Eric Rhoads 16:52
He’s, he’s one of the few people in America that still have a landline.

John Hughes 16:56
Yeah, that’s right.

Eric Rhoads 16:57
So john, to the point about things, you know, we all go through these phases. You know, when I started painting I, I wanted to make my paintings look like photographs. You know, right. But nobody ever told me that you weren’t supposed to do that. Actually, there’s probably not a word supposed to anytime anybody should do what they want to do. But do you find patterns with young painters or maybe not young age, but new painters, you find patterns of things that they do that they eventually need to grow out of?

John Hughes 17:37
Yeah, I think that being too literal, like you, like you said, you know, is a problem. I think in my own growth as a painter, I was very literal at the beginning. I can think of a painting that my mother in law has that every once in a while, I’ll go over there. And she’ll go, Wow, isn’t that painting great, and I’m like, Want to hide under the table? Because there’s a there’s a tree in this painting that I think I literally tried to put every single leaf on the tree to the paint, you know? And, you know, it’s so after a while, you know, I think as you grow, you start to see patterns instead of details, you start to see patterns and design, you know, and that becomes more important than then than the details. So, yeah, we I think we all do it, and we all have paintings that were, we’d be ashamed to show now. But like you said, it’s part of our growth. We are

Eric Rhoads 18:38
now in and in terms of those kinds of things do what about color? Are there things that commonly or that might be considered common mistakes and color?

John Hughes 18:54
Well, I think the problem mostly the problem that artists with color would probably be value related getting the value wrong. Yeah, of course, you know, the old saying that if the value is wrong the colors wrong. So that would be the biggest thing right there.

Eric Rhoads 19:15
Yeah. Well, I know when I started painting, I would you know if I stood out on a sunny day and the grass was that glowy chartreuse green, you know, I made my grass that glow a chartreuse green, but it never read well in a painting. Yeah. And so how do you handle greens.

John Hughes 19:38
So with greens, I guess like anything else a try to incorporate the green into the rest of the landscape or in other words, it’s got to have some sort of commonality with, let’s say, the reds, the yellows and the blues or the violence, whatever, that the green can’t exist in. isolation, you know, in the painting, so, as long as it’s harmonizes in some way, with the rest of the painting, you know, it’s, it’s probably going to work. So, but that would, you know, when I think of green, there’s so many flavors of green, you know, and I think there’s a lot of red and green. That’s important, you know, like, with a pine tree or something like that. There’s a lot of red in that in that green. That makes it more of an olive green than a veridian.

Eric Rhoads 20:40
Yeah. Well, that was something that very early on somebody taught me to do, and it’s kind of a habit I’ve stuck with is that I’d always take whatever green whatever shade of green I’m doing, whether it’s a bright yellow, a green or something else, I’d always take a just a touch of CAD red and drop it in there and kind of hit a kind of great Sit back a little bit because it’s a complement

John Hughes 21:02
Oh yeah. Yeah I used to have veridian on my palette I don’t currently and I think it’s a great color but it’s one of the thing with with the you know especially like the failover oh my goodness you know you put a halo green out there and boy that can just take over. It’s like like popsicle green you know and I said addition of red like you said that really helps out.

Eric Rhoads 21:29
Do you use pthalo colors

John Hughes 21:33
you know I don’t use pthalos to be honest with you. They scare me. They just get into everything.

Eric Rhoads 21:40
they do. And I don’t know what it is but they it’s like they get on your clothes they get in your car seat they get everywhere but but you know that i think i think what it is is they seem to have such power, such tinning power. We’re used to grabbing a pile of painting and mixing it into something and with that, you just really need a you know, almost Like the tip of a pencil and you get some pretty incredible mixing power.

John Hughes 22:03
Yeah, the tinting strength on the sales is just unbelievable. So yeah I’ve kind of kind of shied away from the pthalos I, I have a cerulean blue. It’s actually a Sir William blue hue in the Utrecht brand that I like. And I like it better than their surly impure, because it’s not so overpowering, but it gives me that if I want a real strong green, I can pop a little bit of that veridian in there and that it’ll do the job.

Eric Rhoads 22:34
So what blues Do you have on your palette.

John Hughes 22:38
So my palette is basically a warm and the cool primary palette. So I have a third that cerulean blue hue and then I’ve got ultramarine blue, so the cool and the warm. And then on the Reds I’ve got, alizaran crimson and cadmium red medium And for the yellows have got lemon yellow and cadmium yellow medium. And then I throw a couple of toners on their yellow ochre and burnt sienna. So but I’m always thinking in terms of triads, it’s always, when I mix colors, it’s always about triads. Did you explain that to somebody might not know what that means. So, just basically, when I think about, let’s say, I’m mixing that, that green, you know, and I start I need a dark color, so I’ll go for the ultra rain blue, and then I’ll maybe I’ll throw in the Cadmium Yellow medium, but if if that’s too green in any way, I’ll pop in that third color, the red and even with the, even with the earth colors that I have on the palette, you know, I think of those in terms of they’re just two primaries. It’s, it’s more like, you know, the yellow ochre is just a yellow obviously. And then the burnt sienna. It’s more in the red family, I guess you could say it’s more than the orange family, but they treat it as a red. So I’m always thinking triads when I’m mixing, I don’t think a lot about complements, I just think about, let’s say I have a yellow and I’m painting with the yellow. I don’t have to think about the complement. I just think about the other two colors from the triad, and it makes the complement.

Eric Rhoads 24:28
So I’m gonna try to explain that just a little bit. Because there are a lot of newbies who who might be listening. So essentially, you can make any color from three colors. So a blue, a red and a yellow. So that’s when you say triad. That’s what you mean. Exactly. Yeah. And when you say compliment, tell them what that means.

John Hughes 24:55
So if I’m working with a blue and I need to come up with Which is orange, which is directly across from blue on the color wheel. Instead of thinking our and judges think red and yellow. So some always going back to that idea of the triad, you know, right. So, and what the reason it makes it simpler to think about is because sometimes even after all these years of painting, like I, somebody said, said, What’s the complement of blue green? I might have to think for a second. But I don’t have to think at all about red, yellow and blue. It’s just, you know, one color. Two more.

Eric Rhoads 25:45
Now for the again, for the novice, why would someone add the complement or the opposite color into? Let’s say, you’ve got a blue and you want to add an orange into it? Why would you do that? What’s the purpose of that?

John Hughes 26:00
Okay, so the purpose of that would be to mute that blue to get it. I mean, you could look at, let’s say, a shadow in the distance on a mountain, and it looks very blue to you. But if you put your, like, in my case with what the colors I use, if I put my cerulean blue hue up there, or my Ultramarine Blue is going to be way too garish. For for what I need. So, I want to knock that blue back a little bit in, in, in its intensity by adding the complement or the other two colors in the triad. Either way, you think about it. The same thing.

Eric Rhoads 26:43
And, and, you know, for the listener, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong. I mean, this is a this is a taste thing. It’s a personal preference thing. But there are areas there is kind of a, you know, kind of kind of an unwritten standard that lot of artists will use where they want to kind of make their paintings are really a lot of color variations of gray. And it mutes things back and it just kind of overall has a little bit more tasteful feel. And, and again, going back to those early days of painting, you know, our our tendency would be to make that sky just as bright blue as we possibly can, and yet making that sky have a little bit of that gray in it that that our grade down from that orange or sometimes just putting a little gray in it. It makes it feel a little bit more as atmospheric for instance.

John Hughes 27:40
Yes. You know, years ago, a friend of mine, very good artist told me about something and he was painting the side of a mountain and it was at sunset and he got a really sparkling reddish orange on this mountain in He said, you know, look at this, this body of the color on this man and he said most of its tone them, it’s warm, but it’s kind of warm grays. And here in there, I stick some pure color on it and all of a sudden, that mountain just lights up, you know. So it’s that pure color next to that muted color that just really sparkles. You know, if you tried the same thing with the you know, completely doing the side of that mountain with just that pure red or orange right out of the tube, you wouldn’t get the same effect. So I think it’s kind of what you were saying there.

Eric Rhoads 28:39
Are you a let down leave it alone or Are you a blender

John Hughes 28:46
a little bit of both. I you know, I’ll try to put it down and leave it alone. But I you know, things need to be adjusted most of the time and there’s always that fight between putting it down and leave It and in overworking it, you know, so there’s always that there’s always that competition, you know, between those two ideas. And I guess knowing when to stop. that’s a that’s a real skill. You know,

Eric Rhoads 29:17
nobody knows when to stop. It’s, it’s Yeah, it’s like writing a book. It’s never finished. You just have to sometimes you have to put down your brush.

John Hughes 29:25
Yeah, you know, and it can be a real problem, especially if you see a painting that you’ve already sold, you know, and you go in and you you look at and you go, Wow, I wish I could just put one little brushstroke on that thing. And it’s good to get him out of your out of your studio. Maybe, you know, because of that. We’re never satisfied as artists, I think.

Eric Rhoads 29:48
How did this journey begin for you?

John Hughes 29:52
You know, it started very, very early. And they said early My dad was a New York City policeman, we lived in the Bronx and my early years. And I’ve got a kind of a vague recollection of the apartment that we lived in. It was just my mom, my sister and I. And I remember my mom sitting me down in front of the TV back in 1950s, and I watch I used to watch this show called john Nagy. draws Yeah, the landscape or something like that.

Eric Rhoads 30:32
It was john Daggett was a famous artist school. Yeah, you can find it on YouTube.

John Hughes 30:39
Yeah, so you know, mom was real instrumental in me becoming an artist. For some reason. She had this idea that I was an artist. And she would tell me you’re an artist, you know, and you see differently than other people. And she always told me that you know, and I don’t know how she came up with that, but so used to do that. And then We you know, as I grew, she would always see to it that I had drawing pencils maybe one year at Christmas or birthday or something, it would be drawing supplies. And then finally when I think I must have been around 12 or somewhere around there, when Christmas morning there was paint from the Christmas tree oil paints. And I started from there I actually started learning to paint by looking at books, you know, Walter t foster that type of thing. And then after a while, I remember thinking, you know what, I need to get outside and do this. And I started going outside and painting. When I when we lived in Croton Ville, New York is near, well actually, Ossining New York but we lived in a little suburb called Croton Ville, so you were a child or a teenager. I was 13 when I started going out painting My own

Eric Rhoads 32:01
You’re a trendsetter, baby, you were way ahead of the few hundred thousand people who were doing it now.

John Hughes 32:09
You know, but the thing is, I did it for a while and then I, I wouldn’t say I lost interest in it, but I thought I had interest in other things. And I didn’t do a lot of painting. As matter of fact, I didn’t do any painting in high school. This was around the junior high age that I went out and started painting on the river. But I remember distinctly that I I used to come back from these trips down to the Croton river very, very deflated, you know, because I was I was out there doing it on my own and I had zero instruction, you know, and so I think that kind of made me I don’t know, I put it on hold for a while. mom used to really tease me about it. But she used to say you know, you’re an artist, you got to get back into it. And I tell her you I will, you know, at some point I’m going to get back into a mom and this is all during my high school and, you know, so

Eric Rhoads 33:08
when and how did it come back?

John Hughes 33:10
Oh, okay, that’s, that’s a good one. I used to live in Ventura, California, and I was teaching and I was also I had a job selling solar equipment.

Eric Rhoads 33:22
What were you teaching?

John Hughes 33:24
I was teaching special ed adults that camera real estate hospital. And on the side, I was selling solar equipment. And it just so happened that the solar company that I worked for, had an office and it was up above an errand brothers art store. And I would go out for breaks and I could smell people open the door. I could smell this linseed oil and the turpentine smell that was so familiar to me as a child as a young Yeah,

Eric Rhoads 34:01
it’s, it’s good to get your nose and saying, Come back, come back

John Hughes 34:06
it literally drew me into the store. And, you know, I went down there one day and I thought to myself, I wonder if there any books that could teach you how to paint that were a little bit better. A little bit more in detail than those old foster books, which which were great to get me interested. But you know, and I was I was looking through the books and I came upon a meal groupies book. groupie paints the landscape or something like that. And I started semeth through that thing, and I was like, hooked. I mean, it was like a thunderbolts hit me. And then when I was like, I’ve got to do this. And I bought the book and I went home and I said, Hey, husband, my wife. We were we weren’t married very long. I said, thinking about getting back into art. Do you mind if I go spend the money money on art supplies. And she was all for it. And so we got back into it. I’m just as excited now as I was back then that was, oh gosh, that was almost 40 years ago.

Eric Rhoads 35:13
Well, how did you make that transition though? This is always a question for for people who are, you know, they’re they’re working in in a hospital teaching, or they’re doing something else. You You obviously made the transition to being making your living as an artist.

John Hughes 35:33
Yeah, well, you know, for me, it was for for years and years, I always had something on the side that I was doing, you know, as either teaching or for a while there, my wife and I, we managed a ski lodge up in Big Bear, California. And so I always had something else going, but I was always doing the art to I always considered the art my career, but the other things, you know, that was how I paid for the The rent or the mortgage or whatever it was, I had to do. I admire people that have done it solely on their art. But for me, it was, during those years, it was, would have been a little bit hard for me to emotionally to, you know, wonder if I was gonna have enough money at the end of the month, or the beginning of the month, I should say, to make the mortgage payment. So I’m doing it full time now, but, you know, I, back then it wasn’t.

Eric Rhoads 36:33
Well, and I and I think that, you know, trying if you if you’re going to do that, do what you love, you know, as much as you possibly can. Absolutely. Yeah, no,

John Hughes 36:42
you can do both. Yeah, you just have to make time. Yeah,

Eric Rhoads 36:46
absolutely. So you have I didn’t mention this earlier, john, but you’ve written a lot of articles for plein magazine and plein air today. You’re very popular. Your work is very popular. We always get a lot of lot of people reading him. Pull an article out of your head that explains some tips or principles and talk to me about that.

John Hughes 37:11
Okay. You know, I was just thinking about one. Just recently, I came across a video was online and it was, it was called the ooda Loop ( And it was a talk by a guitarist named Jeff “skunk” Baxter. You familiar with him from Steely Dan?

Eric Rhoads 37:36
Nope. I know, Steely Dan, but no,

John Hughes 37:39
yeah, he was the lead guitarist for Steely Dan. And interestingly enough, right now he’s like a consultant to the military right now. And anyway, he, he talked about this thing called the ooda loop. it stands for observation orientation. decisions, and then action, action, action. So, that really got me thinking and I wrote an article about it give credit to him for bringing it up in the first place. But uh, you know, it’s like, when we paint out, especially outdoors. I think there’s a lot of parallels that happen between between what we’re doing. And this idea of the ooda loop, which is like, like I said, it’s got military applications. So, typically, maybe on the battlefield ageneral will take in information, you know, that will do the observation phase and then from that observation, they have to have some kind of orientation or synthesis of, of what that information is before they can make a decision. And they make the decision and then they act, you know, and I guess it’s thinking that, you know, that’s a lot like what we do in the field, it’s like we see, we, we have a way our brain processes what we’re seeing. And then we make a decision. And then here comes the brush stroke, you know, so. So we get into problems with our paintings. The problem is always in the, in the face, you know, the opposite. It’s either the observation, or the way we have learned to think about what we’re the information that we’re receiving visually sounds real academic and everything, but it’s just a way of looking at things. I guess it’s one way of saying it would be whenever there’s a problem in our paintings. The problem is always somewhere between the tips of the shoes and the end of the brush. You know, it’s not the painting anyway, so that There was an article I wrote for, for plein air magazine for the, for your newsletter

Eric Rhoads 40:05
in terms of something that might have some, some painting tips or ideas

John Hughes 40:13
from that article, well, from any article, okay, well, I think the biggest thing, you know, it may and maybe it doesn’t sound like a practical thing, but really observation is the key for everything that we do. You know, it’s, it’s always it comes back to what we see is going to determine what we put down on the canvas. And, you know, I think sometimes, like I do teach a lot of classes. And sometimes in those classes, you know, like, a student will last me to solve a problem for them in a way but you know, you can do that But it’s kind of like giving a man a fish, you know that old saying, give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day. But if you if you teach him how to fish, you’ll you’ll he’ll be fed for a lifetime. And so I, my, my instruction in the classes and the workshops, I teach kind of centers around this idea of observation and orientation now, is that what you wanted? Or does that help?

Eric Rhoads 41:29
Well, you know, I know people are always looking for, you know, something that, that they can go, Oh, I’m going to try this at home and

John Hughes 41:37
yeah, sort of technique based, you know, as opposed to the real heart and soul of the getting to the point of, you know, creating a better painting. It really goes back to something else besides technique, you know, technique is great, I mean, but it’s got its limitations.

Eric Rhoads 42:00
I’m going to see if I’ve just grabbed a book off my bookshelf here in the studio and see if I can tell you this. There’s a fabulous book I probably bought this 30 years ago. And it’s a an artist by the name of Carl Gustav Carus who wrote this 1815 and 1924. And it’s called nine letters on landscape painting. And he talks about, he talks about, you know, what more there is, and he says, Let’s see if I can find this. I love those old books. Oh, they’re you know, they’re they’re fabulous is essentially as without getting into reading a bunch of boring text, and it is boring text as it was written in 1815. But he talks about how it says nature will never show itself in her true guys to anyone who makes a habit of observing through other men’s glasses. And what that would mean is Copying other people’s work, copying master copies, etc. Least of all Will she lift her veil and admit him to her mysteries she remains mysterious in the full light of day. As everyone surely knows, it’s no easy task to apprehend her truly. This has indeed always been the prerogative of genius, who could fail to see therefore, that now and forevermore, the best of this cannot be taught. He goes on to say essentially, it calls for silent meditation. Rather than technique. He talks about how the I must be open to true and Wondrous Life of nature. And the hand must be trained to do the souls bidding quickly, easily and beautifully this loan can aim the instruction and in any of the pictorial or aid in the instruction of inner pictorial arts, we must train the eye to perceive nature in its divine essential life and its forms for whatever I perceives clearly and purely the hand cannot help but follow in developing skill in other words go pink from nature.

John Hughes 44:08
Yeah, yeah. I love it. I love it. You know, it sounds like it almost sounds like john f. Carlson or maybe, you know, Carlson may have been influenced by him who knows who knows?

Eric Rhoads 44:21
Yeah. But, you know, I, I think that you know, we all get caught up in a little bit of, you know, let’s follow somebody else’s technique or learn their their trick and, you know, I’m guilty as anybody because we produce a lot of videos, you know, from a lot of artists but you know, that there’s nothing like just going out and immersing yourself in nature. And that’s, I think that’s the beauty of what what it is we do is, it’s, it’s more than just painting.

John Hughes 44:53
Yeah. You know, I call that hero worship and actually, it’s a It’s a great thing to you know, we all learn from others, right? I mean, let’s face it, we like you said, we were all influenced by these methods. That’s a wonderful thing. But at some point, we have to stop asking ourselves, how would so and so paint this whatever rock this tree, this sky? And we have to start asking questions like, what is the quality of the light on that object? What is the coloration? What is what are the edges? What are the values, you know, and when we start asking those questions, that’s when we make the real growth. But it’s certainly great to learn from other people don’t get me wrong, I just, you know, it’s just one of those things where, at some point, we just have to change our thinking, you know, and that’s the best thing that a student can do is start thinking in terms of all those things instead of, you know, technique, technique will follow.

Eric Rhoads 46:01
Yeah, well I think you know, I think when you go out though, you’ve got that I kind of ebb and flow between what I think is the right way to learn painting and you know, I think that that it’s best in a controlled environment to learn the things that you’re uncomfortable with initially you know, learn how to mix bow and green are learn how to mix red and blue to make you know to make purple and and kind of get those chores out of the way learn how to handle a paintbrush, learn how to clean it. Yeah, yeah, you know how to deal with those kinds of things. So that you’re not fighting those battles. Because when you go out doors, you’re fighting all the other battles and chasing light and dealing with wind and bugs. Right. You know, sounds sounds absolutely horrible, but it’s of course, absolutely great. So if you can get some things to the point of second nature, I think that’s that’s going to aid you would you agree?

John Hughes 46:58
Absolutely. You know, and I think back to one of my very first workshops. And the way it went was every student in the room copied what the teacher did. And that was great for a very first experience, because that was just sort of like, here’s the mechanics of it. You guys do this and then but then I realized, you know, after two days of that, you know, I went up to the instructor, because the workshop was over and I said, Well, I guess now I need to get out there and because we’re doing seascapes, I said, I gotta get out there on the rocks myself. And he said, You’re right. You know, that’s, that’s where you take it from here. You know? Like you said, painting from nature. So important.

Eric Rhoads 47:43
Absolutely. So one thing I’ve been asking a lot of people lately is about any memorable experiences without painting.

John Hughes 47:53
I’ve got a few. One time I was painting downtown Salt Lake and I was

Eric Rhoads 48:00
Where you live?

John Hughes 48:01
I live in Salt Lake.

Eric Rhoads 48:03
Yeah, I lived there. I lived there for 1980 to 1986. I owned a radio station or two out there.

John Hughes 48:12
Wow, that was before I got up here. I came up in 91 off and on my wife is from here was downtown doing one of those downtown paintings in the house and I look up and here’s this little guy. He’s probably 10 years old, and he’s standing in front of me and he’s holding up $1 bill. And at first I was thinking, I wonder what he wants, you know, is he trying to buy the painting or something or so I asked him, What’s that for? And he goes, my mom said to give it to her. I guess she thought I was like a street musician or something like that. Or you know, somebody doing a show for people. I was taking tips. You know,

Eric Rhoads 48:54
you know what a great idea. You know, when your next time you go to New York City when you’re up painting, put a hat out, put a Dollar we’re gonna have to do a whole session on that at art marketing bootcamp at the convention, how to get tips.

John Hughes 49:10
It was great. I loved it for kids.

Eric Rhoads 49:17
I love I love it when kids come up and are curious and, and I like to with their parents permission, I like to say can I teach them a couple of things because if I can get that paintbrush in their hand and show them you know, I’ll take their brush and I’ll say, Okay, here’s how we’re going to mix a color. Now. I want you to take the brush and just lay it in there. I you know, they can’t ruin my painting. I can scrape it down later if I have to, but I love I love interacting with kids in that environment because I’m hoping that maybe, you know, they’ll go home and say, Hey, Mom, can I can I try this?

John Hughes 49:52
Yeah, yeah, that is that is awesome. Be able to do that. I got a buddy who does that too. You know, Steve Stauffer, but he, he routinely lets kids paint on his paintings. And I’m not that brave, but he does it all the time.

Eric Rhoads 50:10
Any, any other thoughts about memorable moments painting?

John Hughes 50:16
Well, one time I was in midway, Utah, and I was doing a demonstration on the middle of a field. And this billy goat walks up and he sticks his head in my trash bag. And then turn billy goat he didn’t take his head out of the trash bag for one hour. Really? And yeah, and I, I had no place to put my my tissues or my favorite towels, whatever. And so I opened up my backpack and I started putting them in there, you know, because this bill ego wasn’t going to take his head out of there and he didn’t, you know, matter of fact, I almost had to send him away with the bag attached to his head but finally pulled it out and he left but it was It was really strange because I had 20 people behind me watching.

Eric Rhoads 51:05
Everybody there reminds me of a story I was in Russia painting in a small Russian village. As a matter of fact, I’m putting together a trip to this small Russian Village, we’re going to make that one of our events in the future. And so out the middle of this Russian village, which is the middle of nowhere, there’s no power, no water, you know, the women are carrying buckets of water to bring water for their house. And you know, it’s they’re just, it’s just really beautiful. Anyway, I’m out there painting. And this giant, giant cow, which is wandering in the streets, just walks up to me and stares at me. And he just stood there for a while. And then he turned around. And then he left and one of the guys who was painting with is a Russian artist, very well known, famous Russian artist, and he said, You’re lucky. So what do you mean? He said, he nudged me the other day I was out here. He said he nudged me out of the way. He licked all the paint off my palette.

John Hughes 52:02
Oh, that is too much, too much

Eric Rhoads 52:06
so that somebody will get a little lead in their in their steak.

John Hughes 52:10
Yeah. It reminds me of a story that Susan Gallagher told me and it was it was in one of the articles in plein air. funny stories from different artists and I had a bunch of them gave me stories quite as the big Matt Smith they’ll have some stories in their thing, funny things that happened to them. And but yeah, she she had a cow do the same thing and it had had its head inside her to her trash bag. And it came out and she said it looked like it had red lipstick. And then she drove away and then a little bit later she came by and she said darn it, that cow was out in the middle of a field and wouldn’t you know there was a couple of bowl following it looked like had red lipstick on it.

Eric Rhoads 53:05
Now we know what works. don’t even need any research. Well, john, this has been a pleasure. It’s been fun having you on the plein air podcast. Thank you so much.

John Hughes 53:14
Oh, my pleasure.

Eric Rhoads 53:19
Thanks again to john Hughes. Thanks for a really interesting interview. I enjoyed that. Thank you very much. Anyway, I’ve got some marketing ideas. You’re ready.

Announcer 53:27
This is the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads, author of the number one Amazon bestseller make more money selling your art proven techniques to turn your passion into profit.

Eric Rhoads 53:38
In the marketing minute I try to answer your marketing questions you can do you can touch on anything. There’s no limit. Just email them to me [email protected]. Here’s a question from Aaron in Chicago. By the way Chicago has an excellent plein air painters group Say hi to everybody there. Hi everybody in Chicago Aaron says, What’s the best way for me to know my buyer? You talked about it in one of your webinars, but how does that help me sell my art? And how do I get to know them? Well, Aaron, there’s a marketing foundational principle, foundational principles are big. This one says, You have to know your market. You have to know who your market is, who is your target audience, and what do they need most. And the best way to do that is to ask them. Now, selling art is a little bit different than selling shoes or selling any other product, but art tends to be a little bit subjective and have individual appeal. But yet, if you were to look at the demographics, most art is purchased by people between 40 and 60 years old and the majority between 50 and 60 years old. That tends to be where the money is, they’ve got they’ve got money at that time. You know, they’re Kids are starting to be out of college and and they will, they’re more interested in art than ever in their spending. But there are people, of course, all age groups. So 40 to 60 year old is broad, it’s a family reunion, but it still tends to be, what the buying where the buying takes place. And you also want to understand, and this is not trying to be sexist. And anyway, most art buying is heavily influenced by women, if there’s a couple, and that painting is going to hang in the house, and typically not always, that woman will maybe be the one who’s in charge of decorating, and may say, look that that paintings not hanging over my purple couch. So they do have influence. And of course, that’s not true of all kinds of couples, but it could be true and so get to know your audience. What I like to do is I like to understand who’s buying my paintings, and why they’re buying my paintings. And so if I get an opportunity, for instance, if I’m at the gallery during a show, somebody buys it, I’ll meet the buyers, I’ll try to learn a little bit about them. Where do they live? Where are they from? What kind of business are they in? What kind of jobs do they have? What kind of homes do they live into? They have vacation homes, you know, those things, give me clues. And then I also ask, you know, what is it about this painting that spoke to you? And And oftentimes, I’ll hear patterns and people say, Well, you know, I really like the colors. The one I hear a lot is it reminds me of XYZ, something nostalgic usually, you know, oftentimes, I’ll hear you know, that reminds me of where I grew up or reminds me of a place we lived when I was little. So look for those kinds of things, because those might give you clues on what to paint but also things that you can say because if you’re in a an opportunity to influence people do you can you can say, you know, does that painting remind you of anything like it, you know, place that you grew up or something like that. So, use those triggers. Also look for commonalities in the people who are buying things because it’ll tell you kind of where to reach out. I’ve noticed lately with my paintings, I’ve been getting a lot of buyers who are doctors, and those doctors all happen to live in the local community where my gallery is most of them. And so would that give me a clue as a marketing opportunity, maybe a way to, to reach doctors somehow or way to invite doctors, all the doctors in town to an opening or something just kind of use your brain. And those things those commonalities will point out things in your marketing. The next question comes from Darla Hey, Darla! It’s kind of like saying hey, darlin, darlin Flagstaff, Arizona garlis. Sorry. Darla says, I know I have to be productive to sell my art, but sometimes I just don’t feel motivated. How can I stay focused on both painting and marketing? Well, you’re probably not going to want to hear this Starla there’s a lot of answers to it. And and I guess it really does. depends on what’s really important to you and what’s not. If it’s not about a need, you know, in other words of selling paintings is not meaning you’re going to have to pay the mortgage. It’s just extra money that you’re going to have, it probably isn’t important to you. And so I like to think in terms of goals and priorities. Let me give you an example. I set annual goals. I have three top annual goals. And then I have three tops for three top goals for each month. Some of those goals relate to the top three goals of the year, in terms of the projects that I have to do to reach those goals, and I have weekly goals and so until my top three goals are met for the week, I don’t leave the office, you know, I don’t push them off into the following week, because if I don’t get those done, I’m never going to get anything done. So every goal relates to the top goals now, if I’m not working on things that don’t reach my goals, it’s mostly coming pleat waste of time. Now there’s things you have to do. You got to take out the garbage, you know, you got to pick up the kids, you got to deal with, you know, health issues or whatever. But I try to keep most of my time focused on those goals, because it’s really easy to go, Well, I should do this project, or I’ve got this idea, those shiny objects will get in the way of your success. I know I’m the shiny object King Success Magazine even said that about me. And I’ve had to learn to overcome that because those shiny objects kind of get in the way of my success. And so if if it’s a financial thing, let’s say for instance, you know, you have to generate, I’m going to use this number because it’s easily divided. Let’s say, you know, you have to survive and you have to generate 120,000 a year, or you can’t survive and pay your mortgage and your bills. That has to be one of your goals. If your monthly goal will then be 12,000, right? Or 10,000 10,000 because you’re you got 12 months, so 10,000 and then you divide that by four weeks and you know, that’s 20 $500. And then you might even want to break that into a daily goal. And you just tell yourself, I’m not leaving here today till I figured out how to sell that. But it depends on how motivated you are daily goals keep me motivated. I know that I have to do certain things each day to survive, and that I don’t leave the office till they’re done sometimes means a long day. I also sometimes will break my week into a plan. So if I tell people, I think you ought to spend 20% of your time on marketing, so if you’re working five days a week, then you got to spend one day a week on your marketing or you got to spend so many hours a day on your marketing and pay attention to it and force yourself to do it. And sometimes that’s what it takes to be motivated. Now, there are days when I’d rather sleep in and not work, I’d rather not go to work. I’d rather play my guitar go painting or, you know, just chill, but I don’t do that very often because it always puts me further before I think routines are critical. And no matter what I stick to my routines, I get up every day at the same time. I get up, I feed my kids, I drive them to school, I go to the gym for an hour, I come home, I get ready for work. I meditate, I read the Bible, I do the things that I try to do every morning. And so gym is critical for me. Because it raises my dopamine levels it gets my health keeps my health good. But also it makes me feel like working. So if I’m in a down mood, if I can get myself to the gym, or at least to take a walk, it puts dopamine into my system makes me feel better. And that’s helpful. So look for a routine motivation is everything. Also ask yourself what happens if I don’t do this? And let’s say you don’t have to make that money, but you want something so everything can be tied to something. So let’s say you’re telling yourself Well, I don’t have to sell paintings because my wife or my husband has a job, but I’d like to get a new car and to be able to get a new car, I got to come up with $30,000 and to do $30,000 I gotta you know, I want to get one in three months. Well, okay, so now you got to do 10,000 a month, you got to get busy and you got to focus on that. So break everything down, start with a big goal, break it down into little bitty pieces. There’s also another trick that applies. And that is a trick that I use when I’m writing the old adage was if you can’t think of what you’re going to write, just sit down and start writing anything. It’s jibberish writing a note writing a letter anything and and that warms up your brain and next thing you know, you kick in and you’re able to write well, I I think that the same would be true for anything, you know, if you’re, if you’re not feeling like marketing, just force yourself to sit down and do your marketing, it will make a major difference because you’ll eventually just kind of kick in and then you’ll kind of forget you weren’t motivated. Anyway, I hope that helps. That’s been Marketing minute.

Announcer 63:01
This has been the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads, you can learn more at

Eric Rhoads 63:08
a reminder to check out the plein air convention and get your seat before they’re gone before the price increase on February 14, you can get that at And also a reminder to enter the plein air salon competition. There’s 30 grand in cash and prizes, all actually all cash prizes. And you can enter at I have this blog I do on Sunday mornings if you’ve not seen it, I talked about philosophies in life and art and ethics and a lot of different things. I started writing it for my kids so that I could teach them some lessons I wanted to impart and I started blogging about it and it’s up to about a quarter million people listening and reading it now. Anyway, if you’re not a member of that it’s free. It’s called Sunday coffee. If you can go to coffee with Eric that’s me go to and you You can sign up for free. It’ll come every Sunday. This is always fun. We’ll do it again next week. And in the meantime, get out there and paint. My name is Eric Rhoads. I’m the publisher and founder of plein air magazine. It is a big, beautiful world and you need to get out and paint it. And by the way, if you’re just learning plein air painting, you might want to come to the plein air basics course, the day before the plein air convention, it will help you so much. If I’d had that I would have saved five or seven years. So think about that. We will see you next week. Bye bye.

Announcer 64:34
This has been the plein air podcast with Plein Air magazine’s Eric Rhoads. You can help spread the word about plein air painting by sharing this podcast with your friends. And you can leave a review or subscribe on iTunes. So it comes to you every week. And you can even reach Eric by email [email protected]. Be sure to pick up our free 240 plein air painting tips by some of America’s top painters. It’s free at Tune in next week for more great interviews. Thanks for listening.



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