PleinAir Podcast - Tom Hughes
Plein Air Salon winner Tom Hughes, featured in the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads, Episode 160

Welcome to the PleinAir Podcast with Eric Rhoads. In this episode Eric interviews Tom Hughes, winner of the 2019 Plein Air Salon.

Listen as Tom Hughes shares the following:
• How is life has changed since winning the annual Plein Air Salon in 2019
• The moment “the heavens opened up” when he was looking at Winslow Homer paintings and he found inspiration in watercolor, then later transitioned to oil
• How painting en plein air with others can give you a sense of camaraderie and get you through the tougher parts of painting outdoors
• The common mistakes he sees students making, and how he helps them avoid or improve those mistakes, and more!

Bonus: This week’s PleinAir Podcast includes a Marketing Minute!
Eric Rhoads, author of Make More Money Selling Your Art, explains what it means to “pay to play” and why you should avoid the practice; and the benefits of having an art agent and how to find one.

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

Landscape painting by Tom Hughes
Landscape painting by Tom Hughes, “Alameda,” watercolor

Related Links:
– Tom Hughes:,,
– Plein Air Convention & Expo:
– Plein Air Salon:
– Ask your art marketing questions: [email protected]
– Marketing Minute Podcast:
– Sunday Coffee:
– Fine Art Trip to Russia:
– Publisher’s Invitational in the Adirondacks:
– Figurative Art Convention & Expo:

FULL TRANSCRIPT of PleinAir Podcast 160:
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 160. Today we’re featuring rock star painter and plein air salon annual winner, Tom Hughes.

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 Kipping. And welcome to the plein air podcast. If you’re listening on the day we released this Happy Valentine’s Day I love you guys. I love doing this. I love being a part of the plein air community and I love just hanging out with artists. I mean, that’s just the best possible day for me. I should mention that if you are thinking about going to the plein air convention, the early bird pricing expires at midnight tonight, the 14th and that’s the best chance to get the lowest early bird price. And so get it done today. If there are any seats left by the time you hear this. It’s got to be a great plein air convention in Denver in May, we’ve got some legends, including we’ve just added legend Mike Lynch, if you don’t know Mike, he’s the man who taught all the really great famous painters alive today really the best of the best. And he is considered the painters painter and he’s going to be at the plein air convention and live and it’s rare and very special. So you don’t miss that. Of course, the main stage is packed with some legends and I just can’t go into all of them right now but you can find it at I was told also this week that we have already exceeded the 100 people for the plein air publishers Invitational. 10 year reunion anniversary at the four paint camp in the Adirondacks. So we’ve worked with the college we’ve got a few more seats, but I’m not sure how many yet. But if you want to come grab one of those slots very quickly, it’s a week of painting. You don’t have to cook just get out of bed show up for meals, we do the cooking for you. I don’t do the cooking for you, which is actually best because you would probably not like my cooking. Anyway, we just go painting together and the beautiful Adirondacks every day, and we’ve cooked up some surprises for the anniversary. So to find out more about that just visit And I should mention There’s no invitation required. Come on up after the interview, I’m going to be answering some art marketing questions. I should also mention that the we now have a separate podcast called the art marketing minute. You can find it on your favorite podcast location, the iTunes Store and so on. It’s free. And I’ve launched that because you know, this is for artists all over the world who and some of which are not plein air painters and might not catch it on the plein air podcast. So tell your friends art marketing minute. Let’s get right to our interview with Tom Hughes. Tom Hughes. Welcome to the plein air podcast.

Tom Hughes 03:37
Thanks, Eric. Great to be here.

Eric Rhoads 03:39
You know you’ve had you’ve had quite the year at the at the plein air convention last year you won the annual plein air salon competition.

Tom Hughes 03:49
Yeah it was pretty surprising. Even at the last second when I thought you know after you announced The second prize winner I thought I might, I might win. There was, it was interesting to be so surprised by it, if you know what I mean. It’s a

Eric Rhoads 04:12
so what does that experience been? Like? What does it first off? You know, I’ve never won the award, probably never would, because I can’t enter my own contest. But what’s the experience like? Has anything changed for you as a result of of winning?

Tom Hughes 04:32
I’ll tell you, the, the most pleasant change for me was immediate, and it was internal. Because I mean, this was this is a sort of personal and the sort of thing that one would say to their therapist, I suppose. But as soon as I was announced, I had a feeling of relief and the relief was, I guess I can let go of the the nobody pays attention to my painting. narrative that, you know, that a lot of painters have, I suppose, yeah, I’ve been, I’ve been nurturing it for, you know, decades. And then I was like, I guess I can let go of that now. Which is, like I said, as a feeling of relief, in a way. So that was pleasant and, and a big change really. And then otherwise. Of course, the of course, the award itself was really nice. And then after that, I I’m showing in a couple different galleries that were, you know, sort of immediately, you know, it’s a big, it’s a good thing to have in your calling card, really, that. So, you know, on on the whole that’s a really nice change. Other than that, sort of heralded some other changes in my life, which is more life changes where I’m going to relocate and moving back east instead of I’ve been in California for a couple decades. But it was the start of a lot of other things. It seemed like.

Eric Rhoads 06:12
so, you know, we often we hear from people that, you know, they’re hearing from galleries that they never heard from or they’re hearing from shows that invite them into things or that sometimes it’s just a matter of recognition. It’s like, Oh, I know your name. Now. you’re experiencing a little of that.

Tom Hughes 06:31
Yes, yes. Yes, I am. it’s a little bit muffled for me at times because I’m not on social media as much as I might be. And I’ve been for months, kind of out of almost out of Wi Fi range a lot of the time a lot back. But that is exactly true that you hear more, just more likely to your name and It’s very surprising, honestly, but your name is a little more likely to, to have people go, Oh, you’re him? You know,

Eric Rhoads 07:06
I’ve noticed that. I’ve been talking to some people at the conventions and other other things that we attend. And I’ve noticed that some people have told me that it helped them by just by entering it helped them change their head. Because, you know, a lot of people kind of want to know if they’re any good or if they could, you know, they could be accepted in the world of other painters and sometimes just the act of entering it kind of helps you kind of put yourself out there and take take some risk. And did you have Any trepidation at all about you know, entering and did you think well, I’ll enter but I’ll never win. What was that? Like?

Tom Hughes 07:52
No, I I’ve never had a quirk I suppose. But I’ve been Never had that particular issue where I thought, you know, maybe my stuff shouldn’t be shown with other stuff. Generally in the past the issue as well, you know, can they tell it’s good? Or do I have this kind of money to spend on entering which, you know, at times in your life 35 bucks or whatever is, can be a hardship. But now this time around, I had what I did, honestly was – I entered a few years ago, and put in paintings that images of paintings that I thought were good, you know, plein air pictures or whatever. And when I found that those didn’t, doesn’t Garner any particular notice. I thought, let me try something different. And, you know, I, I came up with a, you know, kind of a strategy, which I usually don’t have a strategy for anything. But I thought, well, let me try this. I’ll try this and Then it seemed to be the right, you know, combination, or maybe just, good fortune on my part. And I’m, you know, I’m assuming you get many thousands of entries, and there’s got to be a lot of good work.

Eric Rhoads 09:15
there is a lot of good work and but you know, the one thing about what you enter is that the judges are different every time. So typically, we don’t judge them, we want to keep an independent third party, The only exceptions to that are at the very end of the competition. All the other judges have spoken. And that if there’s a tie or something, we might make that final call. But the the idea is that, you know, what one judge likes and other judge dislikes. And so we’ve had people who have won by monthly competitions who have entered the same painting two or three times and suddenly one judge goes, Oh, this is good. And so it kind of depends on that, but I I like the idea of the thinking of having a strategy because, you know, if something’s not working, you want to try and figure something that will work. So I think that’s a good idea. Well, enough about the competition. Let’s talk about you and I okay. You and I first met when you did my portrait, and that’s been well, 11 years now.

Tom Hughes 10:23
It’s been 11 years.

Eric Rhoads 10:28
we had, we had some management meetings yesterday, and some people flew in and and I had them over here at the house and I have in the lobby of my office area. I have all those portraits hanging up and Kari Stober who works with us, said, Oh, I didn’t know Tom Hughes did portraits. So and I think, I think I, I was 60 pounds heavier when you did that one, so

Tom Hughes 10:57
maybe, yeah, you were you were actually A really fun model, which, you know, I don’t know if you find any distinction in that, but it is it’s a pleasure to work with somebody who’s good to work with, honestly. And I really enjoyed it. I did you know, you remember the first one I did was, didn’t work out. And I was a little distressed about it. And so I asked if you come by again, and you were like, Yeah, sure. And it was great. I really enjoyed it. But I do portraits and figures, you know, I really enjoy doing that stuff. Honestly

Eric Rhoads 11:35
one of the things that I learned about you during that time is that you’re an incredible guitar player.

Tom Hughes 11:42
Well, I like to like to mess around with it in the studio, but thanks, you know, it’s great fun for me. Honestly, and usually if things are going well is when I like to like to put down the brushes and and noodle for You know, 10 or 15 minutes for getting back to work

Eric Rhoads 12:02
that actually taught me a lesson first off after after I was there with you, you’re doing the portrait I went out and took Guitar Lessons because I was so inspired by the idea of learning to play guitar. And I have a guitar sitting in my studio now. And you know, when I’m struggling with something and I’m trying to figure something out, I just put the brush down and go over and play the guitar for a while. And what it does is it takes puts my brain in a different place and and so oftentimes it helps me work through the problems just by getting away from

Tom Hughes 12:35
Yeah, and that in a general sense, that’s true anyway. It usually doesn’t help to keep staring at a thing you know, if you can pull yourself away from whatever the whatever is, stumping you for a little while. It’s true, you get a you know, your perspective anyway, changes once you get back to it. Very often, I mean, even in the short term working on a painting That is I tell my students all the time. You know, one of the things I harass them about is clean your palette, right? Because very often people go fishing around in a messy palette and they can never get a clean value if they want to. And so it’s you know, I’m, you know, I’m an annoying mother figure in that in that way, clean your palette off. And there’s a couple reasons and one is for the practical reason that you then have a space you can mix clean tints if you want to. But the other thing, which nobody pays attention to very much is it gets you to stop looking at what you’re working on for you know 40 seconds or whatever it is. And very often you look back up and you go, oh, hmm, you know, something will stand out that you had been one had been looking at it too hard or you know, just you get to see the whole thing again. You know, at a glance, if you have looked away for a little bit plus you get a clean palette and it all works out,

Eric Rhoads 14:09
you have developed into such an incredible painter I, I remember being amazed at in all at the landscape paintings, as well as the other paintings but the landscape paintings that you had in your studio when I spent time with you getting my portrait done, but now it’s like you’ve taken a leap that’s like 20 x what you were doing that and it was good then what do you think was responsible for that leap?

Tom Hughes 14:41
Well, Eric, very kind, honestly, thanks very much. And I don’t know I can’t, I don’t feel like I can. I can address it very effectively because you know, I’ve experienced leaps in the past, you know, is certainly in the first five years or so of painting working very hard at it leaps happen and you can note them in real time, you know, once something you couldn’t do up until now that one day suddenly, you know you’re not having all this trouble painting branches or whatever I mean that used to happen at a gratifying rate, but I can’t really tell because so often when I’m working, you know, I work just trying to just trying to get it to look, you know, right. And when I say right, I just mean mean it tallies up with some internal feeling of Okay, okay, that’s good. I can stop now. But I can’t really point to anything except to keep working at it, you know, and it helps for me anyways, that my interest in Painting is painting itself as opposed to a result. I mean, you want a result, you know, you want something you can sign etc. But I find the whole, I find trying to, you know, work with the substance, the paint and everything to bring about this image, I find just that whole, that part of it is the most interesting to me. And that, you know, usually, honestly, it feels as if it’s a community of failure the whole way along is what it almost always feels like and you know, so it’s flattering, what you pointed out to me just now but I, it’s hard for me to really relate in a way and say, Well, this is this is what I did or what I ascribe it to I just find that while I keep at it, you know, keep trying to keep trying to you know, do something half decent how I feel I like I’m wondering I like Oh, go ahead. No, I was just I all I can point is I am you know, I like dealing with the challenge of the materials. I find it fascinating and it’s interesting to think about it you know even back when we were working on that portrait of yours I remember talking about some medium I cooked up out of you know, calcium carbonate and oil and some other thing and you know, that was great fun at the time. We still use it. But I like all that stuff. So I’m sorry I interrupted you.

Eric Rhoads 17:39
No, no, no, I interrupted you. It’s fine. You know, I sometimes wonder I think that time is, is the great healer in terms of of taking somebody to the next level, you know, you will often watch somebody who goes from being a part time painter to being a full time painter and about two or three years in They really start to rock it, they get better. And then you you watch them over the years, and you think they’re already good and then you watch them get better. But I also think it’s the influence of other people in the sense that, you know, if you’re out painting with other great painters, and I think you’re, if I remember correctly, you’re a member of a group that goes out on a pretty regular basis or a couple times a year anyway, and you’re painting with other rock star painters, is that have any influence?

Tom Hughes 18:29
It’s, um, well, I’ve done I’ve been a member, I can say it’s a group, right? Yeah. plein air painters of America. And I’ve been a member for, I think two years now. And I’ll tell you that it’s great fun, really to be able to socialize a bit with all these artists when you’re in when you’re in one place. Once you know once the painting happens, people just seem to be every person for himself. You end up was painting with some other people sometimes, but now the fact is, is that, you know, my I have, you know, some of my best friends are artists and I’ve spent quite a lot of time with them painting outdoors. You know, for the past 25 years anyway, before that I was almost always by myself but it there’s some cross pollination that happens, but there’s also just, you know, what I enjoy is what you might call a camaraderie but it’s a lot of you know, jokes and fun and, you know, kind of the shared enjoyment of the thing plus the shared misery of, you know, the agony of, Oh, I just can’t get this thing to work out. You know, it’s fun to be around world class painters and have them you know, moaning about how it isn’t going well. You know, it’s fun because nobody, mostly you look at what you look at what anybody is doing, and it always looks like magic. You know, but the person painting it is always seems deficient or usually seems deficient in some way. So it’s great fun to hear the cries of Whoa. I’m not pointing any fingers. I do it all the time. You know,

Eric Rhoads 20:14
I think it’s important for our listeners to to hear that because, you know, we oftentimes, you know, we look at people like you or Matt Smith or somebody and we go, oh man, they just nail it every time and they just go out there and do perfect painting. So it’s nice to hear that you struggle.

Tom Hughes 20:30
Oh, it’s, it’s, listen. It’s, I tell my students just because I recognize what you’re saying. The finished product is the online or in a book or in a gallery or whatever it looks. It looks like it just sprang out of the earth in some way. And it’s hard, often to it’s hard if you if you haven’t been doing it for a long time to imagine that these paintings which looks so great are the result of a lot of A lot of work and, you know, often enough a lot of kind of distress at try and get that thing, right. And one of one of my favorite, you know, it’s another thing I end up being able to tell the students just to my workshop students just to get them to feel okay, you know, that’s what you want. I want people to feel okay, that it’s difficult or that it may be a bit distressing. So I don’t hesitate to say, look, it’s extremely difficult, it gets harder. You know, the better you are, the harder it seems to get. But I was reading in one of the volumes of the john Singer Sargent catalog resume, one of these, one of the ones that is, you know, his outdoor, you know, figures and landscape books and there was a letter written by one of his painting partners. It was Jane De Glen. I was traveling with him in Italy, along with her husband, Wilfred, and there’s plenty of paintings of Sarge did have you know the two of them painting I read and there’s a very famous of Jane sitting on the Dallas trot around a fountain in some gardens and anyway I forget the name. Yeah. And her husband lounging there is a famous it’s a well known pictures

Eric Rhoads 22:19
of our mustache if I remember correctly.

Tom Hughes 22:22
It’s Yeah, probably but the the woman Jane is, you know, she’s all intent. Anyway, she does a letter from her to a friend of hers. And she is talking about being in this painting. And she says john is painting a Killingly funny picture of me. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. She says that I I told him that, you know, I have an awfully worried expression on my face. And she says that Sergeant said to her, any painter that doesn’t look worried is a perfect fool. If he was worried, well then the rest of us can You know, we can worry without, you know, without feeling like, we’re behind it. You know what I mean? I love that so much because it’s so true. Really

Eric Rhoads 23:10
You started out if I remember correctly as a watercolor painter, is that right?

Tom Hughes 23:16
Yeah, when I started painting, you know, like when I said, You know what, I’m going to be a painter now. The first thing I grabbed was watercolor. I still do it. I still paint watercolor. You know, I love it. But they Yeah, that’s the first thing you know, I had been a newspaper Illustrator. Or, you know, that’s a job I found myself in and I was trying every kind of medium I could think of just to make it sort of interesting. You know, you had these daily deadlines, and you just had to supply them with pictures and it didn’t really matter what the technique was. As long as I came in under deadline, generally speaking, and so, you know, I was doing watercolor and scratchboard and You know, acrylic analogous and block print and all kinds of you know, pen and ink. And but, you know, I had a sudden, you know, conversion experience when I almost when I realized I’m going to be a painter, you know, an artist, fine artist and the thing that did it for me it was the triggered it sort of was. I was looking at a magazine that had Winslow Homer watercolors in it, all of which, you know, I grew up looking at those things. You know, I always loved them. They’re wonderful, but this one time, I was standing in a Waldenbooks in Boston on Boylston Street and I, and, you know, I could I could, you know, the heavens opened up and I could hear the music practically. It wasn’t really like that, but in retrospect, it seemed like that and I, I said, I have to do this. And so immediately I went and I got a put together a watercolor kit, and then said, Well, I’m going to Doors, the paint. I’ve never tried it before. This was probably 32 years ago, maybe. Yeah, in the 80s. And I automatically thought, Well, I’m going to go outdoors, and with my little easel and my whole setup and totally and completely failed immediately, you know, it was a real breakdown. So it’s a shocking experience to go from, you know, working within your little desk with photos and to you know, all the stuff I was doing as an illustrator to going out. And, you know, facing it when it’s all around you. it was a really call that a wake up call.

Eric Rhoads 25:45
A humbling experience too, isn’t it?

Tom Hughes 25:48
Totally. Yeah, it totally is. I mean, you know, it’s because it’s, it’s just overstimulating and you suddenly find that the world has suddenly turned into a collection of tiny details as opposed to You know, the things you feel like you’re looking at when you’re not trying to paint that’s, that’s what the experience was for me back then I still remember vividly And so much of it, so much of learning how to, you know, learning how to paint, you know, outdoors anywhere from life is learning how to is, you know, setting visual priorities, I guess, or, you know, organizing things into aggregating the mass of visual details into something more manageable, or in more legible in a way.

Eric Rhoads 26:40
I think that so many people have that experience. First time out. I certainly did. And the question is, how do you keep people from quitting at that time? Because I hear that all the time. You know, I tried plein air painting. I hated it. It was a miserable, miserable experience. Why would I want to be out there with the bugs and So a lot of people give up too soon. How do you get over that?

Tom Hughes 27:05
Well as to that I can only speak for myself. And I it was I wasn’t used to being I wasn’t used to being bad at some kind of visual art thing. You know, I was a kid, but I wasn’t used to it and I found a galling Honestly, I was like, you know, I, first of all, I have to do this, you know, that was established for me. I mean, it really I caught I caught very strong, you know, I got the calling. And yet I produce this awful mess. And it took me a while to get out there because, you know, there’s a fair amount at least for me, you know, there was a fair amount of, of, you know, self esteem wrapped up in it. You know, I, you know, I kind of have to be able to do this to feel okay about myself. It’s not healthy, but that’s how it happened for Me. And what would happen over time is like I, you know, gear myself up and go out again and and you get a bit better at it I, I had a, I was a little bit systematic in terms of looking at what I had done, which was was not satisfying and then trying to figure out what was wrong with it, you know, What didn’t I like about it? And I would compare it what I had done two paintings that I actually thought were good. And in a very basic way I go, what’s the difference here? Well, you know, I, I fussed over this stuff, and I didn’t have a very good grasp of, you know, just make comparisons and try not to feel bad about it. And then and then when I go out to paint again, I try to remember the kinds of things that I could look at are the kinds of things I could try to consolidate. However, to actually answer your question over time, I found that You know, I’ve finished up and then I would recall going to myself, you know what I, it seemed like an awful struggle, but I would recall that I really, really loved, you know, brush to paper and standing out there and doing all that stuff, you know, there’s a for some of us, it’s just really an enjoyable all the little mechanics and the involvement being there is really enjoyable. And I found that, you know, now I can I can experience both the agony and the enjoyment at the same time. But for people who are driven off in a way by just like you said, by the conditions and how frustrating it is, it may help you know, what would actually help is to do is to paint with other people really make it a somewhat social activity. I think that like a lot of things helps carry people through No discouraging or difficult aspects of almost any task. I mean, it’s not really a task. I mean, to me, it’s a task is my work, but that would probably help. But I mean, honestly, if, if somebody just decides, boy, this isn’t for me, well, I guess it may not be. But that said, I’ve had I’ve known plenty of artists and had students that they give it a try, and they are really, they’re all in after that, you know, there’s something about it, they’re really, that, you know, painting outdoors or painting from life really seems to be, you know, fulfilling of something for them, you know, just a long answer to a short question.

Eric Rhoads 30:47
Well, in terms of your students, you’re teaching workshops, I like to ask this question and I ask it frequently, because I think everybody’s got a different perspective. What are the things that you see common mistakes students are making from your perspective that you try to really help them with?

Tom Hughes 31:11
Okay, um, well, because of, you know, the, the work that I do tends to look, you know, what people call realistic. I mean, it basically looks like what I’m painting and the color is naturalistic. You know, it’s there, it has other things to recommend it, but we’ll go into that, but I usually get people, you know, I assume that people that take my workshops are looking to achieve, you know, to do that sort of thing, right? They’re usually not looking to do something very, very stylized or very, something very different to how mine look. And so, to that end, what I find is the almost universal problem or difficulty – They’re two of them. And I bet you’re going to hear the same thing from a lot of other instructors is that the, you know, not being very attentive to what I call drawing, but it’s really just a matter of, you know, shape and proportion. And relating them, you know, there’s that if you can get that stuff right or close to right, that helps and then just about equally important is getting values right. You know, the relation between values, you know, your dark and your light. They’re very often especially with with experienced painters. Very often there’s, they find it difficult, at least when they’re outdoors to make adequate contrast, value contrast so that you know, you often find a lot of middle values And where there could be where the statement could be made more effectively with some stronger contrasts. I mean, you know, it happens all of us you get kind of, you know, bogged down in a way with for instance, with local color everywhere, forgetting to relate the values. So that’s awesome something I have occasion to point out,

Eric Rhoads 33:28
I want to stop you on that one for two things. First off, explain what local color is because a lot of people don’t know that term. And then the second piece of that is talk about how you overcome this issue of values.

Tom Hughes 33:43
Okay, well, local color just means the color of an object not or of something not considered in context of the lighting, so for instance, you know, an apple is red, okay? That’s the local color. I mean, they’re not all Red, of course, but we’re an orange is orange and but things can really change depending on the lighting conditions. And you know, is the is the orange, you know in a closet in the dark or is it in the sun or is it in the woods, you know, it changes it’s not just playing orange at that point, there’s a lot of other things that are considered and so when I say that, what I think happens when you get just a lot of middle values in a in a painting is you know, naturally people are looking to go, what color green is that grass, and next to the brown of the tree trunk or whatever and it’s easy to get into trying to find the the hue without, you know, comparing the for instance the value of it to the value of something else near it. And so the, the value looking at the darks and lights, I mean what has Really is you have to look and make a mark and look again, and and go Hmm, is this pretty close to what I’m looking at, you know, and I find it I gotta, I have to put down a mark and then put another mark next to it and see do the do the values seem to compare in the way that they compare and the motifs that I’m looking at. I mean, it’s very, it sounds sort of over simple, but that’s kind of that’s what it boils down to, at least to start with, um, but I’ll, you know, add something to make it a bit efficient if you know if you’ve been the subject that you’re painting, find the darkest, you know, for instance, the very darkest thing that you’re looking at, and you know, as an experiment on your painting, put that markdown and make it black or make it the darkest value going to happen that painting, okay? Put it on there and then the lightest value in the subject that you’re looking at make it white, or the very lightest value you’re going to have in your painting. And you’ve established you know, the gamut that you have anyway. So you can compare your other you know, the, the other shapes that you make, you can you can compare and value to those things that you’ve already put down. It’s just a lot of looking and making some marks and looking again and comparing and it’s you know, the more you do it, of course, it becomes less and less of a of a kind of conscious application of your thinking but it’s always there. You know, at least for me, it is, you know, always you know what’s darker, what’s lighter, how much darker how much warmer, how much cooler you know that it’s quite mentally Busy painting pictures outdoors or from life.

Eric Rhoads 37:04
I sometimes I think what what also happens is that we get this what I like to call paint creep. You know you, you have your dark values and your heavier light values and next thing you know you’re kind of creating this mud by blending them together and then everything kind of adds up in that middle value.

Tom Hughes 37:24
Yeah, yeah. And that’s where we get into at least you know, in sometimes I have occasion and workshops to address it is I may steal that Eric if you don’t mind paint, creep,

Eric Rhoads 37:36
That’s right – copyright 2020.

Tom Hughes 37:43
Yeah, that’s where you get into the kind of the intersection of technique with the materials and how it relates to what happens with your sort of the more abstracted ideas of color and value is that is helpful to find a way to work that like you said, you don’t model you don’t model this stuff up too much and I will sit down sometimes break it down and say look, I want you to put the mark down next to or maybe overlapping your other mark, but don’t don’t rub them together it’s it’s a it’s almost automatic for people that when they put something down and then don’t really know what to do, and so the rub it around a little bit, and I mean, I’ve seen it over and over, and it’s just that you don’t know what to do, really, but you can just put it down, put down the mark and then don’t do anything to it and make another mark, you know, that’s exactly right. That tends to it tends to destroy the, you know, the value separations that you need for the for the thing to have any contrast or to port even just to look is not the right word, but to look at Like a real painting as opposed to something that was, you know, somebody who didn’t really know what to do was doing, I was gonna say not that I generally know what I know what to do all the time, but I, you know, I have found that it works better to stop and be deliberate than just to keep putting stuff on and moving the brush around without having an idea of what to do next. That’s all. deliberation really helps, being deliberate as opposed to being in a hurry.

Eric Rhoads 39:37
There are a lot of concepts in there a lot of concepts and painting that sometimes will go our whole lives without knowing those concepts. I had a very well known, highly respected artist who told me that she painted for 25 years before anybody taught her values. And, you know, it seems like she said, you know, Once I learned it, I mean, everything changed in the eye. And, you know, she was kind of doing it naturally instinctively, but she wasn’t doing it right. It was there something for you that you did wrong for a long time and then all of a sudden the light went off or somebody taught you something that really changed everything for you.

Tom Hughes 40:21
here’s the problem is that I’ve taught myself, you know, and so far as anybody does, you know, partly it’s just because of how I do things and I’m very stubborn, and I won’t listen to anybody. Then, that hasn’t happened, although What does happen is, you know, once you you know, once I started looking or sort of listening to what other people did, they would, you would hear words or you’d hear a name for something that you Were doing it just didn’t have a name for you know, like values and, you know, to me it was just trying to get it to look right which is that make the dark stuff dark and the middle stuff in the middle and the light stuff light and that sounds easy when you say it put it isn’t, you know, and it I don’t remember how long it was but then you know I hear about values and then at the same time this is years ago, they would have heard the same thing as tones . Okay, you know, I sort of retro actively learned some of that retrospectively learned some of that terminology, the one that always stumped me that the this isn’t even really learning anything except that when I first heard the term negative space, I was like, what? couldn’t figure out what that means and of course, you know, it turns out it just, you know, it means the stuff in between the objects when you’re drawing, you know, the space in between, but Even still that doesn’t compute to me because it’s all it all has equal weight on a two dimensional piece of work but anyway that I have to, all this talk and I have to say not really only because I’d never I would never listen to anybody anyway you know I was always I tried to figure it out myself and then you find out like you said that thing you were doing what people mean by it. So I’m kind of failed out on that question

Eric Rhoads 42:31
So you we never really talked about this but you at one point transitioned out of watercolor and oil Why? You say you still do watercolor but why How did you move?

Tom Hughes 42:44
Well, again, it was because I I wanted to do everything. I did not want to not paint oils. I just the first thing I grabbed was watercoler. A broader point that I would make about that is that I’ve never had an idea that you know, an artist ought to stick to one’s stay in their lane with one medium. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all I would like to. I would like to make images and other things as well. It just doesn’t seem like an issue to me. So I started painting in oil simply because I thought I want to do oils. And I started that in you know, about a year after I had been fussing with the watercolor. Then I just got a set with some basic palette and first thing I painted. I reckon I remember the first two things I painted were self portraits were tried, and I’ll let me tell you, it’s a lot easier than going outside with watercolors. It’s a lot easier looking in the mirror with oil paints, at least it was for me. But you know, By the same token, I You know, grabbed acrylics and you know, gouche and, you know, there’s some things I haven’t I haven’t given encaustic a try at all. I’ve had a set of them for 25 years, but I’ve never yet sat down to do anything with them. It’s like, it’s like when I was an illustrator, I just liked trying everything. That’s really it I, you know, sometimes you feel I get a mysterious feeling that, you know, I’d rather do this in acrylics than oil for some reason. I don’t examine it too much. And often enough, I’ll be outside with oil and go shoot, I wish I had watercolor. Or the opposite if I’m with watercolor shoot, I wish I had oil, you know, because it was, it always seems like that other thing might be a lot easier to use.

Eric Rhoads 44:50
We’re actually starting to see a lot of oil painters pick up watercolor. And it sometimes it’s a total switch. More often than not It’s just to shake things up a little bit, try something different use some different techniques. And of course, its enormous, how convenient. In some situations, you know, you can keep a little watercolor tin in the back pocket, you know, and, and just pull it out when you want it.

Tom Hughes 45:17
And it dries right away. And you can stack them up and you know, you don’t have to be traveling, especially the, you know, it’s just on paper, you can, you can have a stack of them and they dry and you don’t have to worry about all that, you know, getting in the wet paint everywhere. You know, it’s nice. like I said, I just, I figure, you know, why shouldn’t I do this? Why should I do that? I like I like to see what happens. You know, I mean it I sound sort of blind about it, and that’s part of it, but you know, getting down to it. I. The other thing is that I wanted to be able to be I wanted to be good at oil painting. So I thought well, I’m actually give it a try if I’m going to get anywhere with it, you know, the long time ago and it’s different. You know, it’s all colored paste in its way, you know, moving colors around. But they all have a different feeling each of them and I just enjoy it honestly. I enjoy the one I enjoy the other another after that as well. And I really, I think it does painting itself a disservice. Plus, the artists do themselves a disservice by deciding that they can only do one thing Well, well, it’s obviously not true, because we have many artists who have come before us that they never hesitated to do anything at all, you know, any medium was fair game. And you know, if you look at, well, the obvious example is Sergeant then there’s Winslow Homer, and then you can look to Edgar Degas, you know, with his pastels, his oil paintings, His monotypes His sculpture drawings, and none of it doesn’t look like he did it. If you know what I mean, it all has the, it’s the artists that counts. It’s not the medium someone’s far as I’m concerned.

Eric Rhoads 47:16
So do you have a superpower? You know, if you were, for instance advertising your workshop and trying to help people understand what is it, they’re going to learn from you? versus you know, something else? Is, is there a particular thing or is it just kind of an overview? here’s, here’s how I do it.

Tom Hughes 47:37
Yes. the thing about my workshops, aside from the fact that they’re fun, and and there’s a lot of good jokes. I pay attention. What I want to have happen with with the people who attend them is that they become The most of themselves as a painter that they can, so I’m, there to try to, you know, I don’t want to I’m not teaching and here’s what you do, this is what you have to do in order to do something like what I do that that’s pointless because, you know, everybody is him or herself and it’s a little bit futile trying to be somebody else. However, somebody else can help to point the way to where you can be, you can be more of yourself, and that’s what you really want. And so, there have been times when I’ve had, I’ve had students in workshops, and it turns out that they have very, very strong, a very strong artistic stamp of some kind, very distinctive without knowing that they have it, or where it came from. And you know, that kind of thing is an interesting challenge to me because sometimes it’s not at all. Like, what I do or like what I’m there to, you know, Typically when I’m showing the other students and so, you know what I try to it’s kind of a special case, but I try to really, you know, clear out some of the, you know, things in the way for them that might be in the way of them really, really kind of clarifying that vision. So I guess that kind of thing is what I’m interested in and, with each with each workshop, student, I try to pay very close attention to be where they are, if I’ve got somebody who’s never painted before, that’s fine. I’ve had, you know, professional artists, that’s fine too. I don’t have a I really don’t have a one size fits all approach. So it’s, you know, it’s a psychic expenditure for me I put a lot into it with each person. But you know, that’s what they’re there for Well, rather that’s what far as I’m concerned, that’s what they’re there for is to become, to be to be become most of themselves as a painter. You know, that’s an awkward way to put it but I didn’t try to think up a nice way. So, yeah, that’s, I think what you know what I have to offer this the best thing and I’m, you know, I’m patient.

Eric Rhoads 50:27
And just for the people who might be interested in your workshops, tell me where to find out about them website.

Okay, my website, has a roundup of what I’m doing. I teach European workshops at And then there’s for some new england workshops and also European workshops. Thanks very much for letting me plug those

Eric Rhoads 51:04
absolutely send money later.

Tom Hughes 51:07
Yeah, I will.

Eric Rhoads 51:08
So you said you’re moving back east. You’ve been in the Bay Area since I met you. And that was I don’t know, 90. I don’t know.

Tom Hughes 51:19
California. Yeah, for 20 years in California and bay area since 2002, I think. And I’d wanted honestly, for quite a while I’d had a kind of a yearning to go back to New England, which is where I’m from.

Eric Rhoads 51:37
And, you know, I have

Tom Hughes 51:41
you know, it’s not now it’s a thing that I can do, you know, some life changes. And so I thought, well, I’m going to go back there. And I’ve been there for it was there for a few months right in time for winter.

Eric Rhoads 51:55
That Oh, yeah, that’s right. Forgot about winter. You do you do any snow painting?

Tom Hughes 52:03
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. In fact, the last right now I’m in. I’m in the back in the East Bay right now. Just got here a few days ago and I’m going to be, I’m going to be doing a painting demonstration in Oakland, then it’ll be you know, 65 degrees, maybe sunny. But the last time I was out painting outdoors was in January, and I was in Cornish New Hampshire. Real good friend of mine, it was six degrees. Six Degrees, but it was funny. So, yeah,

Eric Rhoads 52:41
I’m going to do a little snow painting and going over to Russia in a couple of weeks. And I’m planning a trip. You know, I take people on these trips. And so I’m going to take about 50 people to Russia in 2021. And so I’m actually going to meet with hotels and and go to the locations we’re going to be painting and so on meeting with some of the artists that are going to be part of the deal but anyway I’m going to be painting in that unbelievably cold weather so I don’t know how long

Tom Hughes 53:13
you need to get I mean you may know all this but you just need you you have to get the right clothing and pay attention to your boots get get the warmest you know, don’t believe your regular you know boots in the store that they say you can stand around or it’s 20 below now you need get the ones the big fat Frankenstein boots. Those really help and you know, remember that you’re not moving so it’s really really bundling up as what it really has to happen. So I that’s all I have to say about it and otherwise you cope, try to cope.

Eric Rhoads 53:57
over the over there they they mixed vodka They’re white to keep their water from getting so stiff and and then they you know, they take a swig once in a while to keep themselves warm.

Tom Hughes 54:08
Yeah. That’s true though. The paint does stiffen up unless you let it down with something.

Eric Rhoads 54:15
Well, Tom, this has been an absolute pleasure to have you on the plein air podcast. Any final thoughts or things that you any information you want to disseminate before we head out?

Tom Hughes 54:27
That’ll Gosh, not really. I think we’ve covered a few things. And I just want to say thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure for me. I’d be happy for people to check out those workshop links that I said, and, you know, my own website just has a bunch of paintings on it, which is always nice, but That’s about it.

Eric Rhoads 54:51
Yeah. Well, congratulations again on your work. I know it’s been a 30 year labor of love, but it’s just phenomenal. And I’d encourage people to look at your website. You know if anybody wants to buy paintings I’m sure that you’d probably sell them on. And, yeah,

Tom Hughes 55:07
yeah, I could, I could, I could see my way to doing that. I’ve got a list of my galleries and that sort of thing as well. Okay.

Eric Rhoads 55:16
Well thank you again for being on the podcast.

Tom Hughes 55:21
You’re welcome and thank you.

Eric Rhoads 55:22
Thank you again, Tom Hughes and I appreciate what he’s done. His work is just beautiful. Take a look at his website. spectacular. And also you’re ready for some marketing ideas.

Announcer 55:34
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 55:45
In the marketing minute I try to answer your questions you can submit them by email, [email protected] We’ve been getting a lot of them lately. Thank you for that. Here’s a question from Olivia in Jacksonville, Florida. Who asks, Can you You address pay to play? I’ve heard you mention it, but I’m not really sure exactly what it is. And is it something that could help me get my name out there more? Well, the term comes from a long, long time ago back in the 1950s. There was a practice in the music industry called payola. The record companies would pay DJs to put their songs on the radio. And of course, if they became hits, people would, you know, spend millions of dollars buying those records. So it turned out to be highly illegal and the government clamp down on it. And a lot of people went to jail, including a very famous DJ and there was also another very famous TV host who almost went to jail, but he escaped at that was Dick Clark. anyway. It’s now called pay to play and it happens in other industries. And anyway, it ended up being highly illegal. In the radio industry well pay to play you’re referring to is a little different. It’s not illegal, but some say it’s immoral or unethical. For instance, let’s say that you get a call from someone, and they say, I’m going to give you a story in my magazine, all you have to do is buy an ad. Well, that makes it a lot easier to sell ads. But and people do this all the time. The problem is, it’s not disclosed to the readers. And the readers often assume that you were selected because you deserved to be featured or selected. The problem lies in the fact that many times featured artists have the money but they don’t have the talent. So that means a lot of times, you get stories on artists who are really not deserving of a story, and that kind of deceives the reader. So eventually, the readers catch on to this, the magazine loses credibility and it just kind of backfires. now I own two art magazines, and I own a couple magazines in the radio and TV industry. We have a company wide policy, we refuse to do pay for play, though, it hurts because we do lose some ads to it. We want to be highly ethical. And so we will, you know, give press to our advertisers sometimes, but we won’t say buy an ad and get a story. That’s just not what we do. And we think it’s a deceptive practice. That’s why we don’t do it. And so we don’t want our readers to distrust us. We want our readers to trust us and we think it also can have legal implications. There was a proposed case I don’t think it ever went to court but a proposed case where a magazine had highlighted in artists who had paid them but they did not disclose that the the article had been paid for. And sometimes, you know, you’ll see an article and it says that the top advertorial well they didn’t do that. And most of them don’t do that. Well. The collector was someone who bought Based on recommendations of art magazines and he assumed that this artist was being recommended he wasn’t really somebody who collected it for the love of the art. So anyway, there was a pending case i don’t think it ever went anywhere but you know, there are people who buy based on articles thinking that something might grow in value, but the bigger issue for you as an artist is when people find out it feels a little sleazy a little slippery if people find out that you had an article, you know, let’s say you you send this article out to all your your list and your friends and your collectors and say look at me I had an article on on me in this magazine, and then they find out Well, you didn’t really get that article on your on your own you paid for it. I mean, on your merit, and it just makes you look a little bit slippery or dirty. And people always find out everything. you know our policy. See as everything you do needs to be willing to be put on the cover of The New York Times, because you want to make sure that you’re being totally upfront and ethical. So I just think that pay for play in the, and the idea of getting publicity is probably something that I would discourage. Now, I got to be totally frank with you. I don’t like it also, because, you know, we have competitors who do it. And that does take business away from time to time. But I quite frankly, I hear from collectors all the time who tell me, you know, I started to distrust this or that magazine because they do it. And quite frankly, to my knowledge, there’s only our magazines and one other that don’t do pay for play, and we refuse to do it because we don’t want to be dirty. We don’t want the artist to look dirty. We don’t want anybody to feel dirty. Your reputation as an artist is golden. You have to keep it golden. And though you know, we all desperately want publicity and we all desperately want to be noticed. There are things that you You need to be doing to make sure that you get it and deserve it. So we won’t do it in Plein Air or Fine Art connoisseur magazines. Anyway, there’s also a thing called pay for play in the gallery business. And that’s probably what you’re referring to, but it’s the same kind of thing. They’ll call you. And I hear from artists all the time, I got a call from New York, they want to do a show of my artwork in New York, and they only want several thousand dollars to do it. Well, these are galleries that are basically saying pay us and we’re going to give you wall space, we’re going to give you a show, and we will send a notice out to all of our collectors and you’ll have a New York show. I have not heard very many positive things about that. Now if there is somebody legitimate out there doing it, that’s doing it well, maybe but it kind of it kind of comes down to the same thing. Once people find out that you’re doing it that you paid for it, it feels dirty. That’s a lot different than going and renting a space. You know, you can do a pop up gallery, rent a space, promote it yourself. That’s a whole lot different. So pay for play in galleries I you know really really high quality good galleries My opinion is that they don’t ever take pay for play because they want the trust of their collectors and, and by the way you want to be in a place that’s going to get you in front of the right people, not just a bunch of people who are pretending to show up at a show to get a free drink and never going to buy your artwork. I have not heard artists tell me that in a pay for play gallery that they’ve really been successful selling artwork there. I’m sure there are examples of people who have but you know, the most important thing is learn how to generate publicity. Learn how to get stories. I talked a lot about this in my book, learn how to do these things properly. Don’t try to take shortcuts. Some areas you can take shortcuts but you don’t want to shortcut anything that makes you feel like you’re trying to game the system or trying to to be sleazy that sleazy isn’t good. So just be a little bit careful. You don’t want to do anything that hurts your credibility because people always find everything out. There are no secrets, especially in today’s world. It’s real, real sensitive, just strive to be the best you can be. Our next question comes from Samuel in Mystic, Connecticut, beautiful area. Samuel says, I know it’s common to work with galleries. But I’m curious how do I find an agent rather than a gallery to represent my art? And what is the value of an agent? What’s the benefit of one over the other? Well, finding an agent is quite frankly, the best way to do it is to ask around, I would talk to gallery owners and say which agents do you like dealing with which ones are effective which are successful, which are not? I talked to artists that have agents and do the same thing. You know, you can Google it, but you may or may not find out the quality. You always want to check out the quality by getting references. You know, I think that part of the problem Samuel is that the people who are already in galleries of the people most likely to get an agent, and they’re the ones who don’t necessarily need one. Now, I’m not saying agents are bad thing, agents are actually a good thing. And there’s tons of great agents out there. And there’s probably a few that are not so great. But the reason you want one is that they can help you make more money. Typically, an agent gets 10% of everything you sell, so they have incentive to get your prices up and to help you sell more and they’re going to get you into galleries that are going to sell the best. An agent plays a valuable role. And having one is a really good thing at the right time in your career, helping you bring success, but again, they’re really looking for people who are already successful and try to make them more successful try to get their prices up. So a good agent will find you a gallery they’ll find you buyers, they’ll give you good advice. They might get you into better galleries that you can’t get into on your own, and they will help you get those prices up typically, and help you build a collector base. And that’s good. And the advice is often fabulous in your career, they also can manage your career, and oftentimes your marketing. But if I were an agent, and I’ve had dozens of offers to pay me to be agents for people, I, I declined them because I stopped what I do. But I would only want artists I knew would sell would be easy for me to sell and artists who generate a lot of money. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have an agent, and you’re selling your paintings for $2,000. While the gallery gets 50% of that at $1,000, you get $1,000. The agent gets 10% of what you get. So the agent gets $100 of that thousand dollars. So let’s say you sell 30 paintings a year. The agent only makes $3,000 on you, that’s 30 times that hundred dollars. commission quite frankly, it’s not worth it. But if they can get your prices to $20,000 now they’re going to make $30,000 on you. Now it’s worth it especially they have 10 artists, they’re going to make a lot of money real money. And of course good agents will get the price up. So agents clearly want people who are easier to sell. People who are well known, have big names, are desirable and easy to get into galleries. Now you have agents who will spot someone who has exceptional ability and maybe they’re newer and unknown and they will try to get you in because they really believe in you. So there are some of those but it’s riskier because their reputations on the line if they go in there and they say I’ve got this hot new artist and then you don’t sell they aren’t going to get into the gallery with the next hot artist is easily so they’re going to be really careful. And also remember all the hard work is done up front. You know an agent gets you into a gallery and you stay in that gallery for 10 years. You’re paying The agent 10% of every dollar that you make for that entire 10 years or 20 years or 30 years, and it’s worth it. But you might get to the point where you’re thinking, why am I paying them Now? What are they doing for me? Well, they did all the work up front for you. And you’ve got to respect that and think about it. But it’s really hard to write those checks at, you know, when you’ve been in a gallery for 10 years, and you’re thinking, Well, what are they doing for me now? Well, hopefully they’re doing things like getting you shows and giving you good advice. And that’s good. So that’s, that’s kind of the story on agents. Now, quite frankly, you can work extra hard and get into those galleries yourself, and work to raise your prices yourself. I talked a lot about that stuff in some of the things that I do, the books and videos and things So, but I like agents. I think if I were pursuing an art career, I am in one gallery. I don’t have time to produce enough paintings to pursue an art career. But if I were I would get the best agent I could get because I know they’re going to get my prices up and get me into some good galleries. Now, a reminder to you that I’m going to be teaching marketing three mornings in a row at the plein air convention this may in Denver, and also at the figurative art convention this October in Baltimore. So if you want to learn more about marketing, and there’s a lot of other resources available to you. Anyway, that’s the marketing minute. I hope it’s been helpful.

Announcer 68:25
This has been the marketing minute with Eric Rhoads. You can learn more at

Eric Rhoads 68:32
Don’t forget the Valentine’s Day price deadline on the plein air convention. And if you want to come to my 10 year anniversary at the Adirondacks, you better get that seat booked right away because we’re a little oversold. We’re going to get you a few more seats in there and that’s publishers Invitational calm. Also if you’ve not seen my blog, where I talk about life and art and philosophy and feelings, etc, feelings. Check it out. It’s called Sunday coffee. It’s free comes every Sunday. And you can find it to sign up at If every one of you listening to this would sign up, that’d be pretty cool. Anyway, this is fun. Thank you. We’ll do it again sometime like next week, and I will see you then. I’m Eric Rhoads publisher and founder of Plein Air magazine. Remember, it’s a big world out there. Go paint it. We’ll see you. Bye.

Announcer 69:36
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 ebook 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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