When Eric Rhoads started to learn to paint, it was one disaster after another — until he gave up, and his painting supplies went into the basement. But one day a cab ride changed all that, and led to an approach to teaching that has trained thousands of people to paint.
Eric wasn’t exposed to art growing up — no more than any child who used crayons and coloring books. But one day his mother, Jeanne, came home with a painting she’d done in a class at the community center — and 12-year-old Eric couldn’t believe she could do that! After that they sometimes painted together at the kitchen table, but that was the extent of Eric’s experience. He didn’t pick up a paintbrush for another 25 years.
“My dad’s influence led me to become an entrepreneur,” he says. “But by my late 30s, I needed something more. I tried photography and other crafts, but nothing felt like it was for me.”
Until one day, with time on his hands, he wandered into an art store. “I ended up buying paints, brushes, even an easel. I dropped a couple hundred bucks.”
He set up a studio space, and set out to copy a photo. It didn’t go well, but he persisted, painting every night after work but making little progress. Finally, he decided he didn’t have talent and boxed up his art materials, with no intention of picking them up again.
Sensing his frustration, his wife, Laurie, bought him art lessons for his 40th birthday. He went to class — but found it was about abstract painting. “Express yourself,” the instructor said. “Just throw the paint on the canvas.” Rhoads finally told the instructor he wanted to paint objects, people — real things. “That’s old school. No one does that anymore.”
So Rhoads quit the class and put the art supplies back in the basement.
Months later, during a long cab ride, he discovered the cabbie was an artist. Rhoads shared his story, and the cabbie told him there was an artist living nearby who had studied under the masters in Europe. He assured Rhoads that Jack Jackson could help.
It took time to get the courage to try again, but a year later, Rhoads walked into Jackson’s class. He saw the beautiful work on the students’ easels — and turned to walk out, convinced he didn’t have the talent. But Jackson saw and called out, “Can I help you?” Jackson quickly started Rhoads on a brief lesson and convinced him he could be painting at a fairly high level within just a few months.
“That was a life-changing moment,” Rhoads says. “I learned that talent isn’t required. Jack had simplified things to a system that could not fail.” He soon completed his first painting, and within a year he was copying Old Master paintings. He studied with Jackson for about three years.
Then, with his RadioCentral.com concept newly funded, Rhoads moved to San Francisco. He soon visited the Palace of Fine Arts Museum there, and saw Bouguereau’s The Pitcher for the first time. “When I saw it, knowing what Bouguereau must have gone through to paint at that level, I teared up.” Rhoads decided then to dedicate the rest of his life to art.
He was by that time a publisher, and he formed a vision for a new magazine about outdoor painting. (He’d started painting outdoors when Laurie, pregnant with triplets, asked him to stop painting in the house.) Soon he had two art magazines, and later an art convention and a series of events and retreats. But it wasn’t enough.
“I kept running into people who wanted to learn to paint but gave up in frustration. I’d come to see the world through the eyes of an artist, and I wanted that for everyone.”
So Rhoads started a company to teach people to paint through video, to make it clear that anyone can learn — no talent required. Those videos taught tens of thousands of people to paint.
But when COVID hit, Rhoads wanted to do more. So he started a livestream to teach people art and help keep their minds off their fears. He went on Facebook Live, pushing the stream to Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube, seven days a week for seven months and then, later, five days a week. The streams ranged from art instruction with top artists to art business and marketing tips to “anything to lift people’s spirits.”
Those streams reached an average of 10,000 people a day, and in some cases as many as 150,000 people, including replays. “I’ve heard from thousands of people who learned to paint for the first time, and people who hadn’t picked up a brush since they were kids.”
Rhoads is now streaming daily with a new show, Art School Live with Eric Rhoads, on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
“Thousands of regular people like me paint to get rid of stress and because they want to be creative and have more to life than their careers. The world will be a better place if more people start painting. I can show them how so they don’t get frustrated and give up too soon.”
Eric Rhoads is chairman of Streamline Publishing, producing art magazines, newsletters, events, and instruction. Learn more at Streamline.Art or EricRhoads.com. Rhoads also writes a weekly blog at CoffeeWithEric.com.
Rhoads on the set of Art School Live, his new daily livestream broadcast.
Eric Rhoads plein air (outdoor) painting in the Adirondacks.