Monthly Archives: January 2018

Is it beauty or expression that you love?

For me, it’s a joy to make beauty out of a “mess” on the canvas. I love nothing better than to make things beautiful, whether transforming a canvas, graphics, or a room.

I hadn’t thought that hard about whether other artists are this way.

Then one day my friend Greta remarked, “Well you artists, you love to express!”

I was taken aback. I realized for the first time as it came out of my mouth, “Some artists love to express. Others love to make things beautiful.”

Julie Bernstein Engelmann, “Like Rain in the Desert,” 28″H x 34″W, Acrylic and latex on unprimed canvas

Thus began a period of observation and introspection.

For one thing, the distinction between expression and making things beautiful led to an awareness of my superpower, helping other artists to see and bring out the beauty & spirit in their unfinished paintings.

For another though, I began to wonder whether my artistic expression was actually locked inside of me. I had gone through a long process to free my verbal expression after an unsafe childhood, but had thought my art haven was not subject to the same suppression.

Meanwhile, my longstanding fascination with intuitive painting came to the foreground. What would show up in my paintings if I were truly willing to express freely?

For many years I had enjoyed a book considered the mother lode of wisdom on intuitive painting: Life, Paint and Passion, Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression, by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley. Then last October I had the opportunity to attend Stewart Cubley’s workshop, The Painting Experience.

Stay tuned to hear about my expressive Painting Experience in my next blog post.

And let me know which you love more – expressing or making things beautiful – if you had to choose. I’m curious!

Acrylic or oil – and the acrylic palette solution

A blog post on The Painter’s Keys caught my attention.

If you haven’t heard of it, The Painter’s Keys is a twice-weekly post for artists written by a father-daughter team, Robert and Sara Genn. The father passed away awhile back, so the daughter has been re-posting his fascinating art musings intermixed with her own.

The particular blog post of interest this day was called Acrylic Snobs. It should rightfully be called Oil Snobs, but hey. It talks about the bias of oil painters against acrylics as an inferior medium. The post praises the wonders of each medium, then goes on to specify further pluses of acrylics and minuses of oils.

I completely agree. I switched from oil to acrylic when I had kids. Oils are too unwieldy to use in 15-minute spurts while a baby is napping.

“What about acrylics drying so fast,” you might counter. “Don’t you waste a lot of paint because your palette dries each time?”

Ha, thanks to motherhood I developed my magic solution to the acrylic-drying problem. It is a legacy passed along to generations of my students!

Notice the plastic sandwich containers in the photo above. A quick spray misting before putting the lid on preserves acrylic paint in plastic food-type containers for weeks, even months for most colors!

Usually the container can be larger so mixing can occur right in it. In Pennsylvania I used a casserole-size container upside down with the flat lid as the palette and the rounded bottom as the palette lid.

Here in Arizona the air is so extremely dry that I have my students use these smaller containers for the paint blobs and mix on a separate surface like a pie tin. (In the studio I literally keep the lid resting on the container while painting and lift it up to grab dabs of paint!)

Back to the subject.

One day after my kids were school-age I was dropping paintings off at my gallery in Pittsburgh and heard myself make the kid-excuse for using acrylics. That got me thinking. I went home and pulled out my oils with the intention to transition back.

Several heavy, cakey paintings later I developed a new technique of starting with acrylics and ending with oils. That was nice…until the oils started darkening. Oy!

I know that with proper quality, use, and understanding of oil mediums darkening probably does not occur. But I was just not interested enough in chemically experimenting on my own artwork.

I decided that, as fabulous as oils are, to me they were not worth the unpredictability of their aging. I wanted my paintings to continue to look the way I painted them for years into the future!

I returned to acrylics and have never looked back.

P.S. Hopefully I’m not an Acrylic Snob. Like enjoying someone else’s kids-but you wouldn’t want to have them, I do greatly admire the artists who devote themselves to the beauty of oil paint.