Category Archives: In the studio

My painting experience with The Painting Experience and Stewart Cubley

I eagerly awaited the moment I’d find out what lay within my subconscious. What would come out of me onto the canvas if I felt truly free to express? I hoped The Painting Experience workshop would show me.

The big day arrived, and as part of my work-study scholarship I blissfully set about helping to fill, mix and stir the paint containers, set out the 23 colors onto several paint tables, and fill water buckets. Meanwhile, cardboard had been taped to the walls, tarps taped all across the floor, brushes distributed, and Stewart was on a ladder hanging lights above each painting station when I left for the airport to pick up my sister Beth. Later that evening the group gathered.

I wondered how the magic box would open: very simply, it turned out. Stewart’s co-facilitator, Aziza said, “Pick up a brush, whichever one calls you. Then walk over to the paint and pick a color, whichever one calls you.” And that was the basic instruction – clean and unburdened – that set me free to have one of the most joyful experiences of my life.

Photo by Stewart Cubley, The Painting Experience, Los Angeles, Oct 2017

My heart burst in ecstasy with all these colors and freedom. We painted on 20×26 sheets of paper that could be taped together to whatever size we wanted. I chose two sheets, and here’s what I painted that evening.

Julie Bernstein Engelmann, “SWIP!!”, tempera on paper, 40”H x 26”W

I think joy is embedded in that painting!

I was so excited that night I literally couldn’t sleep. At dawn I finally squeezed in an hour or two.

We started the next day with a forum where people shared about their experience and their questions (some participants were long-time followers), then went back into the studio to bring forth more of the unknown to be revealed.

It seemed that no sooner had I begun to paint than it was time for lunch. Where had two hours gone?

Before lunch was over everyone was drawn back into the studio, so by the time Stewart came back the entire room was already quiet and focused on their work.

The sustained level of quiet, intensely focused work in the room was profound and one of the most memorable qualities of the experience for me. Each person seemed to be immersed in their own individual process.

Photo by Stewart Cubley, The Painting Experience, Los Angeles, CA, Oct 2017

The raw expression of some of the pieces was awe-inspiring.

When Stewart came around, whatever was said was entirely private and one-to-one. Several individuals seemed to be releasing emotions through the process of painting. Stewart was a worthy steward of such vulnerable moments: sincere, present, sparing of words and actions.

Stewart signing my copy of his book, Life Paint and Passion. Photo by Julie Bernstein Engelmann

A ground rule had been laid at the beginning not to discuss anyone’s work. We could talk about our own experience, but no comments could be made to anyone else – a habit that for me as a teacher was disconcerting to break, especially when I wanted to gush over someone’s amazing painting. But soon I got on board and found it relieving and liberating not to have any business with anyone else.

In fact, once a painting was done (which was to be determined only after consulting with Stewart) it was parked facing the wall, never to be unearthed again until time to take it home. And that policy actually led to one of my most valuable breakthroughs.

Okay, this breakthrough is rather personal to me and might not be useful to anyone else. But here’s how it evolved. The idea of my painting going to face the wall helped divest me of the lurking feeling that I had to paint well to impress others. It wasn’t quite enough (because between now and then was plenty of time to worry about how my painting looked to others), but I knew somewhere in that direction was a nugget of gold. So I played with it in my imagination and soon came up with a scenario that magnified the effect.

What if I knew that, when I was done with my painting, it would be thrown away? A freeing thought, but perhaps too conducive to sloppy hopelessness. So I played some more in my imagination and ended up with the following scenario: I’m in jail and painting is the one thing I get to do, with the stipulation that when I’m done they will throw it away.

Somehow that was a sweet spot for me, calling forth patient focus and intense caring about the present experience of painting, yet with no concern for what someone else will think. It was an instant remedy to set my priorities straight. With that tool I was on my way and in the zone (and still use that tool today).

Photo by Stewart Cubley, The Painting Experience, Los Angeles, CA, Oct 2017

Stewart’s superpower seems to be helping people break through to a deeper level when they get stuck and frustrated. I didn’t experience that particular transformation firsthand, because my seasoned painting practice had so easily hooked into the spirit of what was happening that I never hit a stuck spot.

Nor did I get to really witness and benefit from the transformations happening around me because, for one thing as mentioned, the interactions between teacher and student are all really private and personal. For another, I was on my own roll and wanting to stay there. But I wished I could have benefited from hearing Stewart help others.

However, he did move me into a more liberated space by leveraging the imagery that came up in my painting to help me get more honest about what was trying to come out. In other words, he encouraged me to dive into the imagery rather than halfway entertain it. Here is the painting I spent most of days 2 and 3 making.

Julie Bernstein Engelmann, “Temple Hide and Seek,” tempera on paper, 26”H x 60”W

It was exciting to realize when I came in on day 3 that I wanted to add black. I really got way into black, a color I normally use sparingly. One of the delights of intuitive painting is to just go with it, like riding the river.

Here is what the painting looked like previously, at the end of day 2, before adding black and committing to imagery.

Photo by Beth Bernstein. Julie and unfinished painting at end of day 2

A big takeaway for me was how luxurious it was to have completely unstructured painting time with no prescribed group plan. I don’t know exactly how I’ll incorporate that quality into my future workshops, but I intend to find out.

The question of when someone was done with their painting was another mysterious discussion between Stewart and the individual. But in my case, he agreed with me that when I was at risk of moving from energy to futzing it was time to stop.

Did I unlock my creative expression? I’ve made progress! In a future blog post I plan to show you how the Painting Experience has influenced my artwork since then, and explore differences between this workshop and my way of teaching. (Subscribe to my blog to be the first to find out!)

If you are curious to jump into your own Painting Experience, here’s Stewart’s page of upcoming workshops.  The next one in Los Angeles is coming right up, on March 23-25, 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. 

“Choose What You Create” exhibit at Gallery 527

My show, “Choose What You Create,” is now on view at Gallery 527 in the artist-colony tourist destination of Jerome, Arizona. Below is the press release, which got printed in all of the local newspapers!

Keep scrolling down to find photos from the show and from First Saturday Artwalk, which served as my artist reception.

Artwalk is a fun, active time with visitors roving the galleries and shops of Jerome sampling treats and wine from 5-8 pmThe final Artwalk and Artist Reception for my show will be held Saturday, December 2, 2018, 5-8 pm. Please come!

“I’m Ready” (40×30”) embodies the crucible of a decision in the show Choose What You Create – all new work by Julie Bernstein Engelmann featured at Gallery 527 in Jerome, opening October 7 during Jerome Art Walk.

Choose What You Create

Abstract paintings by Julie Bernstein Engelmann

October 7, 2017-December 29, 2017

Gallery 527, 527 Main Street, Jerome, Arizona 86331

Opening Reception at Artwalk, Saturdays, Oct 7/Nov 4/Dec 2, 2017

Gallery 527 announces a new exhibition, “Choose What You Create” – all new work by Julie Bernstein Engelmann, opening Oct. 7 from 5:00-8:00 pm. Each of Engelmann’s dramatic abstract paintings embodies a quality she chooses to create in her life.

“Paintings vibrate with the intention behind their creation,” Engelmann says. “So I use the painting process to consciously dive into an experience or vibration that I want to amplify.”

“For instance,” said Engelmann, “I notice that my posture aligns when my heart is open and I’m at my best spiritually, so I painted ‘Open Chest’ to focus on that aligned state. ‘Gift from a Child’ comes from an imagined experience with my childhood self where she gave me a weed. I realized weeds are wild and free and unapologetic, so I painted the gift to bring it into my life. Another painting, ‘Ask Your Body,’ is a reminder that whenever I have a question about my health or emotions, my body knows the answer and will reveal it if I ask.”

Gallery owner Donna Chesler says, “The paintings are like personal stories, only just their distilled essence. Each one has a very specific feeling, which is unusual in abstract art.”

Engelmann’s lush abstracts have won numerous awards. She was honored with a retrospective exhibit, Being Spirit, at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona, Pennsylvania. Site Coordinator Barbara Hollander stated, “Julie Bernstein Engelmann combines passages of poured and brushed paint that remind one of stained glass creations. Her technique relies partly on many years of study and partly on an intuitive, creative interaction with what she refers to as the painting spirit. The resulting works are spiritually resonant and ineffably uplifting.”

Engelmann holds an MFA from UCLA and a BA from Barnard College, where she studied with Milton Resnick, first-generation Abstract Expressionist. She teaches Luscious Abstractions on the faculty of the Sedona Arts Center School of the Arts.

“Choose What You Create” will be on view at Gallery 527 in Jerome from October 7 through December 29.

For more information about the Jerome Art Walk please contact Donna at 928.649.2277.

Donna Chesler
Gallery 527
527 Main Street
PO Box 1265
Jerome, AZ 86331

To view any of the paintings more closely, just click to my website gallery or back room.

CASA and Marva’s Heart

Marva came up from Tucson for my Luscious Abstractions class last April. She enjoyed the critique so much that afterwards she asked if I would do something similar for her art group. Marva is the program coordinator for the Contemporary Artists of Southern Arizona (CASA). So we came up with a plan, and in October I drove to Tucson with slides, demo, and critique supplies in hand.

My morning presentation was called “Honoring the Paint: Layers and Pouring in Abstract Painting.”

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CASABigScreenTucson

The program included a pouring demo, but on seeing a CASA show the evening before, I realized that the canvas I had brought was not suitable. The group would benefit more if I used a regular store-bought canvas instead of my hand-stretched one where the paint runs at a much slower speed. So Marva offered a canvas of her own.

This gesture, and Marva’s whole nature, was so generous that when it came time to pour the demo and I needed a title, the first one that popped to mind was “Marva’s Amazing Heart.” Here is the way the painting evolved:

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This was the initial pour during the demo. Look at that yummy yellow! Pours are luscious when wet.

CASAMarvasAmazingHeart2

I added a second pour when I got back to my studio. The painting needed more action in the corners, and I wanted a soft, neutral gray to offset the active red.

Marva's Amazing Heart, by Julie Bernstein Engelmann, Latex and acrylic on canvas, 24"H x 20"W

The finished painting: “Marva’s Amazing Heart,” by Julie Bernstein Engelmann, Latex and acrylic on canvas, 24″H x 20″W.  I turned the canvas vertically and completed it in acrylic. First, I seated the diamond shape on the beautiful base. Then, I integrated the corners by modifying the colors and activity. Finally, the center suggested a “story,” which also served to give it definition.

A group of artists stayed for the afternoon Mini-workshop, “Revitalize your abandoned artwork! In-process critique with Julie Bernstein Engelmann.”  Each attendee brought a piece she was stuck on or hadn’t finished in a previous workshop. Using acrylic on glass over the painting, I demonstrated the thought process for enhancing the magic you do see in the paint, rather than letting frustration blind you to it.

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The next day, heading home my daughter and I stopped at the studio of a friend who wanted a private art class. It was a special and sacred time.

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Maryanne Maldonado and her magical mystery painting. Photo by Paul Maldonado

My favorite kind of trip: as an art emissary!

 

Dear deer: Creating through desire and allowing

For the Sedona Arts Center 36th Annual Juried Members Show, March 4-28, 2016, I entered two paintings; both got selected. One of them was an odd painting that came out of me after I had moved to Arizona, yet didn’t feel settled yet.

I had been looking at a pink and yellow canvas for quite awhile. The rectangular pink form on the lower half had begun to take on a life of its own.

That’s when my friend Scott, forever passionate about deer, commissioned me to paint a deer portrait.

Quiet, detail, acrylic on canvas, 20"Hx24"W, 2014. Private collection

Quiet, detail, Julie Bernstein Engelmann, acrylic on canvas, 20″Hx24″W, 2014. Private collection

In the course of looking at deer faces and deer paintings I got onto the wavelength. Suddenly it became clear what the vision was on my pink and yellow canvas:

Julie Bernstein Engelmann, Creating Through Desire and Allowing, acrylic on canvas, 25"Hx25"W

Julie Bernstein Engelmann, Creating Through Desire and Allowing, acrylic on canvas, 25″Hx25″W

The force of those antlers was very masculine compared to my usual flowy forms. I may have to return to such imagery one day! The eye needed to remain in transition – an abstraction transition…

The title, “Creating Through Desire and Allowing,” was a subject on my mind. How do you manifest something in your life? The object coming into view between the antlers represents to me the oscillation between desire and allowing that occurs in the process of bringing a creation into being, into reality.

 

Let it be easy

To watch a good artist on a roll is to see ease in motion. Like a trickling brook, the artist cascades from one brushstroke to the next, allowing the gravity of ease to carry them. 

Less experienced artists may struggle. Overthinking and under-observing make it hard to hear the natural voice of ease and flow.

Let it be easy!

For example, does the motion of your brushstroke seem to expand your joy, intrigue, and relief? Or does it contract, like your mind is taking control because it doesn’t trust the muse? Expand or contract: that distinction makes it easy!

Listen richly to life.

See if you have room, right now, to loosen up and let it be easy. Allow the light and sound around you to help you — you are in an ocean of Source!  Each moment is a chance to open to expansion and ease.

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Let It Be Easy, by Julie Bernstein Engelmann, acrylic and latex on partially primed canvas, 24″H x 30″W

Pouring Table

New digs, new studio space, new painting methods!

I designed a flexible table easel for using latex brushwork along with pouring. Next thing I knew, my husband Chip had created it for me!

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Note my lovely new shelves for my paints.

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Here’s the Arizona sunlight on one of my paintings in my other studio. Gorgeous textures!

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And the sunlight on the wall, competing with my painting!

SunlightOnStudioWall

I had a feeling

I had a feeling

…Or, art is an experience of resonating

What exactly is a feeling?

Isn’t it funny that we all seem to know what feelings are, but can you really pinpoint one? Like a color, there is no particular reason to believe two people are having the same experience named by a certain term.

Yet, for all that ownership of our private emotions, some of them can sure be scary. Why, if no one else is inside our head to insist that we feel a certain way, can’t we just change it?

You can’t change a feeling directly, because you can’t unfeel. But you can transmute it by feeling it openly, with more curiosity than judgment, giving it the time it needs in the light of day.

Some people are so good at this. I only learned the skill a few months ago by trial of fire. Luckily I had just bought a big, fat notebook to start doing Morning Pages.

Morning Pages

You have probably heard of Morning Pages, a technique by the trailblazer of creative process, Julia Cameron in her famous book, The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

Basically, you write 3 pages every morning. No matter what. No matter what about.

Amazing things happen inside of you.

I found that out for myself, having had nothing better to write about than this humongous, uncontrollable shame that had come up in response to a sharp criticism I received. I wrote and wrote, and then collapsed into bed. (Okay, I didn’t wait for morning to do my Pages.)

I woke up at dawn and jumped out of bed, feeling like the sun was rising in my aura with birds singing in my head and a million bucks in my pocket.

Since then, I’ve become quite practiced at diving right into my feelings. It’s the first thing I do when they come up, which is so weird and wonderful compared to my previous procedure of shoving them into a burlap sack and praying they don’t make a peep when the inspector comes around.

Art is a experience of resonating

Art, like Morning Pages, can be a transmuting process. Luckily. More on that in a future post.

I tell my students that what you feel goes into your painting and can be felt by the viewer. So, be easy. Allow the paint to speak, rather than forcing it.

I think that’s why we love the work of a master. It feels so easy — and masterful! We resonate to these exquisite feelings!

Looking at an artwork is an experience of resonating.

“How does an artwork make you feel as you take the trip through it with your eyes?” 

This simple question, from my free ebook, How to Bring Your Abstract Art to Life, speaks volumes about why people buy art.

If you’re an abstract painter and you wonder why one of your paintings sold and another didn’t, look no further for the answer.

So, about my ebook

Have you read it yet? Perhaps it, like abstract art, is deceptively easy. There’s a lot packed into its simple language.

Let me know what you think. And, if you incorporate the ideas into your artmaking I’d love to hear your stories.

Bringing your art to life

What does your art mean to you?

When the subject of making art comes up in conversation, I notice three types of responses:
1. “I couldn’t do it to save my life.”
2. “I love painting; it helps me relax.”
3. “I am an artist.”

While person #3 may go on to tell me about their process or work, their eyes belie the ease of their conversation, conveying a range of emotions that says, without words:

There is no way you will ever know what I feel about my art, what it has meant to me in my life, what I go through to make it meaningful, what it means to me now.

Artmaking, for an artist, is an ultimately personal experience and exploration. No one celebrates the day they transition from person #2 to person #3. We aren’t really aware of what just happened. It’s a private sea change: from doing your art for a reason, to doing your art for You.

I’m sure you know what I mean.

My ebook

I’m excited to tell you that, after a long winter’s imagining and work, I’ve written an ebook to help person #2 transition to person #3, and to help person #3 gain mastery in abstract painting.

Free to you, my ebook is called How to Bring Your Abstract Art to Life, A Manifesto of freedom and confidence for the creative soul. (33 pages)

It will help you to see abstract painting in a new way, so that you have a way to move forward to make your paintings better.