Category Archives: Workshops

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.

Tucson Workshop and the Abstracts of the Chiricahuas

I love combining travel and teaching. In April my sister Minda from Montreal came to Arizona for a reunion with me in Sedona and our other sister Beth in Tucson.

We were excited to plan the trip so they could both attend my Luscious Abstractions class. As it turned out, my daughter Amber attended too – as well as a dear artist friend from western Pennsylvania, Kathryn Galey!

Here are some moments from this special Luscious Abstractions class at the Sedona Arts Center, April 2017:

Then we sisters headed for southern Arizona. Here are some stunning abstractions from the Chiricahua National Monument:

Finally, knowing I would have a couple days to spare while Minda and our husbands went on a birding jaunt, I set up a workshop at the beautiful studio of Don Canada in Tucson with the help of amazing Marva.

Here are some of the sun-drenched moments of the workshop, Layers: Intuition to Composition in Tucson, April 2017:

The following month I had another opportunity to visit Beth in Tucson, and took advantage of the time to have a followup mentoring session with Marva at Don’s studio. Beth and I also hiked among the saguaro.

I needed some art supplies, and while at the store with Beth, got the inspiration to suggest that she buy some paint too! Next thing we knew, she was all set up with her own studio outdoors by the pool, painting ecstatically.

The Art of Autumn

Here are highlights from the fall months of 2016:

Such a lovely group of painters from my Luscious Abstractions crash course at the Sedona Arts Center, September 2016. Notice how differently each painting turned out!

Stephanie Watson and her gorgeous painting from my Luscious Abstractions crash course at the Sedona Arts Center, November 2016.

This is my painting “Morning Pages,” 30×24, acrylic on canvas. My student from Luscious Abstractions (Nov 2016), Rosemary Keiser, liked it so much she took this shot as I submitted it to the Sedona Arts Center Holiday Show. She must have added some magic fairy dust, because the painting sold the next day before the show even opened.

These are shots from a show at the Sedona Arts Center Village Annex Gallery, located in a mall in the Village of Oak Creek for the holiday season. Maybe you can spot my paintings on the walls! I painted there often and gained valuable insights about my works-in-progress from customers.

Here are painters Theresa and Jennifer from my Meaningful Abstracts workshop at the Sedona Arts Center, December 2016.



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.”




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:


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


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.


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.


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

My favorite kind of trip: as an art emissary!


The Art of Summer

Summer in the Southwest: hot, dry, timeless freedom. Here is how mine went.

Luscious Abstractions students painted enthusiastically at the Sedona Arts Center, May 2016.

Tracy, Gioia, Stephanie, Brenda

Tracy, Gioia, Stephanie, Brenda

In June a gentle free spirit, Marj Leininger, came from New Mexico for a private workshop. Here she is with our paintings-in-progress (hers on the left, mine at right).

Marj Leininger

The Sedona Summer Colony cast a charmed spell over six weeks of the summer. A new collaborative venture of the Sedona Arts Center, over 100 artists came from all across the USA to the beautiful red rocks of Sedona for inspiration and creation. My daughter was an intern for the Colony, so I led a number of hikes.

Devil’s Bridge Trail wound up through jutting rocks to a spectacular landscape:

Devil's Bridge, Sedona


That last shot is quite abstract! Here is my daughter Amber on Dead Man’s Pass Trail:


We also climbed the heart-stopping Cathedral Rock Trail:

My hat tried to blow away in the gusty wind on those heights. Photo by Wanda Holmes

Summer in Arizona means hummingbirds! I make a practice of trying to photograph them in the sunset.

SunsetHummies SunsetHummy

Meanwhile, my painting “Saved by Flaw” was in the show Of the Earth at the Sedona Arts Center in July (biggest one in photo).


“Promontory” was in the Sedona Arts Center’s August show, Blowin’ in the Wind.

Photo by Beth Bernstein

Photo by Beth Bernstein

Local newspaper The Cottonwood Journal gave a cute caption to a photo of my painting. It says, “Gallery 527 artist Julie Bernstein Engelmann will show her work, ‘I May Be All That Exists.’ That is something to think about and discuss at First Saturday Art Walk on July 2 in Jerome.”

In August my Luscious Abstractions class at the Sedona Arts Center included a joyful and loving combination of deeply spiritual people of different faiths.

Rabbi Alicia and Marj

Flo, Rabbi Alicia, Marj

Here are their fabulous paintings!


L to R: Paintings by Marj Leininger, Linda Hogsett, Florence Johns, Alicia Magal

Marj, like summer, stayed for an extra day of pouring.


The summer wasn’t complete without a trip to Santa Fe, but that’s another post!


Cheerful painters

I think I am enjoying teaching more and more as I relax into the flow of a class and let the magic unfold. After my March class, cleaning up the brushes, I realized I was so energized I could have taught another one then and there.

Here are some of the bright faces and paintings that brought me so much joy.


Jane, Sharon, Marva, Wayne, Sue, Judee


Sharon, Jane, Julie, Wayne, Marva, Sue. Photo by Christi Slivinski.

Marva invited me to give a presentation and mini-workshop for the Contemporary Artists of Southern Arizona (CASA) in Tucson! So I’m scheduled for Oct. 7, 2016. My presentation will be titled, “Honoring the Paint: Layers and Pouring in Abstract Painting.”

The mini-workshop (3 hours) will be called “In-process critique to revitalize your abandoned abstracts!” Marva had mentioned that the CASA members learn many techniques in their workshops, but often the instructors leave them to finish their paintings on their own. Whereas, my joy is in helping students see their paintings to the end, when they get to witness everything coming together!


Luscious Dream Abstraction

The Sedona Arts Center hosted a Sedona Art Retreat in February. As part of the Personal Imagery Path, I taught a spiritual/art workshop called Luscious Dream Abstraction. We took a personal dream and made art out of it, in a layering process.

This one was my demo.

This one was my demo.

The paintings serve as a kind of dream board, embodying each artist’s goals. I was surprised to discover that by using such a personal process, the artists ended up creating pieces that hardly needed any discussion about composition.

I loved how each of the paintings came out. We were having so much fun gushing over them, I forgot to take photos!


Wonderful Beautiful Mess class

What a wonderful From Beautiful Mess to Strong Composition class! It was a full house at Sedona Arts Center at the end of January, with many artists traveling from a distance.


Midpoint critique. Photo by Sandy Duckett


Laura Pennington


Jeanette Cassin and Michelle Erickson


Kimall Christensen, Stacey Aikins, and GloriaRothrock


Gail Dishman and Diana Grady. Diana came from Alaska!


Sandy Duckett

My longtime mentoring client, Sandy Duckett from Phoenix, inspired everyone with her warm heart.

Trash-to-Treasure workshops

As part of a community-wide Earthflows event in January 2016, the Sedona Arts Center held a juried exhibition called The Art of Recycling – Turning Trash into Treasure. “It is art that makes materials valuable, not the other way around,” said their School of the Arts director, Vince Fazio.

In conjunction with the show, he asked me to do two 2-hour Trash-to-Treasure workshops using recycled materials for assemblage. Like paint, found materials inspire through color and texture. Unlike paint, they also inspire through association, stories, and form.

The workshops were filled with lively people juicing it up with their creativity!