Category Archives: Process

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. 

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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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.

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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!

 

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

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!

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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!

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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.

Who is this infinite being?

I had gotten a couple boxes of 20″x24″ canvases to make paintings that I could bring on an airplane. It was freeing to have so many canvases to experiment on, do demos, and, in a way, use them as sketchbook pages.

Here’s one that made it into the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Juried Group Art Exhibition, Nov. 15, 2013-Jan. 11, 2014 at The FrameHouse Gallery in Ice House Studios, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA.

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Who Is This Infinite Being, by Julie Bernstein Engelmann, 20″H x 24″W, Latex and acrylic on canvas, 2013

This was a case of it takes a community to name a painting. I started out with the title, “Am I really still with this man?”

Have you ever looked in awe at your spouse like: who is this person? How odd that after all this time–I’m changing every day, he’s changing every day–we are still together as if it is the same relationship? How is it possible that two beings could evolve so dramatically, in two different minds and world views, yet still enjoy each other, pretend to know each other, work around each other’s life plans, and laugh often? It is beautiful and weird.

So I used that title for the demo painting I did in my residency at IUP. (I’ll write about the residency next.) While my fellow teachers were nodding their heads, I think it alarmed the students, who still had their tender lives ahead of them and might not have felt comfortable attaining this extraneous piece of wisdom from their elders.

So I changed the title to, “Am I really still here?” and posted it on my Facebook page to ask whether this new title still sounded negative (which was the opposite of my intention). It came back with a lot of nodding and suggestions for positive ways to convey my meaning.

Thanks to all the good ideas and some playing around with them, I came up with the right title that suits my painting perfectly: “Who Is This Infinite Being?” Ahh.

 

Talk about Being Spirit

What a wonderful turnout and enthusiastic audience for my Lunch a l’Art talk for my Being Spirit exhibit at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona, PA. Here are some photos and snippets from my talk on March 13, 2013.

“I found that latex and acrylic complemented one another. The color range was vast, and the variations of fluidity were exciting. I could make what I call a beautiful mess to start with, and then go in with my brushwork and give form to the painting, and add things to create — well, I never know what!

“I pick up on the stories in the paint, and I start adding depth, and make it into shapes, and the vibrations start to come into tune. As some parts come into tune, the other parts–it becomes apparent what needs to happen. And by the time I’ve worked it through, there comes a moment when the entire painting jumps into 3D, like a hologram.”

“I began to take pieces out of my journal and use them for starting points on my paintings. You can see, some of the titles are kind of long and unusual, and I think that they’re fun, because sometimes they’re even a spiritual exercise of their own.

“But once I started working with these ideas, so they were more personal, it became much easier for my intuition to kick in. And I began realizing that I was actually working with the paint as a co-creator, that the paint had a consciousness about it. I began realizing that I wasn’t alone in what I was doing. And it was a huge revelation. I can’t tell you how this turned the corner for me.”

One more special event will take place before my exhibit closes on April 20, and that is my Artist’s Reception on April 13. Guess what! A choreographer who came to my talk got inspired to create a dance, and will be performing it, along with some other dancers, at my reception!

Here is the description:

“Finding My Voice” is a modern dance choreographed by Jennifer Park, based on an exploration of Julie Bernstein Engelmann’s creative life as it transfers from canvas to dancers. Inspired by many of the stories behind Julie’s abstract paintings, the dancers frame the works through movement, stillness, voice, reflection, and energy. Witness as the dancers communicate from painting to body back to painting… and eventually to you. We hope you will feel inspired to join in!

Please click to Exhibit and Event Info for all the details and to RSVP. I hope to see you there!