While we are on the subject of creative freedom (see my previous blog posts: Is it beauty or expression that you love? and My painting experience with The Painting Experience and Stewart Cubley), I wanted to present another magnificent voice in the field of intuitive painting.
If you recall, the foundational book Life, Paint and Passion, Reclaiming the Magic of Spontaneous Expression was co-written by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley. Each of them went in different directions from there, Michele with Point Zero Painting and Stewart with The Painting Experience.
Here’s an inspiring bit from one of her blog posts and book, Questions to Awaken Your Creative Power to the Fullest:
Forget About the End Product
“Pick up your brush and enjoy the call of the creative void. Don’t choose your color. Let the choice come to you. Take the color that is alive for you at that moment, the one that calls to you. You do not have to like it or even know what you are going to do with it. No need to plan your painting or organize your space.
“Experience the live connection between you and Your painting.”
– Michele Cassou, Questions to Awaken Your Creative Power to the Fullest
I look forward to digging deeper into Michele’s work and the Cassou Institute! Check out a couple videos here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!)
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.”
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!
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.
I just had to laugh. I had carefully crafted an email promoting my Meaningful Abstracts workshop, written copy, and selected a painting. I always choose whatever painting feels fun to include.
Well, this time I chose “Slinky Dress.”
Much too late, it dawned on me that the title might not exactly seem to demonstrate a deeply meaningful abstract!
But I love the painting. It started out with a different title, and I think one can feel the power behind the painting, even if the title doesn’t fully reveal, ha, what’s under the slinky dress.
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 pm. The final Artwalk and Artist Reception for my show will be held Saturday, December 2, 2018, 5-8 pm. Please come!
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.
527 Main Street
PO Box 1265
Jerome, AZ 86331
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.
My sister Beth invited me to Tucson to take a doll workshop with Gretchen Lima, her favorite doll creator, who happens to live nearby in the desert.
It was delightful to learn from taking another artist’s workshop, relax into her instructions, and see her fabulous studio setup. Here is a rare picture of my sister sewing (on the right).
And here is my doll creation, called Sunfire, inspired by my sunshiney red-headed daughter Amber.
Can you see the resemblance?
Ha, that’s a funny picture of Amber a few years ago, but it looks closer to the doll than most!
Here is some desert beauty from our hike: a field of prickly pear; ocotillo flowers in the deep blue sky; palo verde branches with a bird’s nest; and…a little prickly pear love!
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.
My longtime mentoring client, Sandy Duckett from Phoenix, inspired everyone with her warm heart.