After leaving school Bernie Stokes worked for two years in a commercial art studio in Christchurch. In 1961 he decided to study for the Diploma in Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, which he completed with a major in sculpture.
Following a one year Teacher Training course in Auckland, he embarked on a course in the post primary service, eventually moving to a teaching position in Nelson in 1981.
Between 1985 and 1990 he was employed at the Bishop Suter Art Gallery. In 1990 he took up a tutoring position teaching photography, figure drawing and drawing/design at the Nelson Polytechnic (NMIT), where he met both John Shaw and David Haig. Resigning from full time tutoring in 2000, he continued on a part-time basis until the end of 2006.
In 2007 he was invited to set up the Drawing programme at the Centre for Fine Woodworking. Bernie also continues with this own drawing practice.