Author Archive | Jen Norton

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Hail Mary Art Print

“Hail Mary,” 22 x 30″, Acrylic on Canvas

Growing up Catholic, we were taught to honor Mary as the Mother of God through reciting the prayers of the Rosary. Like prayer-bead traditions from other religious practices, the Rosary is designed to slow you down and facilitate meditation. During the prayers, one contemplates the “mysteries” of Jesus’ life while honoring His mother as an intercessor for our needs. The practice strengthens us to avoid sin and open our hearts to the will of God. In troubled times, rote recitation can become a passionate plea, a lifeline to divine Grace.

Nothing can bring a parent to their knees quicker than something difficult going on with their child. This year found my husband and I having to hyper-focus our parenting skills on our teen child. Her transition to high school was difficult and we really had to open our hearts and minds to make the right choices for her future. In the end, we found we needed to change course and go in a completely different direction than we had imagined. Sometimes life is like that and you just have to let go and trust. I personally found great solace and wisdom in praying the Rosary during this time.

There are all kinds of arguments within Christianity about who Mary is and was. I can only say who she is to me. She was a teen girl, living in a Jewish territory on the edge of Roman rule. She was asked by God to “Be Not Afraid” as she became an unwed mother who gave birth in rough conditions in a foreign land. She adored her young Son, and then felt the angst of parenting a teen when she lost Him at the temple. Her wisdom led Jesus to begin His ministry with his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana, and with grace, she stood by his side as a witness to his devastating death by Roman crucifixion. Mary has been there and beyond. She has dealt with more than I hope I ever have to, so I trusted her to help me. She has not let me down.

In the whirlwind that life offers, Mary urges us to be still, wait patiently, and get to know her Son. She leads us to Jesus, and pleads on our behalf. What good son would refuse his mother?

I was inspired during my “year of parental tribulation” to create this painting of the Virgin Mary in the modern folk style I have used in much of my recent work. The words of the Hail Mary prayer weave around and through her as she shows us the way to her Son. I am known to over-think pretty much everything, but I find solidarity in the simplicity of Mary. Maybe you will too.

This painting was included in an online feature of Contemporary Catholic Women Artists by America Magazine. See it here (11th piece down):

Art Prints made in my studio are available in my shop here.

You may also order custom sizes and formats on my Fine Art America site here:

The prayer of HAIL MARY
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.


The Joy of Imperfection

color inspiration

Making art can be a lot of fun, but it’s not always easy. At times it can be down-right torturous. My perfectionist mindset kicks in, saying, “You should be able to command divine inspiration at will… You have to make a great piece of art now…  Maybe you’re not as good as [insert name of another artist here_________].”  Boy, what a creativity killer. I might have the skills, eye, and years of practice to know I can find a solution. But as a human, I have to do the work to unearth it. Every time. So how does a left-brain-dominant girl access her right-brain creativity?

I tell myself little white lies. Yep, fight fire with fire, I say. I will start by messily painting color and texture, telling myself it’s only a surface for a future painting. I will point out that whatever I’m working on today is only a rough idea of some future final piece. Or I’ll destroy an old finished painting that never sold. As I mindlessly dabble, coffee in hand, my whirlwind of frustrations quiet and I begin to hear my truths again:

• There is beauty in imperfection.

• It is most natural for me to express emotion through color and texture.

• I am only part of the process. When I let go of fear, Creativity flows.

Before I know it (and because I’m no longer thinking about it), I’m in the rhythm of making art, delighted by the happy accidents and revelations that materialize. You may be surprised to know how many bad paintings I’ve created by thinking, “I’m going to make a great piece!” I almost always avoid that train of thought. Almost.

matilija poppy ©JenNorton

I am currently enrolled in an online course by agent extraordinaire Lilla Rogers, who is known to profess, “People buy your Joy.”  While working on a recent assignment for the home decor market, I found myself having to stop and ask myself once again, “What brings me Joy?” I began this project inspired by some photos I’d taken recently at the Santa Barbara Mission and Botanical Gardens. I was going to use my hand-drawn line style with some color and texture fills (see plate #1, below). In my mind, the idea looked great. But after several hours of work, it just wasn’t bringing me joy. It was saying, “nice enough, but who cares?” I didn’t.

I tossed and turned all night, re-drawing and painting it in my mind (do other artists do that?). By morning I knew I had to return to my painterly style. Same subject, similar layout…but more fun. More depth. More emotion. And, most importantly for me, beautifully imperfect. (plate #2, below) I purposely promote all unfinished and broken edges and blocky brushstrokes because those are the things that bring me Joy. I allow myself to paint and re-paint things as a reminder that I don’t have all the answers up front, but that they will come. In the end, I am enamored with this piece for a possible plate design.

Poppy plate designs ©JenNorton

I do my best as a humble human to paint what brings me Joy so that I can share some happiness with you. And if I’m lucky, I am rewarded with divine inspiration.


The Spirit is a Movin’

“Spirit in the Wind” © Jen Norton

Oh, woe is me, woe is me…no one can possibly understand my pain and suffering! Well, yes, actually they can, and they probably have. In a spiritual realm, we are all connected. Pain or joy in any one of us has an effect in the paint or joy of all of us. If you’ve ever pondered why a teen can listen to the most hateful lyrics in a song and feel comforted, consider the fear and alienation driving the person who wrote it. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with joy in a worship setting and wished you could re-create that magic at home, consider that perhaps the spirit needs a minimum of two to connect. If you’ve ever had a desire to help or pray for victims of a disaster half a world away, you’ve felt the Holy Spirit.

We’re all just hoping someone will step forward and say, “Yes, I understand…I’ve been there too!” We all want to know we’re all alone in a world that constantly tells us we need to make it on our own.

But we’re never alone. Recently, I was dealing with a stressed-out-kid situation. While my emotional energy was being spent in resolving it, my enthusiasm for making art was greatly diminished. Same with my online presence. I’m never sure who’s out there reading my posts, so I was surprised when a fellow creative I only know online emailed and asked if I was OK…that she had sensed something was going on with me. I was reminded of the power of prayer. I was reminded that when we ask, someone answers. We don’t know who, how or when, but it shouldn’t stop us from opening our hearts to the spirit that flows and binds us together.

This piece is an ode to that empathetic soul, a person who I know owns horses somewhere in Oklahoma. I call it “Spirit in the Wind.” The Holy Spirit is embodied in the horse who rides across time and distance connecting us with unseen threads.

Original: 10 x 8″, acrylic on cradled wood panel. $200. Contact me for availability.

Prints available in my Etsy store: 14 x 11″ matted, $28


Treasured memories: An art commission of Orcas Island

Happy New Year! For my first post of 2013, I’d like to share some work completed at the end of 2012. This is an art commission for a family to commemorate their annual vacation on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands in Washington State (USA). It features friends and family during sunset, their kids playing on the beach and a crab cake recipe they make with their catch. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my creative process:

First, the ideas. Armed with some photos, we started with some sketched ideas. We decided to do two paintings: one featuring the location and their time with friends and family; the other of a favorite crab recipe. The two pieces could hang together or separately. I offered several versions, and this is the sketch they chose:

sketch ideas for commissioned art

I keep my sketches pretty loose, just rendering placement of a few key shapes. I like to begin paintings loosely, simply blocking in large areas with color. With my watercolor background, I prefer to begin with something bright. In this case, I knew the sunset would play a major role in the end, so I started with vermillion orange.

blocking in shapes

I gradually add in other hues, working my way around the color wheel. I’m not worried about being accurate because later in the process all these colors will serve as a base for more neutral tones.

painting in progress

Next I start to add textures, tints and tones. I love to layer these things because it creates mystery in the end. I like to look at the details in the final piece and not remember exactly how I got there! I spend a lot of time at this phase adjusting colors, and evaluating the composition to make sure it feels balanced, has movement and that my eye doesn’t get stuck in one spot. Even with a sketch, I can really get off-track in a large piece if I’m not careful. I don’t draw everything in first, so sometimes I do have to “fix” things as I paint…I actually enjoy this process and it’s one of the reasons I prefer quick-drying acrylics to other mediums.

adding texture and color

When I feel all the big stuff is in order, the progression of colors feels right, I finish by working on details and patterns. This is the most meditative and relaxing part for me and I wish all parts of the painting were this enjoyable. But I guess art is like life…you have to work hard to afford the fun stuff.

Jen and art patron with new painting

In the end, the client was thrilled, and that’s all that matters! Below are the final two pieces. The larger piece is 48 x 48″ and the smaller, which can be hung below or separately is 48 x 12″:


artwork of orcas island and crab recipe



ArtBox Project San Jose!

If you ever find yourself traveling down Curtner Avenue in the Willow Glen area of San Jose, CA, be sure to look North as you cross Booksin Ave and you will see my lastest public artwork. I am one of over 30 artists (so far) who are painting the city’s electrical utility boxes as part of the ArtBox Project SJ. It is reported that the project began when local Metro News columnist Gary Singh pondered whether San Jose could ever back a project like this. He commented to his friend, “idealist” Tina Morrill, “This could never happen in San Jose.” She responded with, “Wanna bet?” and there you have it! They are partnering with neighborhood associations, businesses and business districts and even individual sponsors, as well as local art-entrpreneur Cherri Lakey of Anno Domini, Kaleid Gallery and Phantom Galleries to coordinate local artists with box locations. Here are a few shots of my new ArtBox. I also want to send my appreciation to all the friendly Willow Glen residents who shouted encouragement and thanks to me as I painted out in the traffic for three days, as well as local realtor Holly Barr who added me to the Willow Glen Charm Facebook page! You guys are the best!

Part 1: Sketch and underpainting…

Jen sketching the box design

 And a few shots of the finished work:

Jen Norton's painted electrical box, street side

Jen Norton's painted electrical box, north side

Jen Norton's painted electrical box, south and sidewalk side

A Calendar of Healthy Eating

Calendar design © Jen Norton

I wanted to share with you a recent design and art project I completed for the Berkeley Unified School District in Northern California. In an age of school budget cuts, Berkeley Unified has remained committed to providing its students with nutritious, fresh foods, and they produce a beautiful art calendar for their families each year. That’s where I come in…I’ve been lucky to be the artist and designer to put this piece together for the last two years. This calendar features my artwork as well as healthy recipes from the students and staff of the BUSD. I just got my box of samples, so I thought I’d share it with you today!

Interior Calendar Images

The original food paintings below are currently available to purchase or license. Contact me directly with your interest. Individual pieces are $250 each, 9 x 12″, framed acrylic on wood panel. The images are also available as matted art prints ($28). I’ve got four of them listed in my Etsy store… but just ask if you want one I have not yet listed.


Images for Calendar Design © Jen Norton


Calendar Cover Image

And finally, the cover image I painted is called “Bayside Gardens” and measures 24 x 24″. It is painted with Acrylics on gallery-wrapped canvas, and available for $950. Contact me directly to purchase or license this piece. It is also available as a matted art print ($28) or an aluminum Garden Charm ($45) in my Etsy store.

Bayside Gardens © Jen Norton

“Bayside Gardens” © Jen Norton



A little work in progress

Work in progress in Jen Norton's studio

Summer break is two weeks shorter for us this year since our daughter will enter a school that begins earlier. I’ve been taking care of school supplies, uniforms and, on top of it all, cleaning out my home for a block rummage sale. I bet I’m not the only one out there with those tasks at hand.

Thankfully, I haven’t avoided the studio altogether. I’ve also been busy on some new small paintings…lots of  6 x 6″ wood panel acrylic pieces. I love these because they always provide an element of surprise. I begin by coating the wood with gesso and then carving into it as it dries. I add washes of color to enhance the texture of the gesso. As it seeps into the carved lines, the image emerges! I do very little planning and just explore ideas. Some are moody, some are lighthearted…each one developes a personality of its own.

If you’d like to see these pieces in person, I will be bringing them to my fall shows, beginning with my next event at Wisteria Antiques & Gardens in Soquel, CA on August 18 & 19th, 2012.

I’ve also been beefing up my online offerings on Fine Art America (art prints in custom sizes and formats) and my Etsy store. I was also featured on Turning Art, a service which lets you rent art prints and apply your rental price to any originals you purchase. It’s an interesting idea!

All the details for this, and other events, are on my show schedule page. I hope to see you this fall!

Understanding Freedom through Art

USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor

Walkway to the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor


What does it mean to be free? It’s such an abstract concept for someone who has always been relatively free. I mean, it sounds simple enough to understand, but how do we really appreciate freedom unless we’ve experienced the opposite? If you’re an American reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re female, 35+, and probably grew up middle-class. Maybe you’ve felt discrimination in the workplace or overlooked pursuing a sport, but you probably weren’t slated to marry solely for your father’s economic gain or afraid to voice your opinion for fear of beheading (or your children’s beheading). You were most likely educated and encouraged to do something productive with your life, other than having sons. It’s hard to really empathize with the unfree.  That’s where art comes in. Art is one of the tools God gives us for creating compassion and visualizing the impossible. I believe the freedom to develop and express creatively is something worth fighting for.

We just returned from a trip to Hawaii, stopping at the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor on our way to Maui. Pearl Harbor was always one of those “events in history” for me. I could appreciate that some died, that began our engagement in WWII, but it was always somewhat abstract since it happened before I was born.

And then there was 9-11. As I sat with my then 3-year-old watching towers that I had stood upon fall and hearing accounts of civilians my age who were dead or missing, I began to really understand what Pearl Harbor might have felt like to my grandparent’s generation. The recent movie about Pearl Harbor (the one with Ben Affleck), helped me FEEL what might have been at stake for someone on that island when the planes struck. Last week when I walked through the museum on Oahu, I was MOVED by the terror and loss, but also the sense of purpose. How differently things could have turned out! And when I entered the memorial which begins with a rise, descends to a mid-section drop to indicate the low point of the war, and then rises again to the names of those killed flanked by the “tree of life” design I was RENEWED by the HOPE and FAITH it takes to fight for freedom. The design of the memorial expressed that to me.

Pacific War memorial viewed from the deck of the USS Missouri

The Pacific War memorial viewed from the deck of the USS Missouri.


My husband loves the military toys. Not war itself…he’s as conflict-avoiding as I am. But the ships and helicopters and stuff? Testosterone rules. After visiting the memorial, we boarded the USS Missouri for a detailed tour of the ship and account of the signing of the treaty with Japan. I’ve toured other military ships, subs and aircraft with him and I always have a mix of two thoughts:

1. Good God, if we didn’t have to spend THIS MUCH MONEY on fighting, we could solve all the poverty issues of the world!


2. I am grateful to live in a country with the people, technology and vision capable of defending my freedom. I look at those cramped ship quarters and think of the grace under pressure needed to run the machinery. I am awed not by the politics or the might, but by the dedication of the troops. It’s not a job I could do. It’s not one I take lightly. It’s one that’s hard for me to comprehend without standing before the design, scale, and imagery of it all. It’s easy to get caught up in one’s vitriol or apathy until you stand on the site where lives were lost and history was made.

I am a peaceful person. I am an artist. I am a thinker who tries to take large abstract concepts and present them in simple, beautiful ways. The beauty of art is that you may find something valuable in what I paint or say that touches part of you. You may connect to something in my art independent of how you judge the actual “me.” We might be from wildly different backgrounds and beliefs, but through art find something even more primal in common. We might appreciate each other, differences and all. And isn’t that the crux of the Freedom?

On this (American) 4th of July holiday, God, please DO bless America. We still need it.

Colorful Cauliflower: A Live Painting Demo

I’ve been learning a little bit about iMovie and editing video from Canadian photographer Vivienne McMaster. My first attempt is this edited version of a demo I did in March of 2011 for the Los Altos Art Club. It needs some better music, but I’ll let that go for now. I talk a little at the beginning about Golden’s Absorbent Ground product and then we get into some quick painting. Enjoy!

If you’d like to catch me painting live again, I’ll be doing a demo on Monday evening, July 9th at the Fine Arts League of Cupertino. I’ll be showing you how I use washes of fluid acrylic over carved gesso for my whimsical “Places Called Home” paintings. Hope you can come!

Are you strong enough to be a dad?

Father's Day art © Jen Norton
“Reach for the Stars”, acrylic on wood panel (original Sold)

The vocation of being a dad is not for the faint of heart. I am a daughter, one of three sisters. I also have a daughter and mostly girl cousins. Almost every living being in our family, except my long-suffering husband, is female. Even the dog, cats, and we think a frog we once had. Consequently, I have a library of girl-raising insights. But that’s not enough.

If a mother’s influence teaches us how to interact in the world, a father’s influence teaches us how to FEEL about ourselves.

The one piece of advice I have insisted my husband practice in raising our daughter is to never, NEVER say anything disparaging about her looks, even as a joke. Girls remember and internalize every negative thing said about their appearance, eventually believing them to be true. And they remember forever.

Some guys might judge that to be a bit hormonal, but here’s the thing every father needs to know about raising girls: The world judges us first by looks, second by everything else, and it can undermine even the strongest of us. It’s unfair, it’s shallow, it’s frustrating, and it’s animal biology. To succumb to it is to deny the creative power of half the planet’s population and support a culture of death. But God has given fathers of daughters the special task of defending abundant life, one daughter at a time.

It’s harder than you might think, and not all fathers are “man enough” for this type of service. But those who are must use their natural protective instincts to shield their daughters from the onslaught of self doubt and hate that the world offers. They must encourage their daughters beyond their comfort zones so they can command the same respect from others outside the family. It requires consistent, long-term diligence similar to that required of a marathon runner or mountain climber. It asks a man to overcome his reluctance to talk about girl stuff…especially in the early teen years when “girl stuff” sends some fathers diving into the nearest couch for a re-run of “Deadliest Catch,” beer and remote in hand. The payoff for all his hard work is a daughter who knows her worth, who doesn’t compare herself with other women, and who is generous and kind, not shallow and self-centered.

A father who is up to the challenge consistently lets his daughter know through his words and actions that she’s beautiful, that she’s worthy and that he values her. He spends time with her doing things she likes. He knows that one tiny, ill-intentioned comment can wipe out years of hard work. It’s not a job for the faint of heart.

And that means fathers also must raise sons capable of the challenge.

You can order a matted art print of this piece here.

You can order a signed Art Card of this piece here.

You can order this art in other formats and sizes here.