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Bless This (Colorful) House

Colorful Irish Town Houses

“All is changed, changed utterly;  A terrible beauty is born.”
–WB Yeats in his poem Easter 1916.

The most deeply beautiful things of this world are often formed from a mix of grace and pain. It’s true of art, of people, of family. And it’s certainly true of Ireland. As my Irish grandmother used to say, “Into every life, a little rain must fall.” My ancestors may have emigrated the US over 150 years ago, but there are “bits and bobs” of Irish-ness that flow through my blood, still. I’ve been lucky to spend about six cumulative weeks over the last two decades on the emerald isle where I’ve come full circle to confront the paradox of my own soul: the indivisible combination of beauty and hardship common to us all. More than the green fields, castles and cable-knit sweaters, it’s the incredibly poetic illustration of the human spirit that is Ireland that makes us romanticize it so much. I feel it in the undertones of the bodhrán and bagpipes in Irish music, in the crisp wind and driving rain necessary for unbelievably green fields, and in the skillful craftsmanship of a U2 lyric.

This little painting is of my memory of the rural towns encountered throughout Ireland. In typical Irish style, stone buildings are painted all kinds of fun colors normally reserved for foggy seaside towns. Homes and businesses displaying every color of the rainbow are butted up right against the road in structures clearly built before cars were the norm. The weather may be gray and dreary, but you can’t help but smile at the colorful homes along the way. Terribly beautiful in their own weathered way.

Celebrate a bit o’ the Irish with me for St. Paddy’s Day! I’ve got beautiful prints of my Irish town houses with a special house blessing available here.

Home is where my Art is.

Painted Houses on wood

I’m in a short hiatus from my “Hello Soul, Hello Business” e-class. My fellow students and I are taking the time to go over our ideas and core values before resuming with actions to bring our visions to reality. As I refine my direction, I know I want to not only have fun and make great art, but serve you and my community with my art. So many creative ideas are swirling…it’s overwhelming! But one word keeps surfacing again and again: Home.

What is a home?

A structure, a shelter, a place to put your stuff, store your life, sleep.

It’s a place where you reside, hopefully with those you love. Some inhabitants have been there from the beginning, helping to establish your home. Others you invited, relishing the time they spent with you. Some stumbled in on their own, but you loved them and made them family. Some visit and then leave again. Some didn’t fit and you did’t invite them back.

Each transforms you as they move through your doors, sit on your couches or share your food. You make your home but then it starts to make you. Like children, it forms its own personality around those who knock on your door. Have you been conscious about who you let in?

What do you want your home to be? To say about you? How do you want to feel when you’re in it? Does it stress you out, or does it nurture you? Do your co-dwellers feel loved, or do they use the walls to separate themselves from each other? Do you make the effort to open those doors within the walls? Do you cherish the space?

What story does your home tell? Is it the one you want it to tell?

Bees in the Hive, You Know How I Feel!

The Organization of Bees © Jen Norton

The Organization of Bees

School is out today, which means my house is bursting and buzzing with about 10 extra teens, mostly girls. Energy, laughter, food on the floor and makeup strewn all over the bathroom… How do so many kids, each manageable when isolated, become such a force of chaos en masse?

Compare that with bees…also female…who buzz en masse, seemingly in chaos, but who actually live quite ordered and productive lives. They each know their job. They don’t get distracted like we humans. Like our children, our lives are intertwined with theirs. Their seemingly small movements literally support this planet’s life forms.

Bee photo and sketches

I am currently part of a group show with my Allied Artist West friends up at Presentation Center in Los Gatos, CA. Our show features paintings either painted on site, inspired by the center or its philosophies, or other beautiful places in California that are meaningful to the artist. I chose to work from a picture I took of their beekeeper tending the bees on the property. When I work from a photo, I first trace everything, including the border. Then, I assign black or white to each shape I’ve traced to make a pattern of lights and darks that I like. In this case, I decided to make the background dark to play up the “hotness” of the day in the foreground. This becomes my roadmap for my painting. I refer back to it often as I add color and texture and all the other fun stuff! Like bees to a hive, I return to it to stay true to my original intent.

I’m pretty sure Presentation Center is going to purchase the original painting for their property. Prints of this piece can be purchased here.

Clear Vision: It’s all about the editing.

Jen Norton's vision board

My vision for my art business, in pictures!

I had a mini-aha-moment today as I was putting together a vision board for my business as part of my Hello Soul, Hello Business e-class. I’ve believed in the importance of making a vision board for some time. I’ve seen other artists make them. I’ve heard about them being used for therapy. And I even made my husband make one a few years ago as he was struggling to reach some of his personal goals. But I never sat down and made my own. I guess I just figured I make pictures all the time, how different could it be? I know where I want to go, right? But a girl can change her mind.

Today’s board creation project is falling after four days of pondering and writing about aspects of our businesses like their values, characteristics and soul missions. Through guided exercises, we have been digging deeper into our own truths all week, seeking to define what we have been put on this planet to do. So today I sat down with my scissors and old magazines to craft my board. Thought it was just a fun way to wrap up the week. That’s when I realized it’s not just about making a concrete form of your vision or having it posted as future reminder, although those are important parts. The magic is in the editing.

As I went through each magazine, words and pictures passed before me that held meaning and relevance. With each temptation, I had to make a decision: Is it REALLY relevant to my vision? Or is it just something that fascinates me, but that could distract me from my chosen path? And then came the time to glue it all down. My board was only so big. My collection of stuff was about three times bigger. More editing! More clarity to my vision!

I don’t know why this is such a revelation, really. My best paintings have been edited and “fixed” to to my liking before I let them leave the house. Each of my blog entries can take me several hours of editing. In both processes, there is a lot of thinking time along with actual action. I absolutely believe half the worlds problems would be solved if people would just think before they speak. Why would my vision be any different? It isn’t…I’ve just been keeping it on the back burner for too long, never quite finishing the final revisions. But here I am in the here and now, glueing down a clear vision of my vision, and I love everything included on my board. I only allowed one tiny distraction: a little picture of a dog with the words “My therapist has a wet nose”. If only my dog had thumbs…I could use an assistant!

My name was Jenny.

Jenny © Jen Norton

“When I was 4, my name was Jenny”

When I was little, my name was Jenny. If I could type it correctly on a computer, the “J” would appear backwards the way I used to write it. Although it’s been almost four decades since anyone besides a few family members has called me by that name, it has taken me a lot longer to drop those two last letters and become just “Jen” than you might think.

Not that people haven’t called me “Jennifer” or “Jen” for some time. But inside, I was still very much “Jenny” for years. Jenny was terrified of the world and debilitatingly shy. She believed you could only be loved if you were perfect in every way. She never asked for help. Even when she fractured her back at the age of 13, she never told anyone, which gives you a clue to her strength. Unfortunately for a long time, that strength was only used to hold up her safety walls. Fortunately, her mom gave her lots of crayons and paper behind those walls, which allowed her imagination to fly where she couldn’t. Eventually, she started venturing out…

Today I started a 10-week online class called Hello Soul, Hello Business* run by licensed artist Kelly Rae Roberts and Do What you Love for Life coach Beth Nicholls. About 200 other creative women and I are beginning by exploring the “Why” of what we do. We were encouraged to give our business a name, which is how I ended up back in my childhood. I would be willing to bet if we really could do what we love, it would involve doing what brought us joy way back before paychecks and taxes were part of our lives. It would include a willingness to share the adult wisdom gained from overcoming our biggest life challenges. I know that’s true for me.

I may be a very different person today, but if I am to move forward and do anything of value, I cannot leave Jenny behind. To forget her or lock her away would be to toss away the seed God planted in my heart as I came to this life. Together, we are on a journey to find the other “Jennies” out there and encourage them on their way to finding their true names. The next ten weeks for me will provide a roadmap. I can’t wait to see where we’re going!

(I dug this painting out of a pile of work done at workshops. This was from a painting workshop by artist Katherine Chang Liu** where we were encouraged in a different way to find out the “why” behind our art. There I am, hiding behind my mom’s leg (yes, she really had those horn-rimmed glasses), peeking up at the scary chaos of possibilities out there. I had forgotten about this painting until today!

*Follow #HSHB on twitter or find out more on Kelly Rae’s website.

*If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, Katherine is going to be doing an Artist Mentoring workshop through the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society in June.

Along the road less traveled, with a compass.

JN802_Serve, Love, Create

“Serve, Love, Create”

It’s been my experience that most people who aren’t artists look at what we creative types do and think we know something they don’t. There’s an assumption that if something is made into tangible form, it must be true. The artist must have some kind of inside knowledge, luck or talent only bestowed on the select few. A good friend referred to it as the “red cape syndrome”. If someone is wearing a red cape, she must have a superpower!

I’ll let you in on a secret: I do own a red cape. I don’t have a superpower.

The mysterious talent we painters are born with isn’t for painting. It’s for seeing. Observation comes naturally. The painting part I’ve had to learn. And no matter how good my painting skills might be, you wouldn’t care if you didn’t relate to my subject matter. And the only reason you relate to my content is because I am putting in public form what I am learning, struggling with, or otherwise thinking about…which happens to be the same thing you are also currently fascinated with. That’s really what makes an artist. It’s not the big gallery show or the licensing deal (although we like those things too!). It’s the willingness to be transparent and public about our own lives. It’s the need to step out of hiding and share the journey with others in a concrete, public way. It is the courage to begin something knowing we will learn how to do it as we go along. Art is communication at a very soulful level.

So where am I going in 2012? My roadmap allows for surprises and twists. To become what God has in store for me, I have to be open to evolution. But I don’t wander aimlessly. I do bring a compass. Here’s my True North:

• I create work that expresses my faith, honors family and promotes the ideal of peace as a position of strength.

• My art is currency for empowering the lives of women and families, including my own.

• My art tells my story, so that you can tell yours, so we both know we are not alone.

How will this all manifest itself? I’m not entirely sure. Some parts of my dream have concrete actions; some are still in vision stage (always the easier part for me). I may be a creator, but I’m not THE Creator. Guess I’ll have to look back on 2012 and reflect on how far I’ve traveled.

I’ve been playing around with textures and layers on gessoed board! You can purchase this artwork here.

Peace be with You!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Isaiah 2:1-5. (Scroll down to “Friday”.) This is my last post for the Advent 2011 theme, and I have truly enjoyed the journey with those of you who found me here!

JN801 Gift of Peace © Jen Norton

“Gift of Peace”

For my final Advent painting, I am sending you the Gift of Peace! I know it may seem trite. Every beauty pageant contestant wishes for it and it’s so common a sentiment, we make jokes like “Pray for Whirled Peas” out of it. But wouldn’t it be great if we could really have it? No more worrying about crazy people stealing our children, tyrants running our lives, or murderers and thieves profiled on the news. These verses illustrate what Isaiah saw for Jerusalem once they returned to the Lord and away from their wicked ways. God is in charge, with everyone in agreement about it. Nations look to Jerusalem for wisdom, people stop fighting and start working together, never training for war again. All this is still promised to those who walk in the light of the Lord.

The cynical side of me knows it might be a pipe dream. None of us can fully control the world and mandate peace. But we can bring God into our own hearts and our own homes. Way back on my first Advent post of Nov 28, 2011, I mentioned that the most important social structure in God’s eyes is family. The holidays can bring out both the best and the worst in us, especially where family is concerned. I pray that you can find Patience to gracefully endure any hardships, Wisdom to know when someone needs you and when to step back, Forgiveness for any misunderstandings, and practice unconditional Love like God showed to us on Christmas. We can build world peace from the bottom up. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel!

And if it’s just not in you this year, serve up some “whirled peas” and smile to yourself.

You can purchase this small painting here.

Tree of Leaf-angelization

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Matthew 4:14-16. Scroll down to “Thursday”.

JN800_Autumn Walk Among the Leaves © Jen Norton

“Autumn Walk Among the Leaves”

We have a humongous tree in our front yard. It’s the tallest tree on the block, and I don’t mean slightly taller. It’s literally three times higher than any other tree. I use it as a landmark for people to find my house. When I point out my tall tree to someone in the neighborhood, they usually look up and say, “Wow, I didn’t even notice that!” How could they miss it? But then I think most of us live our lives, nose down, on auto-pilot, thinking about whatever it is we need to think about that day. We forget to look up and notice the foliage.

God knows we’re busy, so in the proper season, he relinquishes the leaves down into our world. My tree drops thousands upon thousands of leaves each fall, and not just on our yard. With the help of the wind it shares them with ALL the neighbors. I’m pretty sure my tree keeps several gardeners employed throughout the winter months. Some immediately clean the leaves away. Some might get really annoyed and wish I’d cut my tree down. But some may relish the leaves that bring the fall mood and change of season. And the children, especially, will rake them up and then revel in jumping into the middle of the pile.

In today’s verse, Jesus has just returned from his temptation episode in the desert to find his cousin John the Baptist  arrested. He leaves Nazareth and moves to Capernaum, fulfilling one of Isaiah’s prophesies about people from those lands living in darkness now seeing the light. Jesus begins his mission to teach people to reform their lives. He gathers his disciples, growing their budding faith. They will later travel like the leaves in the spirited wind to new lands to share the Word. Some who hear will welcome the new season; some will not.

God’s love is like my tree, grounded, providing life, branching out. We are like the leaves. We begin as buds and grow to big green leaves. As the green of youth leaves us, we take on our full colors and eventually ride the winds of our talents to help spread the message of love. Within the seasons, God is always creating and we are part of it, whether we are aware of it or not. I hope as you celebrate Christmas this weekend, wherever the wind blows you, you will be like the children reveling in the “leaves” of your friend and family tree and the mystery of the season. It’s your time to notice.

You can purchase this little illustration here.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T…That’s what the Shepherds longed to see!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Luke 2:8-20. Scroll down a bit on the link to the right verse.

The Lord is My Shepherd © Jen Norton

“The Lord is My Shepherd”

The shepherds of Bethlehem knew something about respect…as in they probably didn’t get much of it!

Shepherding was a dirty job. It paid very little, was physically tough, and you probably didn’t smell too good spending all your days and nights with sheep. You lived outside the city walls, away from the “regular” citizens. Sheep are dirty, can’t defend themselves, and aren’t too smart. The shepherd must lead them to food and water. He must keep them away from predators, cliffs edges, snakes and poisonous plants. The sheep rely completely on their shepherd from dawn to the next dawn. God refers to us as his sheep a lot in the bible. Should we be insulted? Don’t we deserve more respect?

We often think we do. Lots of people sit in prisons or otherwise get themselves into bad scrapes over the issue of respect. Perhaps we look for respect in the wrong places. A good shepherd, knowing the dependance his sheep have on him, loves them in spite of their short-comings. He would risk his life to ward off a predator or search night and day for a lost one. Sheep with a good shepherd to lead them should have no fear, except for loss of the shepherd. God sees the messes we get ourselves in to and so he sent his son, the ultimate Good Shepherd, to lead us. Jesus showed even the lowest of us respect.

So the Angels appeared to the shepherds first. Right away the Angels tell them “Be Not Afraid”, even before they laid out the details. God knows how much fear we live with. Then they revealed their surprise: “A messiah has been born to them.” To the shepherds, first, before the kings. It was an exciting moment in the solitary life of a shepherd…of course they went to see.

After the shepherd’s visit, the verse then says, “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  That just may be the moment she knew her son would turn the world upside down. You know all hell’s going to break loose when common shepherds find respect and solidarity with the newly-born Lamb of God.

This painting can be purchased here.

Away in a Manger, with Father and Son

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Matthew 1:18-25. Since I spent a while at the dentist today and went to a Christmas event tonight, I’ve done a pen and ink sketch this time!

JN797_Joseph's Moment © Jen Norton

“Joseph’s Moment”

Poor Mary…God asked a lot of her. Here she was living a good Jewish teenage life, doing her chores, obeying her parents, laughing with friends. She’s engaged to a hardworking carpenter and her future is set. Then along comes God to rock her world. In his defense, he did send the Angel Gabriel to make sure she was cool with it, and she said “Yes” (Luke 1:26-38). You know the rest.

But what about Joseph? He had to say “yes” as well for this all to come together, and those times as well as ours, men had a lot more outs in situations like this. He could have dragged her in front of authorities when he found out she was pregnant, publicly humiliating her and ruining any chance she had at a good life. It would have been within his rights. Instead, he decided to divorce her quietly to spare her the embarrassment. Then the angels stepped in and told him not to be afraid that he was meant to be her husband and father to her child. So he stepped up to his calling. He put family first.

Soon after their marriage they had to travel by foot and donkey to another land for a government census. I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about that inconvenience, but he kept his wife safe along unprotected Roman roads. He was a forthright, responsible guy. So they finally get to Bethlehem, they’re tired, they can’t find a place to stay and is wife is about to pop! They hide out in a stable where she gives birth.

Here’s where we come in as modern observers…cherishing the beautifully bucolic creche scene we’ve all come to know and love. Introduced by St. Francis to inspire his 13th century congregation, we see Mary and Joseph kneeling serenely by their new baby, laid in a manger. Very quaint. Not very realistic.

No offense to St. Francis, who is one of my favorite saints, but if I had just traveled for weeks and given birth in a barn, kneeling before my baby in an animal trough wouldn’t be my first inclination. Now sleep and food, those are true gifts! So in my version, Joseph, being the upright, caring man he was, let his wife sleep. I bet he also took the time to breathe a little and give thanks that his wife was safe. Then I imagine he looked at this child and, feeling a big awkward, decided to pick him up and comfort him while his mother lay sleeping. Maybe he even changed the first swaddling diaper. Joseph was a doer. He did what needed to be done. Maybe they even had a dad-baby moment where Jesus looked up at him with those wise baby eyes. Any father experiencing that moment might indeed believe “God is with Us”, Emmanuel. In caring for baby Jesus, he fell in love with him and became his father.

It is said that God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called. Joseph learned the angels were right: He was not to be afraid. He had a family to care for now. Poor Mary? Blessed Mary!

This artwork is available here.