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Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)

The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat)  Acrylic on Canvas, © Jen Norton

The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 30″

I never really pondered the “Canticle of Mary” (aka the “Magnificat”) before I was contacted by author Jerry Windley-Daoust about licensing an image for his soon-to-be released illuminated guide to the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. It’s a good story to recall during Advent…the story of Mary’s waiting and anticipation before the birth of her Son. It is a uniquely feminine call by a new mother to join in the salvation of the world. But I also reflect that in some ways it is the song of each of us to willingly accept our place in God’s plan…to say “yes” to a bigger life than we might have imagined.

To understand the significance of the Magnificat, I looked back to the Annunciation. I imagined Mary, a young teenaged girl going about her everyday village life, slated to marry a nice carpenter and become a typical Nazarean wife. Then the Angel Gabriel shows up and throws a first-century wrench into her plans. Things aren’t going to go as expected. I’m going to make an assumption here: I’m pretty sure when an Angel of God appears, you KNOW it’s an Angel. It’s not an intuition or merely a breeze. One big clue is that when Angels appear, they always start off by saying “Be not afraid!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been particularly frightened by an intuitive feeling.

So let’s assume the angel is clearly and Angel. When he says,  “…the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” and you will have a son, she knows he’s not kidding. And not just any son, but THE Son of THE God! Even though she has had no relations with a man. Even though in her society she will be shunned and maybe even stoned for this inconvenience. But Mary, without sin and with unfathomable and unwavering belief responds, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary said “Yes.”

Would I have been so willing? I’m not sure. If I imagine myself in Mary’s place, I have to believe she didn’t run out to all her friends and enthusiastically announce her pregnancy. In spite of admonitions to “Be not afraid”, I bet she was afraid. Just a little. She would have had to inform her parents and Joseph, but then I bet they all kept this little secret to themselves.

So she goes to visit her kinswomen Elizabeth, traveling “in haste” to her home in the hills. She appears to go alone, a little stealthy. The quickness of her departure makes me think her parents might have wanted to protect her from the backlash of her community. Angel or no angel… a young unmarried girl who becomes pregnant is vilified in both modern and ancient times. So off goes Mary, torn between possibility and fear, to seek refuge and comfort with a fellow pregnant woman in the hills. I bet she wasn’t expecting the welcome she got!

Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah had been privy to some Godly insights of their own. Zechariah, a priest, also experienced an Angelic visit (complete with the greeting of “Do no be afraid”) telling him of a son he and his wife would bear in their advanced age. He was told of his son’s purpose, his name, and then struck silent until the birth as a sign of its truth.

So here comes Mary, up the hill to Elizabeth, who immediately recognizes the fulfillment of God’s promise in her young cousin. We are told her baby “leaped in her womb” and Elizabeth greets Mary with “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?… Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”

And while the bible doesn’t offer us any more in the way of emotional context, I can only imagine as a woman, that there was a great sense of relief in that recognition. All of Mary’s doubts and fears must have dissolved as she was fully validated in Elizabeth’s greeting. She is transported from tentative teen to a full realization of her destiny in the salvation of Israel as she says,

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.
From this day, all generations will call me blessed.
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.

His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with is arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.

Mary said “Yes” to God’s plan and the world was forever changed. Who knows what would happen if we all said “Yes.”

Art prints of this piece are available in my Etsy store and my Fine Art America store. Original is sold.

The reflections for this painting are from Luke 1: 1-56. The Canticle of Mary is found in Luke 1:46-55. 

I chose to illustrate this painting with the feminine pink hues used in the liturgies of Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Gaudete means “rejoice” and the day is a celebration of joy knowing that Christmas is near.

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Six Catholic Saints

I recently had the pleasure of creating illustrations for six Catholic saints for the “Faith Fusion” textbook that will be published this spring by Our Sunday Visitor. Do you know your saints? I didn’t… but then there are thousands of them, and a saint for every reason under the sun! Here are the ones I got to know, with some fun facts attached. You can find out more about each one on Catholic Online. You can also see the full images (and purchase prints) in either my Etsy or Fine Art America stores. These not your typical sad-looking saints… I prefer to believe that even with hardships, each of these folks found great joy in God. My saints are perfect for a Catholic child’s room or even Catholic school classroom.

Enjoy…and if you see your favorite, please feel free to “pin” or share on your favorite social media!

St. Joseph © Jen Norton

St. Joseph with Baby Jesus

 

St. Clare of Assisi © Jen Norton

St. Clare of Assisi

 

St. John the Baptist © Jen Norton

St. John the Baptist

 

St. Dismas © Jen Norton

St. Dismas, The Good Thief

 

St. Michael the Archangel © Jen Norton

St. Michael the Archangel

 

St. Dominic Savio © Jen Norton

St. Dominic Savio

 

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Mediterranean Landscape, step by step

I was recently hired to do a commissioned painting for some wonderful patrons, and I thought it would be fun to show you some of the process. Every artist has her own process… this a little of mine!

The clients had some ideas on themes, styles and colors they liked, but they weren’t entirely sure what they wanted and had never commissioned art before. I began by working on some formats and sketches based on their interests and the space the final piece would hang. We settled on this sketch of a Mediterranean landscape:

Landscape, sketch idea


 

I began by transferring the sketch to canvas, and painting in the values for reference. I do allow for the freedom to change my mind, but I try to at least start with the agreed-upon sketch!

landscape–line and value


 

Then I start adding color. I try not to get too caught up in the end result. This is all underpainting and I’ve found that the more time I spend playing around at this phase, the more interesting the end piece is. I got too involved to remember to take more photos, but I used stamps, layers of bright color and texture, a little collage and messy brushwork to build interest in this phase.

landscape-adding color


 

When I thought I was far enough along, I showed it to the client. Since they live near me, we could look at it in their space for better evaluation.

landscape-with sunflowers

We decided on less yellow and blue, more purples and reds, including a change from sunflowers to some kind of climbing rose bush. They also decided they’d like a more realistic sunset, with only 1/2 the sun showing. This input is really important because they have to live with the piece, and I want them to be happy! It’s hard to know what you want without something solid to look at so I always allow points for evaluation and reasonable change in the process. Here’s where our decisions lead us… I really liked the new roses!

landscape-red roses

This was really close, but we still decided to pull some of the orignal blues back into the water, lighten the sky and calm some of the turbulence in the sea. The final result… ta da!

Cocktails for Two © Jen Norton

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Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer)

Our Father Painted Prayer by Jen Norton

Imagine you’re sitting with your friend Jesus in a local coffee shop today asking Him about how to pray. You have so many needs, so many distractions… Sometimes you just can’t handle it all. Using modern American English, he might offer you prayer advice like this:

Start with a “Hello” to Our (shared) Father, Creator of all, who is above, beyond and through this visible world. Tell Him you revere and respect His great name above all and will only use it with loving intent.

Ask Him to let the work you do bring His kingdom to earth, and not be a futile attempt to try and craft your desires into His plan.

Ask Him for what you and your community or family need just for today, no more and no less (and to be grateful for it);

Ask Him to help you forgive, so you also can receive His forgiveness. No one’s perfect, and sometimes we need His help to see that.

Ask him to provide strength to recognize the things, situations, or people that tempt us away from His will and help us to walk away from them and toward His light.

Finish with your statement of belief and surrender to His will.

But Jesus spoke the words of the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father” in my Catholic tradition, long ago to His disciples on a mountainside in more poetic language, perhaps to allow us to ponder and reflect on the words from different angles and cultural backgrounds over the course of our lives.

So, imagine you’re under an olive tree, along the Sea of Galilee. You are sitting with Jesus one morning while the fishing boats go by and and the sun is rising, wondering, “How should I pray?” And in the whisper of the breeze, under the shady branches, on the banks beside the cool waters, your friend Jesus shares with you the answer to your question:

Our Father
Who Art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day, our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Amen.

“Our Father”  40 x 40″ Acrylic on Canvas. $4800 (Original Sold) Inspired by Matthew 6:5-15

Prints on paper made in my studio available in my Etsy shop here.
Custom prints by Fine Art America available here.

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Lay down your burdens…It’s a Good Friday.

Lay Down Your Burdens © Jen Norton

“Lay Down Your Burdens,” Polymer Clay and Acrylic on Plywood. $250

 

Do you ever hold on to fears, hurts and pains like they’re precious jewels? Catch yourself telling your troubles to friends who’ve heard it all before? Or think you’re not worthy of something better? Do you carry your worries around day after day, piling them up like a monumental wall to hide behind? Have you forgotten what it’s like to live without all that weight?

Aren’t those stones getting awfully heavy?

Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s part of the human condition, an addiction that first took hold probably in your early teens, just as your ego was developing. But God came in human form to make sure we knew that wasn’t the end of the story. We are more than those stones. There was a time before we picked them up. With a little bravery, we can put them down and be free again.

It’s good to stand among those dark, cold stones and acknowledge their presence. But maybe we can begin to see that the there are cracks and spaces and imperfections between them. And maybe if we view those cracks from just the right spot, we’ll witness a new perspective. Maybe we’ll see the light of early dawn streaming through the cracks.

Set down your stones on the dark, wet grass and trust that they will stay put. For now, just enjoy the light. Soak it in, let it disperse through you, let all the colors of the rainbow scatter forth from your soul and see what grows where there once was only darkness.

Today is Good Friday, the day the flesh was broken and the stones were piled high. But in a few days, everything will change and the Light will come.

Happy Easter.

Contact me to purchase this original artwork.

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Beloved Saint Francis

Saint Francis painting by Jen Norton

There’s just something about Saint Francis a girl like me, born a Catholic in the hippie era of the 1960s, has to admire. He was the ultimate tree hugger, free spirit, lover of the poor, always bearing hardship with the artistry of a smile and a song. But he wasn’t always the gentle animal lover we see in pictures. Like most of the Catholic saints, he started out just a regular guy, flawed and imperfect like the rest of us. As a young man, he had the promise of his family’s wealth and a father who expected him to continue in the family business. He was popular, spoiled, self-centered and enjoyed partying it up with his friends. He was a dreamer who didn’t do very well in school and who set off to win fame and glory by fighting for his home region of Assisi against Perugia, no doubt captivating damsels in distress along the way. Sounds like a typical teen boy.

But in the words of the late John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” Life happened to Francis. He was imprisoned for a year in the Perugia war. Bummer. Returning home he intended to step back into his carefree life, but contracted a serious illness instead that caused him to face a spiritual crisis. Another bummer. Upon recovery, he tried one more time, enlisting in the Crusades and bravely marching off decked out in the finest haute couture war garb money could by. He was going to be a hero, come hell or high water!

But again, God had other plans. Dang. He barely left town before he had a dream in which God told him he was wrong and he must return home. It must have been some dream because he obeyed, attracting the ridicule of his friends. That decision was the beginning of a slow conversion through prayer and reflection. He lost his desire for his old way of life, seeing it for all its shallowness. One day, while praying in the ruins of San Damiano, he heard Christ on the cross clearly tell him to “repair My church”. God rarely reveals His entire plan up front, knowing we’d never agree to it! Francis only thought this meant to rebuild the ruined San Damiano chapel, so he sold fabric from his father’s business for supplies and began his work.

His father, never a fan of the churchy set, accused him of theft and brought him before the bishop. The kind and merciful bishop simply asked Francis to return the money and all would be provided. Francis not only returned the money, but he renounced his family, all his worldly possessions and his claim to any inheritance. He began to live like a joyful beggar, preaching to all who would listen about returning to God and obedience to the church. He lived in poverty not to abolish it, but to make it holy; to find freedom in it. In his words:

“What can you do to a man who owns nothing? You can’t starve a fasting man, you can’t steal from someone who has no money, you can’t ruin someone who hates prestige.”

That should be of some comfort if you ever feel “less-than”. As it turned out, others were also eager for change and enticed by his simple and happy manner. One thing led to another and before he knew it, he had about 5000 followers and found himself in front of the Pope pleading for approval for his growing brotherhood. At another time he traveled to Syria, meeting with the Sultan in hopes of converting him to end the Crusades. Not only did he live to tell about it, but he impressed the Sultan who remarked, “I’d convert to your religion, which is a beautiful one, but both of us would be murdered.”

God continually cleared the way for Saint Francis to spread his message of peace in spite of human shortcomings. And Francis, once touched by the power of that Love, never lost his cheerful enthusiasm for life in spite of the hardships of poverty, illness, even blindness. He died in 1226 at the age of 45, but left us with a Franciscan legacy of holiness in simplicity. Did you know St. Francis is also responsible for arranging the first Christmas Creche? In the words of the American hippies of the 60s, “FAAAAAR OUT!”  Saint Francis certainly was!

Original: $800 (SOLD)

You can order custom prints in my Fine Art America shop here or by clicking the “Shop” tab above.
Matted prints made in my studio are also available in my Etsy shop here.

 

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Abundant Love

Love Is Abundant © Jen Norton

Valentine’s Day is just a month away, and I have to admit it’s not one of my favorites. Not that I don’t appreciate love, or the efforts of the somewhat ambiguous St. Valentine, martyred in the 2nd century by the Roman emperor Claudius for, among other things, assisting persecuted Christians in getting married. It’s just that the day always seems so fake to me. Overpriced red roses, pre-written sentiments, the expectation that if enough demonstrations of love aren’t expressed on this day, you’ve missed out somehow. I don’t like to be told what to do or how to feel. And I already eat too much chocolate and I don’t wear much jewelry. The traditions that have formed around this day don’t interest me. I’d rather read a book.

But that’s my perspective on something that brings others great joy. And that’s the funny thing about Love…REAL Love. It’s always there, constantly surrounding us, always ready to rain down on us the minute we’re open to it. But often we’re not. Love is always an abundant commodity. Our ability to see it, accept it, believe that it is really meant for us, is often clouded. We hide under our “umbrellas” of fear, judgement, past beliefs. But while this shield might keep the rain out, it will also hide the sun.

What happens if we change our perspective, turn our umbrella upside down, so to speak? Then it becomes a vessel to gather all the Love we want. Sure some rain my fall. Your hair might get wet or your mascara run. But if we have the courage to accept all that is ready and waiting for us, our cup just might runneth over.

Matted prints made in my studio are available here.  Or you can purchase a set of signed Art Cards here.

This original is 9 x 12″, Acrylic on cradled birch wood. To inquire about the original, please contact me directly.

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No matter how small, God’s Love is big!

patti_dog

I have a nervous Boxer named Patti. She came to us after years of neglect and abuse and I love her to death. She reminds me of myself at a young age: overly concerned about small stuff, shy and scared in new situations, but joyful once she feels safe. After a few years with us she has settled in to our family just fine. Lately, though, she’s been shivering with anxiety just before feeding or walking times. It’s December as I write this, and boxers don’t have a lot of hair, but I don’t think it’s the cold. We live in CA and have a heater…even a hairless mammal like myself can survive it! But she has to rely on us to open the door to go out, and with the colder weather making her hungrier, her mealtimes can’t come soon enough.

Tonight as she was shivering right before her dinner time, I said, “Patti…you know I always take care of you on time! What are you shaking for?” I mean, really…in almost 4 years and even on my busiest days, I’ve remembered to feed the dog!  But isn’t it that way it is sometimes between us and God? We’re so desperate to get what we need (or want) that we worry and fret and shake. We can’t focus, we annoy our family. We make ourselves sick. What we don’t do is trust in God: that he has our ultimate best interests at heart and will not forget us. Sure, He’s busy…tons of people in the world have way-bigger needs than me, a white American suburban girl. But my needs are still big to me, and God knows that. He’ll give me what I need, fill my food bowl, all in good time. I should let go of my worry.

What do you need this Christmas? What do you desire deep down in your soul? On Christmas we remember that God came to us in human form to show us the way back to Him (have you noticed He always comes to US… ). He was born a small, helpless, poor child in a world where the powerful were out to eliminate Him from day one. You can’t get any more needy than that. Yet, even from that lowly position, He offers hope and promise. I think there is a message here: even in this big scary, seemingly hopeless world, a infant-God is still bigger. Whatever lack-of-faith crisis consumes us, His love is still greater.

I will always take care of my dog, and she’s not even human. How much more does our Father love us? Do not shake and shiver in the cold, wondering if you are loved. You are. Let the One who Created you give you strength to face your doubts. Let His Love fill your heart and give you Joy.

Merry Christmas.

Something Small has Great Value to God

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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: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jen-norton.html

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.

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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.

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