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Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

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

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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

 

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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

 

 

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.

Out of Darkness

Artichoke © Jen Norton

“Artichoke” by Jen Norton, 5x5

My Irish grandmother used to say, “Into every life a little rain must fall.” She wasn’t just stating the obvious. She was speaking a necessary truth.

You can’t have “happy” all the time, no matter how much you wish it. But then, without the darker times, would we know happy when it came our way? Would we appreciate the spring sun without the contrast of dark winter days?

The same is true in art…negative spaces and dark shadows are necessary to give reference to light and color. They are essential. A deep blue sea appears much deeper blue when black has been used in the underpainting. A glowing window or flower will not appear to glow unless surrounded by duller neutral tones. And an artwork with a strong pattern of lights and darks can move your soul like the drum beat at a rock concert.

My inspiration, Amy Grant, says it best when retelling a story by one of her inspirations, Minnie Pearl:

My Relationship with Art

California Coastal vineyard and boat with Pinot grapes

I have a never-ending stream of ideas running through my head. Sometimes it’s a good thing, or even entertaining. Sometimes it’s a stumbling block that keeps me from moving forward.

I’ve always loved pattern. Pattern takes all that chaos and puts in into some kind of pleasing order. As a designer, I always preferred brochure design the best because I could take words and pictures and make something orderly and logical out of them. In painting, I have much more freedom and often too many possibilities, making it hard to start. Thankfully, I have found ways to jump that hurdle. This is how I tackle a painting:

Stage 1: The Anxiety Stage
1. Develop a concept, sketch or at least some basic idea of where I want to go.

2. Don’t think about that scary blank canvas. Just start putting stuff on. I have evolved my painting style specifically to move me out of anxiety and into action. I embrace the chaos.

3. Slowly start to refine large shapes, color themes. I start to tame the beast, which moves me into…

Stage 2: Conflict Management Stage
4. As the large shapes take form, I break them down into smaller areas, make decisions about which will be light or dark areas, develop the “story” of the painting. I have learned both from teaching art and making art that art doesn’t lie. It can’t. It’s creative, from the Creator, pure love. If you make something you truly love, it is truthful, even if some don’t understand it. This is the stage where the rubber meets the road and I use my technical skills make life or death judgements. I should note that this could easily be an area full of self-criticism (I’m not good enough; what if they find out I really don’t know what I’m doing?). All par for the course in the creative process. I have learned to block this out. This is fear, not love. By stepping way from emotion and returning to my practiced skills, I can walk through this wall.

Stage 3: Euphoria
5. This is the stage where I can get lost in details for hours, adding texture, refining colors…all the romantic, emotional qualities that make the piece uniquely mine. I am mesmerized in the making of patterns that have formed from my earlier chaos. This is the stage most non-artists think we makers live in all the time. No, you only get to come here after going through the other stages. Sometimes Stage 1 & 2 can flow more quickly…say if you’ve been divinely inspired. Most of the time, you’ve got to do the work. And yes, art is work.

Art is a bit like life, don’t you think? If we all had the chance to make more art, maybe we’d be better at life. I’ll be showing some of my latest Work at my next Open Studio on May 12 & 13, 2012 and I hope you can come.

The piece above is a sample of one of my paintings…filled with the patterns of the vineyards that grow in the Santa Cruz Mountains near me. This piece is titled, “Coastal Pinot and Chardonnay” and is being used by the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce as their 2012 graphic. With coastal fog and a warm climate, the Santa Cruz mountains are known for their Pinot grapes…and “Chardonnay” refers not to the grape, but to the boat passing by…the Chardonnay Cruise that runs along the Santa Cruz Coast!

You can purchase a print of this artwork here. Please contact me directly to purchase the original.

Love is Patient…

“Patience” © Jen Norton, acrylic on canvas

The painting above is titled “Patience,” one of the nine fruits of the spirit bestowed upon us by the Creator.

In the U.S., Mother’s Day is coming up and I think most of us would agree that the vocation of motherhood requires a lot of patience.

Moms are the primary teachers and authorities on how to interact in the world with grace and compassion. Our moms encouraged us to share, assured us that our identities were not defined by what our friends thought of us and offered forgiveness “seventy-times-seven”-plus. In adulthood, the selfless service our moms becomes crystal clear as we raise our own children.

No one can influence family life like a mother, yet the job is often willingly given away to other children, schools, media or corporations. Maybe people just don’t know how important the job is because there’s no money tied to it. Maybe some are jealous of the power of mothers. Maybe their own mothers weren’t able to teach them its worthiness.

I’m not talking about getting help if you work outside the home. I’m talking about the deeper stuff…having the talks around the table or in the car where the family’s beliefs are passed on and a child learns her value. I’m talking about the impact of living your life with integrity so daughters and sons have high expectations of themselves. There are just jobs that should not be farmed out, and mothering is one of them.

Without mothers, we might be strong, but we might not learn how to serve.

Without mothers, we might be able to deal with fear, but we might not learn to comfort.

Without mothers, we might know what to die for, but we might not learn what to live for.

Without mothers, we might have a house, but we might lack the creativity that makes a home.

Without mothers, we might know honor, but we might not learn our faith traditions.

Without mothers, we might know what is right, but we might not know how to be kind.

We live on a planet desperately lacking in enough peace and compassion. It’s not that the resource is depleted. It’s just that we don’t always empower our best teachers, our moms, to feel good about teaching it. The currency of thoughtful children and a peaceful home should be honored more than the power of paper money, but that is not always the case. Yet mothers soldier on anyway, with unending patience. Go Mothers!

Purchase a matted print of “Patience” here or an art card here.

See more stories by artists who love their mothers here: www.nerdwallet.com/coupons/contests

A Little Cottage on an Emerald Isle

Irish Cottage painting by Jen Norton

When our daughter was about 9 months old, we traveled to Ireland (for the second time) for the wedding of some very special friends. Their family owns a traditional Irish cottage in the Cork countryside where we stayed for a week. It’s been renovated for traveling guests and now boasts a modern European kitchen and electricity. The indoor trench formerly used to wash out animal waste, should you have to bring your cows indoors during inclement weather, has been removed. The thatched roof has been replaced by a newer, less-upkeep version. It did, however, still have the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling (as it turned out, we never needed them). Each morning the proprietor would come down and light our fire for us, warming the 5-foot-thick-walled house up to a nice cozy temperature. We were traveling with other family members…enough that we needed a large van to carry us all from place to place. My husband, being an ambulance driver and the only non-drinker, got the job of primary chaperone. It’s not an easy job in a land with narrow roads and left-side driving. On some country lanes, one must pull in his side mirrors and inch by oncoming farm trucks, narrowly missing collisions on one side and the hedges on the other. It’s safe to say “shoulders” on a road were not an Irish invention. Then of course, there were the times you just have to stop and wait for a heard of sheep as they cross, just like the picture postcards! The real fun happened after our van broke down and the only replacement we could get was a 15-passenger manual transmission van! NO ONE but my husband could maneuver it…and he had to do so with a new mom (me), his own mother and a nun screaming behind him at every bump and tousle. He held his stress in check, but I know if he were a vengeful man he would have unleashed the cry of a Banshee on us during that trip! Oddly, each night he gladly volunteered to walk our colicky time-zone-traveling baby around in the quiet sheep pastures while I slept. I’m sure he was secretly regaining his calm out there in the midnight fog. There is nothing like removing noise and distraction to reconnect with your soulful self. In the end, we all survived, our daughter cut her two top teeth and took her first step, and the trip was remembered as lots of “good craic” had by all.

You can buy my little Irish Cottage painting here, or a print of it with an Irish Blessing here.

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.