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Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

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?

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.

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.

The Milagro of Love

Today’s Advent Art-Meditation is from Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Zephaniah is a short book in the bible in which the prophet is warning Jerusalem (yet again) that there will be destruction because of their return to pagan practices and away from God. But he promises there will be a remnant of humble believers who will rebuild after the razing. He tells them at that time there will be no more fear and that the Lord will be among them, “singing joyfully because of them.”

Milagro Heart Trinity

Milagro Heart Trinity

God’s relationship with the Jews is a lot like a long-term marriage. If you’re newly-married, you might not believe me. But if you’ve been in a relationship for 10 years or more, you’ll know what I mean. The Jewish people endlessly swing from loving God, to thinking He might be ignoring them, to turning away from Him and trying to solve all their own problems themselves, and finally rediscovering God was there all along with a Love that stands the test of time. In marriage terms, these four stages are called Romance, Disillusionment, Misery and Awakening.

It’s good to be aware of these natural stages of a relationship because we live in a world that preaches the first stage of Romance as all there is to love. When we hit the wall of stage 2 and 3, we sometimes believe the answer is to flee back to stage 1 and start all over with someone new. Don’t believe it…if you’ve committed your life to someone, try and navigate your way to stage 4: Awakening. It’s hard and you might get burned. You may both have to decide to wander through the desert to get there. You might need to ask for directions. But on the other side is where true love lives, the Promised Land.

Life is hard. Marriage is hard. The one thing you should know is that you’re not alone. If you find yourself in that desert of pain so vast and lonely that there are no words, the devil tries to make you believe no one could ever know how you feel. I know. I’ve been there. But Jesus says He is the vine and we are the branches. That means we are all connected and it’s in our best interest to reach out and support each other. A healthy vine produces the choice wine. No matter what you go through, whether it’s an addiction, a death of a loved one, abuse or a difficult marriage, there ARE others who have suffered like you have and who understand your pain. Don’t let people tell you there aren’t. Don’t tell yourself their aren’t. You just need to find them and that might mean stepping out of your shame and blame and trusting someone of good will. When you do, you will begin to heal…and God will “renew you in His love, singing joyfully because of you”.

Today’s art is a trinity of milagro hearts. “Milagro” is Spanish for miracle, and the heart with a burning flame is a popular Hispanic icon. It signifies undying love. In this case, I have created one to represent a man, one a woman, and the third with the crown of thorns is for Christ.

You can purchase this artwork here.

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If your marriage is troubled and you don’t know where to turn, consider attending the Retrouvaille program, available worldwide. You do not have to be Catholic, Christian or any faith to go. It’s cheaper than therapy, and Milagros, or Miracles, happen through this program all the time. Click here to find out more.

Perfection is Overrated

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from John 9:1-7.

Multicolored Angels of Light

“Multicolored Angels of Light”

We live in the disillusion that we know what’s best for us. Unfortunately, God’s plans do not revolve around our convenience.

My brother was born with Down Syndrome, a mental disability caused by a genetic mutation. I’m sure he is viewed as “less than” by some. He’s someone many assume social services will just care for, unimportant and even in the way of the rest of us. If you walk anywhere public with him, you feel heads turn or see children whisper. He stands out. He doesn’t fit the mold of how things are supposed to be. He’s a passing curiosity.

He was born the same year my dad was diagnosed with a dangerous brain AVM. There were a few “disabilities” in our household in 1975. It would have been easy for my mom to be drowned by self-pity and sorrow and no one would have blamed her. Certainly not the doctor who suggested she just put her baby in an institution right away. Fortunately for all of us, my mother has always been gifted with the ability to trust in the bigger picture. She absolutely trusts that God’s plans are revealed over time and that angels are always watching over us. (My sisters and I have challenged the angels a few times and lived to tell, so it must be true!)

Through my brother’s life, my mom found her calling in teaching and helping other families with disabled children. Through her greatest challenge came her greatest strength. She gave families sight to see potential when they felt blind and hopeless. I have no doubt she has helped others walk farther in their own faith. In doing so, hers has been strengthened.

In today’s reading, Jesus didn’t just slap some mud on the blind guy and leave. That would be a great story on its own, but there’s more to tell. The newly-sighted man became stronger in his faith as he defended himself to the Pharisees. At the beginning of the story, he tells the questioning authorities he does not know where the man who cured him is. Then he says he must have been a prophet, then a man of God. In the end, Jesus returns to him and reveals that He indeed is the Son of God. That’s when the man truly sees. People wondered if the blindness was the result of sin, but Jesus’ response tells us what God thinks of disabilities: God doesn’t make junk and no life is unimportant. He replies, “It was no sin…it was to let God’s works show forth in him.”  In Jesus’ eyes, things look different. Through the blind man, Jesus teaches us to see.

Perfection is overrated and can grow boring. It’s the imperfections, the space between notes, the transition from dark to light, that moves us. Turns out my brother is exactly who he’s supposed to be.

beginning of angel paintingWhite light is made up of all possible colors blending together. In today’s painting, the “white” angels are created over vibrant underlying color. All the irregular blotches and lines of color are what give life to this illustration. Where the colors all run together, we get angels.

You can purchase this artwork here.

And for you music lovers, here’s a YouTube clip of Amy Grant singing “If I Could See What the Angels See”. Have a great weekend…

 

Calling all Lambs, and Bring Your Gifts!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Isaiah 40:1-11  (You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the right verse)

JN794_Flock in the Promised Land

“The Flock Gathered in the Promised Land”

My daughter has been so over-exposed to art, she just rolls her eyes at the idea of any impending artistic event. There is one exception…she is fascinated with the way impressionist paintings can look messy and abstract up close, but then turn into a whole scene when you step back. I imagine the gift of prophesy is a bit like looking at Impressionism. It’s a step back from the seemingly disjointed mess of everyday life to reveal a larger view of God’s “big picture”.

Isaiah was a prophet who lived about 750 years before Jesus during a time when Israel was faltering and under attack. He may have been born with a gift for observation, but a vision of God enthroned with Seraphim provided him with the passion to use his gifts. His calling was to speak out against the moral breakdown of Jerusalem and advise Israel’s kings to stay true to the promise of God. Not that he met with much success. Rulers often have other ideas of power and righteousness. The kings were better at making quick judgements based on what they saw in the here and now, not going against the political grain for some abstract prophesy. Not much has changed. We’re still prone to impulsive behavior.

God offers a bigger hope to Israel and to us. This verse is about the promise of salvation for Israel in spite of Jerusalem’s suffering. I’m sure it must have seemed a bit abstract at the time. It’s hard to believe in a bigger, better future when you’re embroiled in pain and fear. But that was Isaiah’s calling..to give hope during the scourge. We may wilt and die like the grass and flowers, but God’s Word is eternal. His promise is to gather the “remnant” of believers like a shepherd gathers his sheep, caring for them and holding them close. Out of the mess of life, God promises beauty.

“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things”   — Bono

You can purchase this painting here.

Consider the Lilies

Lillies and Birds © Jen Norton

Lilies and Birds

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from John 3: 16-21

If you’ve ever been to a football game, you’ve probably seen people holding up signage with today’s verse which begins: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (who started that tradition anyway?) Think about what it would be like to give your only child to a cause, knowing he’d be harmed and killed. Military parents take that chance all the time. Abraham was going to burn his only son upon God’s request. Personally, I wouldn’t be so willing so I’m glad I’m not a biblical character. The point is, God went all the way. He gave all he could so we would not be lost to darkness.

My dad was a neat freak and a bit of a perfectionist. When he died, the priest who was going to facilitate his funeral service asked us what one thing would sum up his philosophy. Almost without hesitation, my two sisters and I said, “Never do anything half-way.” He wasn’t an easy-going guy. He wasn’t easy on us. But I guarantee if you hire me or either of my sisters for a job, it will get done and it will get done well. We’re not half-way people either.

God isn’t a half-way God. He doesn’t want us to be half-way children. I’m not saying we have to do everything perfectly. But we do have to try our best and practice to get better. Just in case we have trouble believing the teacher He sent, He gave us clues in nature. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air” and “Observe how the lilies of the field grow.” God cares for them, so how much more will he care for you whom he loves? Seek Him first and all shall be added.

The lilies know how to trust in Creation. The birds do not worry. But somehow, way back when, we stepped out of that Garden of Eden and became ego-driven beings. So in spite of technically having all we need, we have forgotten how to share and have become riddled with anxiety and insecurity. In controlling our environment, we’ve forgotten how to be part of it. We need a teacher. God sent the only guy qualified for the job…His son.

The Christian model is what I know, but even if you’re a follower of another belief system, you can observe the flowers and the birds. See how the flowers grow in clumps, supporting each other? See how they burst forth with all their color just before they die? See how the birds fly along the currents in amazing formations? We may still need to attend class, but they don’t need a teacher…they just know.

This original has been sold, but you can still purchase a signed Art Card here.