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Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

My Guinness, a Pint-Sized savior!

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from 1 John 1: 4-7. John is talking about not just saying you know Jesus, but really “knowing” him in a way that makes it hard to fake.

JN792_Guinness

A Pint of Guinness

The Holy Spirit is like a pint of Guinness. OK, I know that’s a bit of a leap, but I was talking with my Irish friends this morning via Facebook as they were about to eat dinner and I was about to eat breakfast, and my free-association logic kicked in.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

I could sneak a glass of stout at home, sit in a dark room and drink it alone. I could then claim “Yes, I’ve had that drink.” But there would be something missing. Other than a possible drunken stupor, there would be no lasting emotional connection. What’s the big deal? I probably should have had water. I missed the point of the libation. I would not have understood it is meant to be enjoyed with others.

Or…I could enjoy a pint in a pub with my friends and my friend’s friends, enjoying music by a local fiddler and swapping stories. Now the beer is a vehicle for communication. It loosens everyone up, makes the laughter flow. I will have a whole different experience. The drink facilitates community. It is meant to be shared in communion with fellow pub patrons.

The reign of Jesus is like that…A child, a pint-sized savior came to show us the way to God, to intoxicate us with His love. We are meant to drink Him in, make Him part of us. When Jesus rose from the dead and Mary Magdalene saw Him in the garden, she was tempted to run to Him. He said, “Do not cling to me for I have not returned to the Father.” This line was always a bit mysterious to me, but perhaps he did not want us to cling to the earthly, physical version of himself like an idol. He came to teach us to cling to the hope beyond this world. He left us with the Holy Spirit to inspire us to bring hope TO the world. Like the drink, it opens us up to communicate, love each other, and work towards “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Don’t worship the drink. Live in the fellowship it creates.

No wonder the Irish call their land “God’s Country”.

This 10 x 10″ painting is available here.

Everything’s coming up roses as long as I get my coffee!

JN791_ComingUpRoses

“Coming Up Roses” 3 x 3"

Today’s Advent Art Meditation is from Psalm 43: 3-5 and speaks about not giving up hope and trusting in God even when the chips are down.

We all have days that we just don’t want to face. It may be as trivial as not wanting to leave your warm bed on a cold, dark day. Or you may have to look for a job or face a difficult person. Whatever it is, you can trust in God to help you get through it. For me, reframing daily inconveniences into the context of “What does God ask of me in this situation” helps me to find joy and peace each day no matter how mundane or aggravating. It’s like that little bit of caffeine in my morning coffee that gets me up and out. One foot in front of the other, I get through each day and reach at least some of my destinations. I trust there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s only from the TV!

In the Catholic church, we use colors to distinguish the liturgical seasons. Three of the four weeks of Advent are symbolized by violet, a royal color for the Prince of Peace. This week, week three, features rose. This past Sunday was called “Gaudete Sunday” (Latin for Rejoice), and is one of only two days during the year when the color is used. It is a combination of violet and white, which is used for major feasts and celebrations like Christmas. If you attended Catholic mass anywhere in the world this weekend, you saw a rose candle being lit, rose garments on the celebrant and rose decorations on the altar. The color is like a little jolt of anticipation in the middle of the Advent season, a reminder that although we still wait, we have not lost hope.

Parties, presents, kids finishing up school projects…it all gets so rushed. The barely-used rose color in church this weekend made me stop, notice, take a breath, and gather strength to keep on going…full caffeine ahead!

You can purchase this tiny artwork here.

God’s Beloved Girls

Today’s Advent meditation is on Ephesians 5:6-14. In this reading, Paul is warning the Christians that the moral norms of Ephesian pop culture go against God’s wishes and not to be swayed. They are now awake in the light and need to act accordingly.

JN790 Beloved Girl © Jen Norton

“Beloved Girl”

 

It would be a easy to write something judgmental here, but I prefer to be inspirational. Upon brainstorming this one, my thoughts went to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. If you’ve forgotten it from school, it is about a group of prisoners who have been chained their entire lives inside a cave. The only visual they have are the shadows cast by those outside, so they believe that to be reality. The question becomes, if they could emerge and see reality, would they believe it to be real? Would they rather return to what they know? Or would they grow to understand life in the light and pity those still in the cave.

Plato may have lived 400+ years before Christ, but his musings of ancient Greeks are no less relevant today. Even now, we can easily believe what is sold to us without question. One of my big issues is the damage done to girls and women through pop culture messaging. I grew up with (mostly) sisters, female cousins and have a daughter. I have seen first-hand what happens when a girl considers herself “not good enough” and it’s painful. Not only does she harm herself, but she can deny herself real connection to family and friends…the very people who could pull her from darkness.

In today’s art, I’ve shown the form of a woman filled with words. If you read all the words, including those in the dark areas, you get a sense of some of the insidious lies that girls and women face each and every day. We often blindly believe them to be truths, like the shadows on the cave wall. But if you block out the dark words and only read the light ones, you claim your true message from God…you are loved.

This image is available as a matted art print here or as a 2.5 x 3.5″ ACEO trading card in my Etsy shop. Good for pocket reminders for the girls in your life!

Here are a few other resources I like pertaining to girls and women:
Miss Representation
The Girl Effect
Women for Women International
When a Woman Meets Jesus by Dorothy Valcarcel

How can I keep from singing?

Today’s Advent meditation is from John 12: 35-36 (You’ll have to scroll down a bit. The link isn’t quite connected on that site)

Painted Bluebird Cole Porter Quote © Jen Norton

“Be Like the Bluebird” painted quote

In today’s reading Jesus hints to his followers that he will not always walk with them on earth. Dark days are ahead and they must know the light while they have the chance. A man in darkness cannot find it’s way.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to paint for this passage until I sat down last night to watch a DVD interview I did of my grandparents back in 1988. This taped dialogue by my 22-year-old self has been sitting in a box on VHS for years. My mom recently asked me if I still had it, so I had it copied to DVD and just picked it up a few days ago. Last night was the first time I’d watched it in over 20 years. Wow. If you’ve never taken the time to ask your elders about their lives, I suggest you do it! I have footage about life in the early 1900s with only gas lighting, impressions of San Francisco in the 1950s, and my grandmother’s opinion of the change in women’s roles over the years. Mostly I realized how much of the beliefs and philosophies I hold now were shaped by these people. They no longer walk with me, but I have their light to guide me.

My painting today is of bluebirds, with a quote by American composer Cole Porter. My Grandpa Mac’s favorite bird was the bluebird. He would sit on his porch every afternoon and watch them (Grandma wasn’t so big on their screeching, however). He also loved great musicals and especially after he lost his eyesight, you would often find him in his living room listening to recordings of  Broadway numbers. A self-made man, he always believed in me. Of all my family members, his words run through my head most often.

I tried to include a clip from the video here, but alas, I do not have the skills or technology today. For now, please enjoy the quote from Cole Porter. I know my grandfather would.

Be like the bluebird who never is blue,
For he knows from his upbringing what singing can do
– Cole Porter, Be Like the Bluebird, 1934

The original art is available here.

You can also purchase reproductions here or signed greeting cards here.

A little encouragement goes a long way up the mountain

Our Advent art meditation for today is from Psalm 119: 105-106

Climb to Croagh Patrick © Jen Norton

Climb to Croagh Patrick

A lamp to my feet is your Word, a light to my path.
I resolve and swear to keep your just ordinances.

A few years ago we spent part of our summer in Ireland with some good friends. For one of our adventures, we climbed Croagh Patrick (aka “The Reek” to locals. Reek is Irish for “stack”). Croagh Patrick is a 2500 foot tall (764 metres) mountain jutting up from Clew Bay in County Mayo. Thanks to hours on the elliptical at the gym I did pretty well, but not being an avid mountain climber I got my workout! I was grateful to borrow some great hiking boots and a walking stick. I was amazed to find out that little old nuns and priests often climb The Reek barefoot as a spiritual pilgrimage.

The first two-thirds of the hike up is part pathway, part hopping up rocks, all surrounded by lush green hills, sheep and babbling brooks. There’s a nice little resting spot at a level place after that section where you can look back and see your progress and some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Ireland. Then there’s the last third of the climb…

The last section of the ascent is about a 40˚ scramble up loose, slippery chunks of shale. It makes a few turns, so the first time you climb up, you have no idea how far to the finish. Fortunately, you are not alone. Hundreds climb the mountain every day, no matter the weather, and as they descend they encourage you as they pass. In true Irish hospitality, they cheerfully declare, “You’re almost there lads!” or “Only about 10 more minutes to the top!” Sweet mother of God…how many times did I hear that in the last hour of the climb? But what did I know? They’d been there; I hadn’t. Their words were a lamp to my feet. I resolved, I swore, I kept climbing. And step by step, we made it to the top.

At the top is the legendary “Bed of St. Patrick” (complete with donation box), a little chapel and (surprise!) a bathroom with running water. I can’t even imagine being the guys who had to carry all that up! If it’s a clear day, you also get a stunning 360˚ view of County Mayo and Clew Bay.

Or so I hear. On the day we went, the top of the mountain was in fog. Guess I’ll have to make a second pilgrimage. Fortunately, like “a light to my path,” I also know there will be another Pint waiting for me back in a Westport pub when I finish!

This little 10 x 10 painting is designed from my memory of the scenery and is available here.

You may also be interested in this Facebook site by Irishman Matt Loughrey called Croagh Patrick 365. The site is now transitioning to other charitable ventures, but Matt climbed the mountain every day for 365 days as a fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul Society. Now there’s someone who’s resolved to keep Just Ordinances!

My little cabin in the woods.

Cabin in the Woods painting © Jen Norton

Cabin in the Woods on Aluminum, 6x6"

Today’s Advent reflection is on Psalm 27:1-4

One of the best places I know to “dwell in the house of the Lord” and “behold His beauty” is at our family cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains. My grandfather built it in the mid- 1950s, and I’ve been going there since I was small enough to be held in one hand and bathed in a tupperware container (my mom has pictures). It really hasn’t changed much in all that time. There’s still no TV or phone and it takes a continuous roaring fire to keep it warm in the winter. It is used by almost every member of our family for weekends with friends, care-free holidays and a get-a-way for needed respite. It is our safe place.

A few years back, a serial killer was temporary kept in the Ranger Station, which is in walking distance of the cabin. While he actually committed his crimes about 2 hours away, it still creeped me out that he was kept there. My safe place seemed less safe. Innocence lost. Even now, probably 15 or 20 years later, I still think about it as I pass the station. Would I come up here alone? It gets awfully dark at night. I’m not sure.

But in some ways maybe that slight chink in my imaginary armor of safety is OK. It makes me more aware of what God offers…not necessarily safety from dangers, but safety from overwhelming fear of the dangers. I will not let one evil person destroy my love for our cabin.

A few years ago, I read a moving book called “Left to Tell” by a woman named Immaculée Ilibagiza who survived the Rwandan Holocaust by hiding in a small bathroom with seven other women for 3 months. Her story, and the intense fear she and the other women lived with is incredible. Even more amazing is her account of how God revealed Himself to her more and more and the danger grew. She learned of God’s promise, composed in today’s psalm by King David, firsthand. If you’re heading off to a cabin and in need of an inspirational book, you might check it out.

Today’s painting was not painted today. I decided to re-show an older piece, now printed on aluminum so I can catch up on some other tasks I’ve been neglecting while writing this Advent blog! New art tomorrow, I promise!

• You can purchase the 6×6 art here. (1 left in stock. If it is sold when you read this, contact me to order. $24 + shipping and tax)

• This art is also available as a 3 x 4″ aluminum ornament here. (1 left in stock. If it is sold when you read this, contact me to order. $8 + shipping and tax)

• This art is also available in a 12 x 12″ size. (None in stock. Contact me to order. $45 + shipping and tax)

You don’t have to save the whole world.

Today’s reading is from 2 Corinthians 4: 3-6. Well, not really. I’m afraid I got mixed up and painted for NEXT Monday’s reading. Too late to re-do, so I’m going with it! We’ll save today’s for next week.

Love Your Neighbor © Jen Norton

“Love Your Neighbor” © Jen Norton

Pope John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

I think that statement may have been one of the truest ever uttered. In this reading the apostle Paul assures the Corinthian community that the ways of God are not dishonest or trickery and only appears so to those who are blinded by the “gods” of the generation. If their acts and words are in alignment, the truth of Christ in their lives will be apparent.

John Paul II knew something about veiled politics. He was born Karol Wohtya and grew up in communist Poland. He knew what vitriolic words, two-faced politics and neighbor turning on neighbor really looked like. He envisioned a world where people could work together, not against each other. A world where “Thy will (would) be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are bombarded daily by many trying hard to sell us hatred. There are whole TV stations devoted to keeping us scared and giving us reason to detest our neighbor. Entertainment value supersedes fact and personal responsibility. No matter what side you take, there’s a long list of blame to be found on the other. The culture sold to our children is frightening. It all makes me quite weary. So what’s a modern girl to do?

For me, it’s choosing where to put my energy and focus on the things I can influence. It’s taking time each day, even if only a moment, in stillness. It’s spending quality time with my family. I can make sure my daughter gets her homework done. I can teach her self respect and how to treat other people. I can notice the man who picks up trash along the creek path. I can welcome people to our home. I can listen to a friend in need. I can do the laundry and walk the dog. I can make choices in line with my values about what I buy or how I dispose of what I no longer need. I can smile at a checkout clerk or help my old neighbor who walks with a walker bring in her trash can. I can vote. I can travel or read or otherwise educate myself on cultures and issues. I can pick the issue that’s most important to me and share time, talents or treasures as my ability allows. I can do so many things to make the bit of the world I come in contact with a tiny bit better. God is in the details.

Most of us aren’t required to save the whole world. We just have to do the best we can to keep our words and actions in alignment with our values within our own home, and allow that light to shine to our neighbor as it may. God will handle the rest.

You can purchase this piece here.

Your Purpose Will Find You

Family Tree © Jen Norton

Family Tree, Acrylic on paper

Today’s Advent meditation is on Jeremiah 33:14-16

Today is bill-paying day. I have a hard time with this task, not because I can’t handle simple subtraction, but because it’s so dang boring, my mind wanders. I often find myself, pen in hand, realizing that 10 minutes have passed and the empty check still sits before me (no, I haven’t migrated to online billing yet). You should not hire me as your book-keeper. It’s not my calling.

We all have a purpose determined by our talents, desires and skills. As one of my friends likes to say, “What’s for you won’t pass you by.” In this verse from Jeremiah, God assures us that He will keep his promise and that David will always have an heir to his throne. How could David (or Jeremiah) have known that somewhere down the line, his descendent would be Jesus Himself? In his own time, David was somewhat of a celebrity. Popular, musically gifted… a regular McDreamy of the biblical world. Like current pop-culture celebrities, he often fell victim to his own inflated ego. He did some bad stuff, like stealing his friend Uriah’s wife and then arranging to have him killed to hide his own guilt. He ignored his family in favor of work for so long that he didn’t realize his wives and children were plotting against each other for the throne. Still, he kept turning back to God, and when he realized his own evil mistakes, he showed true repentance. For some reason, God kept favoring him, forgiving his transgressions (although not without punishment). God kept his promise of salvation through the lineage of David. David’s purpose could not “pass him by.” Good God, I guess there’s hope for us all!

Today’s painting is of a tree, a family tree maybe. At the risk of mixing my biblical metaphors, Jesus promised that if we have faith only the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains (although he never says how long those mountains take to move). At the base of the tree is the “mustard seed” heart. From this, the tree grows, branching out into colorful boughs. This tree was painted over a previously rejected piece of art that’s been hiding in my junk pile for a few years. The glow of color emerging from the rough acrylic layers is from that earlier attempt. It never made it to a frame, but its purpose here is apparent. This tree would not be as bright if I had tossed the old piece. It had a purpose. I think I understand why God favored David so much.

This painting is available here.

This Little Lighthouse of Mine

The reference for today’s Advent Art Mediation is John 1: 6-9

Santa Cruz Lighthouse Art © Jen Norton

This Little Lighthouse of Mine

John is introduced as a man sent from God to bear witness to the light that was coming into the world. It is clarified that he is not the actual light, but merely here to testify. If we continue on past verse 9, we see that not all recognize “the Light”, but those that do are empowered to become children of God.

I have to admit, there have been points in my life where I wasn’t so sure about the light thing. Maybe Jesus was just a great social revolutionary. Maybe he’s just one iteration of many times God has become man. Other indigenous cultures have similar mythology, after all. I’m a painter…I work in shades of gray and alternate possibilities. But then I look at stories of men and women that really walked the earth (in recorded time) and historical narratives that tie together. The bible was compiled over a long period of time by a variety of people. It would be awfully hard to tie up all those loose ends and fulfill hundreds of prophesies without some form of divine intervention, not to mention stand the test of time under the scrutiny of scholars. And then there was that death and resurrection thing, with eye-witnesses. So I choose to believe.

Stronger proof for me has been in the moments when I’ve actually felt God’s presence. The occasion that comes to mind today happened about 15 years ago. We were trying to have children and coming to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen with out the miracles of modern science. I was really down and really worried.

One day, after work, I was “called” to go stand along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, near the Lighthouse that houses the surfing museum. Called is a weird thing to try to describe (or believe) in an internet blog post. I can only say that I had this intense desire to drive 1/2 hour in the opposite direction from my house, over a mountain, to go stand on the cliff of the sea for no known reason. This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this phenomenon, so I didn’t question. I just went. I stood by the ocean in the wind with my eyes closed. After a moment, all human sounds around me left and all I heard was the wind in my ears. In the wind, I heard a voice that instantly told me exactly what needed to happen and to not be afraid. It wasn’t an audible voice…it was more like the words were placed inside me.

You may be thinking I’m a bit crazy. That’s OK…I’m an artist, so your crazy might just be my normal. I only know that the feeling I left with that day carried me through the years it took to get my beautiful daughter, born on Christmas Eve. Near the lighthouse, I caught a glimmer of light to come.

This tiny Lighthouse art is available here.

In the Beginning was the Garden

Today’s reading, John 1: 1-5, was much more comforting than yesterday’s. Yesterday was all trials and tribulations. Today is about the Light that outshines darkness. Thank God.

Today, my darkness was time. I ran out. I needed more time, but I don’t have it, so I’m going to post what I have. I see things I want to edit, but I’m not going to obsess.

Plant A Garden © Jen Norton

Plant A Garden

My daughter turned to me the other day in the car and started one of those “car conversations”. You know the ones…deep philosophical questions that hint at your kids trying to figure themselves out. She stated (in a somewhat condescending manner), “You seem like one of those people who’d be happy living in the country. Is that true?” Yes, it’s true. I notice geese flying, color shifts in the sky and leaf patterns on sidewalks. My 13-year-old just rolls her eyes. She’s all about pop culture, make-up and things that are shiny and pink. She’s always been that way. I’ve always been a nature girl. She loves to dress up. I love to stare at trees. It’s just the way we are.

I know that we both have our place in the world, as do the million different kinds of pink flowers. Or the other million kinds of yellow flowers. Creation is abundant and there is room for all. Each has its purpose. I have always found the presence of God in the patterns of repetition and variation in nature. I don’t know how the beginning began. I still can’t figure out how something could have always existed and I’ve been pondering that concept for 46 years. (I guess I’m a bit sheltered, having only lived on Earth.)

But I observe the passing of the seasons. I know that springtime, with its myriad of flowers, follows the dark winter. Simple science can explain the How. Not sure anyone can explain the Why. Except that God is an artist, and a fellow artist I know you cannot continue to create beauty unless you are loving the process of creation. He’s found a way to remind us yearly that life is a cycle. President Lincoln’s speech writer once penned a line for use in good times and bad: “This too shall pass”. Everything we know will pass away someday, but I take comfort in knowing that something that is alive in Christ will live forever. He has created a priceless work of Art and Love that will last through Eternity. Death and darkness will not overcome it. Sometimes I doubt. But then I go work in my garden and I find the truth again.

This painting turned into an abstraction, painted with a palette knife, which offers very little control. It features a quote by writer Robert Brault, used with permission. I see things I’d like to change in the composition, but hopefully the meaning will overcome its faults. I’m too close to judge, and I’m not going to obsess.

The quote reads, “Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden?” —Robert Brault. I like this quote and will probably paint it again differently. If you’d like to buy this piece, I’m offering it for a great price here.