Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

Look Alive!

Today’s passage for my Advent art meditation is Mark 13: 33-37. The apostle warns us “stay awake” and not be caught unaware when the Master returns. This passage comes at the end of a chapter on all the trials and tribulations to be expected in end times. I find the message relevant to me in current life, not just for some future official “End Times.” It’s a scary chapter. It snaps me out of my complacency and reminds me of all the horrible things that could happen in life. Things that DO happen…I just hope they don’t happen to me! Or anyone I know. Or to anyone near me. I’d rather stay asleep, under the covers. No tribulations, thank-you-very-much.

The only way to not worry about scary things is to live totally in the present. That’s a mighty tall order for humans capable of remembering, holding grudges, having goals and who live under the delusion that all we have belongs to us. It’s pretty much impossible.

Waiting Patiently © Jen Norton

Waiting Patiently

Animals are better at the practice of living in the present than we are.

Take my dog Patti, for example. Patti is a dog who was rescued from a backyard puppy mill. She was kept in a garage, used for breeding and then abandoned. She came to us with a lot of fear. She’s had her tribulations. Now, however, she’s living in a relative dog garden-of-eden. She doesn’t dwell on yesterday. She doesn’t worry about tomorrow. She only cares about two things:

1. Food

2. Who’s providing the food.

Like most dogs, Patti can often be found sound asleep, stretched across the couch, snoring away… But touch the can opener, turn on the stove or come through the door and she’s immediately up, bounding toward you in hopes of a dropped scrap or a bowl of tuna water. Patti lives in the present. She’s “awake” when her master shows up.

If only we could so easily be devoted to God. If only we could stay focused on 1. Love and 2. Who’s providing the Love. But alas, like a dog distracted by a piece of sausage, we once were tempted to step away from our natural state as “children of God” with a bite of apple. Now we have to remember to stay awake. We have to make a point of it. So much easier to fill ourselves up life’s “junk food” and ruin our appetite for God. But then the sugar high fades, and we fall asleep again. We go back to the dream that we’re ready. But we don’t know when we will be called to stand accountable or to breathe our last breath. We should be prepared at any moment. Bummer…I really did want to stay under those covers.

11 x 14 matted reproductions of this painting are available here.

The Season of Family

In the flood of Cyber-Monday media, it’s easy to overlook that we are also in the season of Advent, the beginning of the Western Christian liturgical calendar, and the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In an attempt to be more present in this season, I got my shopping done early and thought I’d try something different this year. Maybe you’d like to follow along? No need to be any version of Christian. Everyone is welcome.

Working from the “Painting a Day” idea, I am going to do a small painting each day from now until Christmas based on my reflections on a daily scriptural reading. This is not a bible study…I’m not a scholar. This is just about what the reading makes me think of on that day. If I read the same scripture on a different day, I might have a different take on it. I am following the readings listed on, and I am reading them from my old and well-worn copy of “The New American Bible,” Catholic translation. I will post the scriptural reference, my personal reflection, and the painting it inspired. In addition, the art will be listed for sale in my Etsy store at a discounted rate during this 2011 holiday season.


And so…on to today, which is Day 2 of Advent. The reading is from Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 3-9.

Garden Party © Jen Norton

Garden Party

Paul is writing to the Christian community in Corinth to address the problem of the community splitting into various factions. The verses for today are merely the opening of the letter as Paul expresses thankfulness for the believing community, assuring them that they have all they need through Christ, that they will be strengthened through Him, and it is by God alone who that they are called to a fellowship with Jesus.

This reading made me think of family, especially after the two Thanksgiving celebrations I attended last weekend. The painting for today is from a photo of my sisters, mom and a few cousins at a family gathering. I think it might have been my Grandfather’s birthday somewhere in the ’80s, but I can’t be sure. We were all sitting around a table in the garden just talking about “stuff”. Probably didn’t seem important at the time, but 20+ years later, I find inspiration in it.

The most important social structure in God’s eyes is family, because it is through family that we learn the lessons of love and forgiveness. Sounds easy enough, but there sure are days I fail the class. If you’ve ever gotten annoyed with a spouse, frustrated with your children, fought with a sibling or whined about family obligations, you know what I mean. It’s so easy to think things would be SO MUCH EASIER if only everyone would just think like me! (can you relate?). But that’s a selfish lie. It’s a lie that breaks down relationships and community. In God’s world, we’re meant to give. We’re meant to put another’s needs first. We’re meant to live with charitable hearts. That’s a tough calling for a mere human to uphold. The Corinthians struggled with it. I stumble over it. But when I can surrender my own mindset for the good of another, I see what is meant by being “called by God to a fellowship with Jesus Christ.” Those same family situations that challenge me also give me opportunities to see that I am capable of more and loved by many.

The season of Advent is all about family. It’s about a 13-year-old Hebrew girl who becomes pregnant, threatening to dishonor the man she is intended to marry and ostracize her family. They’re poor, they have to flee to another land, sleep in barns and Joseph had to raise a child that wasn’t even his. Talk about family challenges! Yet, through the strength of God and His helpful angels, a child is born who is immediately recognized by poor shepherds and rich kings as the savior of us all. The family endured and we should all be thankful.

I hope everyone who reads this has someone they can call family, whether they are blood-related or not. What are your biggest family challenges during Christmas?

Would you like to purchase “Garden Party”? Click here.

Traveling the world for inspiration, with my slippers on.


Hello Soul. Hello Business.I love painting food and recipes, but the driving force beneath my current work is the desire to reach out and encourage families to spend more time together around the table. I have lots of ideas about how I might do this…Too many ideas to keep straight!

One of my biggest challenges is to stay focused and not get overwhelmed. Sometimes breaking down my big ideas into achievable and measurable tasks is as elusive as finding a paint brush bristle on my messy art table. It can all get too big and before I know it, I find myself spinning my wheels in too many directions, not making any progress at all. Or even worse, not making any art. So I’ve made an early New Year’s resolution. I’m going to get help!

Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck, I go out and see what other artists I admire are up to. One of those artists is Kelly Rae Roberts from Portland OR. I first saw her work as a promo piece for our local KPFA Craft Fair years ago. There was something about the intended messiness and the beautiful expression of repose on the figure’s face that spoke to me, so I bookmarked her site. Since then she has built her career to an impressive level and her warm and welcoming brand delights people across the world, including me! She offers books, e-books* and e-classes to encourage and instruct other artists. I’m so impressed by her work, I’ve decided to join her new 9-week online class in January, co-taught with entrepreneur Beth Nicholls from the UK. It’s called Hello Soul, Hello Business and it’s all about fearlessly creating a sustainable business out of your passions (like making art!). It’s been a while since I took time for a workshop, so I’m really looking forward to this one…especially because I can attend in my slippers! Any of my artist friends want to join me? Check it out

Hello Art… Hello Soul… Hello Business… Here I come!

**I like Kelly Rae’s content so much, I’ve put an affiliate badge on my site to her e-book Flying Lessons. If you click through and purchase anything, I do get a commission. Paid or not, I still think she’s pretty cool. 

Find Yourself on the Road Less Traveled

Following Your Creative PathOne of my daughter’s friends recently remarked about my daily attire, “Jen, you’re like a pre-schooler. You don’t care what you wear!” It’s true…I’m sure I’m lowering my neighborhood’s property values by wearing 20+ year-old sweats and paint-stained t-shirts. On most days I get paint, food, dog slobber and dirt on me, so what’s the point? Of course there are times I put more effort into my appearance out of respect for the other humans who must come in contact with me or to present an image consistent with my art. But in general, my identity is not tied to how I look. I travel lightly. I have Art to thank for this freedom. Because of my years of making art, I have had reason to shut out the world for a time, reflect on what I believe, put those beliefs into tangible form, and inspire others. My creative path has led me to a place where my identity is tied to the content I want to leave behind, not in how I look.

As you might imagine, my version of fashion sense is a mysterious phenomenon to my teenage daughter and her girl friends. In their newly-forming world view, all questions of identity must be solved by editing one’s appearance. Every day I am confronted with the effects of a world less kind to women first-hand when these otherwise intelligent and beautiful girls are overheard questioning whether or not they need plastic surgery, complain that they’re too fat, refrain from eating in front of boys and spend every cent they have on beauty supplies in hopes of making themselves acceptable. They lack confidence in trying something new, pre-determining that others already do it better. Even in a home like ours where we are conscious of this negative mindset, it’s a hard beast to tame. In the prime teen age of identity development, it’s a daily battle.

I paint subjects of home and family in in hopes of re-addressing our shunned “feminine” qualities in some small way. I believe the things like laundry, daily cooking and nurturing children normally labeled as “women’s work” should be elevated to the place of highest honor, no matter which gender does them. They are the ultimate Fine Art, with a capital F and A. Why? Because they provide the connection that keeps our girls from becoming less than they should be. Because it’s hard for daughters to pursue their own dreams if they valued the work their mothers or grandmothers did in raising them as less important than their father’s paycheck. It’s hard to change the world when you don’t feel you’re pretty enough to walk out the door. These are the lies that stop up our girls, and these are the conversations I hope to facilitate through my art.

There is so much in mainstream life that tries to strip away a girl’s sense of self. We have to choose daily to step out and follow a different path, a more life-giving one where we tell our own stories. Where are you meant to go? There are better roads to be found.

PS: I was inspired to write this blog after viewing MissRepresentation, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom about the messages girls inherit from our media culture. Check it out if you relate to what I’ve written.

PPS: Would you like to purchase a print of my Creative Path art? Check my Etsy store!

PPPS: No one ever questions my husband’s fashion sense and his sweats are older than mine.

To everything, there is a season*

Singing with Amy by Jen Norton

“Singing with Amy”

This is a story about patience. Like the five years it covers, it’s a bit long for a blog entry, but I wanted to tell it because sometimes the best things are worth waiting for. And sometimes we’re just not ready to receive blessings when we think we are.

I’m not much of a celebrity follower, with one exception. Since the age of 18, I’ve been a huge fan of singer/songwriter Amy Grant. My admiration began with the first note on her 1985 record Unguarded, and 30 years later I’m still a fully-confirmed “Granthead”. Beyond the music, I have admired her connection with fans (she kindly refers to us as Friends of Amy), her commitment to her faith and her growing stewardship of the causes she champions. She has been an inspiration to me in my own artistic journey as I notice over and over that art is merely a vehicle for deeper communication. So many times one of my paintings has prompted someone to tell me their story, my job being only to listen and be present in that moment. So many times, I’ve seen Amy give her fans their “moment”.

So last night, I had MY moment. I got to talk briefly with Amy at a soundcheck, where she exclaimed, “You’re Jen Norton! I’ve been hoping to meet you!”. No kidding, she really said that…but maybe I’d better backtrack a bit…

My first personal encounter with Amy was at a soundcheck in 2005 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA. I brought my then 8-year-old daughter for moral support. I was a nervous wreck the whole time and could barely get a word out. Felt like I was back at a junior high dance again and vowed to do it better next time.

In 2006, Amy was a awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The stars aligned for me as well, so to speak, and my husband and I made the trek to L.A. to witness the event. Let me just say that this was completely out of my comfort zone. Hollywood is usually the last place you’d find me, but for Amy, well… It was one of those times when you knew if you didn’t do it, you’d regret it. So I went. A few weeks before the trip, I decided to paint her a picture for the occasion. I am a painter, after all. It’s my truest form of expression, and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to chatting over lunch with her. So I painted the picture above. It shows her in a contemplative moment because her most reflective work, the stuff you don’t hear on the radio, is the most meaningful to me. Behind her is an abstract cruciform shape made up of people holding hands (horizontal) and the sun setting in a musical sky over mountains (vertical). Together they elude to both the crucified Christ as well as the risen Christ with His light shining through us. Amy is all about connection, she loves nature, and of course her faith has shaped her career. Working on this piece was also a great lesson in painting what is meaningful to me. At the time, I enjoyed it more than anything I was doing.

So off I went to wait with my fellow fans on the streets in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I had all the other fan club members there sign the back of the painting so it could be from all of us and then passed it to her son during the ceremony. Because of logistics, I never had the chance to talk to her personally that day.

Lord, all that you have for me, I receive.

Lord, all that you have for me, I receive.

I also made her a smaller piece featuring a meaningful prayer she had shared with fans about accepting God’s grace: “Lord, all that you have for me I receive.” The piece was done in a quilt style because Amy collects quilts, and I put a note on it for her to give it away to someone who needed it. Yeah, I probably overdid it, but that’s what happens when I’m left to battle my own creative energy unedited!

A few years later, she came to the Bay Area and I had another chance to speak to her at a soundcheck. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a picture of the piece, and she had just gotten up from a nap for the rehearsal, so when I said I was the one who gave her a painting in Hollywood, she thanked me with a very confused look. Inside I thought, “Oh no! It might have been left on the bus!” I have a journal where I write down wishes that seem unsurmountable…the big stuff that requires God’s help. I know this isn’t life or death, but it was big to me. I write down my desires, then let them go. (In order to not drive yourself nuts, it’s good to practice a Buddhist detachment from these obscure goals.) Somewhere down the road, they manifest into another reality. I wrote down that I would like to know if Amy ever got my painting. I didn’t care if she liked it…I was ok if it ended up in a “fan gift warehouse” somewhere (I wonder if she has one!), or even sold at one of her charity events. I just wanted to know it passed through her hands. So I wrote my wish and waited…

Forward a few more years and Amy came back to CA, this time Malibu. Some of the other fans organized a lunch for her. I couldn’t go, but one of them was kind enough to let me include something in a special scrapbook made for that day. This time, I included the picture and I heard later that when Amy looked through the book she said, “I know that picture! I have that picture!” Phew…mission accomplished. I would still love to tell her in person, but I could live with this. Goal checked off.

So another year goes by and now Amy is back to do a concert literally 10 min (and no freeways away) from my house. Of course I must go, soundcheck and all. This time I am prepared and when I get a chance to say hello, I show her the picture and let her know that was my work. That’s when she says she’s been waiting meet me, hoping I’d show up along the way and that she not only has the painting, but it is hanging near her coffee pot in the recording studio she and Vince built at their home! (I know Amy loves her coffee, so that could be quite a bit of mindshare on a daily basis!) After all the years, I am much less nervous than at that first soundcheck, but but I’m still floored. Not only that, but many Nashville artists record there and people like LeAnn Rimes and Alice Cooper have walked by it and commented on it (how’s that for hitting a wide audience?). She even considered using the art on an album cover (wow!) but it didn’t work out. (Understandably, she used one of her own paintings on her last release). As for the smaller painting, she hung it in her cabin where she goes to write. Like the rest of us, she still needs to be reminded to receive God’s grace, and her willingness to share that frailty is what makes her great. Just to be able to look her in the eye while she told me all those details was well worth the wait. And because I had to wait, I was able to receive that gift much more fully. Thank you Amy.

Are you waiting for something big in your life? It takes a little time, sometimes. I hope my story inspires you to keep the faith.

*Ecclesiastes 3:1

Come to the table

"All Are Gathered" by Jen Norton

“All Are Gathered” by Jen Norton

“Hospitality is one form of worship.”  -Jewish Proverb

This painting began as a demo for a workshop I was teaching with my friend Lorraine. I thought it would be a good class subject simply because it had flowers, some table setting elements and the opportunity to explore color. When I got home and continued to work on it, it began to take on more meaning for me, as my paintings often do.

I was reminded of a passage from Genesis (29:3) “Only when all the shepherds were assembled there could they roll the stone away from the mouth of the well and water the flocks.”  In the story, Jacob has come upon a well covered by a large stone with three droves of sheep nearby. They’re waiting for all the shepherds to arrive and uncover it so they can drink. This is one of those obscure passages that doesn’t get mentioned often, but that carries much meaning. The sheep are waiting. They’re waiting for water to quench their thirst. Only when everyone is ready do they get to drink. If they missed the time when the well was open, they would miss out. They had to be ready.

A dinner party is like that. The table must be set, the wine selected. The food is prepared, the room decorated. Guests arrive hungry, but must wait until the host is ready to serve. Ideally, only when everyone is present and the scene is set is the dinner served.

What if we set the expectation that every dinner should be served when everyone is at the table. No eating in front of the TV or standing alone in front of the fridge. Present, with others. Would it change your experience? How?

Original 24 x 48″, Acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas, $3200
Open edition prints: 5 x 10″, matted to standard 11 x 14 frame size. $25
Limited edition canvas-wrap prints available upon request.

The Heart of a Servant

“Preparation” by Jen Norton

“Preparation”, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 24"

I’ve been busy putting together my Open Studio show for this weekend, which is much like putting together a big banquet. Each piece must find it’s spot, hung in agreement with the work next to it. Loose artwork must be framed or varnished, dressed up and ready for the party. I want patrons to feel they’ve arrived someplace special and we’re happy they’re here! With the theme of table-setting in mind, I thought I’d share my painting “Preparation” with you today. This piece is all about doing everyday, mundane tasks with a spirit of service. It’s about the unseen workers who put their heart and soul into their work so others can experience something new and wonderful. It doesn’t matter if it’s a concert, a product launch, a benefit event or a simple dinner for your family. To make something out of nothing, someone had to put in time and effort to make it happen. And if they did it with love, they just might create something bigger and better than anyone expected. In my perfect world, we would all strive to approach life from the point of view of a servant.


Imperfect Love

Imperfect Loveseat by Jen Norton

“Imperfect Loveseat”, Acrylic on Gessobord

If you’ve ever been to a Christian wedding, you may have heard the reading from 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.*  Real love IS perfect. The ability of humans to practice it, however, is a bit flawed. Stay in any relationship long enough and you’ll find out that egos, insecurities, selfishness and a host of other human impairments get in the way. Like a well-worn favorite chair, what once was fashionable and new can seem a threadbare eyesore. The loveseat in this painting belonged to my grandparents who lived to be 99 and 101 years of age, and were married almost 70 years. By the end of their lives, it looked to be at the end of its as well. The upholstery was tattered, the stuffing was thinner than my grandfather’s favorite extra-crispy bacon, and one leg was threatening to break off. But when I think of it, I remember all the family holidays, sitting with my cousins and sisters on the couch. I remember my grandma reading me stories on it, and then holding my daughter 30 years later while we took our 4-generation-of-women picture. And like their marriage, its bumps and scrapes marked cherished memories, it’s faded cloth told stories of love and support. When I remember the loveseat, I am reminded of enduring love. Their love was as perfect as it gets. Perfect in its imperfections.

*Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails. Prophecies will cease, tongues will be silent, knowledge will pass away. Our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect. When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child I used to talk like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a (wo)man I put childish ways aside. Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. My knowledge is imperfect now; then I shall know even as I am known. There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of theses is love.


Smart Apples

Smart Apples by Jen Norton

Smart Apples, Acrylic on paper, 12 x 12"

Apples and school just go together. I don’t know how many kids still bring their teachers apples now that we have Starbucks gift cards, but the correlation still holds. This piece is acrylic on paper and meant to play up the school-apple connection. Remember learning Cursive writing? And that brown-ish ruled newsprint paper? I performed my “Art Triage” and painted this over an older piece, using it as a base. I love the freeing quality of destroying what no longer suits me, and painting into something that isn’t sacred and white. And in researching apple names to include, I found lists with hundreds of varieties to choose from! Creativity and abundance, it seems, is unlimited in the fruit world. This painting will be available at my Open Studio on May 21/22, 2011.

Brown Bread for a Green Day

Irish Brown Bread Painting by Jen Norton

Arán Donn (Brown Bread), 30 x 30, Acrylic on canvas


We were treated to some warm, delicious home-baked Irish Brown Bread upon returning from a long, drizzly day of sight-seeing while visiting our good friends in Ireland a while ago. Topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon, or just plain butter, it’s quite a treat. I had to paint the recipe of “Arán Donn”, complete with locally-grown apples and the magpies you often see along the road. There’s an old superstition about the meanings behind the number of magpies you see together. Two is for Joy! Beannachtaí na féile Pádraig…Or, if you’re not up to speed on your Irish, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Want to try it for yourself…here’s the recipe:

6 oz / 175g  whole wheatl flour
2 oz / 50g plain white flour
2 oz / 50g   steel cut oatmeal
1 oz / 25g   wheatgerm
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg
10 fl oz / 275ml buttermilk

mix dry stuff in big bowl
whisk egg in the buttermilk
mix dry and wet stuff
put into buttered bread tin
make a deep cross on top and prick the four corners to let the fairies out! (very important, I hear)

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375F for 50-60mins

Let me know what you think!

PS: You can purchase prints of this piece here. Contact me directly to inquire about the original.