Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

Freshly-baked bread!

Bread Recipe painting by Jen Norton

Grandma Mac's Easy White Bread, Acrylic on Canvas

The smell of fresh bread baking was a familiar and comforting aroma at my grandmother’s house. A former home economics major at a time when many women didn’t consider college, she baked fresh bread (and other healthy meals) for her family every week, living to be 101 years old. From her, I learned the comfort of simple, homemade foods and easy conversation around the table. Many times I’ve kneaded my own rendition of her recipe, and I’ve never been disappointed. In her honor, I painted this very special piece featuring her “Easy White Bread” recipe combined with the colors and motifs of her kitchen plates. I’ve tried many bread recipes since, and this is still my favorite (my cousins will confirm it makes fabulous toast). And no kidding, it’s easy!

In the spirit of encouraging others to cook more at home with basic ingredients, I want to share the recipe with you in the form of a 20 x 20 Limited Edition gicleé canvas-wrapped print. Because the canvas wraps around the 1 and 3/4″ stretcher bar, the artwork has a modern look with no framing needed. The ready-to-hang artwork is coated with a UV protection to prevent fading. Order through my Etsy store, or directly by emailing me with your interest through the contact page on this website.

Here’s to heart-warming, homemade bread!

Oatmeal Can

John McCann's Oatmeal can painting

McCann's Oatmeal by Jen Norton, Acrylic on Paper

In my quest to paint everyday objects and food related themes, I recently rediscovered my “John McCann’s Steel Cut Oatmeal” can while preparing breakfast. Oatmeal is a great way to start the day. I love it with brown sugar and butter, or topped with nuts and berries. When I’m feeling especially healthy, I’ll add in a little flax seed. But one shouldn’t overlook the other true gem of John McCann’s…the can itself! A veritable Who’s Who of the historical oat world to study while your cereal simmers (and it may take you the whole-grain-30-minutes to read it).

The 200 year history of the Irish oats, including their award in 1893 for “Uniformity of Granulation” can be found here. Doesn’t sound like the most exciting competition to judge, but good for good ol’ John. I personally appreciate his attention to granulation.

Just in case you ever get an oatmeal question on Jeopardy, I’ve provided the text on the historical sections of the can for you. Let’s all pause to remember the lives of the oatmeal men listed:

Side One:
World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago, 1893
John McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal
Certificate of Award, Uniformity of Granulation
Approved: N.B. Critchfield, President of Departmental Committee
Signed: Chas Keith, Individual Judge
Approved: John Boyd Thacher, Chariman Executive Committee of Awards
Dated 28th June, 1894

Side Two:
International Exhibition 1876
Certificate of Award
John McCann Steel Cut Oatmeal
Group IV
United States Centennial Commission
(In accordance with the Act of Congress)
Philadelphia, September 27th, 1876.
John L Campbell, Secretary, A.T. Goshorn, Director General, Jos. R. Hawley, President

By coincidence I was introduced to The Sweet Beet, a blog about food origins, just after I painted my oatmeal can. They have a good discussion of the health benefits of various oatmeal styles here.

May the “Men of Oats” live on in our creative imaginations, blogs and breakfast bowls! Now, if I could only get my husband to eat them. What’s your favorite way to eat oatmeal?

Spicing up your art with left-overs.

During winter months we like to make home-made soup. We roast a chicken for dinner and then make stock from the leftover bones, adding vinegar to help draw out the nutrients and boiling them on a low setting for about 4 hours. (helpful hint: I leave the stovetop light on to remind me to turn the stove off before I go to bed. One time I forgot to do this and…well…it wasn’t pretty and it didn’t smell too good either!)

The following day, use the stock to make any kind of soup you can dream up! One of our favorites is my husband’s Roasted Tomato soup. It’s a great use of our crop of late-season fall tomatoes. I decided to use the recipe as my subject for a new painting, using an old painting as my “stock”. Like making a soup base, creating art over an old piece is very rewarding. You don’t have to confront that scary “white paper” for one. There’s already some flavor to start with. And like finding a tasty use for those aging vegetables in your fridge, recycling something that’s been hanging around a bit too long can prove healthy and satisfying. I liked parts of this old painting, but it had outlived its welcome in my repertoire and had not yet found a home. It was time to transform its tasty colors and textures into a new recipe.

Painting “stock”

First, I coated the existing piece with acrylic medium. This is because the original was done in watercolor, and I didn’t want it to bleed into the new work. Since I was going to be working in acrylic, it made sense to seal it with the same medium. After it dried, I painted my new composition over the old and started filling in shapes with color, leaving some areas to peek through.

adding to the base

Having color and texture already on the page makes this process fun. Like an extra pinch of chili pepper, tiny tasty surprises peek through that you couldn’t reproduce if you tried. I tossed in some colored pencil texture, a dash of paint flicked from a toothbrush, and Vwa-laah…Tomato Soup!

Tastes great with grilled cheese…hmmm, might have to paint that next!

Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup, Acrylic on paper

Tomato Soup is framed in a dark wood frame to an 18 x 22 size, ready to hang. $400. Contact us through the email form on this site if you are interested in this piece!

Orange is the new White

Jen Norton with her painting of oranges and persimmons

“Four Persimmons” by Jen Norton

One of my favorite things about living in California is the winter oranges that ripen just around the holidays. Our tiny tree went nuts this year, over-producing a juicy sun-kissed crop. Over the last several weeks, we’ve been picking and squeezing the most delicious orange juice, keeping us all healthy through cooler weather. Now the poor tree is almost empty (and perhaps relieved of the added weight), and all those oranges inspired a painting celebrating the orange hues of the season. (it’s the one I’m working on in my home page video!) I think I will call it “Four Persimmons”!

My dog Pattie often works as my in-house critic. Here she is offering her opinion of the piece in it’s early stages. She may have been more interested if the work involved meats.

Pattie critiques my work.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Rome wasn't built in a day

“Rome Wasn't Built in a Day” by Jen Norton

Before traveling to Rome, I had always imagined the crumbling ancient ruins of the Coliseum and Roman Forum being somewhere outside the modern city, carefully protected from vandals and pollution. Far from it… the icons of past civilizations were not removed from current life, but right smack in the middle of it! 3000-year-old structures surrounded by streets teaming with traffic, and tons of fashionable, wildly-driving Romans on Vespas. In Rome, you can see the timeline of Western Civilization before your eyes. My intent was to play up the rhythms in the patterns and combine shapes to emphasize how life is connected both in the layers of past-to-present, and within current time. The Roman numeral for 2007 (MMVII) floats through the atmosphere, marking the year I painted this…my point in time.

Pig Racing in Ireland

Pig Racing in Belturbet (Co.Cavan) Ireland

Pig Racing in Belturbet by Jen Norton


On a recent trip to Ireland our adventures took us to Belturbet to watch Pig Racing. Not even all the locals know about this high point of culture. In fact, we arrived early unable to find where the races were to be held. At 3:30pm, there was not a sign, crowd, or hint of the impending excitement. But at 4pm, the atmosphere changed. Two trucks pulled up…one filled with pigs, which proceeded to unfold, revealing the starting line; the other transformed into the finish line. Barriers were put up, a green Astroturf® carpet was rolled out, short little pig hurdles were spaced along the route, and the bets were taken. By 4:45pm, the races began, with six contending pigs racing down the line with stuffed “jockeys” strapped to their backs.! “Watch out for #6…She’s a real flyer!!” yelled the announcer. Sure enough, five seconds later, #6 was declared winner, the pigs were rewarded with a snack and herded back to the starting truck for the second round. Six rounds of betting, six races…I lost them all, but ended up with an inspirational subject for new paintings!

This piece won the 2009 First Place Award at the SCVWS Annual Exhibition. Judge Christopher Schink commented, “It’s hard to do a good painting that amuses you. This painting is fun without being corny. With its broken-up design, this piece conveys the feeling of the subjects without seeing them. It delighted me! Not just an illustration, it is full of fun and whimsy and has an imaginative concept of design.”

If you’d like to see a short clip of the race that inspired this painting, I’ve posted it on YouTube. Click here.

You can purchase prints of this painting here.

Bee Happy!

Beekeeper and Bee Happy art by Jen Norton

Beekeeper and Bee Happy art by Jen Norton

(reposted from April 1010) People often wonder whether “art imitates life”, but it was the other way around here at Jen Norton Art Studio. One of my illustrations is called “Bee Happy”, (a top seller in my Garden Charm™ line). The bees must have found out I was a fan because last week they decided to move to my house! If you haven’t yet experienced a bee migration first-hand, it’s quite a scene. And as fascinating as it is to watch, not entirely convenient when it happens near your front door! First a few bees hang around and check out the real estate. Then they call the queen to her throne. When she’s settled, she calls a few friends…like 10,000 of them and they swarm right in! In the end, we found a beekeeper who was able to do a live removal and give them a new home in an almond orchard. (In this photo, he’s removing a hive partition and showing me the queen bee.) My flowers look great this year, and I’ll miss my bees…but they had to go.

Should you ever need to remove bees (without killing them) near San Jose, CA , call “Smiling Bee Services‎” at 408-929-7983.

If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked you a cake!

Yellow Cake Recipe painting

Yellow Cake by Jen Norton

My husband does most of our family cooking, but, being more of a meat guy, he leaves the baking to me. This piece was inspired by yummy yellow birthday fare. Sharing food brings us closer…especially when it involves cake! I don’t know too many people who’d rather eat their birthday cake alone, do you? It’s a sweet treat any time of day, and if someone bakes you one, you know you’re special. This particular recipe won’t make you fat…so let us all eat cake!

Change is good.

Three Sisters

Three Sisters in the Garden by Jen Norton

(reposted from Apirl 2010) Every so often I take some time to re-evaluate some of my unsold work. Is it just waiting for the right buyer? Does it need a little facelift now that I see it with new eyes? Or is it hanging around like dirty laundry taunting me with reminders of my lackluster housecleaning skills? This morning I came across a piece that needed to be shed like that extra 2 lbs gained on vacation, so I splashed paint, rolled ink and otherwise destroyed what was there. I decided to go with the theme of “Linked” from Illustration Friday that appeared in my inbox. A little uncontrolled “left-hand” drawing, some simplified shape…The result is this illustration of my two sisters and I walking hand in hand along a garden path. It’s simple, imperfect, uncomplicated and sure was a lot of fun to make. Sometimes, that’s all I ask of myself. Stains gone. Laundry folded. See what you think!

note: The original painting is sold, but this image is available to order on a Garden Charm, or for licensing. Use my contact page form for either.

Art Appreciation, kid-style





“Emma was Here“ by Jen Norton

“Emma was Here“ © Jen Norton

This essay was published on and is re-posted from my former blog, Dec 2008. I wrote it to remind myself to always look at things from other points of view…in this case, my daughter’s.

Recently, we had an opportunity to take our family on a trip to Italy. As an artist, I relished the idea of exposing my young daughter to the wonders of the creative seat of Western Culture. I tried to excite her by explaining that much of the design culture we enjoy now got its start in Italy…way back when the wealthy and powerful Medici family began funding the arts, inadvertently pulling us out of the previous “Dark Ages”. Her eyes glossed over and she countered with a newly-found fact about Hannah Montana. In Rome, we wandered through the Forum and Colosseum and I attempted to ignite her imagination with the thousands of variations of Roman civilizations that had built these structures. No luck…it was July, about 120 degrees Farenheit, she was pining for gelato and declaring the ruins “just a pile of old rocks.” The Duomo in Florence, vertical architecture of Cinque Terre and the Piazza del Campo in Seina all met with similar enthusiasm.

I was just about to give up, when her eye focused on something that really interested her: Graffiti!  It was everywhere…on old stuff, new stuff, trains, sidewalks. Anything that stood still bore the mark of modern Roman youth. It’s not that I hadn’t noticed it before. I just wondered why no one seemed to care about cleaning it up. But my daughter loved it, exclaiming, “Look at that mom!” over some spray-painted animae character or colorful wording. I should have known. She loves to write. She never draws a picture without including dialogue in those “talking bubbles”. When I drag her to art shows (“not anuuuther art show!”), she only taken with the calligraphers. She loves colorful, graphic pop art. And why not? What it lacks in subtly, it makes up for in immediate communication and fun. What kid doesn’t respond to that?

As a consequence, I began to look at this display of modern ego in a different light. All those layers of line and color…mark over mark over mark. It’s like Italy itself, especially Rome. You have centuries of humanity building and living one over the other. Unlike the states, no one tears down the old to build the new. You can’t. Half a shovel down, you’ll probably hit something archeological every time. So, you just build up, next to, across…imagine any preposition, and the Romans have architecturally rendered it. The Roman Colosseum isn’t off in some protected national park. It’s smack dab in the middle of modern Rome, vespa traffic, graffiti and all. In my daughter’s eyes, graffiti is just the next generation leaving it’s mark, and far more colorful than that old “pile of rocks”.

In honor of her appreciation of “graffiti as art”, I began to incorporate it into my paintings as well. I can over-think just about everything, so I’m relieved when I can just take something at face value. “Hey mom, graffiti is cool!” OK, I get that. I don’t understand it all or experience it with the same emotion, but I get that it speaks to her, and that makes it interesting to me. In my work, it shows up mostly as a background texture because that’s how I relate to it in the real world. Sometimes it tells something more about the painting. In the end, all good art is a form of communication first between the artist and God, and then the artist and the viewer. Graffiti is certainly an art of communication, even if not everyone can understand it. My Italian’s not so good either, but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the melodic rhythm of the language or know that it has meaning.

As a parent, we all want to infuse our kids with our life lessons, enrich them, make them see beyond their own elementary-school universe. But sometimes it pays to listen to them too. In the bible (Matthew 18:3), Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” What if this moment is heaven? Can you see it? The wisdom of decades is a good thing, but for added appreciation, try seeing through the eyes of a child.

(In defense of my daughter’s culture appreciation, I should add that she did find a few other things fascinating: the preserved head of St. Catherine in Siena and the leaning Tower of Pisa (as well as the tchatchkis stands along the road leading up to it) were big hits. Also, the marble sculpture in the Vatican, tiny European cars and the plethora of pizza.)