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Tag Archives | california

The Joy of Imperfection

color inspiration

Making art can be a lot of fun, but it’s not always easy. At times it can be down-right torturous. My perfectionist mindset kicks in, saying, “You should be able to command divine inspiration at will… You have to make a great piece of art now…  Maybe you’re not as good as [insert name of another artist here_________].”  Boy, what a creativity killer. I might have the skills, eye, and years of practice to know I can find a solution. But as a human, I have to do the work to unearth it. Every time. So how does a left-brain-dominant girl access her right-brain creativity?

I tell myself little white lies. Yep, fight fire with fire, I say. I will start by messily painting color and texture, telling myself it’s only a surface for a future painting. I will point out that whatever I’m working on today is only a rough idea of some future final piece. Or I’ll destroy an old finished painting that never sold. As I mindlessly dabble, coffee in hand, my whirlwind of frustrations quiet and I begin to hear my truths again:

• There is beauty in imperfection.

• It is most natural for me to express emotion through color and texture.

• I am only part of the process. When I let go of fear, Creativity flows.

Before I know it (and because I’m no longer thinking about it), I’m in the rhythm of making art, delighted by the happy accidents and revelations that materialize. You may be surprised to know how many bad paintings I’ve created by thinking, “I’m going to make a great piece!” I almost always avoid that train of thought. Almost.

matilija poppy ©JenNorton

I am currently enrolled in an online course by agent extraordinaire Lilla Rogers, who is known to profess, “People buy your Joy.”  While working on a recent assignment for the home decor market, I found myself having to stop and ask myself once again, “What brings me Joy?” I began this project inspired by some photos I’d taken recently at the Santa Barbara Mission and Botanical Gardens. I was going to use my hand-drawn line style with some color and texture fills (see plate #1, below). In my mind, the idea looked great. But after several hours of work, it just wasn’t bringing me joy. It was saying, “nice enough, but who cares?” I didn’t.

I tossed and turned all night, re-drawing and painting it in my mind (do other artists do that?). By morning I knew I had to return to my painterly style. Same subject, similar layout…but more fun. More depth. More emotion. And, most importantly for me, beautifully imperfect. (plate #2, below) I purposely promote all unfinished and broken edges and blocky brushstrokes because those are the things that bring me Joy. I allow myself to paint and re-paint things as a reminder that I don’t have all the answers up front, but that they will come. In the end, I am enamored with this piece for a possible plate design.

Poppy plate designs ©JenNorton

I do my best as a humble human to paint what brings me Joy so that I can share some happiness with you. And if I’m lucky, I am rewarded with divine inspiration.

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My Relationship with Art

California Coastal vineyard and boat with Pinot grapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.