Tag Archives | original art

Mediterranean Landscape, step by step

I was recently hired to do a commissioned painting for some wonderful patrons, and I thought it would be fun to show you some of the process. Every artist has her own process… this a little of mine!

The clients had some ideas on themes, styles and colors they liked, but they weren’t entirely sure what they wanted and had never commissioned art before. I began by working on some formats and sketches based on their interests and the space the final piece would hang. We settled on this sketch of a Mediterranean landscape:

Landscape, sketch idea


I began by transferring the sketch to canvas, and painting in the values for reference. I do allow for the freedom to change my mind, but I try to at least start with the agreed-upon sketch!

landscape–line and value


Then I start adding color. I try not to get too caught up in the end result. This is all underpainting and I’ve found that the more time I spend playing around at this phase, the more interesting the end piece is. I got too involved to remember to take more photos, but I used stamps, layers of bright color and texture, a little collage and messy brushwork to build interest in this phase.

landscape-adding color


When I thought I was far enough along, I showed it to the client. Since they live near me, we could look at it in their space for better evaluation.

landscape-with sunflowers

We decided on less yellow and blue, more purples and reds, including a change from sunflowers to some kind of climbing rose bush. They also decided they’d like a more realistic sunset, with only 1/2 the sun showing. This input is really important because they have to live with the piece, and I want them to be happy! It’s hard to know what you want without something solid to look at so I always allow points for evaluation and reasonable change in the process. Here’s where our decisions lead us… I really liked the new roses!

landscape-red roses

This was really close, but we still decided to pull some of the orignal blues back into the water, lighten the sky and calm some of the turbulence in the sea. The final result… ta da!

Cocktails for Two © Jen Norton


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.


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!

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.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: A California Classic

Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce Decal 2011

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Chamber of Commerce 2011 Decal

If you visit Santa Cruz in 2011, be sure to look for these decals in some of the window fronts. They display businesses that are members of the Chamber of Commerce, and I had the opportunity to create the illustration of the beach and boardwalk for them! Thanks to my friend Kirsti Scott of  Scott Design (The creative agency for technology companies) for the job.

The original is acrylic on paper and is matted to a 24 x 30″ size. It is available matted for $850 (plus tax and shipping as applicable). Contact us directly to purchase.

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.

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.

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.)

An “Ah-Ha” moment about my Art IQ

Ballo dell'alba

Ballo dell'alba (Dance of Dawn) © Jen Norton

(reposted from my former blog) Over the last several years, I have developed this method of drawing with my left hand, free-forming shapes that later become content and parts of other shapes. Sometimes I use this technique to begin a painting. Sometimes I use it to “fix” a painting. Either way, I love the result….the almost mathematical, yet chaotic way that the shapes connect together to create form and content. Organic, tribal…it fascinates me like a PBS special on “String Theory” (yes, I’m geeky). Because it is a very intuitive way of drawing, I can never achieve the same results twice. Sometimes I stand back from a finished piece and think, “Wow, I pulled it off!”. But you know, whenever you get too high on your own horse, God has a way of gently reminding you that He is in control, and His ways are not ours. Such was the case one day when I found myself cleaning my garage….

I came across a drawing my brother Mark had done in high school and given to me. Mark is 10 years younger than I, and has always been fascinated with special effect movies, big-time wrestling and 80s music. We don’t have much in common. He can be focused, obsessed, unwavering…OK, we have a few things in common. In this particular drawing, he had rendered the “Bat Cave”, with in his own personal vision. I had received it graciously, on the surface, and had tucked it among my “old college art”. There it remained hidden for over 20 years, until I was ready to truly receive the gift. So, years later, here I am re-discovering my brother’s work on a hot dusty, garage-cleaning day. It has a familiar feel to my current work…organic shapes, slightly off-kilter patterns that could be seen as chaotic, but that work together. Underlying order. Symmetry. Beauty. Something I have discovered myself, after years of searching. Somehow my brother figured it out way before me. There’s something else I should tell you about Mark. He has Down Syndrome.

Bat Cave by Mark Duris

The Bat Cave © Mark Duris