Archive | Painting Stories

stories about what inspires me on my artistic journey

The Annunciation

"Annunciation" by Jen Norton. Acrylic on canvas, 48x48"

“Annunciation” © Jen Norton, 2017

There are a million ways to say “no” to God.

Like Eve back in the Garden, we often listen to that little whispering voice telling us that we’ve been short-changed by God. “I’m not perfect enough.” “My Life isn’t going the way I planned.” “I deserve more.” We blindly take matters into our own hands, chasing things that makes us feel good right now. Born from the spirit but clothed in skin, we’re all capable of that fall. Honestly, I sometimes find it hard to be a thinking human and not know where to draw the line. It requires constant discernment.

But it only takes one “yes” for redemption. Mary showed us “Yes.”

I’m certainly not the first artist to paint the Annunciation. It’s a story that has captured the creative imagination and given hope for centuries. In a violent world, it reveals the power in the feminine quiet. It’s a story that challenges who we are and how much we really trust in God. It’s a story of a young girl, with young-girl plans, whose life was drastically altered by unexpected Divine Plans. It’s a story of God rushing in with all the force of Eternal Spring. Greatly Troubling indeed (Luke 29).

Yet Mary said Yes to God, and it seems she didn’t even have to work through the stages of grief! Maybe because her family got on board. Her parents sent her to a cousin who could comfort and support her (and get her away from village gossip!). Joseph listened to God and moved forward with the marriage. When called upon, he even fled everything he’d worked for and took refugee status. Her people stepped up. They didn’t leave her alone. In my humble opinion, that is a vital part of the story. In our politically-divided culture, it is worth remembering that supporting life as a Christian means not only letting it BE, but also not judging or withholding resources for those who face unplanned, life-altering circumstances. When it comes to Life and Love, God is all in. We should be too. We are called to family.

Be Not Afraid. I am trying.

Contact me to purchase this original. Information and other print products are available here.
Small prints made in my studio are available in my Etsy store here.

Love is Patient… (1 Corinthians 13)

Love Is Patient © Jen Norton. A painting of 1 Corinthians 13 done in a floral motif.

First Corinthians, verse 13. We all know how this one begins… Love is Patient, Love is Kind. If you’ve ever attended a Christian wedding, you’ve probably listened half-heartedly to this reading. And that’s the challenge of this verse… to not LIVE it half-hearted. To not practice it only with the people it’s easy to love, but with those we’re not so crazy about. Whole-heartedly.

How would your life change if you consciously chose not to be jealous of others? How would our society be different if no one ever acted selfishly or in a quick-tempered manner (even on social media)? Would you feel more loved if someone let go of a grudge held against you? What if we sought truth, cared about the “whys” behind the “whats”? If you hold someone else’s well-being as equal to your own, you do bear, believe, hope and endure all things for the purpose of Love. Jesus did it best. We should at least try.

Like a flower, Love can be easily crushed by a harsh word. It can wither and die without attention. But it can also be nurtured, gathered, and grown. Give it daily watering and pruning, action and prayer. The harvest is beautiful, something to be held in adoration.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
(1 Cor 13: 4-8)

This original painting will be available through The Sacred Art Gallery after January 23, 2017.
Art reproductions and other gift items are available in my Etsy store and in my store here:
Art Prints

St. Teresa of Kolkata

Acrylic painting of St. Teresa of Kolkata by Jen Norton.

Many thoughts and ideas have been running through my head in the last week on what to say about our newest saint, St. Teresa of Kolkata. Really, there’s not much I can add that you can’t already find on the internet, said by tons of people more learned than I. So on this anniversary of 9/11, I don’t think I need to add more words. What we still need is peace. Peace in our world, in our communities, in our families and peace in our own hearts. And what is Mother Teresa’s advice on how to achieve Peace? To start at home and love your family. I know that is sometimes much harder than it sounds, at least for me. Love can be a lot of self-sacrificing work! But if you can bring about “Works of Love” with those who you are closest to, you learn and teach each other to live with respect for the other. You raise children who know how to love and respect all people. And you know that to care for the needs of others benefits all.

What can you do to promote world peace today? Go home and love your family, one small work at a time.

My St. Teresa of Kolkata artwork, featuring the corporal works of Mercy in her garment, is available here and here. Do you need a banner for your church or school? I have partnered with Diocesan Publications and you can order yours here!


The Mustard Seed

Seeing yourself on video is a challenge to be overcome, but I’m doing it anyway. I hope you enjoy my attempt at a video blog, as well as my new painting, “The Mustard Seed”.

Jesus says that we must receive the kingdom of God like a little child or we will not be able to enter it. I think it means to have absolute trust and wide-eyed wonder at the potential of life. Too often we judge or think we don’t deserve God’s blessings. Too often, we willingly let the miracles pass us by. Really, we just need to be open to receive…Like a child on Christmas morning!

To me, this verse is about having the courage to dream and to let yourself believe that God will use you to create something bigger than you can imagine.

Have you ever had a dream for something, whether it be big or small, and thought, no…I can’t do that? I’m not good enough. God doesn’t see you that way. He can take the smallest of efforts, even the desire for effort, and turn it into something beyond your vision. You don’t have to know what your tree will look like in the end. It might need some pruning along the way. But if you’re willing to pick up your shovel and begin the work, clear away the weeds…you will eventually discover the seed God has saved for you. Sometimes it takes years. But when the soil is ready, you plant that one idea, that one little seed…and then you watch with wonder at how it unfolds.

You don’t have to know what your tree will look like in the end.

In the Mustard Seed parable, Jesus was speaking to people of his time with symbols they understood. They knew how small a mustard seed was. They knew how large the tree could grow. They knew the amazing mustard tree was capable of growing from just about any soil, in any climate. When he said that’s the kind of faith they needed, they got it! I hope that in my artwork, painted for modern eyes, you might know this story again for yourself.

You can purchase prints and products with this image by clicking the image below, or by visiting my Etsy store:

Sell Art Online

A special thanks to my friend Cameron Packee for having the patience to help me with this. May this just be a tiny mustard seed on your future path!


Lamb of God, Have Mercy on Us

Artwork for Lamb of God by Jen Norton

“Lamb of God” 16×20″ Acrylic on wood


One of my favorite prayers is the “Lamb of God”, recited just before communion during a Catholic mass. It’s so simple, repetitive, even childlike. Yet it says so much. We might complicate Mercy and Peace, but God doesn’t.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world…Have Mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world…Have Mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world…Grant us Peace.

You can purchase this print from my studio here,
or other reproductions and products here:

Art Prints



Glory Be!

"Glory Be" painted prayer © Jen Norton

Life on modern earth can be like a hurricane, swirling us one way, then the other. Fear, indecision, conflicting opinions, self-doubt, 24 hours of noise. It can all be overwhelming. And if you “build your house on sand” by trying to navigate it all yourself, it just might crumble you when the hot winds blow. But then there’s this little ancient prayer crafted from the words of Jesus (Matthew 28:19) and the apostles (Romans 11:36). The “Glory Be.” Just a short little recitation that lays the solid foundation of the Holy Trinity. A reminder…as it was from the beginning of time and ever shall be. Hope. I find it a very comforting thought.

This artwork is available on prints and products in my Fine Art America store:

Photography Prints

…or on small prints made in my studio on Etsy.


Thy Will be Done: A Year of Mercy

Painting of the Works of Mercy ©Jen Norton

“The Works of Mercy” 36×48″ Acrylic on canvas

The Pope has declared 2016 a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” in the Catholic church, an opportunity for faith-filled people to mindfully practice acts of mercy among their families, communities and in the larger world. No matter what your belief system, practicing works of mercy has the power to both enrich your soul and help alleviate the hardship of another, if you’re brave enough to take it on.

So what is Mercy anyway? To quote Fr. Jim Keenan of Boston College, “Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person’s life.” It’s acknowledging the worthiness in another and offering hope and healing.

“Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person’s life.”

And why does it require bravery? Because when you willingly step into another person’s chaos, even with the best of intentions, you might be rejected. Or judged. Or even harmed. And to step TOWARD another soul, you often must step AWAY from your own judgement about it. If you’ve ever thought about giving a homeless person a dollar, and then judged that they might not use it in the way you’d like them to, you know what that feels like.

As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. But looking up at the cross, we realize just how hard that can be. In His most passionate act of mercy on our behalf, Jesus’ hands and feet are broken and bleeding. They are pierced with nails and He cries out, “I thirst.” He has been rejected. It’s not pretty or easy; It is the ultimate surrender to God’s will. But He offers it to us anyway, knowing we are worthy of Easter.

Several years ago I was volunteering at Sacred Heart Community Services in my town. I was working in the clothing shop, where families can come in and shop for free from donated items. A woman came through the line who looked to be in pretty bad shape and we had a few moments of conversation during the “check-out” process. She had teeth missing and what sounded like a painful cough. In those few minutes I learned that she had walked several miles to get to the center that morning, and would now be walking back with her cart. It had been raining, so the streets were wet. I must have said something like “I hope you have a nice walk back”…blah, blah, the usual small talk. I don’t really remember what I said, but I’ll never forget her response. She looked me straight in they eye and touched my hand saying, “Bless you and all that you do.” It wasn’t just the words, but how she said it. I really felt Christ in that moment. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing that much. But for those few moments we shared, she probably felt like a regular customer having regular conversation in a regular store, and she was all-present in the moment. I may have “stepped into her chaos” by being physically there in the store that day. But she stepped back into MY chaos and affirmed that I was doing something of eternal value. And that’s what Mercy does. Love and care freely given can offer both parties the hope that they are worthy of God’s compassion and love. Everybody wins. The Kingdom Comes when His Will is done.

So are you up for practicing some Mercy? You’ve got 14 ways to try it out, including…

the Corporal works of mercy (works that tend to bodily needs of others):
• Feed the hungry
• Give drink to the thirsty
• Clothe the naked
• Shelter the homeless
• Visit the sick
• Visit the imprisoned
• Bury the dead

the Spiritual works of mercy (works that tend to spiritual suffering of others):
• Instruct the ignorant
• Counsel the doubtful
• Admonish sinners
• Bear wrongs patiently
• Forgive offenses
• Comfort the afflicted
• Pray for the living and the dead

Even if you only pick one, the world will be a better place. Pope Francis offers further instruction to a modern world saying, “Every word, every gesture, whether in conversation, social media, or email, ought to reveal God’s compassion.”

Let’s get to work!

My “Works of Mercy” artwork and products can be purchased here:

Photography Prints

St. Christopher: The man for the journey

A painting of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river, keeping him safe from danger.

St. Christopher. 16×20″ Acrylic on wood.

I was recently commissioned to paint some saints for a gift company who will be making products from my work next year (more on that later…). One of the saints requested was St. Christopher, and even though I attend a “St. Christopher” church, I have to admit I really didn’t know much about him. There are thousands of Catholic saints…who can keep track? I knew he was the patron saint of travelers, but that’s about it.

Turns out he’s a bit of a mystery. The name Christopher means “Christ-bearer,” and may, in fact, refer more to his legend than his actual name. Rumor has it he was a fearsome-looking, large Canaanite man called Reprobus. He may also be one-in-the-same as St. Menas, the patron saint of travelers in the Coptic tradition. Before the church organized its canonization process in the 15th century, saints could apparently be named by popular approval. Consequently, some saints are merely legend or mythology, and some were incorporated from other religions. While the mysterious Christopher seemingly lived and was martyred in the second and third century, he wasn’t accepted into Roman Catholic tradition until the 1500s…and then dropped from the official calendar in 1970 due to the pesky problem that no one is sure who he really was.

Real or not, he still remains a popular future with a devoted following. Why? Because he embodies the spiritual journey we all travel in our quest for holiness and validation.

Christopher’s call to sainthood began with youthful ideals, leading him on a few misguided turns along the way. As a young man, he set out to serve “the greatest king there was.” In modern terms, he might have aspired to reality-TV fame. For the time he lived in, that accolade was to serve the king of Canaan. I’m sure he had great ambitions of becoming a mighty warrior, famous for strength and valor. The king was his ticket.

Then one day he witnessed the king crossing himself to ward off the devil. Clearly the devil must be greater than the king… so he left to find the him. Disillusionment with an idol. Rebellion. “I’ll show you, king.” We’ve all been there. So he found a band of marauders whose leader called himself the Devil and started hanging out with them, causing trouble. Then one day he realized that life had its limits as he watched “the devil” avoid a wayside cross in the road out of fear. Clearly there was one more powerful than the devil, one who could promise a more rewarding life, and he left to find the bearer of that cross…Christ.

Clearly there was one more powerful than the devil, one who could promise a more rewarding life, and he left to find the bearer of that cross…Christ.

Next he met a kindly old hermit (there’s always a hermit) who instructed him in the ways of Christianity and suggested he was well-qualified to spend his life helping people cross a particularly precarious part of the local river as a service to Christ. So he began a life of this simple, albeit dangerous task, keeping river-crossers alive and well. One day, a child requested a ride atop his shoulders. As Christopher was carrying him across the treacherous rapids, it seemed to him the child grew heavier and heavier, almost too much to bear. When he finally reached the far shore, he said to the child, “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” And the child replied, “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.” The child then vanished.

Christopher had his encounter with “the greatest king”, in the most unlikely form he expected… a helpless child.

And so we all travel through life, following our hearts, fighting our egos, swayed by the choices we make. And if we’re lucky, we find purpose in the simple things we were designed by God to do…the things that brought us Joy as children. And through service to that simple vocation, we encounter Christ who was traveling with us all along.

St. Christopher’s feast day is celebrated (unofficially) on July 25.

At the time of this blog post, the original art is still available. $900 Contact me with your interest.
Buy prints on paper, made in my studio here.
Buy custom prints and products here.


Blessed Fr. Junipero Serra: A Man with a Mission

Blessed Junipero Serra ©Jen Norton

Fr. Junipero Serra, founder of nine of the twenty-one California missions, is to be canonized (officially declared a saint by the Catholic church) later this year. If you aren’t familiar with Serra, he is an essential figure in California history, but also a controversial one. As it happens, I worked one summer during college for a history professor at Santa Clara University gathering information for the “beatification” of Fr. Serra, the first step towards canonization. This was back in 1986, so you can see the church, as it often does, deliberated and considered this new saint for quite some time before giving it the papal “go.” In September of 2015, he will be canonized as the patron saint of Vocations.

Whatever you may think of Serra, he is a story of brokenness and redemption found in each of us. He is the story of a man with a purpose, driven in spite of, or maybe because of, his faults and demons. He is the story of God’s grace sometimes being out of our range of vision. He is the story of persevering in what we believe in. And for some of us, he may also be a story of forgiveness.

Born in Majorca, Spain, Serra was a gifted intellectual who became a lector of philosophy in his early 20s, before his ordination to the Franciscan order of the Catholic priesthood. At 27, he left his secure post and sailed to the Americas. Upon his arrival in Vera Cruz, Mexico, he was so thankful to reach dry land he walked to his post in Mexico City on foot (about 250 miles or 405km). As a person who easily suffers from motion sickness and was once traumatized by a 3-hour whale-watching expedition, I completely understand that decision.

Along the way, he sustained a chronic foot injury, but would still choose to walk thousands of miles up and down California in his lifetime. He was known to display acts of self-mortification and self-denial and was obsessive about calling native peoples to penance in Christ. I have yet to see a picture of Serra where he looks happy and I believe him to be a man tortured by his own demons and perceived faults of the flesh, despite of his religious calling. I imagine him to be a chronic over-thinker with a well-defined sense of morality that, for whatever reason, he felt he fell short of. Don’t we all battle spirit over flesh, faith over doubt? He may have been extreme in his management of spirit, but he did choose to walk with his pain, not avoid it. I have to believe that gave him some level of compassion, and even his own writings suggest mercy in his treatment of the native population in contrast to the Spanish norms of the time, if not to our modern eye.

In 1768 he was appointed to lead a group of Franciscans who to were to take over the missions of Baja California after Spanish King Carlos III expelled the Jesuits. He went on to found nine missions in Alta California with the ideological vision of converting the native peoples. In the process, he also made California an economically viable trading partner with Mexico and a valuable outpost for Spain. And this is where the controversy lies, of course. None of this would have happened without the exploitation of the native labor force.

But as often happens in history where all things are interconnected, there is more than one viewpoint. I am not going to justify the enslavement or death by disease suffered by native Californians under Spanish colonialism. I can’t. But I can concede that in his time, “converting the uncivilized” was held as a worthy value by Europeans. Right or wrong, it is still a belief we see in the world today and part of our self-centered human nature. Don’t we always wish everyone thought the way we do, even if we don’t act on it? Add religious ideology and you’ve got the makings of a tough, but effective, system.

And then there’s the bigger picture. If it wasn’t for the economic strength of the Spanish-held missions (and military strength of its presidios), Russia may have taken much more of an interest in California. Or, more likely, it would have become part of Mexico. How would it have changed the shape of current America if Mexico had full military control of CA during the Mexican-American war? And what if that alternate outcome changed the game in the later Spanish-American war? If the US did not control the waterways of the Pacific or have authority in Guam or the Phlilipines, how might have that changed the course of the second World War? How would I even be telling you this story via my home computer had California not enjoyed the last century of vast resources and creative independence provided by American freedom? How are those (like me) who visit the beautiful restored missions or who are educated in associated schools inspired by the broken footsteps of Serra?

So you see, whatever you may think of Serra, whatever he may thought of himself in his limited vision, there was a bigger plan at play. We all have a mission, a vocation, a calling. We all try to do the best with the knowledge we have. We all make mistakes and inherently lack God’s full vision. We all do things, both big and small, that require forgiveness.

May God bless Fr. Serra and fulfill his mission of repentance and vocation in each of us so that his sainthood may be justified.

Fr. Serra’s Feast Day will be July 1

Art prints from my studio available in my Etsy shop.


Through Lent to Easter: The Season of Communion

The Sacrifice ©Jen Norton

“The Sacrifice” 16×20 Acrylic on canvas. Original sold; Prints and prayer cards available.

In the Catholic church, and in many other Christian churches, we are currently in the season of “Lent.” It is a time of reflection and repentance to prepare for Easter, the promise of new life. It is a time to reflect on all that we have, and have done; all that we have built up or torn down; a time to take stock. It’s a time to remember that in the end, everything of this world will pass away and all that will be left is How We Loved. God didn’t just leave us with an abstract concept. He sent His Son to us. Jesus experienced the worst of human brokenness…temptation in the desert, betrayal by a close friend, taunting and fear, and finally a humiliating and painful death. Whatever you may be going through or whatever difficulties you may be facing, Jesus gets it. He lived it. And he died to it. He was bread-broken, blood-shed, self-sacrificed.

But wait, there’s more… Easter! New Life. The Way through. Death was not the end of the story. Jesus escaped its throes. And he didn’t just zip up to Heaven and let an angel tell us about it. He stuck around for a while and made sure there were many eye witness reports and the fervent acts of the early apostles to prove it. He even included a “doubting apostle” for those of us who aren’t quite able to believe it all by faith. God thought of everything…and so we inherit everything, if only we believe. If only we walk in communion with Him.

In church tradition, this is also to time for children to receive their “First Holy Communion” and for adults newly entering the church to go through RCIA (Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults). I have created some new artwork in my not-quite-traditional style to celebrate these events. Should you be in need of a gift, or just an inspirational piece for your own home, I would be honored if you chose one of my pieces!

“The Sacrifice” (above) is available in the following formats through these links:
matted and unmated prints on paper
8×10 print on wood
pocket prayer cards with choice of Anima Christi, Our Father or a Communion Prayer on the back
customizable prints and cards

I have created two images expressing the simplicity and joy of Jesus’ welcome, perfect for your young boy or girl. The originals are available. Acrylic on cradled wood with painted sides, 8×10″, $180 each. Contact me directly to purchase the originals.

First Communion artwork for boys and girls are each available in the following formats:
• Communion Boy matted prints or customizable prints
• Communion Girl matted prints or customizable prints
Communion Boy prayer card or Communion Girl prayer card (with Our Father on the back)
• Customizable party invitations, coordinating postage and stickers for both boys and girls

Art and Gifts for First Communion ©Jen Norton


May you walk in communion with the promise of our Lord.