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Signs of Whimsy

A local woman's hand painted signs have a message for everyone

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Blayney Norton has worked in various artistic mediums over the past 20 years and takes pride in calling herself a working artist. Known for her whimsical hand painted signs sold around New England and the Caribbean, she lives in Bristol with her husband Jock and their daughter Zelda.

How do you describe your personal style and its influence in your art?
I am a hippie at heart but grew up north of Boston and spent summers on Fire Island and Martha’s Vineyard so I also have a relaxed nautical preppy inclination. Both styles are reflected in my work between colors and themes. No surprise that I’m drawn to painting fish!

You make a point to call yourself a working artist. Why?
My parents strongly encouraged me to major in a field that would provide a skill so I could get a job after college. The deal was I could minor in Art History but I would major in Graphic Arts and Printmaking. And they were right. Having those skills gave me the advantage to find work when I graduated. For many years I did logo design for a t-shirt company in Newport and then illustration and graphic arts for businesses and non-profits.

You are known for your hand painted signs which are fun and upbeat. How did they come about?
When I began doing painted furniture I was getting geared up to enter my first show - The Providence Fine Furnishings & Fine Craft show. I knew I should have a bread and butter item to sell to cover the cost of the booth. I decided to do some decorative small signs. They did so well that I started taking orders which led to accounts at gift shops around New England and in the Caribbean.

What was the design concept behind your signs?
My signs are simple statements about life but expressed in a whimsical style and reflect a place or experience. Living here in Bristol it was only natural to have a “Gone To The Parade” sign or “At The Beach”. And being a parent I know “The Baby Is Sleeping” is appreciated by lots of new moms! My zip code and RWU grad signs are popular gifts around commencement.

What influences your color palette?
I love the color of the light of the Caribbean which is so bright, pure and saturated. It inspires me in everything I do. Spring and summer seasons definitely inspire my mood. This time of year my head is racing with different ideas. When I first began designing and painting my wooden signs it was all about bright fun colors in- spired by the Caribbean and East Coast summers. But in recent years I have enjoyed experimenting with gray and yellow or gray and orange. I’ve always liked working with unexpected colors.

Where are you going now with your work?
I love textiles. I’ve started painting some of my signature designs on fabric and framing them. I am drawn to rabbits and dogs or fish. They make a great accent to a room.

What has given you unexpected fulfillment in your art?
I started volunteering with the Art Docent program at Rockwell Grammar School where my daughter is in second grade. I have gotten so much satisfaction and joy working with the students. The program involves exposing the children to a painting or sculpture and in conjunction with a topic they are learning in class and they create an art project around both. I love it.

Who has been a major influence on your work?
Charles Blayney Colmore, my late grandfather whose name I share was a very talented painter. He had a corporate career living around the world and after he retired he pursued his passion as a water colorist focusing on the scenic coast of Maine and the beaches of South Carolina and the Bahamas. I grew up watching him paint and his use of light was a major influence for me and my work.

When you look at the arc of your artistry what have you learned about yourself?
My advisor and drawing teacher at RWU Ron Wilczek use to say “paint what you see and not what you know”. I still struggle to paint what I actually see and not what I know. But what I’ve learned along the way is that it is so important to allow for failure. The more you do your art the more you need to allow yourself to accept your mistakes in order to find yourself.

Blayney Norton’s Hand Painted Decorative signs are sold locally at Kate & Co. in Bristol, Chace N’ Lulu in Newport and at Nell Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown, MA. To See Blayney’s work check her out on Facebook.