Interview: Norma Jeanne Maloney

If you think you can't make a living as an artist, you've got to meet Norma Jeanne Maloney, a sign-painter in Taylor, Texas with a waiting list miles long. She works hard, loves deep, and has one of the best antidotes to stress I've ever heard of.

How do you describe yourself? Your work?

I'm a sign painter. I do all hand-painted signs on any kind of substrate from vehicles to windows to murals. I also do fine art when I have time. I’m actually doing a Dolly Parton painting right now that I’ve been putting off forever. We’re having a nice little rainstorm in Texas, so I’m listening to music and doing something that is just for me, giving myself a little gift today.

I’m overwhelmed with work. It’s unbelievable to be in this position at 53-years-old, to find myself getting to the point where I have to start turning people away, which is a gift.

Did that reach a tipping point for you?

I [would] find myself getting off work and going home and not knowing how to just be. I’m trying to find that balance between being blessed with all of this work and finding a way to not lose myself in it so it becomes a job and not something I love.

What are the ways that you manage stress?

Gratitude. You don’t have to look very far around you to see signs that you have it pretty good. Things that stress you out are typically fixable.

[With] day-to-day stress, if you can take a minute when you’re having your coffee outside - which is what I do - and listen to the birds. Be grateful that you’re breathing in and out and can experience these things when people are really struggling all around us with financial, emotional, psychological things. If you’re not dealing with those things, then you need to just suck it up, be grateful, and get on.

What personal traits have been most essential for you in the development of your work and style?

I’m very observant. I’m very in tune with design from the past, but I like to read and stay current. I’m very patient and hard working. I tend to believe that if you put good things out there, good things come to you. I try to be kind and fair.

How do you handle criticism?

It depends. I really enjoy constructive criticism from people that care and know what they’re talking about. I have a hard time with people being critical just because they’re critical people. But I find that if you’re open-minded, you can learn something from anybody.

When I get [criticism], I try to take a deep breath and sit with it before I react. Because you can always learn from something that ruffles your feathers.

What are some habits that have served you well over the years?

Being early; early is on time to me. Being fair with people and listening to what they need. You have to take into consideration - especially when someone’s opening a small business and they’re scared out of their minds already - that you’ve got their storefront in your hands. You have to really listen to that person, what turns them on, why they’re doing something, and come up with a concept that will move their business forward.

When you wake up in the morning, what do you most look forward to?

Calling my mom. I call her before I go to bed and I call her every morning. She's my best friend and has supported me in any endeavor that I’ve undertaken in my life. She got diagnosed with cancer two years ago and that’s put everything into a whole different perspective.

[Besides calling her], I can’t wait to get into my studio. I really look forward to coming here everyday. It’s just a beautiful space. I’ve lived in a lot of studios that were really tiny and cramped. Here, I’ve got 2,600 square feet, 30 foot ceilings, natural light, good neighbors and all the tools I could possibly need. It took me a long time to get here, so when I come in, it’s just a joy and a pleasure to be here.

When do you feel most in your element?

I’m most at peace when I’m behind the wheel on a roadtrip and I’m listening to music. I get really inspired by that situation. I get really creative. I think about all the things that I want to do that I haven’t done yet.

I love meeting strangers on the road, having conversations, and getting inspired by their stories. I’m most in my element when I’m doing that because when I get back to the studio, I’m on fire again. And obviously when I have a brush in my hand, [I'm] pretty happy.

What do you think it takes to walk your own path in the world?

You get told from a very young age that you need to walk a certain path and make a living and retire and have money in the bank and that’s supposed to be some kind of happiness.

[But] listening to your voice is so important because we’re all on borrowed time. You can’t make decisions out of fear. Listen to yourself and not the naysayers because the naysayers are walking around in fear.

There’re always going to be people telling you it can’t be done. [But] I believe anything is possible. It might not be an easy road, but it’s a lot easier than putting eight hours a day or more into something that you loathe or doesn’t bring you joy.

What’s the best kept secret of being an adult?

I got sober five years ago. That’s been a life-changing experience. When you look at your life and see why you [drank], it’s usually fear-based or something you ignored when you were small and got hurt and let that hurt tag along with you your whole life.

Five years sober, [I'm] a better person, partner, show up to work on fire. I never look back on anything and think, "If I’d never done that..." Because then I wouldn’t be who I am today.

The thing I love about being an adult is I don’t take [everything] as seriously as I used to. I try to stay in the moment, live life from the heart and not so much from the mind, have the joy to be able to participate in this wonderful, amazing world we have.

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