Variations: Nothing Is New
In college, one of my instructors told us students that there was nothing new under the sun. We were reinventing things because we didn’t know that they existed. A critical look at a lot of the devices of war that Leonardo designed were not new devices rather larger versions of something that was already in use. . The Egyptians knew how to do electroplating and the ancient Greeks knew about the atom.
In the world of a friend, who is an engineer, he calls it tinkering and adjusting. In my world as a painter I call it making variations on a theme. Sometimes it is just a few variations, sometimes there are no variations, and sometimes it becomes an obsession, but then I do have an obsession disorder (OCD). For some unknown reason, there are certain images, compositions, subjects, or whatever that catch my attention and I keep returning to it over and over again.
The last few days I did a couple of small paintings. They were done alla prima. They were okay but I am still not happy with the finished results. I started going through my image files and art books looking for color variations and made notes on a small sketch that I made of the subject I am working on. The notes kept growing so now I will end up doing 9-12 variations.
When I work on variations like this I make a master drawing. Redrawing something once or twice is okay but 12+ times, I don’t think so. The master is just a very simple contour drawing that I draw over the lines using a sharpie marker. With this I can lay the master on my light box and trace out the drawing as often as I want with little effort. When I do this I usually prepare at least 6 sheets just to make it worth the effort. Set up and prep work usually takes more time than the actual painting.
Right now I need this extra time. I am busy outside working on the house. Yesterday I started rebuilding a retaining wall and will hopefully finish today. My hands are stiff from working with a wrecking bar, sledgehammer, shovel, and wheeling endless loads of soil with my old wheelbarrow.
This piece is a continuing variations theme that I have been work on over the years. When I get stuck creatively or my brain is just too tired to work I go back to a variation. It is like visiting with an old friend. This piece has the wonderfully creative title of 2 Barns Series. It is oil on paper. It measures 13” X 20”. This particular variation was completed in March 2006.