Variations on a Theme

You have a fresh canvas or sheet of paper in front of you, just waiting for your next move. There are endless possibilities for what you could paint next, but instead of starting from scratch with a whole new idea, take a look at what you last did. What is it that you wanted to do or say but couldn’t make work in the previous piece? Could you go with a different background or a better composition, or perhaps change your lighting conditions or try a new medium altogether?

Make where you left off the starting point for your next piece and there’s no telling how many ideas you can keep generating. Artists throughout history have used a similar tactic. Some, like Claude Monet, repeatedly painted haystacks, lily pads and ponds to see how the different light and seasons affected their appearance. Genoese painter Bernardo Strozzi created as many as seven versions of his portraits, allegorical works and religious scenes with slight variations to refine and improve the composition and detail.

Contemporary artists such as Michele Suchland of Alaska also find that one idea can inspire many more. The concept of fully examining a subject came to Suchland by accident. While she was painting crystal, silver, vegetables and fruit she created the idea for each painting independently of what she’d done before. One day she simply asked herself, What other surfaces could be reflective? The initial response was ceramic tile, with eggs being the reflected objects. Soon she began interweaving bits and pieces of her own life into a sort of visual story line, turning the objects into symbols. Each painting, though employing several of the same objects, represented a new idea that she explored by asking herself questions based on what she’d already done.

There’s so much to gain and nothing to lose by taking a subject or theme and looking at it in different ways, and seeing how many different directions it can take you. “I think what I’ve found out from this evolution is that anything is possible and you should remain open to everything,” says Suchland.

A professional artist for more than 15 years, Joel Popadics’ work has appeared in many one-man shows, as well as in juried exhibitions at the National Academy of Design and the Salmagundi Club in New York City. He has a bachelor of fine arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City and now teaches at New Jersey’s Ridgewood Art Institute and the Ridgewood Community School, in addition to being a frequent workshop instructor. He lives in Wayne, New Jersey.

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