Sunday, September 13, 2015

Variations and Extrapolations - Useful Tools to Search Further

Musical variations have been successfully used by composers and musicians since the fourteenth century to delve further into ideas which they feel merit deeper thought and development. The term variations... is described as a formal technique where material is repeated in an altered form.

The changes may involve: harmony, melody, counterpoint, rhythm, timbre, orchestration, or... any combination of those musical facets mentioned above. Classical music icons ranging from the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn used this technique frequently.

Here is a brief, playful... and entertaining musical interlude from Mozart's musical and artistic genius to demonstrate clearly the use of variation.

Go for it Wolfie!!!

The use of this technique can be traced right across the full musical spectrum into modern music and particularly in the genre of jazz... where improvisation is a key component. Perhaps the most beloved use of variation in the modernist classical genre are "The Goldberg Variations" performed by the late Canadian classical pianist, Glenn Gould.

In my art, I continue to use extrapolation interchangeably with variation, as an exploratory device. Extrapolation  might not however, infer complete repetition... but rather a mimicking through inference of certain aspects of an known and previously developed idea.

Variation and Extrapolation As Creative Tools

First Phase

I offer this collection of variations on a particular landscape theme to demonstrate my process. The initial exploration came from my an imaginary view which I considered an extrapolation of Algonquin Park memories expressed uncharacteristically for me... in an almost purely abstract manner.

Although it felt uncomfortable to be working outside of my usual impressionistic preferences, the sense of release and freedom provided an avenue of new thought which I hoped to explore further. The resulting small sketch in many ways I felt, accurately mimicked the wildness of the Park landscape and fully included each of its basic elements of water... granite shield rock... firs... birches and rich fall color. But it did so making use of those elements in a playful and stylized fashion.

"Autumn Fantasia" - oil on panel 10x8 inches

Second Phase

Two years later, I was asked to present a fall painting workshop for the East Central Ontario Artists Association at Geneva Park. I decided to offer a workshop entitled Supersize Me!... based upon taking a small sketch and developing it into a larger painting.

I chose the Fantasia piece and developed its 10x8 format by tripling it proportionally into a 30x24 inch painting. I maintained the general compositional elements... but as can be seen I spent more attention defining and modelling shapes and colour closer to my own impressionistic style. Note however, that a playfulness and semi-abstract is maintained in some areas of the painting.

The landscape motif itself is recognizably an Algonquin Park-Haliburton Highlands setting.

"Les Berceuses d-Automne" (Autumn Lullabies)
oil on canvas 30x24 inches

Third Phase

I was offered a second opportunity to do a painting demonstration for the ECOAA at its Winter Retreat at Bark Lake, located north of Peterborough. I decided that since many of the members had either been part of the Supersize Me workshop... or had seen the resulting canvas that I would extend challenge further for myself... and at the same time demonstrate how plein air experience permits one to create beyond what is front of one. I wished to illustrate how outdoor painting reinforces visual memory and extends a  truly creative spirit and approach to one's painting process.

                                                                "Algonquin in Winter"
                                                             oil on canvas 18x14 inches

I used the Berceuse autumn painting as my reference... but produced a winterscape on a black acrylic toned canvas. I made no attempt to draw, but rather washed in blocks to very roughly set up the compositional design. My goal was to paint alla prima  ... that is... directly and quickly in the same fashion that I normally use when painting outdoors in winter. "A stroke laid is a stroke stayed" rule is fully in effect in this painting... leaving the tell tale painterly signs of loaded brushwork.

I tried as well to develop a warm...muted... soft pastel colour harmony to counter the cooler bluish shadow colours. I added warm colour surprises in a few selected places to add pop and interest for the eye. This painting exemplifies my impressionistic style more closely than the preceding two landscapes... and was totally completed in two hours.The landscape continues to maintain identifiably Algonquin features. But note: a small fir appears to the right... nudging the birches closer to the centre of the painting - a new extrapolation ... and deviance from the original variation! 

Fourth Phase

I returned to my Paint Box Gallery studio in Hillsdale... greatly inspired by the reception that those attending offered the Winter in Winter piece. I sprang immediately into the production of a 36x30 inch gallery wrap canvas... this time bent upon making this new variation more refined... more like my usual Self when I settle into a project that I am fully committed. The painting fairly painted itself and soon found a new home... almost freshly painted on the easel.

The fir trees assume a more energetic and playful stance in stark contrast with the erect birch branches. This is intended to add a sense of movement and a stateliness to an otherwise static winter landscape. The light is heightened to create a more spiritual aura for the painting. 

                                                      "Minuet d'Hiver"  (Winter Minuet)
                                                             oil on canvas 36x30 inches

Fifth Stage

The last of these variations on this theme was created a full five years after the last version. The "Idea" resurfaced during the time when I was preparing for my spring solo show in Kingston. I became aware through Deb and her contact with The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Network that our Thousand Islands region was a part of this UNESCO World Heritage Reserve... which include an area stretching back up through the Muskokas right to Algonquin Park to the north... and then southward right into the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York.

What I suddenly came to fully appreciate for the first time was that the basic elements were consistently the same throughout this vast stretch of land. I decided to take another run at the theme... this time inserting elements which more closely spoke of a Saint Lawrence setting in the Thousand Islands Archipelago.

I also wished to inject a notion that I personally believe in. I believe that we... as artists interpret and inject elements and passages from every visual experience we experience in a cumulative way over our lifetimes. I contend as well... that we "borrow" learning and elements we admire from the works of other artists we discover on our journeys.

There is little doubt that this last variation pays homage to two very significant Canadian artists whose works and lives I admire greatly. The first is Emily Carr... a Vancouver Island artist whose iconic forest and native peoples paintings continue to inspire our current generation of artists. The second is Lawren Harris... a member of the revered Group of Seven. Both played with the landscape, turning the real into metaphysical masterpieces which were imbued with deep undercurrents and metaphors of spiritual imagery.

Again... the brushwork is smoother... polished... carefully planned... and placed. Note the broken colour inserted in the middle ground water area. It can appear to be distracting... as can the counterpoint relationship created by the two left hand firs with the leaning smaller fir on the left. All are intended to disturb... no perhaps challenge the viewer to think further. Let me know what you think...

                                                                       "River Dance"
                                                 oil on gallery wrap canvas 40x30 inches

I hope that this post offers "food for thought" to any of my Friends who search for ideas to make creating art less hit-and-miss... less and that these ideas provide you with some new thoughts that you might include in your own painting processes.

In closing... I will be back to the mural project this week. Accommodations have finally been made to make the process  more comfortable. I am excited to get it out of the way. For you see... I have yet another series of variations that I have worked on... which need one final large canvas to draw them all together.

Stay tuned...

Good Painting!... to ALL!!!


  1. Glad your project is back in gear, Bruce. Hit or miss. That is me of late. Not enough hours in a day.

  2. Good morning Sherry!... Thanks for your continued presence and encouragement in my work... and life!

    I trust that my own efforts to return your many acts of kindness and friendship encourage "You"... to believe in the wonderful Self that is you!

    There are just enough hours in the day... that was His plan for us Sherry. Rest is essential to our work and play as well !

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Good morning Bruce. How delightful to listen to this playful piece of music while I was reading your post!

    These five paintings fall into two categories for me. The first three, although very different in style, all seem to be about the landscape in general, and they are all effective in conveying an impression of the Algonquin Park.

    The last two are different in character and more intimate. The playful shapes of the fir trees give them personalities, and the two larger trees seem to be about to step down from the rocks to join their smaller companion. I have a vision of trees marching across the landscape, and clambering over rocks along the shoreline. Judging by the titles, I think maybe you were having similar thoughts.

    They are all nice paintings and I find it hard to pick a favourite, but I am drawn to the last one. I wonder if there will be any more 'mileage' in this theme for you.

    All the best,

  4. Hello Bruce, nice to hear the music of Mozart as I type! my favourite painting of yours in this series is 'Algonquin in Winter'. To me the soft brushwork and impressionist style is really lovely to me.

  5. Good morning Keith!... I am so happy that the music and paintings... together struck a chord of resonance with you and your impressions.

    Your "read" again, is absolutely on the $$$. The paintings are indeed categorically different... but paradoxically the same as you have observed.

    The final piece "River Dance" is the evolutionary result of the other explorations. It reads to my heart and artistic purpose in exactly the same fashion for yourself as you have described for yourself. I guess I succeeded. HA HA!!

    Who knows where one's creative mind wanders Keith. "Never"... is not a word that I bany about comfortable in reference to anything... and in particular about making art.

    Stay tuned... HA HA!!

    Thanks for dropping by and adding your interesting and correct reads of the paintings and the post.

    Good Painting!... and Twinkle on!
    Warmest regards,

  6. Good morning Lass!.. Thanks for dropping by to comment!

    I think the Mozart would approve and join us both in our enjoyment of ":Algonquin in Winter"... for the very reasons that you have mentioned.... "impressionistic... lively and liltingly played from the heart."

    I would have kept the painting for myself... but someone wanted it as badly as I did. That's what and why we paint for.. EH Caroline???? HA HA!!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,