Moss Beach Cove, Oil on Linen, 9x12

Variations on a Theme

I was speaking to someone on a airplane last night about the visual arts and how they relate to music. Here’s my analogy: In high school, I played jazz trombone. Key to that genre is the ability to improvise. It’s a beautiful thing to hear a musician create new music on the fly during an improvisation. What may seem to be a beautiful, but haphazard, run of notes is actually the result of playing within the composer’s written sequence of cord progressions. The jazz musician creates in the moment, but she does so based on what’s in front of her: sheet music (in a sense). The same is very much true of those artists that create variations based on a theme. The subject is the theme (sheet music) and the art is the variation (improvisation).

For me, a recent theme has been Moss Beach, here in Northern California. The series of paintings below shows how I’ve studied this area, and created variations on this landscape. The first three paintings are based on the same spot, but with different mediums–oil, watercolor–and different perspectives. The last 4 are looking in a different direction, but again, studies of the same view using different mediums and ideas. From these studies, I’m learning to record and compare my feelings for the spot so I can later determine what resonates and where to build upon–as, for example, a larger studio work.

I hope you enjoy these improvisations of Moss Beach. More to come.

Moss Beach Cove, Oil on Linen, 9x12
Moss Beach Cove, Oil on Linen, 9×12
Moss Beach Cove, Watercolor, 6x6
Moss Beach Cove, Watercolor, 6×6″
Moss Beach Study, Watercolor, 9x12
Moss Beach Study, Watercolor, 9×12
Moss Beach Bluffs 1, Watercolor, 6x6
Moss Beach Bluffs 1, Watercolor, 6×6
Moss Beach Study 2, Watercolor, 6x6
Moss Beach Study 2, Watercolor, 6×6
Moss Beach Bluffs 5, Watercolor, 4x6.5
Moss Beach Bluffs 5, Watercolor, 4×6.5″


Moss Beach Bluffs #3, Oil on Linen, 12x9
Moss Beach Bluffs #3, Oil on Linen, 12×9″
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4 thoughts on “Variations on a Theme”

  1. I really enjoy the progression in your paintings. I have often discussed the similarities between music and my painting, as well as poetry and paintings. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I like your thought process on music and art. I think a lot can be learned by visiting the same subject many times, and conscientiously changing it up for a different outcome. I never tire of certain locations, and I love to revisit them often.

  3. Thanks for your comments. I received some questions and comments via email that I think everyone could benefit from:

    Painting variations on a theme is nothing new, from Monet’s haystacks to Kevin Macpherson’s beautiful “Reflections on a Pond”. While Monet’s variations were based on differing light, and Kevin’s a span of time over years, the intent of my variations were to simply better learn this beautiful landscape as an explorer. As I went out to paint—carrying both watercolor and oils—I would ask myself, “Would this atmosphere (and the feeling I want to convey) best be captured in watercolor or oil? What composition best captures the essence of this scene?” As I learn multiple mediums, I’m learning that the flexibility I have now gives me more creative choices, and who doesn’t want that?

    My advice for those that want to try painting variations on a theme: control your variables; that is, choose in advance what you will vary and what you will not. For example, by choosing a single hillside and painting the same composition multiple times in multiple mediums, I’m reducing complexity. Those of you who are portrait painters probably started painting in grey scale, or charcoal. As a result, you simplified learning by not bringing color into the mix until you’ve learned to draw and model form. By painting the same view using multiple mediums and time-of-day, I’m able to use the constant scene as a control, and experiment with other elements of painting, like color, medium, and so on.

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