There is a dichotomy that exists between deeply exploring a particular theme, idea or technique in your artwork. This in depth exploration can lead to understanding that never would have been gained if you had not done something again and again, in subtle, but real variations.
A simple example for me is folding the cranes from clay. The first 10 to 20 were less than stellar successes. But they resembled cranes enough that I persisted. Over time, I learned more about what the limits were. How thin, how big, how to best support them during baking, etc, etc, etc. But I also was learning about color and pattern as I came up with more and more ways to decorate the surface of the clay. Understandings that enrich other areas of my work. The 100th crane was more refined than the first. And the 1000th crane more so still. And the learning continues.
But, it is possible to get so caught up in refining how you do something that you can get into a rut of sorts. Missing out on the variation that sits right in front of you. Are you always approaching something the same way? Doing it in the same colors. Or the same shapes. Or the same sizes. Sometimes stepping back enough to look at something in a new light can open the door to new ways of doing the same old thing. And bring a new vitality and vigor to the process.
Right now, I am exploring variations in size. Think Alice in Wonderland. Bigger. Smaller. How far can I go, and what do I have to do differently. I have made cranes that are as big as 12" across in wingspan, and ones as small as about 1.5" Each end of the size spectrum poses different challenges in creating the piece, but by facing those challenges, I can learn more about the limitations of the media, and the design.
The little hot peppers I make are close to life size. Usually about 3 or 4 inches long. Then recently it dawned on me, how about a really big pepper. Could I do it? Would I have to change anything about the way I made it? "Whole Lotta Heat" measures about 10 to 12 " in length. And was actually not too different in process to the smaller ones. It has opened up the door to exploring these variations even further.
I have another idea I am playing with right now, that takes something I have been making for a while and transforms it. Presents it in a different way. I am not ready to show any pictures yet. But I am excited about the new terrain this small change will give me to explore.
Take a look at your work and think about it. What could be different, while still being the same? Not shifting from your inspiration, but shifting the way you are interepreting it. Small changes can be powerful. It feeds the muse, while building skill and confidence.