10 x 14"I've been reading the very informative Oil Painting Secrets from a Master by Linda Cateura about the artist, David A. Leffel. It's my kind of book: lots of short, thoughtful truths and pieces of advice organized in such a way that you can dip in here and there and find something useful no matter where you read. The reproductions are terrible though: out of focus and dim.
Leffel teaches that every painting should have a concept to be successful. It doesn't matter what that concept is and it can be very simple, but he stresses that you must think of one before you start the painting. Without this clear idea of what you want to express, all sorts of extraneous detail creeps in. He says that "the concept is the structure and framework on which your assembled subject matter (composition, value, and color) is suspended, all working to maintain the shape of the original idea of the painting. As you work, you must keep your concept foremost in your mind."
His concepts are as simple as "light against dark" or "edges" but he keeps the focus on those things and anything that doesn't relate to the concept is omitted.
It's common, I think, for painters to miss this initial, crucial step of thinking before we paint. We're so excited to have the brush in our hand and the subject in front of us that we launch in too quickly. Those are usually the paintings that fail or that you look at and say, "great ___________! Next time I'll know to give more thought to ___________(fill in the blanks as you see fit. There are lots of things that can go wrong in a painting which has some successful elements.)
In the painting above, I focused on rhythm. The line of the indistinct audience echoes that of the posing girl's torso. In the original reference photo, the audience was in a straight line and the faces were individually distinct. Neither of those things enhanced my concept so I changed them to suit me. Glad I did!