Scatter Brained?

Planely Scattered-72

“Planely Scattered”

Watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Begun as demonstration for making textures, this piece was brought to the studio to see if it could be trained into something interesting.

Concerns:   1.  It must be a balanced and unified composition,  2.   Thee should be a strong color harmony and, 3.   It must have a sense of shallow space.   These were the goals I set out to accomplish . . .with nothing from which to copy. Abstracts, or non objective paintings, are challenging to the artist because there is no model to follow.  Everything that happens to the painting must come as a result of careful thought to ensure that every mark fits  into the context of all the other marks already made.   That statement also goes for ANY painting of any subject.

As you can see, most all the colors in the painting are grayed down or ‘unsaturated’ in order that there be a clear sense of fitting with all the other colors in the painting . . .save for the area called the center of interest.   Similarly, the shapes must follow the pattern or character of all the other shapes in the painting, in this case geometric, flat shapes.   Had I put in a curvilinear shape among all the other geometric shapes, it may have stuck out, or seemed as though it did not belong.   As with all paintings, we attack the project with high hopes of success, but move forward with the sort of abandon as though we don’t care.   Some would call this attitude one of courage.

My mantra with all paintings in progress is this:  It’s only a piece of paper !!

As long as I remind myself that no one is going to get hurt, if I mess up, and that it is, indeed, only a piece of paper, then I can dream up just about anything I want to do without worry of bad result.

I pull out a spray bottle full of dark sepia paint . . . . I step up to the painting table, spray bottle in hand, wondering;  how dark is it?  What if it splatters?  What if the sprayer drips?  My answer to all of these questions is the same:   We’ll see !!   The fact is that the artist cannot expect great things to happen to the progress of a painting if fear will prevent him from doing some things.  In short, as artists, we must be willing to fail.   We must be open to allowing the unforeseen to show up and challenge us.   We must open ourselves to being willing to repair if something “bad” happens.

This demonstration was to show class participants how to make various sorts of texture and how to use them.   In the course of the demonstration, different marks were being made all over the paper . . . with each mark came the statement that “you cannot make a mistake!”   That is to say that mistakes are not possible!   A very wise artist once told me “If you make a mistake, repeat it several times in the painting.  Then it won’t appear as a mistake!”

That brings up one last thing . . .the idea of repetition.   This is something every artist must understand and how it affects unity in a painting.   Just know this, repetition with variations makes for interest and helps hold the sum of the parts of the painting together as a single unit.

Deconstructing the Composition

 “Spring Cotillion”
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
After publishing this painting on Facebook last week, an old high school buddy wrote a very funny comment:   Some cowboy wrote a song about these guys . . .”Get a Long Little Doggie.”  
Of course, I laughed at it the first time I read it . . .then it really got into my head . . . to the extent that I awoke from sleep with it chiming in my noggin!!  
The comment spoke to me about how the lay person looks at and sees a painting . . . .all they see is an image of something or some place.   In fact, that is the LAST thing with which a good painter is concerned or even thinks about!   Believe me, I was NOT concerned with making “cute” little dogs!
Obviously, the idea came from a sight seen in Washington Square in New York City last spring.   A gathering of people, all walking their dachshunds, had joined together as the dogs became ensnarled in their leashes.   I remember my reaction as I peeked in between the people to see the scene and was struck by all the leashes coming from different directions!   It seemed to be organized chaos!   So, out came my camera to record what I was witnessing.   I was only able to get away with six or seven photos before they disbanded.
Finally, after months of looking at the photos and wondering what I could do with them,  I remembered my reaction to the LINES (leashes and sidewalk seams) and DIRECTIONS (two of the elements of design) . . .and thought that I should use that reaction as the basis for the painting.  (It really didn’t matter to me what was at the end of the leashes . . . .dog or human.)
The photos had all sorts of superfluous stuff in them that had to be eliminated . . .peoples legs and shoes, baby strollers, purses and  . . .well . . . “stuff” that didn’t contribute to saying what I needed to say.
The three dogs, which stand in the center right, were the only dogs in the picture space in the beginning.   They are there with the leashes (line) coming in to the picture space and conflicting with the lines (seams) in the sidewalk as my beginning fascination.   While the lines and direction conflicts were my fascination source, the three dogs just didn’t provide a sound composition.   That is, they were clumped in an off center location in the picture space, which left a big gaping empty space on the left and below.   So, I added the dog in the bottom right to link up with the other two black dogs to form a single dark diagonal shape (yes, the “shape” is the three blackish dogs). . . .which left another big space in the upper left.   There were a number of different options to put into that space, including the lower carriage of a baby stroller . . . .but that didn’t fit the “dog dominance.”  I have learned if something is completely alone in a painting and does not relate with everything else in the picture space, it will call attention to itself and cause the focus of attention to be in the wrong place!   Eventually, in some other photos, there were two pups nuzzling each other who were projecting an interesting shadow . . . .bingo!   That shadow was imposed into that blank space (upper left edge) to help finish off the dead space and overlapped with the diagonal dark shape (the three black dogs)  (You may notice that I refer to them as “shapes” . . .because when it comes to seeing a composition, virtually anything can be a “shape.”   It doesn’t really matter WHAT a shape is, as long as it occupies space and is interesting to look at.  That shadow also helped tell more of the story about what was going on.   At this point, I could see that I had a large “compositional shape” occupying the picture space . . . . that of the three black dogs and the added shadow in the upper left edge . . . .a big oblique “clump” which holds the entire composition together.
Then, faced with a left margin being also void, the little red guy was put in to BALANCE the composition . . . .he had to be a tad bit more intense, color wise, in order to offset the weight of the other bunch who were dominating the lower right of the painting.   Eventually, I had to face up to hitting another balance issue by having a blank in the upper right corner, thus the added dog and legs & shoes to add a bit of humanness into the mix, without that difference calling too much attention.   As it currently stands, the ‘white’ of the shoes IS a small distraction and needs to be calmed down so that the VALUE difference doesn’t attract attention.  As the painting progressed, I found the leashes to be off in value, too, and not distracting enough to bring the wanted emphasis to the conflicting directions . . . so they had to be lightened and the colored edges were added to relieve the overall grayness of the rest of the painting and to soften the impact of the one dog’s “dress.”   That dress is an attention getter, for sure, which presented enough of a challenge that other intense colors had to be included into the picture space so that the pink would not seem to be so alone.
I will also admit to a heavy dose of procrastination and thinking after completing the drawing on watercolor paper before I ever picked up a paintbrush.   I had to  carefully consider the ORDER of operations so that it all didn’t appear as a patchwork and would integrate together and appear as a UNIFIED whole.   The entire ground had to be washed in first, without intruding into the dog shapes, which were left as raw, untouched paper.   Shadows had to wait until last . . . .why?   If you look at the piece, the shadow shapes and the lines all seem to act as connectors to all the separate dog shapes.   They had to overlap and connect every part of the painting.
As I laid out the paper to begin painting, I could see things I could not see when making the drawing a week previous . . . .I had included a set of carriage wheels in the upper left corner . . .they had to go!
I was ready to begin the painting phase . . . . .how would I paint the dogs?   What method?   After laying in the ground around the dog shapes, I realized that to give the dogs enough strength, I would work each one wet into wet with plenty of soft shifts in value and tone inside each shape (play of light reflection on their coats.)
Once all these issues were settled, the painting could be declared finished.
I can see now, there are a few edges that need softening and more work is needed to integrate those shoes a bit better.  You see?   As far as us artists are concerned, our paintings are never “done,” we just abandon them!  J 


It’s Way More Than What You See !

Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Most people look at a painting like the one above and what they see is a clothes line with clothes hanging on the line in sort of a poetic rhythm.   That is right where most people cease to see what is happening design wise.
This painting came from a group of photos taken in Italy . . . and most of those were taken looking straight at the clothesline in a nearly 90 degree frontal view.   Put on the canvas or paper that way, the line would have been parallel to the edges of the paper, which would have been very commonplace and stilted, if not boring.   Stretching the line from off the top left edge of the page and sliding it over to the upper right edge made for a degree of tension or movement across the piece.   The challenge, though, is that lovely oblique movement could rifle the eye right off the paper into nowhereland.   And that little fact was the prompt to put the two very dork shapes there at the edge of the work . . . to stop the eye . . . . and their vertical alignment offers a directional contrast, while the dark-light contrast with the upper right dark shape and white shape holds the eye.
There is another gimmick being used to insure that there is a connection to the left most edge . . . and that is that two pronged shadow on the left edge of the wall that connects to the laundry shadows.   That little ‘move’ provided an edge to edge connection of a pathway of darker colors all the way across the page.   Now, all the darks form a pattern that supports the smaller congregation of light shapes (laundry) hovering just above the long passage of darks.   And, notice that the aggregate of darks are larger than the aggregate of the “lights” (laundry).  (Larger meaning amount of space covered on the painting space).  So, not only do we have dark / light contrast between the shadows and the laundry, but also a large-small contrast between the two value extremes.
What the lay person doesn’t see is the mental gymnastics that every painter must work through to establish a great design and to make a painting compelling to look at.   All the above named contrasts establish that sort of excitement to what could have been a very mundane image.  Our job as painters is to (and you can write this down in your journal) “Exalt the mundane to the extraordinary!”
The last consideration was to impart some color excitement in the shadows of the laundry to exaggerate the feeling of reflected light.
There’s more to write about, but you get the idea.   A great painting isn’t really about whether the image is pretty or ‘charming’ (or if it manages to go with the furniture), but whether the design is strong and compelling to look at.   It is the not so obvious stuff that makes a painting exciting and interesting.

Plein Air Watercolor Traps

“Coastal Litter”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
As you know, by now, rocks and cliffs along the ocean front here in Central California is an obsession for me.   I can’t seem to shake it.   And there are a few other habits I can’t seem to shake. . . .
One is copying what is right in front of me out there on the painting scene.   Not that what is in front is bad.   Not at all.  Because the beauty of those places is beyond description!   Garrapatta State Park is one of those places where a painter could stand in one spot for a very long time . . .maybe a year . . . . turn 360 degrees . . . .a few degrees at a time  . . . .and there are literally dozens of paintings looking straight out through every point on the compass!!   Weather changes, light changes, view changes, wind changes, temperature changes, surf changes, and more!  It is enough to boggle even the most experienced painter’s mind.
The Traps, you ask?   Those damned views !!!   I call them traps because there is little effort needed to reach into one’s creativity pouch to pull something especially unique out and put it on paper or canvas.  Falling for what is obviously in front of one is a trap where deep thinking is put aside in order to record what is seen.   (Yes, there is a school of thought out there that considers “accurate recording” “good art.”)   I don’t happen to feel that way.
More than a record, I have awakened to needing something more emotional . . . .more unique.   I don’t take the word “Unique” lightly.   When a painting is sincerely unique, it is the only image like it in the entire world.   It is a one of a kind, never to be repeated spiritual statement of the artist’s vision and feelings.  And, frankly, that takes careful thought and preparation . . . not just a five minute thumbnail sketch.
Another trap is to make a painting that fits into a ‘category’ of paintings well . . . . . as in “Landcape Impressionism.”   To make a painting look like a million other artists could have painted it (and maybe have!!).    Obviously, there are better quality or better versions of said same . . . .But!! . . . most of them are not “unique.”   There was a time when that uniqueness stood out . . . like when Monet was bringing Impressionism to the public.   Each of those artists had a personal vision!   It was different!
The other trap is to remain comfortable with what we are doing.   Yep!   Staying in the same mode, painting the same things, never taking a risk is just like signing a contract for one’s artistic demise!   In fact, I believe that is precisely what happens when a painter settles for what is in front of him (or her).   And, I must confess that is exactly where I have been for the last two or three years!
Yep!   There it is.   I have confessed.
So, let this be an introduction to my next phase of making stale paintings.   You may not think they are stale . . .and that is fine.   But the time has come for me to get out of my lethargy and do something special . . . to grow . . . .to change my thinking . . . .to reach farther . . .
Want to come along?   I want to begin a group of artists who will be accountable to each other and to reach beyond the mundane same ole stuff.   Come on!   Step up.  Join me.   Drop me a note at if you’d like to be accountable for new growth.

Resetting Perspective

“People Perspective”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Funny how some paintings / challenges / problems seem to stick in one’s craw.   After painting the painting in the last post and discussing my difficulties with it, I could not wait to get to the easel . . . . . . . . . . .but even with that enthusiastic nagging in my head, my wife and I had to take a long road trip to the Northwest for a family affair.   Gone for a week, yet the nagging continued.   
Mind you, this painting isn’t much better than the last except I did resolve the people perspecive difficulties I had with the last version.   Notice that as the figures recede into the background, their values become less dark and there is much less contrast.   The figures also become grayer and less colorful as they go back into the distance.
My sole purpose in making this painting was to resolve that difficulty.   I am afraid that I was so focused on that aspect of this painting, I neglected so much else.   
I have found as I have grown more into being a consistent painter, I am much less concerned with the end result of most painting and have reached a place where I have acquired a very cavalier attitude about whether or not any painting is a success.   So, I slobber on the paint rather carelessly and even draw in a haphazard manner.   I could even say that I am careless to a degree.   I am not sure if this is healthy, of if it is, in fact, a natural progression of being sooo familiar with what the paint will do that I can paint without concern.   This is a biiiig change from when I first began to paint . . . . .my knuckles were white with fear of ruining a nice, expensive piece of paper . . . . I was mostly distraught during the painting process for fear of ruining a good effort . . . . . and I was in continuous doubt about my ability or my skill.    Where is that angst when I need it?   What has become of that drive to be the master over a painting’s outcome?
Is this a sign of being too familiar?   Whatever the cause, this I know:   Painting has become pure fun!   Spending a full day in the studio putzing about, slinging paint and singing to myself is common fare these days.   What could be better?? 
How did I get here?   Miles of brush strokes and acres of paper!! 

Figure Perspective

“Parisian Promenade”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
I have found there is much to learn about putting figures into a painting . . . . .
Figures can and do put a substantial amount of perspective and depth into a painting if they are done right.   What may seem as necessary, such as various body parts and details, simply does not apply.   That’s right, details and anatomical correctness doesn’t matter.   The human mind does that for us.   Ratio of head size and height seems to make a bit of difference.   
There is two things I have noticed about this painting that makes me think twice (or three times) about doing the painting over again:   One is values.   Notice how the values of the scene itself diminish toward middle tones.   Yet, the figures have very stark, almost strident, value contrast with the surroundings.   I think the figures need to blend in more.  That is to say that the figures need to feel as though they belong to the value range in which part of the painting that they sit.
Color, also, plays a part.   Color saturation of the figures needs to settle in with the rest of the  surroundings, too.   In this painting, the colors certainly call attention to the figures, but that isn’t the purpose of putting the figures in this painting . . . . .it should feel like a complete scene . . . not a stage on which there are action packed players.
The last thing that makes a big difference is the heads all need to be at the same level, relatively.   Notice the figures in the foreground;  they all stand on the same level ground.  It is as if the viewer is at the same eye level as those players.   Those that stand on the white surface have their heads slightly above the eye level of those figures in the foreground.   As those figures (on the upper deck) recede into space, their bodies become shorter, but the heads remain at the same level. . . . .which gives the impression of distance.
I am off to the studio to try a remake of this painting to see if I can make the necessary adjustments.

A Plain Trap . . . .

 “Natural Bridge”
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches
“The Big Lump”
Actual Photo
After spending hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of hours painting outdoors, en plein air, I have come to know the traps.
The biggest trap is the distractions, of course.   Huh?   What do you mean, Mike?
Notice the photo.   This photo seems rather pedestrian in terms of a ‘beautiful scene’ already set to paint.   I just is NOT one of those scenes.
This is what I saw when I first came onto the beach yesterday. . . . .   And noticed, immediately, the blast of light between the two “Lumps.”   Of course, I decided to explore the area more to try to find that perfect scene to paint.   I walked all over the area, spent a good 45 minutes trying to find that perfect spot, with the perfect point of view of the big rock that has a tunnel through it.  
No matter where I went, I wasn’t enthralled with what I was seeing.    That “lump,” as I call it, was nothing more than a lump with a hole through it.   It wasn’t a nice shape, it had no character, it just wasn’t what anyone would call inspiring or spectacular.
So, having exhausted the possibilities, I decided to go near where I had entered the beach and where I had seen that blast of light.   I could make a painting that emphasized that wonderful light and not worry about finding the ideal scene.   But then . . . . .look at all the pelicans on the rock!! (lump! ) . . . .what if I painted the pelicans? . . . . .and look at that shadow being cast on the sand and into the water . . . . .Oh!   There’s a wave crashing against the “lump” and making a spectacular slash of white foam . . . . and what if I painted the sky orange . . . .could I make a sunset scene?   So many possibilities came to distract me from my one idea of the blaring light between the two big rocks.
I was being tempted by the biggest trap of all:   All the other possibilities.   And, I must say, some of those possibilities were very alluring.   But I have learned . . . . .oh, yes!   My lessons have been hard won by sooooo many painting failures . . . .all of which failed because I didn’t focus on ONE IDEA.   I have made so many paintings in which there was too much included.
So . . . . .I set up my gear slowly, while I contemplated what I was going to do with this painting.   Then after the equipment was in place, out came my sketch book and pencil.   I made four different value sketches to determine how I was going to achieve my goal of telling the story of that light between the rocks.   Oh!   I almost forgot to mention that the first sketches immediately showed poor compostition.   I needed to find the right layout . . . . .the right positioning on the paper for that big shape of  the land jutting onto the beach.   What’s more, I realized that making an active water painting, or including exciting splashes and waves would be another distraction from my singular idea:   The light between the rocks.
Obviously, dear reader, you get the idea here.   The trick to making a lot of successful paintings in plein air is to ignore the distractions and stubbornly stick to your single idea that you want to emphasize.  
It seems so simple!!  Doesn’t it?   How could anything be more simple???  
Well, I am here to tell you . . . . . . .it ain’t!   But it is terrific advice for ALL paintings.   Make up your mind about what you are going to paint (that is the idea, not the all encompassing subject) and don’t be dissuaded from it.   Stick to your plan.   Commit to your plan.   Ignore the distractions . . . or save them for other paintings.  

“That’s the Way it Was. It was THERE!”

“Pont Valentre”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Ever since first seeing this fortified medieval bridge for the first time, I have wanted to paint it.   There is something stirring about the vision of this amazingly old structure, built in 1350 AD, standing over the Lot River in Cahors, France!   It is the last standing fortified bridge of this age in Europe.  
History aside, the painting challenges presented by this structure and the river would entertain any painter . . . accomplished or otherwise.   There were, originally, three towers on the bridge . . .one at each end and one in mid river.   Should the artist paint the whole bridge?   I mean “one must paint what one sees, correct?”   I don’t think so.   After all, whether the viewer of the painting has or has not seen the actual location, the viewer is still confronted with all the vagaries of the painting itself:   There must be a strong composition.  Dark and light shapes must be considered and how they are placed inside the picture plane is what holds a viewer’s attention.   It doesn’t matter if the correct colors are used . . . .or if all the bricks and limestone blocks show up or not . . . .It really doesn’t matter if the details, like the shapes of the windows in the towers, are shown.   It boils down to the composition.   Yes, reflections and that sort of thing make the painting entertaining, but, if one really looks beyond naming aspects of the picture, those reflections are still part of the light / dark arrangement of shapes in the picture plane.
So, I omitted the mid span tower.   Why?   Well, it served the composition better to omit it.
Then, someone will remark about the ripples in the water . . . . .Originally, those ripples didn’t exist in the painting.   It was originally set to show the water as a flat mirroring plane.   But, alas, the eye fell right out of the picture as those long reflections led the viewer straight down and out.   As we read left to right, there was nothing to halt the eye from wandering off the page to the right side.   So, the ripples were put in to break up those straight verticals.   And they were sloped upward, as they moved to the right, to slow the eye and to hold the eye in the picture.
Trickery, you say?   I suppose you could even say “cheap tricks.”   Fact is that the artist must resort to these sort of design considerations in every painting he or she makes . . . .even if it doesn’t look like what’s there.   The artist’s job is to make well designed paintings . . . .not a photograph using paint.   Just because it was “there” doesn’t mean that it needs to be painted

Arresting the Viewer

“Just in Time!”
watercolor 22 x 15 inches
There comes a time in every artist’s development that he or she see’s the ordinary through different eyes.   For me, I believe that I am just awakening to the wonder of what confronts me on a daily basis.   In my last blog post, I commented on the fact that I had awakened to early morning light.   Yes, I always knew it was there, but had not paid much attention.   
This painting, above, was of a gent caught in crossing the street in the early morning on his way to work (I suppose.)    It wasn’t him that caught my attention, but the light and shadow on the side of the building with him thrown into the mix.   Geometric shapes all aligned and the human figure thrown in for contrast.   I doubt you could say this is an extraordinary painting idea.   Surely, paintings like this have been done before.   
There is something about taking the common . . . .the mundane . . . .the ho humm . . . .and exalting it to the extraordinary.   I think it was Bob Burridge, years ago, who stunned me into realization by painting ordinary coffee cups.   I can still see those paintings in my mind’s eye!   Coffee cups fer gawd sakes???   Gads!   I trip over them.   They always seem to be in the way!   What painter would stop long enough to infuse beauty or some stunning attribute into them?!   He sure did.  And the affects were extraordinary!
How many of us have seen people crossing a street?   How many times?   My guess is that we see them long enough to stop our car if we are driving, in order to avoid hitting them.   But to really notice something about them and their surroundings might be a big reach for most of us.   I have to say that it is those painters who can make a common face, a coffee cup, a pedestrian, a piece of fruit seem way out of the ordinary that make us all take true notice of their work.   
When you think about it, there are literally MILLIONS of paintings and attempts at paintings that try to capture the magnitude and scope of fabulous scenes.   So, why follow the mob?   I have found that the paint is often the most fascinating subject of a painting.   If arrangements of textures and colors and shapes can hold our attention in fascination, then what difference does a subject make?   Actually, I hesitate to say, subject is hardly what drives our fascination.   It is how we compose and arrange Edges, Shapes, Colors, Textures etc. that holds a viewer’s attention . . . . .not a subject.   All the subject does is provide the beginnings of the arrangement of those elements.   
Note the granulation of the violet in the painting above . . . .in fact, when you click on the image, you can see how violet and yellow were used to imply flashy lighting.   Putting the cool shadows of a white shape against that arrangement of shape and color set up an attention grabbing contrast that the viewer cannot resist.
It really isn’t what we paint.   It is HOW we paint it that arouses and arrests the viewer.

The Value of Experiementation

“Ranger Roost”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
You saw the paintings in my last post and probably recognize the image in this post.
Ho Humm, you say?   You very well might say that, or think it.  But, for me, there is something deep within me that I must satisfy . . . . .my curiosity which is constantly asking “What IF I painted that painting (such and so) way?”   “WHAT IF?”
I certainly do not consider myself an expert at painting (and some days what I do consider my skills as, . . . .well, don’t ask!)    But there IS something that sets me apart from most other painters . . . .and it isn’t my expertise.   It is my attitude about every painting that I make.   Some call it courage, I call it something else, entirely . . . .
Y’see, there is this drive to understand WHY and HOW good paintings work the way they do, or what is the underlying logic of good paintings?   It goes way beyond the subject, that is for certain.   There is tyranny in the subject . . . .that it demands to be copied.   While I adore being outdoors and painting a landscape as it appears, I also shun the same image and long to understand what I could do better to make a painting so much better.
In the last post, the two paintings had something nagging at me after I had photographed them:  The ever presence of green.   What should I do to make the painting less green?   Yesterday, the nagging finally got the better of me.   In looking over one of my books on design, I came accross some ideas for limited palette color strategies. . . . . .to paint with just three pigments:  Alizirin Crimson, Cad Yellow Light and Paynes Gray.   Yes, that yukky, sooty Paynes Gray.   It took a few minutes for my mental processes to kick in, then I was off to the studio as fast as I could get there.
I am amazed at the beauty of this painting . . . .how it all knits together so nicely . . .and how it has such a warmth to it compared to the cool atmosphere of the on in the previous post.   Of course, I had to pay attention to cooler temperatures as the scene receded into the distance in this painting.   I wasn’t at all concerned about the shapes or the “picture” as I was about being sure that every adjoining color related in some way.   There had to be subtle shifts in temperature and intensity as the shapes came forward in the composition.   I found myself marveling at how well everything related in this piece.
Of course, dear reader, you can easily see the overall dominance of the color in the painting, which makes for a strongly unified piece.  But the variations in that dominance is where the painting could fall apart.   This is where the artist must take him or herself away from the subject and carefully think about the variables of color every step of the way.   It isn’t that the picture mattered so much as the conditions of the design elements.   This is the place that beginning artists simply do not fully grasp.   For the beginner, the representation matters more than the design . . . .and, I suspect, the reason is that the beginning painter has never been exposed to what it means to paint relationships.   
How does one go about learning this sort of thought process and understanding it?   By experimentation.  In other words, it is my concerted opinion, that every painting must have behind it an attitude of taking a chance . . . . . of wondering what would happen if I did (so and so) . . . .taking the attitude of throwing caution out the window to see what would happen . . . .in other words, make every painting an experiment.  (Mind you, this would be impossible if one is driven to sell their work.  Because sales matter most, that artist is destined to be stuck and not really ever learn or grow).  
The distinct mental position of removing one’s concern over how precious a painting might become, or not, is precisely what I am writing about.   Decide on a specific idea for the experiment and DO IT without concern if anyone will like it or not.   For example, what would happen if I chose Ultramarine blue, Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna as the only colors I could use in this painting.  What would happen?   Or, What if I made all the shapes angular?  What would happen?   Or what if I used Brilliant Red Orange outlines in gouache of every shape in the painting, then painted in the shapes?   What would happen?   What, instead of showing form or volume of the shapes in this painting, I made them all be very flat?  That is, no value or temperature change in any of the shapes.   What would happen?
It is through questions like this that an artist finds new creative paths to follow.  It is through the idea of making every painting an experiment that discoveries are made and how styles are struck.   But most of all, the artist learns to pull himself away from copying and truly begins to C R E A T E.
We all have extraordinary powers to create.  (Yes, we ALL do!)  If you are an artist and find yourself bound by the subject, undo the leash and the harness.  Let yourself go.  Waste paper or canvas and see what happens!   Worry not about the expense of paint, paper or canvas.   The expense is much, much more if you restrict yourself from growth!   EXPERIMENT !!  Try new ways to make the same painting!   (I bet there are an infinite number of outcomes of painting the very same thing time after time!)
Go on!   Give it a go.   Experiment!