Doing a small --------- My Reference Photo
value study (on the left, done in graphite,) always helps me see how well the final painting will 'read.' There's no color used at all, just black, white, and grays. I can tell right away if my eye is going to move through the painting or not, and if the composition will hold together.

The value study also helps me spot compositonal goofs that could be hard to fix later. This value study took maybe 20 minutes to do, and I used it almost exclusively as my reference when painting. I only referred to my reference photo for final details. Check the previous post of the not-yet-finished Italian painting to compare it to the value study and my original photo, used mainly for inspiration as well as some reference.
"NORTHERN ITALY" completed, on Arches 140# CP 30 x 18.5" COLLECTED

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