Always work from the General to the Particular.
BUT What does this actually mean in painting?
The Particular means detail.
One of the most useful skills in the visual arts is the ability to ignore detail.
To my way of thinking, too much detail can make a work of art....well.....more like work, possibly overworked and less like truly creative art.
How much detail you use is entirely up to you, the artist. But if you begin with lots of detail it could be in the wrong place to make your painting credible.
So first - ignore the details and get the general layout worked out.
Organise some of the fundamentals of your painting.
First thing - portrait or landscape presentation. If you get this at the outset it will usually lead to regrets. Next - What is going to be where? What is your focal point? How will a viewer become engaged with the painting? What are your secondary and tertiary focal points? These attract the viewers eyes, encouraging them to wander over and around your painting. Strong compositions will often be based on a geometric form such as a triangle (Michelangelo’s Pieta - most of them) or a rectangle ( Da Vinci’s Last Supper)
Is there a horizon? Do you want the illusion of depth? Or will it be flat, decorative, flat decorative space, cubist or nonsensical? Some folk like to do preliminary sketches, maybe several thumbnail drawings, some will do a drawing, some refer to their visual art diaries. All of these may save frustration at a later stage.
**Even in non-Figurative paintings it helps to have some idea of the GENERAL look you want.
Are you going for natural colours occurring in nature? Will you exaggerate the colour? Will you manipulate the colour for emotional impact? Will your overall colour of the piece be warm or cool? A mix of both? Monochromatic? Will it be low or high key?
Once you’ve blocked in your composition, done your “ underpainting and completed your first layer of paint on the canvas, I feel there’s there’s one more thing to consider...vitality.
This is something some struggle to comprehend yet it is the term we use when we see a painting that moves us emotionally. It could be the subject itself yet we’ve given those eyes an extra sparkle and somehow the painting looks more “alive”. In a landscape or seascape we might love the way light hits a cloud or a wave... it could be dramatic contrasts of colour, energetic brushstrokes, strong line, exaggeration of form, elongation of the subject....it’s something that makes your painting resonate with the viewer.
Using various mechanisms of contrast is a very effective way to inject life into a painting.
You may want to paint a peaceful scene but you don’t want boring do you? It’s a worthwhile exercise to make a list of contrasts that you can use.
Big-small, many-few, busy-still, hot-cold, dark-light, hard edge-soft edge, straight-curved, geometric-organic, painterly texture or smooth.
If you want to put a spark into an otherwise “visually correct” painting it is worthwhile looking for some kind of contrast to highlight....and this might be an option at any stage.
THEN begin refining and adjusting your shapes as you look at the detail