IF THE PAINTING ISN'T ABOUT MOOD, COLOR AND DESIGN, DON'T BOTHER!
I make a conscious effort to remember these basic elements as I paint. Lots of not-too-bad paintings get turped out if I don't feel they are a step towards fulfilling my goal. Painting never seems to get any easier - always a struggle!
This is an unfinished painting - still untitled - 20" x 20" oil on canvas. The bird is a Gambel's Quail, very unfinished. The painting is at the point where I lean it against the studio wall for a couple of days so I can sneak a look at it while working on something else. After a day or two I start to see what the painting needs. In this case, the foreground was looking too busy so I used a wide brush stroke and darker value paint to simplify the areas that bothered me. Now I am can see a 'U' shape across the bottom of the painting formed by these darker brush strokes that I've got to get rid of. I think a few carefully placed, bright, light strands of grass will solve the problem. Then I must finish the quail and I think the painting will be done!
I almost always photograph a painting before it is finished so that I can look at it on the computer. I flip it horizontally so I can see the mirror image of it (a mirror works as well!). This helps me pin-point problem areas as does reducing the size so I can see the painting much smaller. I use this to figure out compositional problems. I like this painting flipped and reduced so once the foreground issues are resolved and the quail is finished, I think I'll have a nice painting!