The painting is of the trees in Alamo Square Park above the "Six Sisters" of San Francisco. While everyone else was posing in front of the famous backdrop of houses, I was madly shooting pictures of these magnificent trees.
I recently finished Bob Rohm's The Painterly Approach, where he reiterates what I've heard so many times in the past few years (but NEVER in college! Why is that?): that it's essential to make your value sketch before the painting. (Why is it when workshop instructors tell this to the class I'm the only one who does it? It only takes a couple of minutes and my painting improved 1000% once I started doing that.) Bob uses four values, sometimes five, and so I thought I'd try to concentrate on that just to simplify things.
He also emphasizes warm and cool contrasts, so this is also something I incorporated, with the upper large trees being warm and their bases cool, contrasting with the cool sky and warm grass respectively.
This is what I'm trying these days in my painting. When I took a week-long workshop with Tony Couch, he set aside one morning to lecture just to the beginners of the class. I decided to sit in anyway because my watercolor paintings were worse than bad and I didn't want to face them any more. In that morning I learned more than four years in UNC-CH's school of art.
One of the things Tony did was to make a long, long list of the various factors artists have to control. We were all sort of slumping on the floor when he finished. "We have to keep all that in mind? And paint a decent picture at the same time?"
He explained that it's like driving: once you learn a facet it becomes automatic. Thus you set out to conquer one or two of the aspects (like value and temperature) at a time so you don't have to really think about them anymore. Then you move on to the next.
Even experienced pros do this. In Bob Burridge's very funny and surprisingly informative newsletter, "Artsy-Fartsy News," he tells us of working exclusively in new colors that he wants to master so that he can learn about them and have them in his arsenal to use as he moves on.
Life seems to be about always learning.