I had a feeling when I started this one that the photo I started with had some problems I couldn't quite pinpoint, but the colors were nice, the light was good, the composition was pretty good, and I really wanted to paint this barn. I liked the fence and brush-filled wash in the foreground and thought it added an interesting counterpoint to the building.
When I had everything blocked in and the background colors and grass mostly complete, as I began to get the details of the barn nailed down, the foreground looked less and less compatible with the rest of the painting. I experimented tinting the foreground shadows with different colors from the rest of the paining—red, red-orange, blue—but nothing improved the problem. I painted it darker; I painted it lighter—neither helped. I did the same thing on the fence—highlighting it took too much attention from the barn, and darkening it made the whole foreground look like a dreary afterthought to the rest of it. I lightened it back up and left it all.
I stared at the painting for several days without getting any ideas. I thought about starting another one, but knew I'd never go back to this one if I left it. Finally, yesterday afternoon I got the idea to enlarge the lightest area of grass—what I'd copied from the photo—from a very narrow band across the center of the painting. I stretched the highlight down to cover most of the grass and pushed the darker grass into the foreground, and everything looked better.
This morning I wanted more change because the bottom foreground was still too strong, and pulling down the energy of the whole painting, so I stared at it again for a few hours and finally noticed a hint of pattern in the right side of the grass and knew I wanted to make that stronger. When I painted in the diagonal streaks of richer gold, the whole composition changed. The pattern created just enough of an 'X marks the spot' effect at the near corner of the barn, and it pulled the whole painting together. The foreground suddenly balanced the trees, and the barn itself took on as much importance as if I'd put a spotlight on it. I believe what it did was add a design element in the grass that somehow highlights the barn. Who knew?
None of that was in the photo. There wasn't as much grass, there were more shadow stripes, and the foreground was darker. It took me a whole week to figure all that out, but it feels so good to win one!