There's something to be said for painting fast. I knew I only had 45 minutes at most for this one, because the time limit was dictated by my daughter's nap. When she awoke, I had to put down the brush, no matter where I was in the painting. Sort of a game show mentality at work here.
So basically, I set out to make every stroke count. No wasted strokes! was the idea. Of course that's kind of impossible (for me, that is) and I had many a frivolous, meaningless stroke in the 45 minutes I had with this painting, but I can say that I had far fewer of those because I intended to. And the resulting sketch is better for it. The lesson here is that fewer wasted strokes make a better painting. But you really have to try to make every single stroke count!
Normally, I wouldn't even attempt to go into the studio if I only had 45 minutes but I had been mulling over a couple of ideas (I can do that much even while I'm chasing the Tazmanian Devil of a baby) and I was itching to try them. One of these ideas is a high key, cooler light with the greatest value contrast away from the conventional focal point. Ordinarily, I would reserve the punchy values for the eyes or some other area of greatest interest. Here, I used it for the shirt.
The rationale is that I'm trying to move away from traditional representational painting, which to me, means finding ways to break rules. And I do that by looking at my painting as an abstract painting, and making formal decisions based not on rules of realism, but purely abstractly. The black shirt is not a shirt, just a black shape, in other words. There's no reason why one abstract shape (the eye) should be given a higher value contrast than another (the shirt). They're both just shapes.
Now, this sort of thing wouldn't work well (in fact it might invite disaster!) if you're working within a more traditional representational context. So it is important that you establish a different context which supports such deviations. That's exactly what I tried to do by unapologetically bringing in the background color into the shadow area and losing the edge completely, by not rendering out some of the features (the ear is just a blob of color) by giving sharp edges around the hair (a big no no if you're painting traditionally) and by choosing more or less an arbitrary color for the background. These are all visual cues to tell the viewer that I'm intentionally not following the rules. If that intent is communicated, things like the highest value contrast being used for an unimportant thing like the shirt, works.
I don't break all the rules, though. If I did, I'd have a completely nonrepresentational painting, and I don't want that. I do need some structure and that means hanging on to some rules in a systematic way. The rules I refuse to give up are those of drawing. Whatever I may do to the colors or the application of paint, I don't want to distort my drawing. It's a visual language that's clearly understandable to everyone, and by sticking to it, it makes all the other deviations meaningful and effective. Abstraction is not anarchy, you see. You can't break rules if you don't have them. Deviation is no fun unless you feel like you're getting away with something :-)