There is a sequence to the way I build a painting. I start with a foundation or structure and build the other components on top, if the structure is not sound, the painting will not hold together. I often tell my students to think of it as baking a cake, you have to make the cake first before you can put the frosting and decorations on it.
In painting, the structure is the composition–if the composition is not effective, the painting will not be successful. Therefore, composition is #1 in my order of importance. It is closely followed by the drawing–correct proportion, perspective and values are vital to creating a sense of depth and space. I cannot put enough emphasis on this second stage of the process as it truly determines whether or not the painting will have dimension. This is followed by color, if working in color (I always view color as optional), the palette must be cohesive and harmonious. The colors must accurately match the values mapped in during the previous stage, if not, the piece will lose its depth and dimension. The last part of the process is the addition of surface texture and detail–again, to me this is optional. I believe a painting that has good structure and form can stand on its own without a lot of surface detail. However, that is up to the individual artist–if you like detail and surface texture, always be sure that it enhances rather than detracts from the overall form of the subject. Too much detail and patterning can flatten the dimension of the form. Be sure the details you add follow the contour and lighting of the form. There will be less detail visible in areas that are in shadow, and more in those that are in light.
I find that following this “order of importance” or sequence ensures a successful end result. It just requires a little bit of forethought and discipline, don’t be in a hurry to get to the pretty colors, it’s the composition, form and values that need the most attention!