I often spend the first day of beginning class (watercolor or pastel), convincing beginning painters the value of a little planning. Most beginning artists want to jump right in, not wasting time looking for a good composition or value sketching. These terms are almost as dreaded as the capital "D"...drawing. However, as I have mentioned in many previous posts, this step is crucial for me and will save me (and beginning painters) much time and frustration...and will most likely produce a better painting. The principle for me... vision in a concept and a little pre-planning in composition, design principles, and value (and yes, a little drawing) are what will make a painting work...technique will come with time and practice but will not make a painting successful (though well crafted). I am sure some will argue this point.
Keep the plan simple, simplify mass value shapes...light, mid-value, dark...doodle, sketch, erase, play with various perspectives, cropping, and value patterns. Value and appreciate this step. There isn't any pressure here, no need for a finished drawing or painting.
Some tips for "testing" your design. Follow your eyes as they move around the sketch.
1. Does our eye travel effortlessly around the painting, through the light and dark shapes?
2. What is the visual movement in the painting? Have I directed it using line, repetition of shapes, overlapping shapes, "linking" values in a painting, via soft and hard edges in a painting?
3. Do I have a pleasing arrangement and variety of shapes, patterns and values? How did I break up the space? Is the space divided in a pleasing way?
4. Is my perspective "readable"? (Even a 3 min value study, simplified to mass values and shapes, is "readable" on paper).
5. Are my eyes led to a focal area?...away from the focal area and back in again? Do I have a secondary area of interest? How does the viewer travel from one to the other?
6. And finally, do I have visual excitement and spatial organization?