Often an artist will do several thumbnail sketches until she determines the strongest composition for the scene. She may even use "artistic license" to move a tree or add a path if it helps achieve the purpose of the painting. The thumbnail sketch is useful as a pattern of the simple shapes and their values and can be referred to as the painting progresses, checking and comparing to stay on course.
So, next time you visit a gallery here are some great vocab phrases you can drop: "irregular intervals in shape and value, high key, low key, underlying abstraction, 3 (5) values, interesting patterns". And hopefully, more than just making you look smarter, knowing these bits and pieces will bring much more enjoyment to your art viewing!
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