At the last stage I try to resolve the following:
• Surface quality - does each area call for more/less texture or refinement?
• Edge quality - finalize which edges are lost/found/fuzzy.
• Glaze where appropriate - to unify and enhance.
• Sign the painting
• Do a final oiling-in once everything is dry (stand oil + gamsol)
This photo shows the removal of the purple shadowed grass seed heads in the foreground. They broke up the space nicely, kind of opposite to the light patches showing through the dark trees in the background, but they would have been too apparent. I painted additional tones in the grass and bumped up the lightest lights slightly. This was done with thin (slightly transparent) paint so that the grass heads didn't seem frozen in place.
Also of note in this photo is the obvious difference in depth where the the background has been oiled in (around the edges) and where it has not. I love oiling-in and seeing the rich darks come back to life.
The faces, hair and dresses receive a little more attention at this stage - and the grasses in the background make their appearance. 'General to the specific' as the mantra goes.
After more refinements to the dresses, consisting of additional middle-tones, the lighter colored grass in the foreground is painted in; which effectively annihilates the short-legged-specter look. Highlights in the background grasses introduce an interesting light/dark pattern into the painting and allow the viewer's eyes to comfortably enter the background rather than bump abruptly at the termination of the lighter valued subjects. (My taboret nervously makes a very slight cameo in the lower right corner of this photo).
James Gurney, creator of Dinotopia, shares wit, info, and news on a daily basis via his blog Gurney Journey. Frankly, it is considered to be one of the best blogs out there for realist artists. I stop in daily and always leave holding at least a nugget - but at times a bucketload - of insight.
Painting the first layers on the face and the hair came next. I find that it usually works best to paint the darkest parts first. I follow the 'general to the specific' principle when painting hair - indicating large forms first and then painting smaller forms - and finally painting a few individual strands at the end.
Next came more color in the "white" dresses, the girls' arms and Grace's hair and face. The darkest colors were placed in the painting first, the lighter areas followed.