Grrrrrr. It fools me every time and happens all too frequently at the easel.
I will try to keep a camera handy and make an effort to "grab" this problem as it arises so you can recognize that thorny old "the problem isn't what you think it is....it is probably the opposite" situation.
The problem is often a light/dark thing.
Above is a 6" x 9" oil sketch of a cement angel by Gaudi that I recently saw in Barcelona. So far so good.
I finish the dead underpainting layer (raw umber and titanium white) and there isn't much contrast in my reference photo...it's made out of cement after all. However, I fail to capture the "sculptural" quality.
What to do? I glaze it and build lots of light. And then I build some more and it isn't working.
But then I realize that it isn't LIGHT that is the problem...it is that the darks are not dark enough.
So I stop working on the light and pay attention to the dark. . . duh . . . and then I get it right.
The light is unchanged in the last two pictures...but the dark has become much darker and thus it works now.
Although I am getting better, I'd say that I still guess wrong about once a week and think that:
1. The lights aren't light enough
2. The darks aren't dark enough
But the answer is frequently the opposite of what I think it is.
UPDATE: This is the final painting ( just couldn't leave it alone).
I picked up the brush to add a little more dark and couldn't resist adding a little lettering in the lower right to sort of balance the odd composition.
Here's a detail of the lettering (above).
I was once a sign painter before I took up oil painting....and I love lettering.
This little 6"x9" Gaudi Angel oil sketch will be part of a fundraiser for the Portrait Society of America.