Last night I checked back to conceptart.org, a website I used to look at a lot for art inspiration/procrastination. I had learned a lot there over the years browsing threads on their forums. I wouldn't be the moderately decent artist I am now without that website. I discovered that they'd set up a structured program of study that seems like quite a good art workout. So I started today. The first step of the program is to do 20 (yes, twenty!) compositional studies of master works of art. These are supposed to be quick, 30 minute to an hours, studies of the structure of image with an emphasis on paying attention to the elements of design that the artist used to get the point of the piece across.
I chose Goya's A Prison Scene as my first piece to study. I love how the figures in Goya's painting appear to emerge from the heavy atmosphere around them. I might just be out of practice but I found it pretty difficult to reproduce. At a glance it appears that the figures are very impressionistically painted. But upon close inspection there's a lot of careful drawing, but it all appears in shadow. Goya very carefully controlled the values of his detailed rendering and kept it in the same range as his shadows so that it wouldn't draw much attention and the painting is dominated by the atmosphere.
I also did an analysis of the composition. I found that Goya repeatedly used triangular shapes in the painting. The highest contrast in the painting is the head of the central figure with the dark hair and the light shining in behind him. The large downward swoop of the arch leads the eye to the figures below as well.