Someone asked me recently just what does simplifying mean and can you give examples to show what it is. So .... here goes. Simplifying means to leave out some of the detail, to have less clutter, unify your lights, and unify your darks.
I recently went painting with someone who wanted some help from me. Something that I noticed immediately was that the artist was putting in all the little spots of light that was in the actual scene. I suggested to take out some of the light and just concentrate on the larger areas of light. This one suggestion helped to simplify, unify and strengthen the painting. Now to show you some examples.
First is a photo of the actual scene and then the painting of that scene. Notice that I concentrated the light in fewer areas than is in the actual scene.
I made the decision to leave some of the lights out to strengthen the composition. When you first approach your scene that you are going to paint, look to see if you can have fewer areas of shadow by connecting your shadows. Is there a small amount of light in those shadows, that can be eliminated? Look at your lights the same way. Can you elminate some small spots of light in the scene?
By doing these two things, you can strengthen your composition. It won't look so "spotty". Now, look at colors. Are there some objects that are unimportant to the scene? Can they be eliminated? Look at all aspects of your scene, leave out unimportant detail and objects. Always keep in mind what your painting is about. If something doesn't help in telling that story, it might be wise to leave it out.
Remember that a good painting is about what you left out, not everything you put into it.