The intention of the first week of the program was to approach the masterpiece you are studying “in terms of” its inner mood and its colour harmony. I suggested using simple rectangular grids so your analysis/perception of colour could be freed from the need to draw correct “shapes” first.
But colour (in painting at least) cannot and doesn’t exist without the constraints of shapes (although some painters seem to come fairly close to this “shapeless” state of affairs). Reduced to its essence, composing a painting means giving shapes to colors: when all is said and done, a painting is just a plane divided into colour areas of certain shapes (all the rest happens in the eye — or rather in the head and heart — of the beholder).
If the first week was fully dedicated to colour, this week will be all about the shapes of the painting’s colour areas, and the overall organization of the picture plane. Instead of the rectangular grid structure you used in the first week, you will find and explore the painting’s own underlying geometric structure which “holds the space” for its colors. Compared to what we see (or what we think we see) in “real life” — and often, to what we see in a painting — this underlying abstract structure is “simple”. But it’s a special kind of simplicity, the ultimate simplicity of essence — the simplicity that gives the painting its inner power and holds it together.
There is a tension, a contradiction here, which I have struggled with a lot at the beginning (and still do, as a matter of fact). On the one hand, finding this simple, essential structure is the end of a painting process — in a sense, the process of painting is a process of simplification, of eliminating non-essential randomness. But on the other hand, an simplified abstract structure is also the beginning of a painting: it’s the strength of this initial structure that often (if not always) determines the success or failure of the painting.
In the process of painting from life, you are the one who is looking for this simplified structure (which would form the core of your composition) — both before and in the process of painting. But since we are studying masterpieces, we know for sure that this ultimate, perfect simplicity, this ideal abstract arrangement has already been found; it’s right here in front of us. You are not trying to find your own solution — your own composition — but to discover the solution already found by the master you are studying from.
For some paintings, this task will seem rather straightforward: the painter doesn’t hide the painting’s underlying structure, but makes the essence of its composition as transparent as possible. Even if that is the case, I suggest you use this week’s practices to familiarize yourself with this structure, to feel the shapes of the master’s colour areas (however, there is the last, optional, exercise in this week’s suggested practices, just in case you go through the core assignments of the week too fast). For other paintings, the underlying structure we are looking for is more “hidden” behind the details and apparent complexities — so you will have to spend more time and effort in uncovering the painting’s inner geometry.