Thank you Grant! His comment on my last post was exactly what I needed to hear! He reminded me of Tony Christov's 1-2-3 principle. Quite simply, it's the idea of first read-second read-third read. In a good illustration, you want three main elements, each with distinct levels of importance. My problem with my previous post is you couldn't tell what was most important. So with that in mind, here's the original.
And here it is again after I was reminded of the 1-2-3 rule.
See the difference? On the first attempt, you couldn't clearly see the rider's silhouette, thus destroying the readability. The main culprit was the combination of the dragon's body being far too dark and contrasting considering how far away it was and the ambient darkness. By reducing the amount of darks everywhere except the dragon's head, the samurai and the dragon's neck (the 1-2-3 elements), suddenly everything makes more sense.
I hope this post clearly demonstrates the importance of design and composition. All the draftsmanship and detailing in the world can mean nothing if your painting is a big muddy mess.
The other thing it teaches me is that I've been doing too much in a vacuum. I will cut myself some slack since I've moved away from San Francisco (and my community of artists) and returning to New York (where I have yet to reestablish a community). Doing all my work on my own with practically no feedback until after I've finished results in frustration and needless work. From this point on, I'll be sure to start posting thumbnails, etc. more often.
The image of the artist as a lonely, tragic (and mentally questionable) recluse is romantic and all, but for our purposes, useless and self-defeating. Art is not just a profession, it's community.