I started out with a completely black 20 x 16" canvas, and worked my way out of that darkness by adding people and objects from the background to the foreground with acrylic. Because the first layers were dry before I placed the next figures, this method was perfect. I ended up paying a lot of attention to Phillip's gesture. On the floor you can see Andrew. This painting was relatively drama-free for me, as it was a small canvas, I was working in the amazingly forgiving medium of acrylic, I have painted his view a thousand times, and I had started with a dark background.
The result of this happy intersection of circumstances was that I barely had to think about what I was doing. I operated on automatic, and the results are satisfactory, but I also know this is not the situation where I do my best learning.