I had an idea for a painting about a year ago, which I executed some studies for, but then abandoned. I realized, after looking through the studies, that this is some of the best work that I have done. And why do I think this is better work? Because it is art created with a purpose. The studies were created with an intent to translate my broader idea. My good friend posed for a few days during which time I sketched. I then took the sketches and completed the oil head study. I will be returning to this picture and will complete a larger picture after a lot more studies. But the composition is already set and that is a lot of the battle already finished.
The lesson that I learned is that the sketches and studies that I find beauty in were all created with an end goal in mind. I believe in constant sketching and studying of nature, but they are like a boat drifting in the sea without a rudder. It may be nice to float a while, but it's better to have a destination in mind. And that is the true test after practice.
It's not a romantic ideal, but the truth is that studies and sketches are the structure of great works of art. There has never been any great work created without studies and much forethought.