I had painted this a few months before the show and was never quite satisfied. I finally put it back on the easel and spent some time making adjustments to her face (okay, I totally repainted it). I tidied up a few other details and then I was happy with it. I find this happens to me often - I run out of steam and I put the painting aside. Then, weeks or months (sometimes years) go by and I come back to it. I find myself thinking, "that's not so bad...lemme mess with it a bit, see what happens..." All I needed was a little time and distance apart, and I was ready to make a go of it again.
I think part of the success was the dramatic lighting...and I have a trick. I use my front window. Using a window makes great shadows and highlights on a face. It's really just a big ol' lightbox - something photographers spend good money on. Try it yourself - make sure your subject isn't in direct sunlight - you don't want any sunbeams, just soft, bright, indirect light. My model for this painting is Stacee; I had her look out the window, but I made sure I kept half of her face in shadow - I wanted the drama.
I also wanted the composition to be pushed to the upper third of the painting; I wanted the viewer's eyes to be pulled between her face and her hand with the glasses. I think it worked out pretty well... and I guess the judges for the show thought the same thing!