Playing around with some different approaches - this has gone through some really scary phases getting here! I looked back at Charmaine, which is the best of my original cycle of paintings, a leap forward just before I stopped with the MMA series (well, there was that male fighter, but somehow I couldn't work up the same level of fascination with the males as the females).
This time I started with a pretty rough Reilly style breakdown, but I only used it to lay in the basic shapes and then discarded it. Once I had 3 or 4 values I just kept picking them and working back and forth, occasionally laying one down very transparently over another to create a mid-tone. Did a lot of the work with ridiculously big soft brushes, then cleaned up with much smaller but still soft ones for the most part.
I notice I'm now able to work much more subtlely with values and colors. This makes my MMA series look crude in comparison. The best thing I'm doing is taking the time to really work up the forms through shading and lighting before putting the features or secondary forms in. I probably coulda (shoulda) gone farther with that, but I was getting impatient and I want to get one done, then I can slow down and work more leisurely on the next one.
Notice I exaggerated the value divisions from how they look in the photo (though now I see I can still go darker in some of the shadows). I'm a-learning'..