Today I gave myself 2 limitations: no special layers like overlay or soft light, and i did not allow myself to open the ref in Photoshop. I just kept it in the internet browser.
The results are dramatic and apparent. I have been relying on those 2 things like a crutch. yuck. I think it's good that recognize them as mere tricks and I'm gonna try to avoid them with referenced paints. On the other hand though, I think special layers are fine for original paintings since the objective is not to color pick and replicate using just the eye.
Anyway here's what I came up with