To be honest, my painting (or art creating) process is about 90% preparation, and 10% action. I have the unfortunate designation of being an overthinking Creative, which means I'm in a constant mental state of trying to figure out what I'm going to do, an how I'm going to do it. Having a child that's toddler age also means that I've got less and less time to get to my studio to paint. So it's important for me to be able to hit the ground running when I do have the chance to pick up a brush.
Usually I put together a written "wish list" of animals or types of birds that I would like to illustrate. This helps me look out for references that might be good for my art. I also have a few different lists of other genres of paintings to do. As an artist that never quite found my niche, I have the tendency of bouncing between wanting to create wildlife art, landscape paintings, still life, portraits, logo design, comic book art, etc. (Check out my Instagram to see how all over the place my art has been over the years).
If I'm doing a painting for myself, I either use a photo that I've taken, or a reference that I like, and I do a digital sketch in Procreate on my iPad. This used to be done in a sketchbook, but I've incorporated using a tablet into my weekly daily/weekly art tool use. I usually include a quick color mock up at this stage as well. Next I do a small study that helps me work out any problems that I may run into on the final product. Ideally, this study is in the same medium that my final painting will be in (watercolor study for a watercolor painting, oil study for oil, etc). I usually don't work larger than 5x7. A study this size or smaller will allow you to view the full impact of the painting. You'll know if the tones, color, and composition work. Sometimes I finish a thumbnail study and decide to abandon the painting. This step is useful because I don't spend so much time mulling over a large painting, only to realize that it's not going to be as successful as I'd like it to be.
When I get to my final painting, I start with a sketch in pencil or charcoal. If it's watercolor, I try to make sure the drawing is tight, and that the linework is light enough that it won't be seen through my painting. If it's oil, I want to have a dark/bold drawing that has any details drawn dark, since my underpainting has the potential of covering up some linework as I scrub the paint into the canvas.
I'll go into the details of my watercolor and oil painting processes in future entries.