Looking and seeing
A passerby looks at a landscape or a scene. An artist looks and sees beyond the purely physical vision. From this comes the desire to paint. So look, look and you will find a subject that you just have to interpret.
Prepare a piece of stiff cardstock about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Make a 5 by 4.5 inch window in the cardstock. Keep this card before you, between your master eye and the subject you've chosen. Move the card further away or closer to you until your subject is framed, as you would with a camera. You now have your subject as it will appear on canvas. Don't be in a rush to start. Listen to your instinct, your artistic sensibility. Why did you choose this subject? What stands out about it? What's your vision of it? Do you see certain colors or do certain shapes inspire you? Study the same subject as painted by different artists. Cezanne and Van Gogh. The subject is the same. They were both Impressionist painters, but their interpretations are no less distinct for all that. Return to your painting. The subject that attracts you is at the same time your enemy. No matter how beautiful it is, it can betray you and watch you turn your painting into postcard material. Geometry is the foundation stone on which rests the composition of the painting. It doesn't matter if it doesn't exactly reflect reality. The subject attracts you. The artist's temperament must kill the subject. The personality and sensitivity of the painter will allow them to play with colors or grays and to draw out the painting from the subject matter. You see it as it appears in your soul, all that's left is to recreate this vision you've had of it. French novelist André Malraux said that many people don't like painting, but they are still sensitive to the subject matter that impacts emotionally on them - horses, boats, kittens in baskets.
The white canvas
You have two possibilities to choose from :- start off with a white canvas, therefore a white background, or start on an already prepared canvas. For your background, you already know the tonality of your canvas. You also know if you're dealing with cooler tones such as greens and blues, or warmer tones like ochers, oranges, reds and browns. So, you can start covering or partially covering your canvas in the base tones that best match the 'atmosphere' of your picture.
With the help of a charcoal crayon on white canvas, or a fine paintbrush, sketch the outlines and relief of your subject in black or Prussian Blue. Don't be too detailed, you're only at the rough draft.
First, prepare your palette of colors. Put in the primary colors you'll need, not forgetting black and white. Prepare the tones that will be needed first. Now you can start to paint. Remember : you need to spend more time concentrating on the subject than on the painting. Always go back to your subject. Occasionally, go back and check your palette, making sure it's not prettier than your painting.