1) I did a quick line sketch to make sure I knew where the light was coming from, to indicate the focal point, and plan the movement throughout the scene.
2) I spent about 10 minutes doing a little 5x7 oil sketch to capture the feel of what I was seeing. The eye can see so much more color and atmosphere than a photo can capture, so these plein air studies are invaluable!
3) I always shoot a few photos for reference. They may not be as helpful as color sketches but they still provide useful information I can use for a larger painting.
4) A helpful tip to check the relative values in a photo reference is to convert it to black and white (desaturate in photoshop or similar). If the image reads well in black and white, great! If not, you will at least know where it needs help. In the black and white below, I decided I needed more darks in the foreground, which I remedied in my line sketch.
Click on any image to see it bigger.
Stay tuned to see the completed studio painting...