This process works from the end backwards. It starts with the theme choice and painting title, then moves into color choice, narrative, object choice, and rough drafts. It works for me pretty well.
As opposed to creating a single piece, If I am creating a series I start by doing this:
1. I choose the theme, lets say Love. I then build a word cloud of about 200-300 words that describe love like Romance, Betrayal, Flowers, and whatnot. Maybe also Whatnot. I then remove and combine words until I have 20-30 that I think sums up about 90% of the entirety of the theme. Some stuff will get left out, but that's how it goes.
1. Color Choice
I use the book Color: Messages and Meaning, by Leatrice Eisman of Pantone, to assign colors based on psychology and sociology.
Example: Sex (from my young single male perspective) calls to the adrenal glands (red), is energizing (coral), lends to intellectual creativity (yellow), reminds of the hunt (brown), and is refreshing (aqua).
If I were a 20 years married woman, I might think of sex as a a way to relax pleasantly (golden), consistent behavior (blue), classic (olive green), and of being forthright in its honesty (purple),
2. Color Narrative
After that I pair colors to create the narrative. In my case aqua, coral, and yellow would be a refreshing energy that stimulates creativity. Red and brown would be an exciting hunt.
3. Object Choice
I assign simple objects to relate to the narrative. The object is like a logo. It will be a simple object that represents to you the ethos of the color comparative narrative. A wheel could be a worker, a heart could be love, a sword could be an attack A forest fire works here nicely.
In this case the red and brown trees to represent the exciting hunt, as a hunt would usually be in a forest. The fire can be done with aqua, coral, and yellow to represent energy driven from the hunt.
I need to decide here if this piece will be aesthetically active or passive. If its active I will align it vertically, if passive I will align it horizontally. In this case I will go with it being vertical.
5. Pen Sketch
Then I get to sketch something out, usually in pen and paper, to see what it will look like. Here's where I really see how objects work together. You might want to look at the entire history of art for ideas on that.
6. Crayon Sketch
I do some thumbnails with crayon to see how the colors will work next to each other. Crayons don't require any setup time.
7. Rough draft in Medium
Next I paint test out a few options in the medium I am going to use on canvas. These will probably only be a about a notebook size or smaller, but should give me an idea of the texture of the paint I want to use, what the strokes should mean, where the objects will be, where the chaos lies. Once I have the final image I want, I pick the size of the canvas.
Example: Here we have red and brown wood, rooted to the earth, that represents a hunt that has been going on for longer than I have been in these woods. The energy is new, though. So it springs from the wood unbounded and free. The aqua from the trees, leads to the coral, leads to the yellow at the top. Lots of texture and mass but not connected to the earth.
8. Paint the painting
Once I know everything about the colors, the narratives, the textures, the placement, and the medium, putting the paint on canvas doesn't take a lot of time. If this is a series then the next step is optional. If its a single painting, skip to step 10.
9. Partner Paintings
I like to partner up pieces that had similar aesthetics. If I have two pieces that bring up adrenaline (red) as a main focus point, or unbounded energy (coral) in more than one piece, then I try to create a narrative as to why they exist together. Sex could share a trait of Love as they both involve a hunt.
10. Refine the Process
This is my process and I trust it. Modify it to make it your process until you trust it.
If its a single piece, I might or might not modify things from there. Look over your process that you've been going through and make sure the final piece is in line with the process and nothing was missed.
Modify and touch up as you like and you are finished.
Note, I will post some pictures later to give a better example of what this looks like to me.
Email me (Will) at firstname.lastname@example.org