For me there are several levels of inspiration and creativity. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
The first and simplest way I am inspired is in the moment. Although I don’t often paint plain air, this is the kind of inspiration that lends itself to painting from life.
You are inspired with a place or object. You paint from life or from a photograph, in this process you can simplify the image you see, exaggerate certain aspects you need to convey or attempt ultra realism.
In this process, the small details are captured often without my knowledge. Subconsciously I often interpret the scene with many intangible elements that are rendered with varying degrees of detail depending on intent or my level of concentration.
The next inspiration is that which does exist, only not necessarily in one place. Different pieces of many different scenes are assembled to capture an idea.
This process is usually a snapshot in the mind that adds multiple images. I will use photos for details but much of the details are often absent, the subtle nuances of the scene can often be overlooked in this kind of painting but often this allows for the viewer to see what the artist intends without the extraneous details causing distraction.
The next process is from an inspiration that does not exist, it is an idea, often in dreams. Not all of the image is discerned in the initial view.
This particular image can take years to develop. Usually this kind of painting sits on the easel half done for several periods of work and often the idea never makes it past a sketch.
All three ways I paint have positives and negatives and just like writing, sometimes I can paint one way and other times I can’t even paint from life.