All my bigger projects start out small. I usually do a couple thumb-nails and/or smallish watercolors of the subject before committing to the larger piece. Its a great way to figure out how I'll build it, what I'll use and how everything will come together. Its not to say that its all so planned that there is no spontaneity. Just the opposite. I find that by doing the smaller pieces I am able to better organize my intent and that when I start on the larger piece, I'm more focused and open to 'playing in the paint' or experimenting now that I have direction. The direction or intent is the focal point and the methodology is just a means to that end. That 'means' is pretty bloody important and its where I normally succeed when my intent fails. That is very frustrating for me. I've heard many times that where my subject might fail, the skill at applying the paint is very successful. Or 'pretty painting, ugly subject'. To that end, I struggle to simplify my intent, to give it clear purpose without pretense and without the preaching. The applying of paint to the board is the easiest part.
Most of my smaller pieces are committed to my travel sketchbooks. These are the standard Moleskine art books and I find they do quite well. I take these with me wherever I go and I aways take the time to find something to paint. Its with these I intend to document my eventual trip to Afghanistan and with these sketchbooks and a camera, I plan to build up enough of a subject base to furnish the larger projects.