Of the mediums I've painted in, I've become most comfortable with watercolors. Each of my paintings started out as a light pencil drawing before applying the paint. Some were rendered directly from life, others have been created with photographic references.
These portraits were all rendered from life, that is, each person sat and posed for the duration of the painting:
Unless you're a model, the typical person has a low tolerance for holding still for hours on end. I've found that it's useful to do an initial sketch, let the person take a break while copying the drawing onto watercolor paper, then have them resume the pose when you're ready to paint.
While using photographic references has received plenty of criticism, they are no less art than any other piece. It's like telling an inker that his job is just "tracing". Artists know what is and what is not copying. Here are three cityscapes that were made with the use of photographs:
Two of these were scenes from my hometown, the third from a neighboring town. I'm not particularly fond of rendering architecture or cityscapes, but it's hard to argue when you get the finished piece.
And here are a few more watercolors:
The first is untitled, the second is Vitruvian as the Urizen. A combination of two master works, Leonardo's Vitruvian Man and Blake's The Ancient of Days, this piece is also a combination of watercolor and acrylic. It's also come to be a rather iconic image for me, as I've used it for the basis of my current business logo. As for the third, it was for a college art project where I designed a painting around a fictitious rock band of my own creation.