The first step I always take when preparing a surface (paper, panel or canvas) is to apply a couple of layers of gesso. Because I like the texture created on the base, I tend to use larger brush with stiffer bristles. This gesso was homemade and tinted grey.
Typically, for my second step I use a brayer to spread paint around the surface. I love the look that a brayer leaves and also like the fact that the colour is applied very quickly. On smaller surfaces I tend to use a smaller 2" brayer and on larger canvases I lean towards a 4" or 6" brayer.
In this third step I like to use a transparent acrylic with plenty of water and some fluid medium to move colour around the surface. I don't cover the entire surface and sometimes even lift it in order to allow the fluid paint to run. I love seeing the colour underneath peeking through.
This is when I get to play with my airbrush and stencils. Using an acrylic ink, I add patterns at this point. Sometimes I use a colour I used in previous layers, other times I use something totally different. Once these layers have cured well, I decide whether I want to repeat any of the previous steps or add another layer of stencil patterns. Then I get to decide what images I'll paint on top of this base.