Experience is the first thing to obtain. It takes years to be a good artist. There is no way around that, in spite of claims to the contrary. For me, reference photographs are indespensible. I photograph everything, dirt, rocks, leaves, grass. clouds, you name it. Thank goodness for digital cameras.
Now I can shoot 200 photos of a duck. It's wonderful. Whenever I see something of even the slightest interest, I photograph it. Currently I'm using a Panasonic, Lumix, FZ-50. It has a Lieca, 35-420mm lens. It does everything I need it to do.
My media is acrylic paint. I use cheap craft paint that comes in plastic bottles. I never use white paint. White gesso is far superior. Basic yellow, red, cobalt blue, and black. These are my main colors. Burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and pthalo blue have certain uses. That's about it for my colors.
My surface of choice is gessoboard, just gessoed masonite. I also paint on stretched canvas. The geesoboard comes from the art supply store, primed with white gesso. You can find it in gray, or black as well. I always coat them with gray gesso, using a foam roller. I usually sand them with fine sandpaper.
I have various kinds of brushes of varying quality. After use, I wash them with hand soap and water. Then I shape the bristles with the soap, and let them dry coated with soap to retain the shape. No. 2 pencils are adequate for my use in sketching out the design.
Along with my own photographs, I have numerous reference books and magazines. My main tool for composing a painting is my imagination. Lighting is of course essential. I have four different kinds of artificial light, along with daylight shining indirectly through the windows. Flouresent, incandescent, and full spectrum, all compliment the predominant window light. I just paint on an old kitchen table, with a wheeled paintcart to the side.