Most recently, I created a quilted piece for a friend's birthday, based on a favorite photo of their beloved dog, Jack.
First I printed out 3 copies of Jack's image -- one to follow visually, and two to cut up for patterns. Then I traced the outline of Jack's head and neck, and cut a piece of background fabric using that outline. I sandwiched it with quilt batting and backed it with interfacing.
Then I decided which of Jack's features were most important, and I traced around them to plan. Then, using copies of his photo, I cut out those features from various pieces of fabric that I had backed with Heat 'n Bond. I ironed them onto the background paper, and then - using various colors of thread on my machine, I free-motion quilted in stitching as if it were paint, adding highlights and shadows around and between the fabric pieces I had sewed on. (Hint: If you don't have the right thread color, use something close and use a marker to lightly "dye" the thread after sewing.)
For a background, I monoprinted the blue sky onto some white fabric, added green fabric at the bottom for grass, and loosely free-motion quilted this.
Below is the original photo, followed by the finished piece.