here's a post I made a while back:
Working in Wood a 3 part process
Step 1, the inspiration part, the design, the drawings and sketches, how and where the joints will be made, sizes, proportions etc.
Then Step 2, the mechanical part, making the piece, set-ups jigs, which tools to use, the fitting, gluing and sanding.
Then Step 3, and I think this is where a lot of us sort of drop the ball, finishing
This is part is where chemistry, past experience, trial and error, and skill or artistry, all come together. All the time and effort in the first steps are for naught, if the finish doesn't turn out well, the color is wrong or blotchy etc.
For some of us it's the most confusing, mysterious and complicated part of the process. Spray guns, tip sizes, water based vs solvent based, spray booths, lighting, availability etc. all play a role in the success or lack thereof in the average woodworker's finished project.
If you work backwards from the finishing, knowing in advance how you will go about it, that may help getting a better result. A great project can be ruined by a less than satisfactory finishing process. Get real familiar with your stains, your top coats and your spray equipment before attempting to finish a project you have lots of time and materials invested..... just sayin'
Stick with one method or until you master it. Don't switch back and forth between water based to solvent based and expect consistent results.