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I always start with a simple abstract composition when developing a sketch. This helps in that if it's not working with a few simple shapes and a few simple values, all the rendering in the world won't save it. This design suggested the possibility of a futuristic city to me. (Fig.01)
Next I found a few random images from my photos (shoot your own reference wherever you travel) and overlaid them to specific layers. I kept the background and foreground on separate layers so I can link the photo to the foreground shape. That way it only affects that layer. There are several photos and I kept repositioning them till something clicked. I don't usually hit the reference this early but I was looking for something to suggest itself. Since it's a personal work it's more fun to see what develops rather than planning everything. (Fig.02a and Fig.02b)
Now the heavy lifting, I've got to establish some larger planes, and how they relate to the horizon/perspective. The photos are merely a start. Without the understanding of perspective and tone you'll always be a slave to your reference, which isn't being an artist. (Fig.03)