Whenever I create an image for myself, I'm looking to explore the pure abstract qualities of art. For a job there are constraints; the image needs to fill a need or illustrate a design. But when I sit down to do something for myself, I want to go for a ride where I'm not sure of the destination. It's exploration. It's undiscovered territory. It's the whole journey versus destination thing.
I started this image by making a page of random scribbles to see what suggested itself. I worked in a medium value with only a few tones. Some of the greatest American illustrators like Mark English and Bernie Fuchs would plan their images like this. The strength lies in the design, not the rendering; that comes later (Fig.01).
Once I'd picked a design, I refined it a bit more and add a little more value. I also added a few details that suggested size and scale (Fig.02).
Once I was happy with that I needed a little color. Since this image was going to have a fairly monotone mood, I was able to work in overlay and color layers to glaze in the hues. If the image had been outdoors and in direct sunlight then I probably would have blocked out the color in flat tones to get the modulation that comes from real color and light interaction (Fig.03).
Next I needed some textures. I overlayed a few photos to help suggest some detail. This is a fast way to get some complex looking things to happen, but I want to stress it's only a beginning. I overpainted a lot of hand drawn detail so that the image didn't just look like a bunch of photos in overlay mode (Fig.04).
The photo will only get you so far. Now I moved on to correcting the drawing, carving out larger planes and facets into the cliffs and adding some detail to the ship side. This is the stage in an image where drawing and perspective are crucial. You, the artist have to make it work. The photo will only get you halfway. If you can't draw, this is where an image will start to fall apart for you (Fig.05).