Before the initial stage of the project I compile a list of reference sources, most commonly photographic imagery of the real-life variants of the subject material such as environments and people, this ensures that I can capture the realism or even just physical appealing and correct interpretations of these elements for my client.
The next stage of the project is to plan out multiple versions of the imagine different positions in order to test the waters and see which versions represent the themes and imagery of the piece desired by my commissioner and in general which ones look the most appealing, this ensures that I do not reach the end of the project and begin to regret not doing this stage as the image may look slightly off or even simply could have looked better in a different position or perspective.
This is the stage where I begin to draw the defining features of the piece and also begin to plan the colour schemes as well as being able to alter expressions and other factors, as this is the most accurate way of seeing a version that the piece could become before its too late, therefore I can alter and manipulate the elements of the piece accordingly.
This last element is dictated by the demands of the commissioner, your preferences and desired product impact this final stage, as if you are looking for a more cartoon or less realistic product, then I will draw a defining line-art of the product and colour accordingly within the line art, however the line art is very different if you desire a more realistic piece, in which case I will paint starting with the colours as they mesh better with the environment using my sketch and shading brushes.
The final stages involve lighting, as it is much easier to alter the colour scheme after I have already defined the original colour schemes of the environment, protagonist or other objects in the piece, afterwards I will paint over these to fit according to the colour pallet and lighting of the scheme.