Once I know what the topic of my work will be, I start out by digging into subject. Everything that helps deepen my understanding of it is allowed. My usual methods range from skimming through the Wikipedia article on a subject to reading books and watching documentaries, depending on how much time I've got.
I gather all interesting visual material in reference sheets. This way I can keep everything at hand later on and don't have to interrupt my process to search for the right reference image.
For a more complex image like this one, I tend to do some preliminary sketches, to figure out certain elements of the image in advance. In this case, the steamboat might play a greater role in the story later on, so I decided to give it a design pass before starting to work on the final image.
Composition- & Color-Sketches
As soon as I'm done with the preliminary design work, I start doing exploration sketches for the final image. With these, I try to find the best visual solution for the problem I'm trying to solve.
In this case, the image has to:
- Be an exciting opening shot, that introduces the exaggerated industrial London setting, full of steam, smoke and huge machinery
- Establish where the characters are, so we can cut to a close-up of them next
- Communicate the feeling of an almost overwhelmingly large world that's full of possibility
Once I'm happy with my composition- & color-sketch, I'm ready to dive into the final rendering process. I start by blocking in the local colors, then paint in the key-light(s), fill light, bounce light & local light-sources. After that, I add atmospheric effect like smoke, fog, dust, etc... to the image.
Finally, I spend some time on adding detail, highlights, correcting things and implementing feedback I get from other artists.