Lucy: Thanks, the original is from Ding WL
which I think is a photo study. Definitely agreed, trying to do more and more polish pieces recently.
Tex: Really appreciate your in depth advice! My process is pretty similar to yours, usually starting with gray-scale shapes. Yea burning out on an image was common for me, I guess it's like training endurance in running and coming back to it day after day. Your process sounds very logical and reliable, I'll definitely have to look back at it if I ever feel lost in the process. Thanks again for your help!
here's another contest piece, tried to polish it but ran out of time near the end.