Not too long ago I accepted a private commission for 2 pencil drawings. I was basically given carte blanche with regards to subject matter--the best sort of commission. I put it off for a little bit and had an idea for what to do with it. When I surveyed the art I'd be showing at World Fantasy, I decided another painting with a female figure would not be appropriate given the lady-centric selection of work I was bringing.
I now had an 8x10" hole to fill, and the only limiting factor was I wanted a male involved in the image. I sat for a bit and somewhat unbidden, a fuzzy image flashed in my head. Basically, it was a male torso, straight-on, but almost all you could see was the man's face; the rest was to be a wall of gold and patterning, as if he was wearing some gigantic headdress. I knocked out a thumbnail for it. Having done it, I continued thumbnailing other concepts, less focused on the headdress, but with the idea of tons of gold and decoration still. I think I did that just to see if second-guessing my intuition improved things. Sometimes it does. It didn't.
A few digital thumbnails. I don't "finish" them all, and don't save them all either.
Clockwise from top left: The original wall-of-gold idea, a boring 3/4 portrait, a treatment more focused on a cape shape, and the final thumbnail revision.
After a number of approaches that didn't focus on the wall-of-gold headdress idea, I returned to the headdress idea but began sculpting shapes out of it to make it look more like a giant headdress. In the first version it lacked context; I wasn't convinced it would read correctly. It might've looked like some guy peeking out between giant gold curtains. In the final thumbnail, a hand is included. The guy is looking a little simian, a little Planet of the Apes vibe going on.
From there I began working on the 8x10" painting. Following are some in-progress shots and a detail comparison of the hand before and after.