I took a SmArt School online class with Dan Dos Santos, February-May 2016. It was fantastic! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Dan's an amazing teacher.
SmArt School Website
The first assignment was a portrait of some kind.
Sketch of a sort of winter queen elf... (yeah, it needs a lot more thought! like can we have something a bit more detailled? story and personality -wise?)
Digital (Photoshop and Wacom Intuos)
Dan suggested maybe more of a headdress... I couldn't make it work, snow-queen-wise... My wintery designs were crap. So I went in another direction... Went for a more desert-like style and changed her to an antelope girl, and made her face 3/4 instead of profile...
Worked up digitally.
Put some texture around the doorway around her, cleaned up outfit--
More work tightening things up--jewelry, hair; put in a door so cast shadow falls across it--
Progress so far. I need to define the arm a bit more...
I'd like to add that I was looking at references (photos) for faces (various... and I had to change the lighting on them), and antelopes (a ton), and Moroccan or N. African architecture throughout this process.
I was just reading something about how the brain processes things, and apparently it doesn't just take snapshots and store whole images. So you shouldn't expect to pull things from your memory. In fact, that will mess you up because you'll remember only the basics, like a kindergarten painting with a yellow sun with rays and puffy green trees with straight brown trunks and green grass.
Reference is important!!! Yes, you will be able to recall more and more through experience, but even artists who have been drawing ONE thing for YEARS still use reference... they just might not need it quite as much as they used to.