As artists, something we all strive for, besides perfection, is flexibility. When it comes to working on an illustration, such as the one you see here, a non-linear workflow is always the best way to achieve stunning results. It's important to allow the artwork to flow. When you're less hampered by the finality of what you're doing, you can relax a little and focus solely on creating. The process should never stand in the way of your vision.
For this project it begins with the background, and we'll be bringing vector illustrations into Photoshop as Smart Objects from the outset. The great thing about working with Smart Objects is that they are instances of artwork, rather than the artwork itself. You can place your objects into Photoshop, reopen them in Illustrator, make alterations, and the amended content is automatically updated within Photoshop. This enables us to check the effects of our changes as we make them, and go back and forth between programs until the illustration is refined and complete.
We use the same approach to create the main elements within the illustration. As you progress through this tutorial, the benefits of working in this manner will quickly reveal themselves. The process is simple and the integration of Smart Objects into the Illustrator/Photoshop workflow is so streamlined that you don't need to concern yourself with the order in which you create things. Rather, you just need to think about what it is you want to create, which is exactly the way it should be.