I just do freehand. Once I figure out where the subject will be on the paper, I just kinda go from there.
I was actually thinking about the "as a whole" thing, though I didn't really have words for it. I just hope I don't pay TOO much attention to detail so that it looks like there isn't movement or passion in the drawing. If it does end up looking like that I can always re-do it.
You know, I should do that... about making it "mine." I never thought about it before. I do have a little something of a surprise in store for this one, though! Two characters that aren't in the ref photo are going to be drawn in. It should look pretty good, I hope, and it shouldn't make the drawing look too crowded.
An arabian horse drawing I did today for a card:
It took me three and a half hours.