I really love all the wicked paintings you see here on CGSociety and am in awe of the skills people have, but I really want to try to keep my own style and retain a graphic feel to my work, so I don't tend to use Brushes that have an Air Brush feel to them.
I wish I could say that I had some secret method of working but, it's just a case of putting on some cool music or a background movie and just getting stuck in. I like to work up the flesh areas first then move onto the clothing. When I'm happy with these areas I'll work on the eyes, lips and then hair. This is when the image really starts to take life.
I have a few 'tricks' that I like to use, I'm sure they aren't unique, but they help me to add a little something to my work. For the sword hilt, I dragged a photo of a rock face into the image. Using the Magic Wand Tool with a Tolerance of around 18 to 22 I select an area of the rock surface then select Similar I have a random selection area that I then Bucket Fill on a new layer. Then it's a case of selecting the new layer and lightly painting onto the sword hilt on another New Layer.
I find this gives me a random element that's sometimes harder to get by creating a new brush. For the hilt I then Duplicated the Layer a couple of time and changed those layers to Screen, Color Dodge and play with the Opacity.
It's cool to play around with the Layer effects and settings, you never know what your going to get but it's always something interesting and cool.