My process currently uses 3d to construct a scene - I spent the last 10 or so years learning 3d and I love being a little 3d demigod creating these vertices and connected faces then building the scene with lighting and materials and shooting the subject with cameras I place. In the real world this would cost 10s of thousands of dollars. I never want to stop using that tool. When the scene is blocked out like this I render an image and switch to more traditional techniques in Photoshop Painting over, scumbling, adding textural interest you can only really find in the expression of painting - the marks you leave behind is like a conversation with the viewer. I was angry here, I was solemn in here, I was gentle in this one, etc.
I haven't done much physical work - you can say I'm a student in that. I'm lucky to have a great painter for a roommate and a whole year to mess around so I will be learning how to pull these images out of the digital world into the real one and look forward to the challenge.
Creating art assets for a company can be very fulfilling. It can be very frustrating too. The main difference is that you are not in charge really. Even if you were Art Director at the best studio you are still satisfying so many requirements. So there's a framework you must operate in and restrictions of time and technology. It can be nice to work within challenges like that. And it can also be frustrating.
What I see happening are lots of "strike teams" of freelancers being formed. Teams of 5-10 who all know each other and vet each other - they form up. They then offer themselves as an outsource team to companies.
Think of the 24 hour cycle - If you had a team split in opposing time zones you could conceivably produce work 24 hours a day and communicate online. What other industry can say that?
I'm online daily with people on the East Coast, UK, Netherlands, Middle East, etc. and communication is very fluid. Even better than it is in some offices.
I think big studios are looking for a scalable model for their production and these small teams working through virtual hubs might be a great way to have that.
So outsource more? - which is weird to say but it's inevitable. Try to create a manageable sized team with little overhead - then offer your experience and ability as an entire team.
Find what you like to do and specialize in it. Define your process and only alter it to make an improvement. Embrace the iterative process. Make yourself indispensable somehow. Don't take things personally - it's a job. Stick up for yourself. Don't work for free. Be the solution not the problem. Put your art out there as much as possible. Work every day. Have principles and stick to them. Take care of your body and mind and your life. Look everywhere for inspiration. Read at least 1 book a month. Use post it notes and Google spreadsheets. etc.
I kind of jump in and play shooters - CS:GO, Hawken, and just finished the Titanfall Beta. Apx 20 minute sessions once or twice a day then back to work.
Looking forward to Dark Souls 2 - going to lose a few days to that I'm sure!