"How do u DO that?"

 
Click on the links on the right for some good online articles.   Links below:
I use a variety of software packages, but mostly PhotoShop CS5 & Painter 12. First I pick either a good stock photograph, my own or that of a clients. Once satisfied I have something to work on, I usually open it in PhotoShop CS5 and remove all flaws, blemishes, freckles, etc.   Portrait - Corel
After the PhotoShop treatment, I open it in Painter 12 and start doing the background, whether you decide to paint/smudge the background yourself or use a stock picture.   B/ground - Corel
B/ground - Caren
Eyes are up next and there are many different tutorials on making eyes look good.   Eyes - Wicked
Eyes - Acid
Eyes - CGS
Get yourself a set of good brushes in Painter (or PS) to paint hair and skin. Google a good set(s) and download. Also Google for tutorials. There is not just ONE good tutorial: my work consists of techniques picked up from many people and on top of that, I added my own style.   Hair - Helen
Hair - Corel
Brushes - Marilyn
Do not hesitate to work down to 1 pixel brush size when doing hair - I know it's hard work and time consuming! Stroking/brushing hair takes up a great deal of time, but the results are worth it.    
Practice, practice and more practice, there is no shortcut to success.    
I am sure most of the PhotoShop results can be accomplished in GIMP or similar software, but I am not too sure about the brushes I use in Painter, you will have to experiment. You do not have to buy brushes, but be aware that the better quality brushes come at a price.  

Painter
GIMP
PhotoShop

One warning though: This is highly addictive! :-| Please visit the "before and afters".

 

My before and afters

To follow more on how and what I do, check my Tutorials page on my blog....   My blog