This is absolutely amazing! The only thing that looks a bit odd in it is the shading on her face - the lighting seems a bit 'reversed' on the right side, if you know what I mean... But this definitely is a contender for best piece this week and one of my favorites so far!!!
Take a photo of a friend's face with a flashlight or a lamp and natural light, observe how the light plays, then move the lights and repeat the process. If you've got a willing victim participant, you can figure it out pretty quickly.
Yeah. I was huge into brushinking before, but it takes away way too much time. And i tend to overrender with a brush. Not to mention the time it takes scanning at 600dpi and then having to play with the old hues and contrast.