Then I found Will Terry's Digital Painting in Photoshop course, and I had a Eureka! moment. I highly highly recommend getting this if you think you might want to learn how to paint digitally. He shows his process for painting digitally with texture, which I adapted to make a 'colored pencil look'.
Here's my first practice painting, an attempt at replicating the illustration below it, which is all colored pencil.
below - real colored pencils
Its not too bad a start, for a first try. I didn't take it 'all the way', since I don't want to keep repainting an old piece forever, but did enough to feel comfortable knowing this is actually possible, and to have something to show you.
The first thing I did after I figured out how to make the texture I wanted was a sort of gray scale, to practice controlling values ~
Painting digitally like this is so much like doing it by hand - you work in layers, building up the color, just like you would with actual pencils. Its still not fast, but its also not as slow as 'real' pencils. Also, you can try a new color, change your mind, erase, etc. without a lot of fuss. This is key when doing illustration work - often changes need to be made, like "can you make the boys shirt blue instead of green" or "please add one more child on the left side" or "change that hairstyle" or whatever. Working digitally, those changes are soooooooooooo much easier.
Here's how that little snippet of illustration looks, broken down into layers (and you can see I painted some of the 'raspberry' layer on the 'blueberry' layer, but that's OK). So let's say I decided to turn the blueberries into kumquats or something, or wanted to change the background color - I could just delete that layer and make a new one, or erase and make changes, without affecting the rest of the illustration. Like magic!
When you're finished you flatten the whole thing down into one piece, and voila! you have a finished piece.
So I'm pretty excited about this! And now just have to put together a whole new portfolio of digital colored pencil pieces to show around. That's all. :~)
(And of course I'm still going to do 'real' colored pencil work. That will be the "fine art" side of me, for commissions and pieces people want to hang on their walls. This new digital look is just for print work.)