Funny that you should mention majoring in painting rather than illustration, I've been having a somewhat similar experience at school. When I tried to push towards realistic figure painting I was surprised to find that someo f my teachers told me that 'it's really hard' and 'you might want to remember that there are a lot of really good painters out there already'.
Well I'm not gonna stop, but it leads to me to think I should look in a few other places for advice on how to paint. From an oil painting standpoint, do you have any recommendations/rules of thumb that you could give? Also - which of the works you posted are traditional media vs. digital?
Really great work, as a (confession time) Magic player in my youth, a lot of your card illustrations are familiar to me - but they look amazing on a larger scale.
"You're not going crazy, Arthur! You're going sane in a crazy world!" - The Tick