So, what to people think about topaz?
It's not as easy to make a sig with topaz as people seem to think. Yes it can speed up some processes, but those with experience can achieve the same effect in a similar amount of time without it. Besides it is difficult to use topaz successfully, just as it is with every filter and plug-in. I downloaded the topaz clean plug-in to try it out, and have yet to feature it in any of my finished pieces. Yes it works, but you have to have the knowledge and talent to use it successfully.
Erm... I have been doing graphic design for roughly a year and a half. Lewis has been doing it for over two years now and zenron must be well into his third year. I have always struggled to create stuff from scratch, and although creating simple shapes is easy, creating and using complex shapes is a lot harder and as you have mentioned quite time consuming. Typically it can take anywhere between an hour and two hours for me to create my usual pieces, the more I do from scratch the longer it takes. Using stock images and other resources is good to keep going, but I would suggest trying to create parts or entire pieces from scratch, teh more you practice the more you can actually understand.
Once you are far in your graphic design experiences you can easily switch from one medium to another like I did going from signatures to vector illustration. However I must say, 3D and 2D are completely different, whether you start now of in a year, the learning curve will be exactly the same. So if it's something you want to do, you may aswell start now.