my suggestion is go as low poly as you can, the more verts that get into the model the trickier it is, im talking for your characters, all you need is the chin shape, maybe a lip and the nose and eye bone and thats as detailed as you get, rely on your texture for the rest of the detail. thats what i do, i find low poly models are the easiest, all you need is a ginger bread man and your texture will take over and make it magic.
(i guess that means learning how to paint decent too.)
painting characters decent means learning how to paint sss! the easiest way to add a bit of glow to your skin is to redden into the shadow (but watch out, try not to end up too bloody, this guy ended up with scars all over his face), a nifty little trick that works, check this little dude out i made using the technique -> (complete dodgy job but what do you expect for half an hour hehe)
the model without the texture, you cant even tell if its male or female, but thats the way its supposed to be, all the actual character is in the texture.
SKILL DISCLAIMER: if it looks complete crap to you im sorry, im still learning myself.