Time to crack out the algebra.
The first picture is just a rendered heightfield to show that my sphere intersections were working. The second one adds some phong shading, and the third one gets a little fancier.
Beyond that I started playing with some classic Perlin-style effects:
Eventually the idea is to streamline this so I can bash out renders of the balls very quickly. Next steps: work on that rendering including oversampling for anti-aliasing, and figure out a way to map textures onto spheres without distorting them (that's a head-scratcher for right now).
Beyond that, I downloaded the trial of Photoshop and I played with it a bit. I think I'll probably have to buy it, which is fairly painful, but learing photoshop is probably good for me anyway.