Some more renders, these represent the final technique I think I'll go with, if not the final quality. (they're just a test). I used tomcat cartoon shader for the lines, and tomcat's default shading structure with a small modification. Tomcat's actual surface shading is quite a few notches above standard toon shading with a ramp shader. It uses a completely white blinn (which I changed to lambert) as a shading reference, so any bump/spec/color put on this will show up on the model, shaded with (in the case of bump) or combined with (in the case of color) the ramp.
to get the images here, I put a grayscale image of a scan of an oil-painted solid color, to capture the richness of real traditional media. ( I got this technique from Yves Dalbiez). I then made the ramps color transition from blue at the bottom to a narrow red strip to a light yellow-orange. The result is very similar to the usual style of ramp cartoon shading, except with texture (from the grayscale image) that makes it look like it was actually painted. This looks really cool when animated; you know it can't be really painted because of the complexity, but it looks like it is (if done right). I think this might just be that not-quite realistic not-quite-handmade appearance I have been searching for.
The UV maps are nowhere near complete, I know there are messy transitions and seams all over the place. I'll fix those later.