Looking around I see that a number of artists worked with a company for years before creating their own studio and working freelance. Some worked through different fileds such as teaching, industrial design, or illustration, to concept art and then independently. As pretty much an outsider, I'm wondering if it's a better idea to circumscribe, therefore collecting skills from other, though related, fields, before move into concept art? Is it also better to mature yourself, your skills, your network, with a company before going independent? Is being independent or freelancing right from the start not as...um, "nutricious" to a designer's growth as aforementioned? Or is it too difficult(suicidal?) for a newbie to go independent right away?
Plenty of people have gone directly to doing freelance, without previous employment.
If you're gonna start your own company it might be a good idea to pay your dues and work a some years in a company. During that time you'll learn stuff about how companies are run and you'll network and make friends within the biz. Aka valuable things to bring with you if you're starting a studio.
Yeah, you're right. Do I apply to a publishing company or a studio, though? They're ususally separate, aren't they?
If you don't know, it's definately not a good thing to start your own studio. You have to be very business savvy to start your own thing. All industries have associations and conferences, like the game industry has the IGDA and GDC. Find the appropriate places and start to learn about how your industry works. Read mags (game developper magazine) and boards, meet ppl, check what skills they have, work on these skills.