This is the Hypershade window, enabling you to load and assign textures among other things. The left side shows the myriad of options to choose from, the top right shows the materials I have created, and the bottom right is the work area. To demonstrate my procedure, in the work area you can see the inputs that form my 'Grass pastel' material. Why not call it 'pastel grass', you ask? The materials list is automatically arranged in alphabetical order, and I find it is easier if I have all materials from a particular category (e.g. Grass) together in one place.
The first thing to point out is that for every standard material, you can assign multiple files. Here, I have assigned both a 2D texture and a bump map. Of the standard materials to choose from, there are different properties to note. 'Lambert' is a matte material, with no shine. 'Blinn' on the other hand is quite reflective, and so I used this material for glossy surfaces such as wooden laminates.
So say I want to make a new material based on the pastel grass texture (Grass A). I select '2D textures' from the left menu, and then 'file'. Two nodes (the little boxes) will appear in the work area. By clicking the black box, you can load a file- in this case the aforementioned Grass A.
I now load a second 2D texture. Bump mapping is clever in that the texture should be black and white. The black areas indicate recesses and the white areas indicate raised parts. It is very simple to turn regular textures into bump maps by making the image black and white in photoshop, then upping the contrast a little. So the Grass A bump map was loaded in the second file node. The next step was to choose a default material, in this case Lambert.
This adds a new node to the work area, with a ball picture on it- actually a preview of the material. By middle-mouse clicking and dragging the files to this node, you can assign the texture and bump images to Lambert's 'colour' and 'bump map' respectively. You will notice the ball changes to match. Remember that by clicking on the 'bump' node in the work area, you can choose the depth of the bump effect. In fact, this can change the look of the material altogether! For instance, check out 'Wood- fine light' and 'Wood- rough timber' below. They are made with the same textures, just different bump depths!
And it's that simple! Aside from renaming it suitably, you are at this point ready to apply the new material to an object. A nice easy feature is that by right-clicking an object, and selecting 'Assign existing material', you will find that the material is there to be directly applied. Here is what it looks like in Maya:
I shan't include images of all my materials since this post would be huge! Instead, I've chosen the ones I like best. The textures and bump maps that created them are included too, so if you like the look of the material, feel free to save the textures and try it for yourself!
Bricks- white flaking paint (Blinn):
Concrete- rough (Lambert):
Grass- bright (Lambert):
Grass- patchy (Lambert):
Rock- rough red (Lambert):
Terracotta- bumpy (Blinn):
Wood- fine light (Blinn):
Wood- smooth pine (Blinn):
Wood: rough timber (Blinn):
Wood- panels weathered white paint (Blinn):