Picks and Fingernails
I create my fingerstyle sound by picking the strings with skin and natural fingernails. If I need to produce the real "thumb-picking" muted bass sound like Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, I use a Fred Kelly Speed Thumbpick.
However, I am able to produce this muted sound without wearing a thumbpick by turning my right forearm slightly so that the side of my palm rests on the bridge, slightly touching the strings I want to mute. This is an approach I learned from English virtuoso John Renbourn. During a piece of music, I can easily go from a full-voiced sound to a muted sound back to full-voiced without dealing with a thumbpick. Watch me on YouTube for an example of that. The verses use a muted bass, while the bridge uses the high-arch position.
The physical stature of your picking hand and fingernails may require you to wear picks or not. But I suggest, if possible, that you let the music determine whether or not you use them. Be willing to alter your picking-hand position to produce different sounds as the music suggests or requires.
If I break a nail, I glue on an artificial nail tip. The brand I use is KISS, French style (available at local drug stores and online). I buy Krazy Glue separately, since I find the glue in the KISS package to be less than adequate. I am very careful to cover no more than 1/3 of my natural nail with the artificial nail, as the natural nail weakens when covered. For this reason, I do not use a manicurist, as many of my cohorts do.
When using instantly bonding glue, I am exceedingly careful to keep the glue away from my skin and eyes. Once the nails are in place, contoured, and the glue is dry, I pick with them until the glue begins to fail and/or the front edge of the artificial nail is worn down enough to warrant gluing on another. This takes about 7-10 days for me. Hopefully the natural nail has grown out enough by then!
For more information on fingernail care, artificial fingernails and fingerstyle tone production, check out my article "More on Fingernails and Fingerpickers" on this web site.