I wouldn't do this, especially not if I have ArcMap available or QGIS and want to keep my sanity whilst also having an understandable map!
ArcMap and QGIS have some excellent cartographic tools which, in combination with appropriate symbology working directly on the data and what it means geographically (as opposed to merely post-processing an image) allow you to present the data in ways that are both attractive and informative. To achieve this with GIMP alone will be a nightmare.
The trick is to learn to use ArcMap and QGIS to their full.
Some of the problems with doing cartography in GIMP are:
- Matching the legend to whatever artsy stuff you do in GIMP and still have the two relate to each other
- GIMP, Photoshop and most other image processors do not understand many GIS formats -- vectors being the obvious choice -- and multiband rasters (more than four) with a greater pixel depth than 8 bits in many cases are meaningless to to them
- Losing all georeferencing information so you will have to align your layers by eye (even with grid snapping, it's not ideal)
... the list of downsides goes on ...
If you must step outside of ArcMap and QGIS, then I would strongly recommend learning to use map renderers such as Mapnik, but to be honest, life will be a lot easier doing it via a dialog UI as presented in both QGIS and ArcMap (other GIS packages with excellent cartography elements are available).
Something I have done is to use GIMP and Inkscape to create fill patterns and use those from within ArcMap/QGIS (i.e. the opposite of what you intend).
If you want different North Arrows or other map furniture than is available as standard, then again, I would do this separately and import it into Arcmap/QGIS.