The biggest a-has from this year's SCBWI-Carolinas Conference, for me, were:
1. Sketch more!!!!!!! Do it daily.
2. Sketch what you love, the way you love to sketch it.
3. Make the characters your own (translation: see the hippo, elephant, kid, your way & commit them to paper)
4. Be willing to make mistakes. That is how you grow as an artist.
5. Know your characters FIRST, then create the image.
6. Don't worry about where any of this goes...you just never know where the sketching process will take you.
All of this was such a liberating breakthrough for me.