|Older drawing on the left, newer on the right. Getting there, but not quite where I want to be yet.|
Drawing well has many benefits like getting hired for jobs, being able to handle whatever scene you'll need to create, and of course, you can't bring a story to life if you're limited in what you can draw.
What I want you to take away from this is that you must draw well, really well, to get work in the children's book world. You can't cut corners. You can't trace photos, you can't overly depend on reference. Draw everyday, even if it's bad drawings, it all helps. Carry a sketchbook everywhere. (I need to do more of this myself.) Think of the training that goes into qualifying for the Olympics or playing college or pro sports. Heck, even if you're just working on staying in shape, you have to work those muscles on a regular basis.
If you go to SCBWI events (and you should be), pay for a portfolio critique. Nothing beats hearing from someone who actually hires illustrators and can tell you what you need to work on. Our local Illustrator's Day has an illustration professor who give critiques, too. He's crazy amazing at seeing the weaknesses in your work and what to do to fix it. It's painful, but much kinder than in art school. Hearing nothing but flowers and light about your work gets you nowhere. You need the truth, because that's the only way you're going to get better and someday get hired. If you want nothing but compliments, show it to your mother.
Here are some great resources for improving your drawing skills, but remember, nothing replaces the practice and observation of real life.
There's so much drawing goodness on Erika Eguia's Pinterst boards! I've started a Character Design board here.
Great drawing books:
Drawn to Life Volume I & II
Character Mentor, Tom Bancroft
Creating Characters with Personality, Tom Bancroft
Vilpu Drawing Manuals, Glenn Vilppu
How to Draw, Scott Robertson
Online classes & tutorials:
School of Visual Storytelling's How to draw everything with Jake Parker
Figure & Gesture Drawing
Sparkbook, Cedric Hohnstadt
Illustrator Alicia Padron is now offering classes.
Good luck and happy drawing!