scorp: where are you at in pennsylvania? i'm in pittsburgh, if you're nearby maybe we could hook up sometime.
regarding your art skills, i wouldn't sweat it too much. i'm no expert on 3d or anything, but what i've already learned is that it's really more about final product than anything else. sketches are more or less for you to get a vague idea of what you want to do once you're in maya. i find that i get ideas in my head and then sketches allow me to put what i have in my head on paper, then when i look at it again i see new possibilities for my idea. maybe i just have low brain capacity, haha. sketches are for concept, but if you know what you want, once you get more familiar with maya you can just put it all down in 3d form. and keep in mind what mascal said about a lot of a scene's look being done in compositing....them's good words.