Meet Our (National) Members: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Her illustrations also appear in books by Judy Blume, Michael Ian Black, Linda Sue Park, Rob Sanders, Lauren McLaughlin, Aaron Reynolds and others. For more info about Debbie and upcoming projects, see Her blog for readers, writers and illustrators: You can find Debbie on Twitter at @inkyelbows, Instagram at @inkygirl and Youtube at @debbieohi.

Describe your workspace.

My office is in the basement of our house. I have two tiny windows but because one opens up under our back deck and the other is blocked by a bush, I don’t ever use them, at least not as windows! These days, half of my small office is my writing and art space, and the other is my photo studio space.

Describe a typical workday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I haven’t really had a typical workday. My goal is to try to focus on my writing first thing in the morning, but sometimes I need to move stuff around because I have a virtual meeting or workshop or school visit in Google Meet or Zoom. Just before lunchtime, I try to get some kind of exercise – either a walk outside or indoors via Ring Fit Adventure or Animal Crossing (I try to only play the latter when I’m standing up, walking or jogging in place).

List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1. A paint-spattered striped blue shirt that hangs on a hook in my office where I can always see it. My mom-in-law used to wear it when she painted, and I miss her dearly.

2. A reader letter I have pinned up on my Inspiration Board that reminds me of why I do what I do.

3. Printouts of tweets from Judy Blume to me, when I was working on illustrations for her books. I remember being soooooo excited when i saw that she had tweeted me!

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?

I try to avoid rituals because I don’t want to become too reliant on them. (“Oh dear, I can’t work on my middle grade novel today because my pencil sharpener is broken and I *need* to have three freshly sharpened pencils within reach at all times….”)

What do you listen to while you work?

It depends on the stage of my work and what kind of work.

If I’m writing anything or in early stages of illustrating a book, then I can’t listen to anything with English words or I find it too distracting. Instead, I’ll listen to mellow soundtracks (I have a playlist on Spotify) or Italian progrock. Or silence, but I try to avoid doing that too often in case I have to work in an environment where silence isn’t possible….especially when I’m traveling.

If I’m working on a repetitive stage of illustrating that doesn’t require as much concentration (color flats, inking etc) then I’ll put on some of my current faves. These days, it’s often the soundtrack to Hamilton! 

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Drink: water.

Snack, when I’m being good: baby carrots, celery and hummus. Cupcakes, when I’m not being so good.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I use a very rough outline for the early drafts, but I try to give my muse a lot of wiggle room.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Someone who preferred working at night. That way I could have my workspace to myself during the day! Yes, I tend to be anti-social when doing creative book work.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Linda Sue Park: “Read. That’s the single best thing an aspiring writer can do for his or her work. I once heard an editor say, ‘Read a thousand books of the genre you’re interested in. THEN write yours.”

What media do you use and which is your favourite?

For playtime: Pentel Pocket Brush (love the variable width of the line), crayons, found object art.

For books: I mainly work digitally but have recently started incorporating real-life textures and objects. I used 491 Crayola crayons in the making of GURPLE AND PREEN: A BROKEN CRAYON COSMIC ADVENTURE (written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by me, coming out from Simon & Schuster on Aug.25, 2020)!

Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.

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