Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Debbie Ridpath Ohi


We are delighted to interview the talented author-illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi! Be sure to comment on this post and share it for a chance to win a copy of her forthcoming picture book, NAKED!


Tell us briefly about yourself and your background.


I grew up in Toronto as the oldest of three children. My mom was a housewife and my father was a school teacher. I had always wanted to write books for young people, but figured I would need to do that on the side while I had a job with a steady income. Everyone knows you can't make a living creating children's books, after all. :-) My favorite subjects in school were Art, Music and Math, but I had to drop either Art or Music in my first year of high school if I wanted to pursue a math/sciences track. It was a tough decision, but I ended up staying with Music because I was taking piano lessons at the time and enjoyed band. My Art teacher was upset that I opted out of the Art stream.

I graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science and two majors: Computer Science and Psychology. I worked as a computer programmer/analyst for two years before (with the encouragement and support of my boyfriend, who is now my husband) quitting so I could pursue my creative dreams. I taught piano, worked at the Toronto Public Library and a children's bookstore, did freelance writing and a bit of freelance art.




When the World Wide Web launched, I created a website for writers called Inkspot which became very popular. So popular, in fact, that I ended up spending more time managing it and my advertisers than I did my own creative work, which was not good. So after much research, I sold it to a company in the U.S. in order to turn my focus back on my novel writing. You can see a summary of my corporate experience here.

Santa Barbara area children's book writer Lee Wardlaw was my first mentor. I will always be grateful to Lee! Not only did she critique one of my early middle grade novels, but Lee also introduced me to her agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown. Ginger is now my agent! I've written several MG novels and we've sent out two over the years. Although I could tell from the rejections that I was getting better and got close a few times, I never received a formal contract offer. I decided it was time to leave my cozy office and start meeting people in the industry. 

Lee had told me about SCBWI conventions, so I started attending regularly in 2009. In 2010, my friend Beckett Gladney convinced me to enter the SCBWI Illustrator Showcase, and I ended up winning a Mentorship Program Award as well as an Honor Award. Not only that, but one of the Showcase judges (Justin Chanda, publisher at Simon & Schuster Children's) offered me a book illustration contract! I illustrated I'M BORED, a picture book written by Michael Ian Black, and it ended up being chosen as a New York Times Notable Children's Book that year. You can read more about my experience in my post, "How Rejection Got Me a Book Deal." 

What projects are you working on now? Any books coming out soon?

I have 11 (yes, I said ELEVEN!!) book projects coming out in the next few months. One is NAKED!, a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by yours truly, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on April 29, 2014. It's a fun story about a little boy who doesn't want to put his clothes on after taking a bath, and runs through the house with his mother in pursuit. You can find out more as well as get the free Teacher's Guide and other bonus info at my website.

I also illustrated the covers of ten Judy Blume classics being reissued in middle grade and chapter book formats, coming out from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster Children's on April 29 (middle grade books) and May 27 (chapter books). The chapter books will also have new interior illustrations by me. You can read about how I became illustrator for this project at my post, "Part 2 of My Big News: Judy Blume, Simon Schuster Children's…"  


Sneak peak at some chapter book illustrations


Books I'm working on in the coming year:

WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? - The first picture book I'm writing AND illustrating, to be published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Working on the final art now.

SEA MONKEY AND BOB - Picture book written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by me, to be published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

RUBY ROSE ON HER TOES - Picture book written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by me, to published by HarperCollins Children's.

MITZI TULANE: PRESCHOOL DETECTIVE - Picture book written by Lauren McLaughlin, to be published by Random House Children's.


I was so excited to read about your Judy Blume covers and chapter book work. How excited and proud are you of this work? Did you ever get in touch with Judy Blume? What was the most interesting part of the assignment?



In answer to your first question, I am VERY VERY VERY (VERY) EXCITED AND PROUD. Even thinking about it now makes me want to jump up and run around my office, screaming. But I don't, because that would freak out my husband, and he's already put up with a lot during my ├╝ber-intense Judy Blume project period.

I wasn't in direct contact with Judy Blume during the creative process, though we did exchange tweets a few times:




 And yes, I went totally fangirlsquee every time it happened.

The most interesting part of the assignment? Discovering, when I reread all the Judy Blume books, that the issues raised in these stories are just as relevant now as they were when the books were first published. Plus I was reminded all over again of Judy Blume's wonderful writing. One challenge: Having to keep myself from getting sucked TOO much into the story sometimes upon rereads so I could focus on illustrationstuff.





Was there a moment when you felt like you "made it" as a children's illustrator?


So hard to choose a moment -- don't make me choose one! The biggest two:

1) When Justin Chanda offered me my first children's book contract, illustrating Michael Ian Black's story, I'M BORED, for Simon & Schuster.




2) The first time I declined a children's book illustration project because I didn't have the time in my schedule.


What is one piece of advice you'd give to an aspiring author or illustrator?


To remember that it's not just about the work. We're assuming that you're working hard on your craft and have done everything you can to hone your skills. 

For publishing success, however, I've discovered that so much depends on being at the right place at the right time. My friend Maureen McGowan has a great analogy; she compares publishing success to being hit by lightning. While you can't control when you're hit, you CAN build a bigger and better lightning rod. Go to SCBWI conventions (and CANSCAIP's PYI, if you're in Canada). Meet other authors and illustrators. Learn how to effectively use social media.

Also (I know you just asked for one piece of advice but I can't help myself), develop a thick skin. Accept that rejections and criticisms are part of the business. Don't take things personally. Persist. I'm convinced that one reason many aspiring authors and illustrators don't succeed is because they give up too early. Take a break if you need to, but then come back. DON'T GIVE UP.

Also (heck, I already broke your "one piece of advice" rule so I figure I may as well keep going), make sure you keep learning new things. Challenge yourself. Experiment. Push beyond your personal comfort level on a regular basis or you'll get into a rut.






Thanks for all of your advice! What is one thing about yourself that most people don't know?



I have a musical side. Some music-focused personal facts people might not know:

I'm a filker (here's my post explaining what a filker is) and am in a filk group, Urban Tapestry. We've performed concerts in Canada, U.S., England and Germany.

I also like writing songs, though I don't have as much time for this these days. Here's one I wrote for my group called "Library Boy." 

And here's one I wrote about one of my favorite Ray Bradbury short stories, "The Rocket Man." The song is called "Homecoming."  

I taught piano lessons part-time for many years, and was also working toward my getting my ARCT diploma (Associate of The Royal Conservatory of Music).

And hey look, I have a song written about me, "Debbie Ohi"! 



OK, now we are all officially total slackers and underachievers compared to you. Where can we find you on the internet to find out more about your many projects and talents?



Twitter: @inkyelbows
Main website: http://DebbieOhi.com
My blog for kidlit/YA writers and illustrators: http://inkygirl.com





Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. Recent illustration projects include NAKED! by Michael Ian Black and ten revamped Judy Blume classics (Simon & Schuster Children's). Her illustrations also appear in NY Times Notable Children's Book, I'M BORED (author: Michael Ian Black, Simon & Schuster BFYR). For Debbie's other current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House: http://debbieohi.com/books. Her blog for writers/illustrators: http://inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.



Win a Copy of NAKED 
by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi:



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24 comments:

  1. I'm a huge fan of Debbie Ohi and her work! Several years ago, I began following Inky Elbows and learned a lot of great information as a new author and illustrator. Her daily doodles inspired me to start creating doodles every day back in 2012 and I haven't stopped doodling since. Thank you, Debbie Ohi. : )

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  2. Awesome advice. Especially about not quitting after rejection!!

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  3. Oh, congrats, Debbie. It couldn't happen to a nicer person. You were so kind to me at my first (huge) LA SCBWI conference two years ago. I remember looking at your early copy of I'M BORED. I can't wait to pick up NAKED!

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  4. I loved "I'm Bored" and can't wait for NAKED! Love reading about your books and appreciate the information you share with writers/readers.

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  5. OK that was fun entering for the drawing just to say Wanna Get NAKED! everywhere!

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  6. Debbie Ohi, you're my new hero! Love your accomplishments and all your advice. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  7. I can't wait for NAKED! My kids and I LOVED I'm bored. So happy for all your successes!

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  8. What a great early morning dose of encouragement! Now to make like Ben Franklin and work on that lightning rod.

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  9. Love 'I'm Bored', as do my daughters, and I've also really enjoyed seeing your food/object doodles on FB! Looking forward to reading all your upcoming books :)

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing your process and your many talents with us! I am in awe of you!

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  11. This was such a fun interview! Debbie, I love your enthusiasm, and congrats again on all your contracts! Woo-hoo!

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  12. Fantastic and inspiring interview, Debbie! Can't wait for NAKED!

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  13. I love hearing Debbie's success story! Great interview!

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  14. Thanks Debbie! I read some of your posts over the last year and enjoyed reading how 'I am Bored' came about and the process to publication and I am looking forward to 'naked'. I really appreciated you sharing your friend's lightning rod analogy.

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  15. What an interesting interview! I loved learning about filking! I also really enjoyed "Bored!"

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  16. Love Debbie's style of illustrating! So cute. I'm so glad her persistence paid off.

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  17. HUGE fan, Debbie. *fangirlsqueeeeeeee*
    Love the post and all the wonderful work you are doing!

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  18. Where to begin?
    A winding road of fab. links to follow are posted here.
    And so much info about upcoming mighty fine books, to glom onto.
    It's fun to hear LIBRARY BOY.
    Makes me think of my YA writer pal Adrian Fogelin in Florida, who is in a musical duo that has written a library song also, called
    READ A BOOK, to benefit their neighborhood Front Porch Library :

    http://thefrontporchlibrary.com/

    Please tell them Jan/Bookseedstudio sent you if you visit.

    Back to this whirlwind author - brava! Debbie. I'm energized by reading about your energy.
    Thank you KIDLIT 411. Will look for the titles & hope to visit the Toronto PL some day.

    Plus, hope to meet Debbie at one of her signings.

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  19. Big fan of Michael Ian Black and his kids work. Thanks for the contest!

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  20. I love the importance of "right place, right time"... I so agree! I think making it takes skill, dedication, and luck. So glad you had all three, Debbie!

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  21. I didn't realize Debbie is a fellow Canadian! I'm so psyched (no pun intended) that she was a CompSci/Psyc major before turning to art. :) Wonderful advice about not giving up too easily...and I did follow her advice of coming back after taking time off. I wish I hadn't taken time off, but oh well.

    Debbie is amazing the way she keeps up with social media AND does all her art and music stuff! I'd be happy to have half her energy. :)

    Wonderful interview; thank you!

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  22. Thanks so much for all the kind words, all! And thank you, Kidlit411, for letting me visit your wonderful blog! :-)

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    1. Debbie, we are so grateful that you shared your awesome talent with us! xo

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  23. You must have lots of energy! I love your work and own my own copy of "I'm Bored". Thanks for sharing all this information and encouragement. Your blogs are fun and I enjoy them as well.

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