Our guest: Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the Toronto-based illustrator of books by Judy Blume and Michael Ian Black, as well as her solo picture book debut, Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster, 2015).
The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
I remember looking forward to when my Dad took the whole family to our public library once a week. When I was little, I used to have a goal of reading EVERY SINGLE BOOK in the entire library and I recall being devastated when I finally realize this would never happen.
My earliest memories centre around picture books that evoked such strong emotional reactions in my younger self that I can still feel an echo of those feelings when I think of the book. Here are just a couple:
Feeling afraid each time I saw the illustration in The Story Of Ferdinand where Ferdinand sits on the bee (right). I so wanted to stop poor F from getting stung!
In Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, I felt horror at the thought of poor Sylvester unable to communicate with his parents after he wishes himself into a rock, despite his yearning and their grief (left).
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Meg, from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Like Meg, I often felt as if I didn’t quite fit in, felt awkward compared to my peers, and had deep-running emotions that tended to take over when I least wanted them to.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
I don’t have one favorite, sorry. Don’t make me choose! Some of my favorites growing up included William Steig, Quentin Blake and Jules Feiffer (left).
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
This was a tough question to answer, and I actually changed my answers several times.
In the end, I chose the following list because I’ve met all of these women (and am related to one of them) and think that having all of them all in one room chatting with each other would be a LOT of fun. 🙂
Judy Blume, Angela DiTerlizzi, Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple and Ruth Ohi (right).
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
No matter how fine the writing, how gorgeous the illustrations, how many awards….none of that matters if a book isn’t able to make a real connection with a young reader.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
I’ve been told that my character illustrations convey a lot of emotion with very few lines.
I think this came from all the webcomics I’ve done in the past years, like Will Write For Chocolate, Waiting For Frodo and some of the comics I’ve done for Inkygirl.com and the NaNoWriMo website in the past. My focus has always been on the characters and storytelling rather than the art….you can tell from the some of the truly awful art in some of the strips, especially Waiting For Frodo. BUT one thing I learned from WFF was that my readers connected with the characters and story despite the art, and I have to remind myself of that over and over (and over) whenever I go through the inevitable “omigosh, I totally suck compared to all these other illustrators” self-doubt each time I work on a new book project.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Douglas Spaulding from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Not being a big believer in “what-ifs” and also being relatively new to the business compared to some others, I don’t have a good answer to this question.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
Embrace every moment. Don’t take anything or anyone for granted.
In terms of creativity, the best piece of advice was from Shaun Tan at an SCBWI Conference, where he advised writers and illustrators to find a way to create a mental space where you can tell yourself that you are doing fantastic work. This “bubble of delusion” helps you feel safe to create. It’s one reason he tries not to read reviews of his work, good or bad. (Note: Read Debbie’s Inkygirl post on Shaun Tan’s Bubble of Delusion HERE.)
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
For a book illustration process, I always start with a lot of small and messy sketches after reading the text a zillion times. I usually print out the manuscript and make a lot of scribbles on it.
Then I sometimes sketch on my iPad or computer, sometimes both.
I do page after page of thumbnail sketches to figure out the layout as well as character sketches. When I’m happy with one of my thumbnail sketch pages, then I work on larger sketches of each spread with a rough placement of where I see the text going.
After that, my work process has changed over time, and also sometimes varies book-to-book.
My illustrations for Where Are My Books? were done entirely digitally, for example, but my illustrations for Sea-Monkey and Bob (author Aaron Reynolds, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) are partly digital, partly non-nondigital.
For my digital art process, I use Photoshop with an Intuos tablet and digital pen.
My non-digital art might use anything from ink and watercolor, water-soluble pencil crayons and paint blocks, and found objects. Of the latter, my recent favorites include arugula, flower petals and coffee stains. These days, I’m experimenting more with mixed media, with varying percentages of digital vs non-digital techniques.