Spotlight On: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

If you’ve never heard of or interacted with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, you need to immediately! We met her a few years back at Nerdcamp Michigan, when she had just come out with her debut picture book, Where Are My Books?   

During our chat we asked her if she’d Skype with our students in the coming year and she was thrilled to do so. Boy, are we glad we asked her. Our students had the best time “meeting” her. She had boundless energy and was also able to do a demonstration of how she created her found object art. During the Skype she turned a crumbled up piece of paper into a beautiful ballerina wearing a tutu.  One of the questions I asked her toward the end of our session was “what advice would you give to these students?” Her answer was incredible and the message she spoke about is still mentioned to this day, over two years later! She told my kids she had wished she knew earlier, that you don’t always need to be perfect the first time! Here’s a tweet a student sent her following the Skype session:

Besides being a wonderful person, I want to talk about her illustrations. We were so excited to read her new solo book Sam and Eva that came out a few weeks ago. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, but the book itself has many important themes. If you have not read this book, it’s a great one to add to #classroombookaday to discuss friendship, flexible thinking, or how art can tell many stories!

We are so happy she continues to come out with new books so often. Whether she is doing both writing and drawing or just illustrating, you will love her work! Debbie was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her. Enjoy!

3 questions about the book

What can fans of your work expect from Sam and Eva?

A fun creative clash between two young artists, inspired by cartoon wars that a friend and I had back in our university days. Sam is drawing when Eva arrives, wanting to collaborate. The creative clash that ensues when their drawings start to come to life is fun and chaotic…but then both children realize things are getting out of hand and decide to work together. Sam & Eva is about art, creative collaboration and friendship.

What does your workplace look like?

As you can tell, I do not have one of those spacious, sunlit artist studios that overlooks a verdant meadow blooming with wildflowers. My office is in the basement, and I have covered up the windows with colourful scarves because (1) I never look out the windows anyway when I’m working, and (2) one window “looks out” under our deck and the other is blocked by bushes.

My husband Jeff and I call my office my “cave.” And I do so love my Office Cave.

What was your process for writing and illustrating Sam and Eva?  Was it the same as when you created Where Are My Books?

For Sam and Eva, I came up with a picture book dummy (a rough mock-up of the picture book) ahead of time and sent that to my editor, Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Children’s. He accepted it the next morning! I had to put off working on Sam & Eva for a while since I was working on other book projects first, so I had to reread it several times when it WAS time to work on the book to remind myself of the story.

Then I worked on the text with Justin, improving the story flow, page turns and language. Although I started working on character sketches earlier, I didn’t start working on the layout sketches for the interior spreads until the text was finalized. During the art phase, I worked mainly with my art director at Simon & Schuster, Laurent Linn. Laurent helped me figure out how to improve the visual aspect. I’ve worked with Justin and Laurent on my other picture books with S&S, and I learn so much from them with each project!

In contrast, Where Are My Books? took a lot longer to finalize the story and art. The main reason? It was my first solo picture book! I felt like such a newbie and had so many questions. Hm…in many ways, I still feel like a newbie and do keep asking a lot of questions! I figure that’s a good thing, however — it means that I’m still learning.

3 questions about you

If you weren’t an illustrator/author, what would you want to be and why?

A songwriter/musician. I’ve always loved making music with other people, and have written and co-written songs for my music group as a fun hobby, plus have done a few session musician gigs. A couple of the songs I wrote made it to national radio! In a parallel universe, I think I’d try to make a living writing music and playing music. It’s a whole other type of creative collaboration.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. It’s the first book that made me aware of how voice can enhance my reading experience.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Ha! Fun question. Hm, let me think. Ok, how about this: some radish tops, leaves attached. Most people discard this part of the radish but I like saving them for potential found object art. Also: some shrivelled up basil leaves – I had been planning to use them for found object art but, um….forgot!

Thank you Debbie for chatting with us!

To learn more about Debbie please visit her website. Or follow her on Instragram and Twitter.

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