Debbie Ohi's Creative Process

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of such classics as I'M BORED, SEA MONKEY & BOB, and her lates SAM & EVA. We've been online friends for eons, so I've had the pleasure of watching her career take off. Happily, Debbie is here today to share how she does it...

e: What is your creative process, can you walk us through it?
For picture books I am writing as well as illustrating, I start with an idea notebook. I have a bunch:
      Some are for sketching and doodling, some are for new book ideas or writing snippets, some are for both. I also have virtual idea notebooks but I lean toward paper notebooks because I find them more conducive to stream-of-consciousness scribbling, brainstorming idea maps and doodling. One of my notebooks is just for poetry; I try to read and write a poem a day.
      Here’s a sample from one of my creative notebooks:
      For illustrating, I usually start with figuring out the main characters. I also need to make a decision about what medium to use.
For Sea Monkey & Bob written by Aaron Reynolds, I went through a lot of experimentation:
      I also work on thumbnail sketches to figure out pacing and overall flow.
      In case any other children’s book writers and illustrators find them useful, I’ve provided the templates I use on my blog: CLICK HERE.
      Once I think I’m happy with my basic thumbnail sketches, then I create full-size sketches and start working on those and then send them to my art director (in the case of Sea Monkey & Bob, my art director was the awesome Laurent Linn). When I get feedback from my art director, I’ll work on the next round of sketches. At some point, I’ll get the go-ahead to move to final art.

e: What is your medium?
I work with different types of media, depending on the project. For most of my book projects, I have worked digitally. When I work digitally, I use an Intuos Wacom tablet and pen with Photoshop:
      But I also experiment a lot with non-digital tools and materials.
      This past year, I’ve become obsessed with fountain pens and fountain pen ink:

      I also love doodling with found objects like used teabags:
      and shadows:
      and broken crayons:
e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I think that Heart Art makes a reader feel an emotional connection with something in the illustration and (ideally) helps them understand themselves and their place in the world a bit better.

e: What is your favourite or most challenging part of being a creator?

My favourite part:
      When the rest of the world falls away as you lose yourself in the act of creating.
My least favourite part:
      When I find myself stressing about things in the business that are mostly out of my control, and that interferes will my ability to create. I once heard Shaun Tan give a talk at an SCBWI conference about how useful it was for children’s book writers and illustrators to create a “bubble of delusion” in which they could feel safe to create, a mental space in which they felt positive about themselves and their work and knew they COULD do great work.
      I have never forgotten this advice and have found it incredibly useful.

e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I have learned that no matter how busy you are, no matter what you’re working on, it’s so important to always make time to PLAY.
      I have found that if I don’t make time to play, then my creativity well dries up.

e: What are you working on next?
Right now I’m:
- Illustrating I’M SAD, a story written by Michael Ian Black that is the sequel to I’M BORED.
- Working on my next solo picture book project idea.
- Working on a new middle-grade novel.
Thank you for having me on your blog!
e: Thanks for stopping by!


ARHuelsenbeck said...

I love this article! Especially the photographs.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Thanks, arhuel! And thanks to Elizabeth for letting me visit her blog. :-)

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

My great pleasure Debbie!

WriterSideUp said...

Debbie, I love EVERYthing about you and your work and do hope we actually meet face-to-face someday :) What an EXcellent interview with so much terrific info (SO unlike you, Debbie! ;) )